Archive for February, 2007

Tracking candidate popularity by MySpace friend numbers

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

techPresident is having some fun with non-scientific methodologies: they’re comparing 2008 presidential candidates using the metric of how many friends their profiles have on MySpace. Here are the numbers:

Democrats
Obama 52039
Clinton 25823
Edwards 12346
Kucinich 2565
Vilsack 1333
Richardson 658
Biden 583
Dodd 211
  Republicans
Paul 3061
Romney 1760
Tancredo 1085
Giuliani 817
Huckabee 490
Brownback 184
McCain 66

Notice how many more friends the Democratic candidates have versus the Republican candidates. It’s not even remotely close. The possible reasons include:

  1. Young people are generally more liberal/progressive than old farts and they get involved in social networking a lot more.
  2. Bush makes it embarrassing to be MySpace friends with any Republican.
  3. Republicans don’t know how to use computers.

I’m placing my bets on 1., but 2. might have something to do with it and 3. wouldn’t surprise me.

Culmination of a three-year project

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Tomorrow morning at 9:00am the rough draft of our thesis paper is due. I’m in Team GAMER, which is an undergraduate research group at the University of Maryland in the Gemstone program. We’re all seniors now, having worked together for three years, and we’re now very close to the end.

I’m going to be up rather late tonight on last-minute edits getting everything together in preparation to submit it tomorrow by 9:00am. Looking back on all of the time we spent working together, I’m kind of surprised we’re finally at the point where we’re finishing up the final product. Time goes by so fast, eh?

Lethal kites in Pakistan

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Pakistan is probably the only nation in the world that can manage to kill 11 people during a kite-flying celebration. The deaths were from the usual suspects — running a kite into power lines and people falling off of rooftops — as well as the unusual suspects, such as falling ammunition, stray bullets, and presumable decapitations/slit throats by razor-sharp kite strings.

Come again? you may ask of that last piece. Apparently kite-fighting is a sport. The goal is to slice your opponent’s kite’s string, thus severing their control over their kite, while keeping your own kite’s string intact. To do this, people have been known to apply razor blades or sharpened glass fragments to their kite strings, or just use razorwire as the kite string in the first place. Understandably, this dangerous practice is outlawed, but it didn’t stop 700 people from being arrested for using dangerous kite strings.

I’m just having some serious problems comprehending why certain less-industrialized (and generally Muslim) countries suffer dozens of deaths per year from falling ammunition fired in celebration. At least here in America we have the NRA, and they train their members in proper firearms safety. But in some other countries, like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, they discharge their firearms randomly up into the air? Where in the hell did they get the idea that that was okay?!

A Supreme Commander expansion is in the works

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

See the second to last question in this interview with Chris Taylor, creator of Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander: an expansion pack to Supreme Commander is in the works. Now I really don’t suspect this is going to take anyone by surprise, as Total Annihilation had two expansion packs, and expansion packs are pretty much a gimme for any successful game. The expansion is likely to have all of the usual suspects: more units, more maps, another campaign, etc.

Critically, I hope the expansion has more Tech III units, as there are only two per faction right now (an all-purpose assault bot and heavy mobile artillery), which seriously lacks variety. I don’t really even use the Tech II units much because the Tech III units can be made very soon after Tech II. The Tech III assault bots are too all-purpose and powerful. I would really like to see more variety that would make other types of armies more viable in the end game.

See more of my posts on Supreme Commander.

Update 2007-11-14: The expansion has been released, its name is Forged Alliance, and you can read a lot more about it at Supreme Commander Talk.

Black Tuesday?

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Damn, the stock market was pwned today. And I use that gamers’ colloquialism in the non-ironic sense. The stock market took a huge beating (I don’t even want to disclose how much I lost, but it wasn’t pretty). The sell-off was a result of huge downturns in the Chinese markets. The Chinese markets gained 100% over the past year on rampant margin trading (where people borrow money then invest the money they don’t actually have). Actual growth in China’s economic indicators did not gain 100% in a single year. So, earlier today, the strong centralized Communist government in China (correctly) realizes that there is a huge problem with their stock markets, and that they are going to crash very hard in the future because all of the numbers are based on unsubstantiated growth. Thus, the government of China steps in and says they’re going to deal with it.

What happened next was inevitable. The Chinese markets fell nearly 10% in a single day of trading on rumors that margin trading will soon be limited or banned outright. It was a correction on the false 100% growth of the previous year. Unfortunately, large downturns like this send ripples through the international markets, so all of the European and American indices took heavy losses as well. Which is how the Dow lost 400 points today.

What really annoys me is that months of slow and gradual growth can be erased in a single bad day. It never works the opposite way. The stock market never “suffers” huge jumps.

My creative process

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

I wrote another column today for The Diamondback. It took about an hour to get started and then thirty minutes to actually write the thing. I really wish my creative process was more organized or planned — or perhaps that is inimical to its very nature.

All I know is that my creative process is as random and unorganized as is neurologically possible. I just sit in front of a computer and thrash over different topics in my mind. If, at any point, I get stuck and can’t keep making progress on thinking of something new, I’ll bring up any of the dozens of constantly-updated websites in my bookmarks list (Digg, Fark, Slashdot, blogs, etc.) and browse for a little while until I have something new to think about.

Somehow, I’m able to tie all of these disparate topics together into a coherent train of thought, usually on a dfiferent, unrelated subject. For instance, I ended up writing my column about encouraging undergraduate research. That didn’t come up in anything I was looking at on Fark, of course, but that’s where my brain took me nonetheless. I really cannot explain it.

Somehow this creative process works for me. Despite being terrible unpredictable and random, it always inevitably ends up taking me somewhere. And I suppose that’s good enough. I don’t suffer from writer’s block, I suffer from brainstormer’s block. But once I finally get that kernel of an idea, I’m good to go. The actual idea generation process is rather agonizing, though, and after two hours with nothing to show for them, I do start feeling very aggravated and end up needing to take my mind off of it by doing something else.

YouTube’s failures

Monday, February 26th, 2007

CNet is carrying an insightful article on five ways that YouTube is failing. The analysis is pretty dead on. Basically, back when Google bought up YouTube, we all thought there’d be some big improvements on the way. But they failed to materialize. YouTube is still the same as ever: a large collection of amateur videos and ripped-off commercial videos. That’s it. They haven’t signed any new distribution deals, and in fact, they lost the distribution deal they had with CBS and Viacom. YouTube is still #1, but it won’t last long. The other services are catching up quickly, and they are offering improved features and distribution deals that make them more attractive than YouTube.

If I had to place a bet, I would say that YouTube is going to be dethroned, and Joost is replace it. Joost has everything going for it. It was created by the duo who brought us both Kazaa and Skype. Talk about a proven track record in Internet innovation! It already has distribution deals signed with some major companies and many more are interested. Also, its infrastructure is a lot more robust: it’s more peer-to-peer than YouTube, which is simply client/server. And finally, Joost is focusing more on being “Television over Internet”, rather than YouTube, which is mainly focused on being “Random video clips over Internet”. It’s a huge difference, and it definitely works in Joost’s favor.

Ordering pizza from the command line tutorial

Monday, February 26th, 2007

This is a tutorial on how to order pizza from the command line. You don’t even have to get on the phone or open up a browser window. This arrangement is ideal for those who are in the middle of an extensive coding session and don’t want to interrupt their Linux-mode train of thought just to obtain necessary sustenance.

First you’ll need to obtain the pizza script; the latest version is available for download here. Just unzip it and you’re almost ready to order your pizza! (Note that the script only supports Dominoes at this time.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Attempt no landings there

Monday, February 26th, 2007

“All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landings there.”

That’s the prophetic warning delivered to humanity in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010. Luckily for us, in the real world, there is no overarching intelligence shepherding the development of fledgling life, so we can, and should, be attempting landings there. Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) is a fascinating place, and one of the few candidates for harboring life in our solar system.

Europa has a strangely alien surface consisting of sheets of ice potentially miles thick that are criss-crossed with fracture patterns. The surface re-paves itself over relatively short timescales due to all of the ice moving around. But thanks to that wonderful property of water, that it is less dense in its frozen state, we believe there to be a large sub-surface ocean beneath Europa’s surface. Many scientists think this ocean is our best hope for finding life in the solar system.

Luckily, some scientists aren’t just dreaming about it, they’re working on doing something about it. Scientists at UC Berkeley say we could send an unmanned mission to Europa within fifteen years. One of the most popular plans involves a submersible that could melt its way through the thick layer of ice and explore the oceans. However we do end up going there, however, we need to keep the spirit behind the “Attempt no landings there” maxim intact. In 2010, we were instructed not to land on Europa to prevent contaminating it with Earth life. That instruction is still just as important as ever, fiction or not.

Supreme Commander gets more great reviews

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Now this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s played it, but the great reviews for Supreme Commander just keep streaming on in. GameSpy scores it a 4.5 out of 5, while Strategy Informer awards it a 9.3 out of 10. It’s really a vindication for long-time Total Annihilation fans like me that this style of gaming is finally getting the critical acclaim it deserves. All of my friends and I have loved Chris Taylor’s RTSs for years, and we’d have been really disappointed if his latest wasn’t given the kudos it deserved. Well, luckily, it was. The average score across all of the gaming review sites is very high. Go Supreme Commander!

Also, some tantalizing screenshots for Empire Earth III have been released. I remember playing the first Empire Earth game; it was a lot of fun. It’s kind of like Age of Empires, but across a much longer time range, and on a bit more of a massive scale (like, say, Chris Taylor’s RTSs). I’m definitely going to give Empire Earth III a whirl when it comes out — if I’m done playing Supreme Commander by then, anyway.

See more of my posts on Supreme Commander.