steuard: (Tolkien)
Monday, December 30th, 2013 10:40 pm
Wow. That was something. I can imagine that for folks who don't know the book well, it was probably a pretty entertaining movie. But, well, is it a bad sign for a serious epic fantasy story that I spent a fair bit of the film laughing?

My chief impression after watching "The Desolation of Smaug" for the first time today was puzzled surprise: given that Peter Jackson has taken a single short book (far shorter than any volume of The Lord of the Rings) and expanded it to fill three very long movies, how (and why) did he manage to condense or omit so much of Tolkien's story?

Hyre be spoileres... )
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steuard: (lake)
Saturday, July 27th, 2013 10:36 pm
Wow: the xkcd webcomic had an entry called "Time" a while back that was notable because the image updated every hour(?), gradually telling some sort of story. Some dedicated people have been following it carefully, and it just reached "The End" in the past day or so (3099 frames total!). The story starts out pretty slow, but it builds to a strong conclusion, and it's awesome.

Here's a site where you can let all of the frames play back automatically at high speed (with brief pauses for frames with dialog or noteworthy events). It's worth watching!

Incidentally, there's clearly a lot of backstory that is never fully revealed along the way. Evidently there's a whole community trying to piece some of it together. Just as one thing to watch for, near the end you'll get to see two maps. Pay attention to the second one (and maybe tilt your head a little). Evidently even the details of the stars are important.
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Sunday, April 22nd, 2012 04:56 pm
Lots of people seem to like this "Legend of Korra" show, and I've heard the helpful tip that it's viewable free on the Nickelodeon website. But... um... turns out I haven't managed to watch Avatar yet. How important or helpful would it be to see The Last Airbender before leaping into this newer show? Is there anyplace I can conveniently watch that? (And ideally at no extra cost to me. Netflix is a viable option, particularly if it's streaming.) I have no idea when or if I'm going to get to either one, mind you, but I'm interested in adding them to my queue.
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Saturday, February 11th, 2012 04:04 pm
My "Physics of Video Games" talk at AlmaCon went beautifully. (The con as a whole seems to be going really well, too. Thank goodness!) Many thanks to those of you who suggested ideas: some of those confirmed the value of thoughts I'd already had and others filled exactly the gaps that I had been worried about finding good examples for. My turnout was surprisingly good. I got nods of familiarity and/or understanding for lots of my "good physics" examples, loads of laughter for some of my "bad physics" examples, and some great questions and discussion when talking about using games to teach the scientific method.

In case you're curious, here's a list of videos that I used (though I often showed only a relevant clip from each). I kinda wish that I'd videotaped it!

Good physics examples:
Angry Birds (as well as some graphs of bird motion).
World of Goo (another physics puzzle game)
Dwarf Fortress (fluid flow & melting points)
Myth: The Fallen Lords (an early example of a really complete physics environment)
Skyrim (lots of cheese) (this got a laugh, but illustrated the quality of modern physics engines)

Bad (or rather, unrealistic) physics examples, that might be either good or bad for game play:
Skyrim bug with a sabertooth tiger (this had them laughing louder and louder for about a minute straight)
Resonance (flash game where jumps have no momentum)
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (decent laugh here; I just had a short little clip on loop)
Grand Theft Auto IV (big laugh, but as I pointed out, in many cases this behavior probably makes the game more fun)
Portal (a fictional element in an otherwise realistic game)
Portal infinite fall (what happened to conservation of energy?)
Mario 3D Land (steering during a jump)
Mario 64 (kicks in midair push you higher)

Video games teaching the scientific method (with excerpts from the full paper)
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Thursday, February 9th, 2012 06:14 pm
I'm looking for ideas!

I'm giving a talk on "The Physics of Gaming" at a small convention this weekend (run by our college anime/gaming club). My plan is to first talk about "good physics" (games where some aspect(s) of physics are done well and important), then about "bad physics" (games where some aspect of physics is horribly inaccurate), and finally about how gamers wind up thinking like scientists (based largely on "Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds" by Steinkuehler and Duncan).

What I'd really like would be some neat, current examples of "good" and "bad", and ideally YouTube videos to illustrate them. I've got some ideas already, but any suggestions would be welcome. Thoughts, all you gamers out there?
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Monday, January 17th, 2011 10:26 pm
[Sorry this one's a bit long, but there was a lot of great stuff on that final day.]

Friday, January 7:
Our final day at sea began with Peter Sagal leading a quiz show featuring the various entertainers. It was listed on the schedule as "Hey Hey... I'm Clever!", but after one of his comments about a pet peeve at Monday's Q&A session it was renamed "Hey Hey... I'm An Asshole!" Much like the Q&A session, this was a great chance to see a bunch of the performers a bit less formally and just cracking jokes with each other: those were some of my favorite parts of the cruise. This also may have been the only time all week that we saw David Rees's deadpan nonchalance break down into laughter. (If folks eventually get video of this online, I'll try to post the appropriate clip.)

After lunch, I ventured to the game room once again and entered the Pirate Fluxx tournament, competing for the chance to win a copy of the not-yet-released game. Sadly, Fluxx is always very random and we didn't have nearly enough time (or speed) to do lots of rounds to even that out... or at least, that's my excuse. :) While waiting for one particularly long round to finish at another table, my table played a game of "Once Upon a Time": it's a fascinating game about collaborative storytelling, but I got the sense that it could easily be prone to rules arguments and misunderstandings between players. I'd like to try it again now that I've got the gist of it. Once I was eventually bumped out of the Fluxx tournament, I played "Apples to Apples" for a while before it was time for the show.

The final evening of the cruise featured an all-request show by JoCo (we'd been turning in request cards all week), though it opened with the cruise director telling us how much he and the staff loved us. My ex-students Liana and Phil wound up sitting next to us, and as we discussed the week during intermission Liana commented that the last thing she'd expected from the trip was to find herself sitting next to her physics professor with both of us singing all the words to "I Feel Fantastic". JoCo sang lots of great songs, many of them more obscure (and many of those with more than a few stumbles along the way), and it was wonderful. There was a Fancy Pants Parade (and competition). We got a fun explanation of the underlying story for "Under the Pines", and generally lots of other great songs (including a cover of "Birdhouse In Your Soul"). Our one disappointment was that JoCo started to lead into my request ("You Ruined Everything", a favorite that Kim and I have been thinking of a lot lately), but held off because he hoped his daughter would come back from getting pizza first, and then he never got back to it. But to counterbalance that, JoCo's own request for the night was a song by John Roderick (with JoCo, Paul, and Storm as backup) called "The Commander Thinks Aloud" that was just amazing. I'll embed it below; Peter Sagal called it "[his] fav[orit]e cruise moment (among many)" (many indeed... but this is the one he tweeted about three times). All in all, this was a great final show for the week.

After that was dinner (a fancy dinner show by the staff); toward the end, one table and then more and more spontaneously got up, faced JoCo's table, and started singing "This was a triumph. I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS." I helped Kim pack and fill out our comment cards, and then I went up to spend a bit of time at the farewell party on the back deck of the ship. I said goodbye to a number of people I'd met during the week, and I chatted with some famous people. I told Wil Wheaton that a friend of mine remembered meeting him when Will appeared at his dorm room to visit his roommate Dean, and Wil filled in a detail: Wil knew Dean because Dean was trying to steal away Wil's girlfriend at the time, a project in which he eventually succeeded. (Who knew?) I also expressed my admiration for Peter Sagal, and found that he did indeed remember [ profile] ukulele from his show ("How could I forget a name like that?" he asked). After some final goodbyes and a brief attempt at stargazing, I headed off to bed.

The next morning was simple: just a final breakfast and then a wait until our turn to disembark. It was a little sad seeing all of our cruise partners scatter away, but hey, we may all get to do this again someday. (Another cruise is almost certainly in the works.)

Video evidence: I haven't seen any significant footage of the quiz show up yet: people seem to be uploading mostly in order. However, it looks like at least one person has uploaded the full request show: here's the first part (which is actually entirely Paul and Storm doing administrative stuff), but it should lead directly into later bits with actual music.

Finally, John Roderick singing "The Commander Thinks Aloud", a tribute to the astronauts who died when the space shuttle Columbia broke up on reentry. I'm tempted to embed the relevant segment of the full concert recording, since it's a bit higher quality and includes John Roderick's introduction to the song, but for now I'll stick with the music:
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Sunday, January 16th, 2011 09:01 pm
Thursday, Jan. 6:
This was our day in George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands. Kim and I took a semi-submersible boat tour (like a glass-bottomed boat, but a bit spiffier) of the coral reefs and shipwrecks in the harbor, which included some nifty facts (did you know that something like 70% of the lovely white sand on Caribbean beaches comes from parrotfish ingesting bits of coral rock and then, um, excreting them?).

While waiting with some other JoCo folks for our shuttle bus to take us back to the port, a woman a bit older than us commented that she liked my "Aperture Laboratories" shirt. We chatted a bit, and at some point I mentioned that we taught at Alma College. That prompted a startled "What?!!!" from a younger girl and guy also waiting with us. Another awesome coincidence: it turns out that they're from Ithica, MI, which is just fifteen minutes from us, and that half of her family had gone to Alma. Further conversation also revealed that her grandmother was from my home town of Lincoln, NE. Small world! Eventually, we all got tired of waiting for our bus and just walked back to the port (it really wasn't far). After lunch, Kim took a nap while I went up to the top deck and read a book in the sea air for a while.

The JoCo show for the night was a really wide range of people and styles. David Rees did a terrible job of spoiling movies as "The SPOILER". Peter Sagal read some neat personal stories. Stephen "Stepto" Toulouse talked about working as the Xbox "banhammer" at Microsoft. Peter Sagal reappeared and did his great "Dr. A's Henchman" sketch. And finally, John Roderick of The Long Winters played a fantastic set of sad but funny/geeky songs. (Check him out!) Sadly, with all that going on, the show went way over time and Roderick had to leave the stage before he finished his set. We had dinner with some very cool people (including Famous Tracy from Monday's Q&A session). After that, Kim headed to bed and I went down to watch some JoKaraoke again before joining her. All in all, another great day.

Video evidence: David Rees as The Spoiler was odd. Peter Sagal did lots of stuff; here's his first segment. Stepto's stuff is online (right after Peter's final remarks), too. EDIT: Here's a recording of Peter Sagal's "I, Henchman". And several of John Roderick's songs are up, starting with "Stupid", then "Scared Straight", "Seven", "Gimme all your lovin'", "Ultimatum", and "Not Moving to Portland" (this one's for you, [ profile] 175560 :-) ). I quite liked Honest, too.
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Saturday, January 15th, 2011 09:38 pm
[For some particularly good photos of everything, the official photographer has uploaded a lot of his best.]

Wednesday, Jan. 5:
The ship visited the town of Ocho Rios, Jamaica, but Kim and I mostly sat it out. Few of the things to do sounded worth the money to us, and the one that was most tempting (walking up a pretty series of waterfalls) sounded potentially unwise for her uterus and my knee. We had a relaxing morning, and after lunch we walked out maybe a quarter mile onto the island just to say we'd been there. (And it sounds like we didn't miss much: most people seemed to agree that it was the least interesting port of call.)

The JoCo show for the day started with Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett from RiffTrax doing their MST3K treatment of a couple of short instructional films: Shake Hands with Danger (construction site safety) and Drawing for Beginners: The Rectangle. (They were joined by Peter Sagal, who got some good lines.) After that, Molly Lewis played a good set of songs with her ukulele. After that, Mike Phirman came out and did some music and some standup comedy (much of it simultaneous) that was a lot of fun. He ended right on time at 7:30... and then suddenly the RiffTrax guys came out along with John Hodgman to do one last short (about making crafts with grasses), followed by a big group singalong of a generic national anthem, "Our Nation's Better Than Yours". In other words, we ran way over time, but it was fun.

We had another pleasant dinner with some neat people (new ones again: I liked that), and then Kim and I both went to the game room for a bit. I played a game of "Back to the Future", a substantially simplified variant of Chrononauts based on the movie trilogy (simpler to play, but still fun and probably much easier to learn). It was fun chatting about the design of the game with the founder of Looney Labs, too; she's pretty cool. After that, Kim headed to bed; I stayed up to watch folks play Rock Band for a little bit, but I joined her pretty soon.

Video evidence: Bits and pieces from the show: Molly Lewis singing "Road Trip" (it's the only video of her show that I've found so far; not my very favorite of her songs, but still fun), Mike Phirman's show (with bonus excitement when the camera falls from the balcony, happily failing to hit anyone), or perhaps better, Phirman's standup bits and his music, and My Country's Better Than Yours. (Also, I just added a video of Molly Lewis singing at JoKaraoke to the previous day's video list.)
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Saturday, January 15th, 2011 12:01 am
Tuesday, Jan. 4:
I wore my awesome Large Torso Collider T-shirt for this day at sea. That turned out to be handy, because when I headed to breakfast on my own (Kim ate early) I randomly ended up on an elevator with a woman about my age who'd been a code monkey at CERN; we had a fun conversation over breakfast together.

That morning was a big Q&A session with JoCo and practically all the other featured guests. It was a really neat chance to hear them all respond to a range of questions about creative work and pet peeves and a bit about "What's it like to be famous?" One of the last questions was asked by another woman about my age named Tracy, who commented that she found it easier to talk to famous people if she silently told herself, "I'm famous, too." A bit later, one of the panelists commented at some point that, "Of course, I'm not as famous as Tracy; she should really be on stage with us." Without missing a beat, Tracy got up from her seat, walked to the stairs, and got up on stage. Someone handed her a chair on the way up, and "Dammit Liz" (stage manager and organizer supreme) even handed Tracy her own bottle of water like the others when she joined them. It was awesome.

After the Q&A came a big group photo at the front of the ship. (We'd had to file through a narrow hallway to the small-ish door, and after a while it started to feel like watching a clown car as nerd after nerd kept appearing through it.) After that was lunch, and then Kim took a nap while I went to a swing dancing lesson. Turns out it was a somewhat different style of swing than what I'd learned in Social Dance at Mudd, but I was glad of that (since I've recognized for a while that what I knew didn't seem to be universal). That was really a lot of fun, and another good chance to get to know some some people. (Despite much improvement over time I'm still shy about barging up and introducing myself to strangers, so I benefit from events like dance lessons and open seating dinner that make the "approach" step automatic for everyone.)

The evening's show was the first actual JoCo concert, followed by John Hodgman doing various funny stuff. JoCo played a fair number of familiar songs (and some less so), and several of them were together with Paul and Storm or with Molly Lewis with her ukulele. After that, Hodgman came out and presented a bunch of facts about the ship and other topics, some of which might have even been true. He then acted as judge to settle two relationship disputes: one about when it's proper to play seasonal/Christmas music, and one about whether it's acceptable to eat brown gravy (instead of white) with a fried chicken dinner. (That last featured Adrienne and Francis, whom I'd hung out with a couple of times the first night.) After a brief intermission, JoCo played some songs from his new album and a number of more familiar ones. (Near the end, folks backstage announced that they'd found a lost camera in the game room, and when the owner claimed it they told him he had to post all the backstage pictures they'd just taken on Flickr, including a sort of mini-play.)

We wound up sitting with just one other couple at dinner, but we all got along very well (perhaps because the topic strayed to our total of eight cats). Kim headed to bed, and I went down to watch some JoKaraoke (which was being run by JoCo himself: that must have been a bit odd for him). I didn't convince myself to sign up, but it was a tremendously supportive crowd (the weaker singers may well have gotten the most heartfelt applause) and a great atmosphere. The crowd invariably provided backup vocals and harmony parts as needed, too. :) Eventually, though, it was again time for bed.

Video evidence: No video of the Q&A seems to be up yet, but look for it if it's there! One video sequence of JoCo's part of the concert begins with "The Future Soon" (and more) before continuing in three more parts in the linked playlist. The only Hodgman video that I've found so far is a recording of the Gravy Ruling, which was pretty amusing. [Edit:] Also, here's a recording of Molly Lewis singing "Brand New Sucker" at JoKaraoke.
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Thursday, January 13th, 2011 10:56 pm
[Note: I've added links to a few videos at the end of my last post, many of which by some miracle include glimpses of me.]

Monday, Jan. 3:
We woke up early (Kim eats these days on a schedule a hobbit would envy), and I put on my Vinyar Tengwar T-shirt in honor of Tolkien's birthday. The ship had reached "Half Moon Cay", so we took a tender to the island and found a place to settle in a good distance down the beach (as it turned out, Wil Wheaton and his family spent the morning just a stone's throw away). Kim relaxed in the shade of some trees while I went for a swim in the stunningly clear, blue water. I swam along the shore for quite a ways, and despite my lack of glasses I managed to recognize our friends from the hotel and hang out with them in the water for a bit before heading back to Kim. (I found Kim's shady spot on just my second nearly-blind guess. :) ) After I did a bit more of a stroll to the far end of the beach and back, we headed back to the ship for lunch.

In the afternoon, I went to the game room again (I'd decided that was one way to make myself actually socialize a bit). I played a soon-to-be-released game called "Orbit" with its designer (and had a conversation about the Elvish letters on my shirt along the way), and then I moved on to a game of Monty Python Fluxx followed by Munchkin Cthulhu (both of them new variants of games I know well).

Finally, at 4:30 it was time for the very first JoCo group show! When it was time to start, the lights went down and "I'm On A Boat" started playing from the speakers. Moments later, Jonathan Coulton came on stage along with Paul (from Paul and Storm) for "morning announcements" (about schedule changes and upcoming informal events), the crowning of the "Monarch of the Seas" before introducing Wil Wheaton. Wil read three of his narrative stories, with musical accompaniment by Paul and Storm. They were fun and touching and it was all very cool.[1]

After Wil's stories, Paul and Storm played their own set. I hadn't heard them play before, but again, lots of fun. In their patter between songs, they quickly established what became the meme of the cruise: "_____ is my _____ cover band." (One example: after Storm explained his expanded facial hair by saying, "Yes, my beard is in double overtime", Paul jumped in with, "Double-overtime beard is my ZZ Top cover band.")

After the show we changed for dinner. It was open seating, so we joined an eight-person table and had a good conversation with a wide range of other geeky types. There was a mysterious, never-explained delay of half an hour or so between the time we finished soups and salads and the time they finally brought our entrees; we got the impression that there was some sort of problem in the kitchen. But it was all tasty once it got there. After that, we went back to the room to rest a bit (sadly, we skipped the Mustache Formal event, which sounds like it was a lot of fun). Finally, at 11pm we went to the "Drama Club" event where Peter Sagal and Bill Corbett each presented a play.

Video evidence: Videos are only gradually showing up, but here's [updated!] a somewhat complete set from the first night's show in a handy playlist. And here's the beginning of Bill Corbett's play "My Monster"; I won't link to all the separate parts, in part because this camera was apparently out of focus. [Or follow the original links I gave for the main show: Welcome and announcements, Monarch crowning, Wil Wheaton intro, "The Trade (I)", "The Trade (II)", [missing video about Rocky Horror], "The Excellence Incident" (a good, brief example), Paul and Storm: "Opening Band", "Cruel, Cruel Moon", "Nugget Man" (with JoCo), "Nun Fight", "Ten-fingered Johnny", The Frogger Musical, various tribute songs, and finally "The Captain's Wife's Lament" (with Wil Wheton and zillions of "X is my Y cover band" jokes) (two more parts will be uploaded shortly).]
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Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 09:55 pm
When I first mentioned that Kim and I were going on Jonathan Coulton's Caribbean cruise, [ profile] ukelele said "Blog or die, of course." We didn't have internet on the cruise (we were members of the Wifi Temperance Brigade), and work's been insane since we got back. But I think I've caught my breath enough to start posting brief summaries on a 10-day delay. Alas, I'd planned to take lots of pictures, but our digital camera failed the first morning and only worked sporadically later on. (I'm pretty sure these ~3000 Flickr photos are publicly viewable, though.) Despite that, it was a fantastic trip in almost every way. So on to Day 1!

Sunday, Jan. 2:
Kim and I got to Fort Lauderdale, Florida Saturday night. Sunday morning, we recognized some fellow "Sea Monkeys" while checking out of the hotel (easy enough: he had an Aperture Science T-shirt and she was wearing a USB necklace). We took the shuttle to the Holland America port together. We boarded the ms Eurodam and settled into our cabin (with its ocean view... through a lifeboat). At lunch, we played "spot the nerds": our ~380 nerds were hidden among thousands of senior citizens and vacationing families, but some of them surprised us. We registered and got our name badges and bags of goodies while admiring the geeky shirts of the people around us.

There was a Sail Away party on the back deck of the ship, where we saw JoCo and Wil Wheaton and other famous people mingling with the crowd. Once we were underway, we headed up to the opening reception for our group. After a few minutes came the first (and most surprising) Moment of Awesome: from across the room, I heard someone exclaim, "It's our Physics professor!" and suddenly two of my advanced E&M students from Claremont were running up to give me a hug (Liana and Phil, both from Pitzer). We chatted and caught up for a while, and then Kim went to change for dinner. I socialized with various people for a few more minutes and then did the same.

Our 8:00 dinner was perfectly pleasant (we shared a table with a couple more or less our age), and after it ended (around 9:30!) Kim went to bed and I went down to the tabletop gaming room for a bit. I jumped into a game of Telestrations: I'd never heard of it before, but it was a delightful cross between Pictionary and telephone. (This example captures the dynamic as the sketchbooks are passed from player to player quite well.) After that, it was time for a late night movie, which wound up being the RiffTrax version of The Happening (these are the guys who did MST3K, and two of them were on the ship). A terrible, terrible movie... so naturally they made it pretty funny. And at last, somewhere past 1am, I finally went to bed.

(Edited to add:) Video evidence: There are a few videos from the opening reception now online, including the opening comments by Paul (not Storm) and by JoCo. (Some funny bits, but mostly just setting the stage.) A video taken a few minutes later is just a crowd shot, but Kim and I can be seen standing at the bar about 5 seconds in (I'm in a grey shirt and she's wearing green that's dark and shadowed in back). More interesting(?) is a video of David Rees sharpening a pencil (no, really, and he takes it seriously: it's 8 minutes long). I'm actually right behind him in a grey T-shirt for a good bit of the video: I first show up at 2:42, and there's a glimpse of my face around 5:20. (Kim had already left by then.) Finally, here is some video of the game room, and those are my legs (in khaki slacks) and torso (in a green shirt) visible at the 15 second mark at the back left corner of the table playing Telestrations (right behind a girl named Adrienne drawing a fantastic voodoo doll).
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Saturday, June 19th, 2010 09:22 pm
Wow. I wonder if there's ever been a "Part 3" of a movie series as good as this one. (Probably so, but there can't have been many of them.) Well done, Pixar, well done.
steuard: (physics)
Friday, April 2nd, 2010 11:21 am

A few weeks ago, my friend and former colleague Sean Carroll was a guest on the Colbert Report to promote his book about the nature of time. Toward the end of the interview, they discussed the idea of the "multiverse", which Sean uses to refer to the (possibly) infinite number of "universe-sized" regions within the vast web of space and time where we live. The notion is that if we could somehow travel far enough (faster than light) to regions many times more distant than our telescopes can see, we could find countless independent "universes" that can never talk to each other at all. Some of them would be much like our own but others could be very different, maybe even with different laws of physics. Steven Colbert seemed quite interested:

Colbert: Am I in these other universes?

Carroll: There will be people very much like you.

Colbert: In these other universes, is it possible that my show's on at 11 and John Stewart is at 11:30?

Carroll: Maybe more often!

It's a cute exchange, and it's a variant on the old idea that "in an infinitely big universe, everything that could possibly happen must happen somewhere."

Trouble is, I don't know that I buy that argument, for rather subtle reasons. However we define them, the number of "independent universe-sized regions" of space and time is countably infinite: we could in principle come up with some way of labeling each one by an integer. But many sets (like the real numbers) are uncountably infinite: no matter how you try to label each real number by an integer, you'll miss the vast majority of them. The real numbers are just a much bigger infinity than the integers are. Going on, the set of all possible curves in space is a yet larger infinity. (Assuming space and time are continuous! If they turn out to be discrete, then the set of curves has the same infinite size as the real numbers.)

The thing is, the set of "everything that could possibly happen" is a lot more like the set of all curves than like the set of integers: if anything, it's a still larger infinity. So no matter how large our multiverse may be, it's mathematically impossible for every possible history to occur somewhere. Does that mean that our Steven Colbert (on at 11:30) is the only one? Quite possibly so. I'm not convinced that the multiverse idea opens up as many possibilities as people sometimes think.

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Friday, February 26th, 2010 10:23 pm
I've recently used Hulu to revisit an animated series that I really enjoyed as a kid: The Mysterious Cities of Gold. I enjoyed it a lot, both out of nostalgia and because it's quite well done. Kim has laughed a bit at how long it took, though: the series is 39 half-hour episodes long.

It struck me that it would be easier to share with others if there were an abridged version: a subset of episodes just long enough to convey the broad feel of the show. So I took notes while watching and wrote a guide to essential episodes of The Mysterious Cities of Gold. I've included a brief introduction to the series and some of my thoughts on it as well. If you remember the show fondly, or if the summary there peaks your interest, have a look!

Was it silly to spend time on this? Of course. But it wasn't all at once, and I enjoyed the process of putting it together. If someone else eventually appreciates it too, so much the better.
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Sunday, November 1st, 2009 08:21 pm

A month or two ago, Kim and I started playing Rock Band; it's a lot of fun. I've mostly been playing drums, in part because I've always been a little interested and in part on the theory that the skills there could transfer reasonably well to the real instrument. Better than the guitar, anyway!

I began to wonder if someone would eventually create "Orchestra Hero" so I could indulge my love of classical music, too. Kim and I spotted some significant difficulties, like:

  • Shorter songs are good for game play, so rock works well but classical less so. Playing through a single piece (or even a single movement) could take up a whole game session. And how obnoxious would it be when the clarinetist "fails out" ten bars before the end of Beethoven's 9th?
  • Rock band requires just three or four controllers for a standard rock setup, while to field an orchestra you'd need at least a dozen. Sure, not everyone would need to buy every controller, but it still fragments the market for those items. (And if you did get a dozen friends together to play, how would you show all the parts on the TV screen?)
  • While a lot of people might end up enjoying Orchestra Hero, many fewer would think they'd enjoy it: the market just isn't there. (Related is the point that one fun thing about Rock Band/Guitar Hero is getting to play songs you already know. Fewer people know a wide range of orchestral music.)

By the end of that conversation, I felt disappointed to realize that Orchestra Hero probably wouldn't ever happen, but I moved on.

So it was a bit of a surprise to see an article on the NY Times website today entitled "Orchestra Hero". The article isn't actually all that great (the author spends half his time talking about his composing, which has pretty much zilch to do with the topic), and it doesn't really touch on any of those difficulties or suggest ways to overcome them, but it's still neat to see other people considering the idea.

It's made me start wondering if something like this could actually work. There are lots of classical CDs with titles like "20 Romantic Classics" or "Bach's Greatest Hits" that pick out short, well-known pieces, so maybe length isn't such a big concern if you're willing to give up playing full symphonies. You could reduce the number of controllers by combining similar instruments (e.g. one controller design might work as a clarinet, oboe, and even flute). Maybe someone will eventually create Orchestra Hero after all.

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Sunday, November 1st, 2009 10:20 am

Kim and I had a fun Halloween, though a lot of it came together at the last minute. We started the festivities with a trip to "Halloweekends" at the Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio along with some friends from Alma. Some of the haunted houses there were pretty neat (Club Blood was well done with good atmosphere, and the Toy Factory was alternately creepy and uncomfortably funny). The outdoor "scare zones" weren't so much creepy as they were startling or, um, insulting. (I was followed through part of the "Fright Faire" by a medieval-looking zombie who said that with longer hair I could be one of the Monkees, since I was the whitest thing he'd seen since the moon went behind the clouds.) I'm told Cedar Point has some good roller coasters, too.

The downside of that trip was that we got back mid-afternoon Saturday, and we weren't entirely ready for Halloween yet. We'd done the essentials: Kim had already bought candy, and we carved pumpkins Thursday night:

Halloween pictures and details behind the cut... )

We were completely taken off guard by the number of trick-or-treaters. Our house is apparently in the very middle of the most popular trick-or-treating spot in the county: kids from the whole region come to our street. We'd been told to expect something like 300-400 kids during the city's official 5:30-7:30 trick-or-treating hours, so Kim bought about 575 pieces of candy to make sure we were safe. We gave them out one at a time, and Kim ran out at 6:38. Seeing the situation, I'd run out to the store a few minutes earlier to resupply; we opened back up at about 6:45, and I'd say we ended up giving candy to about 700 kids by the end of the evening. (We actually gave out more like 775 pieces of candy, but I started doubling up for the last 20-30 minutes when it was clear that the rate of kids was dwindling.)

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Saturday, December 8th, 2007 10:52 pm
Kim and I went to see The Golden Compass this morning. We very much enjoyed the books (especially the first one; there were a few implausible bits or gaps in the story's internal logic that bugged me a bit toward the end of the series), and while movies of favorite novels rarely live up to the source material, we were optimistic going in. But in the end, the film left us both relatively unimpressed. It wasn't an unenjoyable way to spend a morning (and goodness knows I needed some relaxation time as my semester wraps up), but I felt like I never really connected with the movie.

More details, including a few spoilers... )

After the film, we had lunch at the Honey Baked Ham cafe. Tasty food, but somehow almost every aspect of the service went bad. Nobody wants to hear my griping... )