Don’t Worry, Be Happy (Everyone else is doing it)

According to an article posted on LiveScience, the world’s overall happiness quotient has risen significantly over the past few years.
“The upbeat outlook is attributed to economic growth in previously poor countries, democratization of others, and rising social tolerance for women and minority groups.”

Most anthropologists and sociologists have long believed that the world’s general level of happiness stays constant over time. This recent study is both surprising and comforting. It looks like we really can look forward to a brighter future.

Life Instructions

“It requires some effort to achieve a happy outlook on life, and most people don’t make it.”
Author and researcher Gregg Easterbrook

Basic advice proven to work (by scientists and religion alike, no less) include: “Make lists of things for which you’re grateful in your life, practice random acts of kindness, forgive your enemies, notice life’s small pleasures, take care of your health, practice positive thinking, and invest time and energy into friendships and family.” (source)

No Ice in the North Pole

North PoleAccording to scientists, the North Pole could be devoid of ice this year for the first time in human history.

Pros: Ship passage through the fabled Northern Passage (the top of the world) that could accelerate trans-Atlantic shipping. Canadian/Icelandic beachfront property.

Cons: Affirmation of Global Warming? Destruction of Santa Claus.

Ironically, there are abundant oil reserves under the North Pole, which would be accessible after a meltdown.

More information on the subject available here.

On Games and Women

Men and WomenUntil recently, gaming was primarily a male pastime. Females entering the realm of controllers, attribute modifiers, BFGs, and circle strafing have created a confused and disoriented male gamer. But fear not, one of my favorite gaming journalists has written an excellent paper detailing exactly how us devoted male gamers will make it out of this predicament alive. I recommend you all read it. For the sake of Cortanna, Kerrigan, Jade, Lara, and Jaina, read it. Read the article here.

Confirmed: Diablo 3

Diablo 3 IconAlright, I’ve spent the last hour or so pouring over the new Diablo 3 trailers/gameplay/interviews and I admit I am impressed! For once, I won’t be embedding game videos into the blog, I’ll be providing links instead. The Diablo 3 gameplay and trailer really require that widescreen feel the current iteration of this blog cannot provide. That said, check out the annoucement trailer (make it full screen using the button to the right of the menu button in the GameSpot video player, can be done with the other videos too).

Here is a good 20 minute live gameplay video (introduces barbarian and witchdoctor classes).

And of course an interview with a Blizzard employee.

So what’s so great about Diablo 3? I was drawn in for 2 reasons. First, Blizzard actually added a color palette this round. After playing games like Warcraft and Starcraft, playing Diablo 2 felt like replacing life with black and white. D3 has so much more color than the previous games, in addition to a very tasteful art design that will allow this game to look great on anyone’s machine. Second, Blizzard added physics. Physics is not a hallmark feature in RPGs, but it has been implemented in such a way as to look good AND provide additional gameplay. When you are watching the trailer, pay attention to when objects in the world blow up into chucks of wood and stone and imagine if it all fell on the floor in a boring heap instead (like it did in D2).

Happy Saturday!

Spray-on Skin!

Skin SprayAFIRM (Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine) has made several advances in the past several years. Notably, they took a ‘pixie dust’ manufactured out of pig bladders to regrow the fingertips of two patients. The dust signals growth factors in scar tissue, causing small limbs, such as fingertips, to grow back fully (nail included).

Other regenerative research includes work by Anthony Atala, a Wake Forest University tissue engineer, who has developed an ink-jet printer capable of manufacturing entire organs one cell layer at a time. While he has managed to print an entire rat heart, applications in skin regeneration look extremely promising in human patients. Also, mobile versions of the printer could regrow critical organs in combat zones.

AFIRM has developed a spray that would serve same solution, regrowing burned and scarred skin. The spray utilizes a patient’s own keratinocytes, immature skin cells. Trials on 16 patients have been extremely promising, showing results comparable to more complicated (yet effective) skin grafting procedures.

Soon enough, these military medical technologies will make their way into civilian medicine, making us into invincible super soldiers capable of world domination. Happy Friday!

Diablo 3 “Announced!”

Quoted from, Jeff, eat your heart out:
diablo 3

“Here we go! The community site is reporting that Blizzard will be announcing the third game in its epic Diablo series at this week’s Worldwide Invitational in Paris.  That’s right.  Diablo III is on its way!

“With this week’s speculation over the Blizzard teasers, more and more reports in the media, and numerous tips coming direct us at IncGamers from reliable inside industry sources in the past 24 hours, we now have confirmation from inside sources to say that Diablo 3 WILL be announced on Saturday at WWI Paris 2008.”

Blizzard’s Vice President of Design, Rob Pardo, already teased that a new game announcement was on the way in an interview with this morning.  He’d know–the Blizzard frontman is delivering the keynote address at this year’s big gathering.

Of course, had you a dollar every time a news site swore that Diablo 3 was coming, you could have already hired the producers for Diablo IV and World of Diablo.  Blizzard’s ongoing series of teasing splash images has a few days left before the big reveal.  If this is just another Starcraft 2 race, expect to see a number of demon-killing enthusiast gamers eating hats–the taste certainly wouldn’t be new.”

Space Siege

If you liked Knights of the Old Republic, Dungeon Siege, Battlestar Galactica,  or System Shock then I’ve got a game for you! Gas Powered Games (Dungeon Siege, Supreme Commander) is working on a very interesting science fiction RPG coming out later this year called Space Siege.
Back story: Humanity is running from a formidable alien threat on a massive colony ship which has come under attack by said aliens. *gasp* The entire game allegedly takes place on this ship. The key feature of this RPG is how you decide to defeat your opponents. Your character is a talented mechanic who can augment his own body using looted technology OR he can use said technology to upgrade his loving robot companion instead. There are several game endings possible, based on how much humanity you have left over at the end of the game.

I’ve got two videos for you, the first is a classy trailer and the second is mostly gameplay.


I often write glowingly about solar panels and how great it would be for me to control a giant laser beam. My plans for a solar powered empire work fine when the solar array is built in space, but odds are any significant solar arrays will be built first on Earth. So, after the sun goes down the power goes out! Our primary means of energy storage, what we need in order to light our nights, are chemical batteries. DeathStar

Batteries have gotten us pretty far, allowing us to carry mobile phones, laptops, flashlights, etc. But all these things work on a small scale. Sure, we have car batteries to jump start our engines, but in the end they aren’t built to do much else on a reliable basis. Chemical batteries are volatile, toxic, and have a short lifespan. They wouldn’t be able to power a solar civilization when the sun goes down, not until we see some chemical battery breakthroughs.

Till then we have the flywheel. Flywheels work like mechanical batteries, storing energy kinetically rather than chemically. They do this using a spinning wheel or disk. When energy is added to the flywheel, the wheel/disk is spun by a motor, when energy needs to be subtracted or utilized, the motor engages the spinning disk, generating electricity. A heavier disk adds a linear amount of potential energy storage. A disk capable of higher speeds, on the other hand, adds a squared amount of potential energy storage. Thus, disks meant to store a large amounts of energy must be able to spin at very high speeds (16,000 RPM, for instance). The trouble is, normal materials spinning at this speed explode due to the extreme forces acting on their surfaces. This is why modern flywheels are built using materials such as carbon fiber.Battery Container

Several companies have started making large scale flywheels, but these days the most common use for a flywheel is power regulation. A large flywheel installation can smooth out bumps in the energy grid caused when power demand and supply fall out of sync. In the worst cases, a desynced power grid will cause a brownout or blackout, shutting down power completely. Residents of New York and more commonly, California, suffer from these disturbances. Unlike a generator, a flywheel can instantly respond to dips and jumps in an energy grid, preventing a frequency shift great enough to shut down the system.

Point is, while smoothing out our grids is a great idea anyway, I think flywheels could also be used to store and generate energy overnight. They aren’t toxic, they recharge very quickly, they last for a long time, etc. Plus, they spin really really really really fast.

Far Cry 2

I liked the original Far Cry! Released in 2004 by German developer Crytek Studios, nobody had any idea what to expect. Far Cry offered some of the most amazing tropical visuals to ever grace my monitor. It also happened to be pretty darn fun running/swimming/driving/asploding my way around tropical islands and camps of evil mercenaries and science experiments gone wrong.

Far Cry


Crysis, released last year by Crytek, was supposed to be the Far Cry’s successor, and while it did raise the graphical bar into the stratosphere, gameplay wasn’t spectacularly innovated over Far Cry’s. Crysis is one of those games that will be around forever, considering even the mighty GTX280 can just barely run it at an acceptable framerate while at high resolutions.


Strangely enough, none of them share ANY storyline whatsoever. Far Cry 2 is being developed by Ubisoft, not Crytek. Far Cry 2 isn’t even using the same graphical engine! Also, unlike to the first two, Far Cry 2 should be completely open-world, a feature usually relegated to RPGs and Grand Theft Auto.


AMD’s 4850

Recently I wrote about Nvidia’s new GPU series, the GTX 260/280 cards. These beasts cut a swath through the current video cards, handily stomping anything that had come before, but they did so at a high price, $400 and $650, respectively. Gamers appreciate these cards, but often it is hard for anyone to justify so much money on a single component when an entire computer can be purchased for the same amount.
Radeon HD 4850

Now, various sites have released benchmarks of the AMD 4850, and it has me happily surprised.

I spent a large enough word count getting into GPU specifics last time, so I’ll just outline the major points of this card. First, it performs very much like an Nvidia 9800GTX, which (before today) ran a hefty $300. That should stop most people right there, a 200 dollar card offering the same (or better) performance as a 300 dollar card. Well, in an attempt to rain on AMD’s parade, Nvidia has drastically cut the price of the 9800GTX down to $200! So really, considering the prices, the real fight is between the AMD 4850 and the Nvidia 9800GTX. They trade blows in most benchmarks, in some Nvidia pulls ahead and in others AMD is the champ, but in most cases performance differs by a small margin (10% or less). That said, the 4850 runs slightly cooler and requires slightly less wattage than the 9800GTX. It also only requires 1 six pin power supply connector, while the 9800GTX requires 2.

Crysis DX10To the right, you can get a taste of how well the 4850 performs on the GPU-eating game we call Crysis (at various resolutions). Take a look at how well the 4850 performs not only against the 9800GTX but also against its fairly successful predecessor, the 3870.

Soon the 4870 will be released, offering MUCH faster memory and higher clock speeds. Some (highly excitable) reviewers have estimated as much as a 40% performance increase compared to the 4850. Soon after that will come the 4870X2, fusing two 4850 cores into a single piece of PCB board, and possibly beating the GTX280 to a pulp. Still, the price wont be quite as sweet, most estimations of the 4870 price range between $250 and $300. This will make for an interesting show in the coming months.

AMD/ATI has really blown the lid off this generation’s GPU battle. They have a competitive GPU at a competitive price with competitive features, and it is smaller, cooler, and slightly quieter and more power efficient than the 9800GTX. We haven’t seen this level of competition for almost 2 years now, and I’m glad it has returned.