Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Be safe out there tonight, and be mindful.

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange eons even death may die.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Today's Election Quote

The quote comes from Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. In an interview with "The New Yorker," he was asked if there will be an election. He responded, "There will be an election, followed by rioting, the complete unraveling of society, and, I assume, a zombie problem. And everyone will agree it’s an improvement."

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Dangers of an Idle Mind

Something occurred to me the other day as I was prepping to clean bathrooms. It's a conflation of a pair of quotes, twisted by a mind that for once has been getting enough sleep.

I have become bleach, destroyer of molds.
Look upon my works ye musty, and despair.

What? I didn't say it was actually good. Extra points if you can identify the proper quotes.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Astrogeeks, A Galactic Civilizations 2 Story, Part 3

The Astrogeeks spent the balance of 2228 building up a military and researching basic energy weapon defenses. The ascension countdown continued, with only 205 weeks remaining. The United Planets voted to release restrictions on interstellar tourism at the end of the year, providing all the races more money to play with. Again, the geek culture helped, giving them the largest cash boost. It was enough to ramp production back up to full speed and boost espionage spending. Things were looking pretty good for the geeks.

By the middle of 2229, the Altarans were building up their military again. It probably had something to do with the geeks creating a starbase to harvest the final unclaimed ascension crystal. I responded by creating a frigate sized ship based on the Ming design. This new Gannon class would sport the same firepower as the smaller Mings, but be tougher and have some shielding to defend against Arcean beam weapons. Things were remaining tense, but quiet. In May of 2230, I spotted something I should have noticed far earlier. While I was busy keeping a close watch on the Arcean military buildup, I had failed to notice they were out researching me. And they already had destroyer sized ships that would be more than a match for my forces. Since my entire strategy depended on them not attacking my completely defenseless ascension crystal bases, something had to be done.
Unbalancing the rates of planetary, military, and research production causes inefficiencies, which means it costs money, but a quick check showed that thanks to the increased tourism the economy could handle it easily. Break out the coffee, it's time to show those non-geeks how research is done! At the end of 2230, the United Planets passed a "neutral ground" resolution stating that upon declaration of war forces opposing ships back into their own territories. The geeks were in favor, hoping it would give a few extra weeks of cushion in the event things began to go south. Only 71 weeks left before ascension.

On April 22, 2231 the Arceans declared war on the Altarans. I figured that would provide a nice little distraction to keep them both away from me, but one month later the Arceans finally decided the Astrogeeks needed to be stopped before they ascended. Time to gear up for war. My weapon research was still a bit behind the times, so upgrades to the Ming and Gannon class ship designs provided mostly heavy energy shielding to counter the Acrean weapons of choice. Thankfully, there was enough in the treasury to pay for quickly retooling all my existing ships to the newer designs. Unfortunately, the Mings and Gannons are slow, so I knew I had to relegate them to a defensive role. Offense would be handled by a new fast attack destroyer. It's offensive firepower wouldn't be too impressive (though better than my other ships), but with a shield strength of 12, it ought to be neigh impervious to the Arcean weapons. I hope.

In August, the Altarans surrendered to the Arceans. The combined alien empires made for a much more imposing opponent. I quickly lost the distant ascension crystal base that was too close to an Arcean world, but a Thundaar class destroyer proved effective in its first engagement. As the new year dawned, the destroyer proved less effective against large Arcean fleets, and another of my crystal mining bases fell. Several space battles, mostly of the hit and run variety, continued through January and February, seeing losses on both sides. In early March, a fleet of three Thundaars caught an Arcean fleet of more than a dozen ships heading back to their territory after destroying one of my resource mining starbases. Because the Arceans were damaged from the previous battle, the Thundaars were able to destroy the entire fleet without taking any losses. It was a devastating blow, and one week later the Arceans sued for peace. I willingly gave it to them. Thirty three weeks remained on the ascension countdown, but I quickly rebuilt the crystal starbases lost in the war. With the only possible opposition defeated, there was no doubt about the outcome. In the middle of September 2232, the Astrogeeks ascended beyond the mortal form.

And so my story comes to an end. But there are those who believe that geekdom here began out there, far across the universe with tribes of geeks who even now fight to survive far away among the heavens.*

* Yes, that last bit is a reference to this.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Game Day Hath Its Privileges

So your team is having a down year, losing games, firing coaches, and failing to meet expectations. That's OK, it happens to everyone some time. But sometimes as a fan it isn't whether they win or lose, it's about how you watch the game.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Astrogeeks, A Galactic Civilizations 2 Story, Part 2

When last we left my fictitious race of breakaway geeks, their little chunk of the galaxy was busy but calm. In June of 2227 they had their first official contact with the second major alien power in the area, the Arceans, but there was no meaningful interaction going on between the geeks and the other powers. About that time, the exploration ship found a class fourteen world off in the left corner of the map, about as far away from the other races as it could be. Worlds in GalCiv2 are rated by how much territory is usable, a class seven world has seven squares to build on, a class fourteen has twice as many. Higher class worlds are obviously more desirable. So off in the corner is exactly where I want to find a really nice world. It lessens the chance the other races will claim it in the month and a half it will take to build a colony ship and send it out that far.

As I build up my planets, the economy tightens up. All those factories, research centers, and entertainment complexes take money to run and tax revenue, even boosted by economic centers, isn't expanding nearly as quickly as the construction projects are. I'm still on the net positive side of the income curve at full production levels, but just barely. Tax rates have gone from single digits early on to the current level of 39%. Natrually my approval rating is down from 100% to 59%. Luckily, Homeworld has finished its social building projects for now and is directing all industrial output to the production of ships. I should be able to build constructors to put up a mining base on a nearby economic resource in short order. My ascension crystal bases remain safe since neither of the other races have started building a military.

In mid-September, the geeks colonize the class 14 world, Kerchen I. The screenshot shows its huge... tracts of land and my early usage plans. It has two squares with ancient artifacts that will boost research output of buildings put on them, and I want to get labs built on them as quickly as I reasonably can.

In February 2228, the Altarans got desparate enough for worlds to colonize the other inhabitable world in the Homeworld system. The geeks hadn't bothered with the tiny class 4 iceball before, but I knew something would have to be done about it now. I need not have worried. The geeks plyed the citizens of the new world with a steady stream of sci-fi entertainment and video games, and within two months they decided they liked the geek culture more than the Altarans and defected to become part of the geek empire. All with no extra work on my part. Of course, that saddled me with yet another planet to pay for. Getting the geeks' economy ready for the eventual appearance of military forces remains the top priority.

By July my scout ship had spotted three more ascension crystals. One was in Arcean territory and out of range of my ships, but the other two were within reach in the upper corner of the map. My scientists were happily showing off some prototype rail guns about the same time. Unfortunately, some judicous use of my spy networks and the diplomatic technology trading screen told me the Arceans had been developing laser weapons, and they had already started producing military ships. It was no coincidence that the week I created a fourth ascension crystal starbase, the first pair of new Ming class corvettes took up defensive orbits around Kerchen I and Cordelia I, with Homeword I working hard to build defensive vessels of its own.

After more than a full year of quiet expansion tensions are beginning to escalate...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Astrogeeks, A Galactic Civilizations 2 Story, Part 1

I sincerely hope everything is going well for all of you out there. It's been a pretty depressing couple of weeks for me on several fronts. Still it could be worse. Much worse. But I need a pick-me-up. And when I want to engage my mind and distract myself, I often turn to games. Whether you prefer playing with physical toys, using your imagination, or sitting in front of a computer screen or television, games are a great way to play around with impossible scenarios for you own amusement. Silly things. Things like, what would happen if all the geeks in the world banded together to take over the galaxy?

That's where Galactic Civilizations 2 (GalCiv2) comes into the picture. I'm going to leave it to the company's web site to explain what GalCiv2 is, because I've got a tale to tell about a couple billion ambitious geeks. So plant your tongue firmly in your cheek, and join me in the depths of space...

Of course, before I can launch them on their journey I first have to create the "race" of geeks. GalCiv2 has a ton of customization options for races so it's pretty easy to match the game mechanics to your concepts. What kind of abilities would a society made up of geeks have? Research, of course, gets a big boost. Geek culture gives loyalty, morale, and influence bonuses. Their intrinsic desire to tinker and hack gives a creativity boost and a better than average repair rate. And I'll add a slight boost to weaponry, because geeks want the cool guns. Capping off the ability list is the racial "super" ability. Since geeks prefer to hang out with other geeks (the normals just don't get us), I'll select Super Isolationist, which will slow enemy ships in their territory and give them the basic tech to colonize otherwise uninhabitable barren worlds right from the start. Last but not least, as an offshoot of the Human race, they will use the Human technology tree and start out with Human style ships (in spiffy gray with gold trim). Behold the Astrogeeks!
The first foray into the great beyond begins in January 2227 in a small star cluster with a pair of unknown alien races wanting the area for themselves. First impression: wow there are stars all over the place out here. Every sector has at least one and some have three! I start production of a factory on my initial colony (around the star known as Homeworld), send my mining ship to the nearest cluster of asteroids, my exploration vessel to check on a nearby anomalous cluster of rocks, and my colony ship to the closest star on the charts. Almost immediately, there is a decision to be made. With all those stars out there, do I concentrate my early ship production on colony ships and hope they have habitable planets, or do I build starbase constructors and go after a pair of nearby morale resources? The morale resourses, accessed by building mining starbases on them, would boost the Astrogeeks' racial happiness. Higher morale would allow me to increase the tax rate without upsetting the citizens, so I gamble spending a chunk of my initial treasury to buy a constructor and grab one of the resources immediately. Within two weeks my exploration ship spots its alien opposite number. Looks like the Altarans are one of the races I will have to contend with. A week after that I find their homeworld, noting in passing that it is better quality than mine. Two weeks after that I find an ascension crystal practically in my lap.

Ascension crystals are powerful artifacts left behind by a precourser race. Harvesting enough of the strange aura which eminates from them would allow the geeks to ascend to a higher plane of existance. If I grab it now, the other races will be ticked, but it's very, very early in the game and nobody has any military tech to speak of. One more week passes and I nearly empty my treasury buying another constructor. As the constructor moves toward its destination, the explorer finds a second ascension crystal. This is going to get interesting. I still need to finish researching the universal translator so the other races can threaten me properly, but after that I may just have to turn my research straight for the fancy guns.

In March of 2227, the Astrogeeks colonized their second world. I'm assured that the fact the star system was named after a character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was just a coincidence. A week later a constructor launches for the second ascension crystal. Late in April, I spot a ship from the final major power: the Arceans. The first of June sees the starbase come online around the second crystal. Now all I have to do is hold on to them for just over nine and a half years.

Here's what the Astrogeek empire looks like halfway through the first game year. The two crystal mining bases are the glowy white things ringed by grey and gold on the right and left sides of the map.

Tune in next time for the continuing stooory of Geeeeks in Spaaaaace!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Zombies + Lego = WIN

Yes, it's posted at a site being used to promote a game, but how can I possibly pass up posting about a zombie apocalypse done in Lego?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

'Tis the Season for Horror Reading

The temperatures are topping out in the seventies at last, the trees are tinged with color, and the sun is setting earlier. Fall is here, and that means Halloween is bearing down on us. Around about this time of year, I look to take in a little of the scary atmosphere, and I'd like to share some of my favorites with you. Today's edition is some reading material I come back to again and again when the horror mood strikes me.
  • The Laughing Corpse, Laurel K. Hamilton. In a world where vampires are not only real, but can vote, even a woman who raises zombies for a living won't take every job she's offered... This is the second, and my favorite, of the Anita Blake series. The series itself fairly notoriously jumped the shark just past half a dozen novels in, but the early books are quite enjoyable noir-ish splatter horror.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle. All of the Sherlock Holmes stories are worth reading, but this is the best written of the bunch, and it has enough of the supernatural element to be worth pulling out around Halloween time, especially if you prefer the kind of ghost story that can be explained without resorting to the supernatural.
  • The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells. The oppressive force in this horror tinged milieu classic is the inevitability of evolution. We all know how this story ends, but it's that famous for a good reason. If you like you horror sci-fi style, this book has giant fighting machines, heat rays, chemical warfare, and aliens from another world. What's not to like?
  • The Colour Out of Space, H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft's works have achieved widespread influence, though they aren't to everyone's tastes. His prose is so purple it could make Prince blush; his imagery is so fantastic that it can come across silly if you aren't in a receptive mood. I thoroughly enjoy them. If nothing else, they make good weird tales for around the campfire or on a blustery night when the house is creaking. Lovecraft himself considered "The Color Out of Space" to be his best story, and I certainly agree.
  • The Revelation to John. Often incorrectly cited as the Book of Revelations, the Christian apocalypse and its tales of struggle between good and evil is one of the most pervasive influences on horror you are likely to find. The word apocalypse itself has been changed by the book. Originally a synonym for revelation, now it has come to mean the end of the world. Apocalyptic literature is an ancient style of couching a message in symbols and images which provides fertile soil for the active imagination. Many religious scholars today will tell you that The Revelation to John is using an ancient tradition of writing to disguise a message of hope for salvation to churches being oppressed by Rome under the emperor Domition. Many horror fans will tell you to shut up and watch the movie. Either way, it's a frightening tale that doesn't end well for everyone. And hey, if that isn't enough for you, you can flip back to Daniel for another dose of apocalypse.
  • Dracula, Bram Stoker. Do I really have to recommend this one? All the vampire stories, novels, movies, and comics out there today owe their existence to this novel. And frankly, Dracula isn't just better than most of them, it's better than most of them combined. It's the ultimate Gothic horror tale and an enduring literary classic.
Now comes the interactive part: help me add to my list! Sound off in the comments about what you like to read to get into the Halloween mood. After all, this thing comes around every year, and I may want to recycle the topic.

Private Rockets, Public Engineering, and High Efficiency

Private industry made news last week by putting a liquid fueled rocket in orbit for the first time in history. At a time when our public space program is waning, private success is a wonderful thing, but once it's established as viable, what then?

On the energy front, the Department of Energy reports that with a combination of building techniques and solar cell installation, over sixty-two percent of commercial buildings could convert to zero-emission status over the next twenty years. And while we are on the subject of solar cells, it's worth mentioning that a new efficiency record of over forty percent. The cell is more suited to large scale power generation since it requires light to be focused on it at over three hundred times the intensity it would receive sitting on your roof, but better is still better.