Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The scale of the UNIVERSE

The Housemate recently pointed me to this awesome website where, using a simple sliding bar, you can explore the length scales of the universe. Zoom in to look at things too small to see...

* note the position of the sliding bar; viruses are far from the extreme small scales shown in the website

...and zoom out to look at things too large to fathom.

We live in a very, very big place made up of very, very small things. Prepare to have your mind blown...

Scale of the Universe

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!


You'll have to forgive me: I'm rewatching all of Battlestar Galactica with two friends who haven't seen it before (we've got just two episodes left in season one), so I have BSG on the mind.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Happy FemShep Friday!

Today is FemShep Friday, so dubbed because today, BioWare has finally released the long-awaited FemShep Mass Effect 3 trailer! It's so badass, and I just love hearing Jennifer Hale's awesome voice acting. FemShep deserved to be in a trailer long before this, but hey, better late than never. The trailer is titled "Reinstated". Check it out below:

Sweet. I even dressed up in honor of this occasion:

I'll probably be wearing the same thing in a month for the launch of Mass Effect 3. Please note the shameless advertising for my Mass Effect N7 beaded bracelet, now available from my Etsy shop ;) Now that I think about it, I'm slightly concerned about the appropriateness of wearing to work a shirt depicting an alien getting its head blown off/splattered... But that asari is just so badass.

Speaking of asari, last night I went to a Japanese restaurant that had asari clams on the menu. I wasn't able to take a picture of the menu, but here's a screenshot of their online menu:

I can only assume that asari clams are a clam-like species from the asari home world, in which case this is a surprisingly good price for such an exotic import. I didn't order this dish, but I was awfully tempted!

Happy FemShep Friday!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

And the giveaway winner is...

Thanks so much to everyone who entered my giveaway for the N7 beaded bracelet! I was really pleased with the turnout, and I loved reading about everyone's favorite Mass Effect characters. If you're curious, Garrus seems to have won that popularity contest (for the record, I'd probably pick Mordin).

But what about the contest for the bracelet? Well, without further ado, I give you the giveaway winner:

Congratulations!!! In the video, I say "Congratulations!" kind of like those annoying pop-up ads telling you you're the 1,000,000th visitor. Oh well :-/

So the video is kind of boring, mainly showing an Excel spreadsheet (yuck!), but I figured I might as well provide evidence of the random selection. If you don't want to watch it, here you go: The winner is @jamiepage19. Yay!

To those of you who didn't win (sorry!), you can still get an N7 bracelet...from MY NEW ETSY STORE! Yes, I just opened it, so it doesn't even have a name or a banner, but it does have the N7 bracelet. AND you can get 20% off if you use the coupon code IDIDNTWIN :) The coupon will be valid up to March 6, the release date of Mass Effect 3.

I plan to get my other bracelet designs on my Etsy store soon, and I might do a second giveaway for an R2-D2 bracelet. I also need a good name for the store. Any ideas? Maybe 8-Bit Beads, though that doesn't feel quite right. Hmmm...

Anyway, thanks again to everyone for entering. And congrats to Jamie!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Countdown to the giveaway...

I've already started on the bracelet. I'm pausing here, though, until I know the winner's wrist circumference, so I can add in a few rows if necessary. Here it is so far...

Yes, I use a makeshift loom I constructed out of two Costco boxes. Hey, it works, and it's also good for storing all my supplies.

Now, I've come to the realization that closing the contest at 11:59 pm tonight means that I'll be in bed when the contest ends. Therefore, I won't be able to select a winner until tomorrow, unfortunately. I will announce the winner as soon as I can, but that may not be until after my work day on Tuesday. I promise to announce it within a day of when the contest ends.

Thanks to all who entered, and good luck!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Piled Higher & Deeper movie

Yesterday evening, I saw The PHD movie. The grad student organization at UH screened it in one of the outdoor food courts on campus. Appropriately, they had free food for the grad students. The turnout was very good.

I'd been a little worried that the movie would just be a bunch of the comics strung together and spoken out loud, and that it wouldn't be that funny because I'd already know all the jokes. But there were new jokes and situations that I hadn't read in the comics before. And there was actually a plot and nice character arcs, and I liked the message the movie sent. The story followed Cecilia and the grad student of unknown name (though he says his name at the end!!) as they suffer through about a month of grad school near the end and the beginning of their graduate studies, respectively. I really liked it, more than I thought I would, and I found it very funny. It didn't hurt that I was watching it with a crowd of grad students who also understood all the jokes, and laughed together in camaraderie and commiseration.

Since I have PHD Comics on the mind, I thought I'd share one recent comic that made me laugh very hard:

It's funny because it's true, THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENS. I haven't jumped over a bush, but I have hidden behind a campus sculpture to try to stay out of view of my advisor. As long as he doesn't see me, he won't remember that I'm supposed to be accomplishing anything! My goal as a grad student is to stay out of sight, out of mind. If only I had a Marauder's Map for the Oceanography Department. Then I could carefully choose what corridors to walk to make sure I never cross paths with him by accident. And if I saw my advisor coming towards my office, I could turn out my lights and pretend I'm not here.

If only. I better go get something accomplished now...

My SWTOR experience so far

Thanks to Star Wars: The Old Republic, my blog posting since December has been pretty sparse. Since it has been sucking up so much of my free time, I figured I might as well do a post talking about my experience in game so far. And of course I want to show off my toons.

I am leveling two characters side by side. One is a Guardian--an advanced class of the Jedi Knight--whom I play as a tank alongside my brother's Gunslinger (Smuggler advanced class) who does DPS. I was a little upset about this arrangement at first. I kind of thought I'd be a Jedi Sentinel--TWO LIGHTSABERS!!!!1!--but since my brother had already become a Gunslinger, it didn't make sense for us both to be pure DPS classes. So I chose Guardian. But why did he get his first choice class, while I had to choose one to complement him? Not fair! I still feel a pang of jealousy when someone walks by with two lightsabers, but I really like the Guardian skills and play style, and may even like it more than I would have liked Sentinel (hard to know without trying it out, though). Force Push just feels right--it's what Jedi are supposed to do. Here she is:

I have to say, though, that I really miss her hair. There are low level (~level 10) Guardian armors that have no hood, or wear the hood down, but after that, unless you're a Twi'lek, you have a hood up all the time. And hair doesn't animate under it--that would be too complicated (clipping is hard!). It's pretty low on the developers' list to implement a toggle hood on/off option, but I don't see why they couldn't just put in a couple pieces of mod-able hood down robes. After all, Twi'leks always have their hoods down, so they have the necessary designs already in the game. Ah well. Maybe some day I'll see my cute hair cut again.

My second character is a Sage, an advanced class of the Jedi Consular. She is a caster who really only uses her lightsaber to deflect attacks, something I can watch in the animation but not something I actively control. As one Sage on the SWTOR forum put it, "Don't use your lightsaber, except for nighttime reading." I solo her except for flashpoints and Heroic 4 missions. I have her specced for DPS, currently in the Telekinetics tree, but in a few levels I'll probably respec her to be a Balance/Telekinetics hybrid. If you don't play the game (or even specifically a Sage) that probably makes no sense, but if you do, it's an important distinction, trust me) Here she is, with her "Bubble" skill (Force Armor) active:

Both of my characters are currently level 28. It's been slow going, because I have two of them. Also, I haven't been playing quite as much as I would like to, in large part because I feel obligated not to ignore my boyfriend completely. He's so needy ;) Yes, this is the opposite of the stereotypical story of the games-obsessed boyfriend with the unhappy neglected girlfriend... I need to get him playing the game. And I might be able to if it weren't for the fact that his computer is old and can't run it. So I need to buy him a new computer. Anyone know of the cheapest computer that would run SWTOR? Let me know.

Anyway, so far, I love the gameplay. I've never played a game where I've had this many useful skills that I want to have hotkeyed. There just aren't enough keys (I currently have 18 skills hotkeyed, and counting...). But it keeps things varied and fun, and when I use the right skills the right way, it's very rewarding. I've found that I prefer both DPS and healing to tanking (I can't really heal anymore, but when I was lower level my Sage was a passable healer). Still, the better I get at tanking, the more I enjoy it. I also prefer ranged combat to melee, just because I'm kind of awkward and sometimes have trouble running around to find my target, or switching targets to a guy standing in front of me. Much easier just to stand still and hurl attacks at whomever happens to be my current target. For these reasons, I have to say that I prefer playing my Sage to my Guardian, because she's ranged DPS instead of melee tanking. I think I'm a Sage at heart--if I were actually training to be a Jedi in the Old Republic, I'd want to be a Sage.

Now I've said before that this is my first MMO. I played Guild Wars and Hellgate with my brothers, but those weren't true MMOs; you could see other players in the towns/stations and group with them, but once you went out into the combat environments, it would just be you and your small party. In those games, I only ever grouped with my brothers, never with strangers. I was thus a little worried about adjusting to teaming with people in SWTOR. I still haven't joined a guild, and I haven't done too much grouping with other people, but my experience grouping has been mostly positive. I've only had one bad group experience, and it wasn't actually that bad. It wasn't like the people were mean or unpleasant, it was just disappointing. We were already at a disadvantage trying to do the flashpoint with three players and a companion instead of four players, but on top of that, the companion that one player claimed was a tank started healing us (I think he lied), and the other player was three levels lower than the flashpoint. Not a recipe for success. After dying a few times on the first boss, the group leader recruited a Sage who was over 20 levels above us, and he just ran us through. I got some good loot, but it wasn't exactly fun, just confusing and hectic trying to keep up. Oh well.

Other than that, my other group experiences have been really good. Friendly players got together, we each had our roles and did them effectively, and we had challenging but manageable and fun fights. I might join a guild when I get to the end of the game and just want to run operations and pvp, but for now I'm happy as an independent.

The gameplay and team questing are great, but what ultimately drew me to this MMO in particular was the fact that it's a BioWare game and I expected interesting quests and engaging storylines. The stories and quests are not quite on par with Mass Effect (I hold Mass Effect 2 as a paragon of deep story and tough choices), but they're still great. In the non-class quests (which everyone in a faction gets to do), I think it's a little hard to have choices make a noticeable and lasting difference because there's a chance that your choice won't be the one acted upon--all players in a group make a choice, and a random roll decides whose choice "wins". If some other group member's decision had negative consequences you had to deal with throughout the game, it would discourage group play, and that would be bad. So I understand the issue there. Still, the quests are varied enough that they don't just feel like a list of chores (kill 10 X, collect 6 Y, etc.).

There are a lot of side quests in this game, but I'm currently mainly interested in getting deeper into the class storylines. At the very beginning, on their starting planet of Tython, I preferred the Knight's storyline to the Consular's. However, since leaving Tython, I think I've started to prefer the Consular storyline. Maybe they're about equal. This is all personal preference, really. All of the class quests are very different--they even had different writers--so you're definitely going to have some better than others. But that assessment is largely subjective.

Of the five class storylines that I'm familiar with (in addition to Knight and Consular, I've tagged along on my brother's Smuggler quests, plus I played a Sith Inquisitor in beta alongside my brother's Sith Warrior), the Inquisitor story is my favorite. I only played through the prologue, but it was really, really fun the whole way through. I don't usually like playing as a "bad guy", which is why I ultimately started playing as Jedi, but I'm looking forward to going back to the Inquisitor some time. I loved it. All the other class storylines are good, but just not as cool as the Inquisitor, in my opinion.

I have to share one fun anecdote about the Knight storyline. It's a tiny bit spoilery, but it's only from the end of the prologue (i.e. not very far in the game). And I won't name any names. Still, if you haven't yet played but plan to play a Knight and are sensitive to spoilers, you've been warned (skip to the second paragraph after the screen shot).

At the end of the prologue, you are attacked by a Sith Lord and have no choice but to kill him. He was a haughty (and evil) jerk, so after we killed him, my brother and I celebrated with a happy dance (our companions Kira and Corso were somewhat less enthused):

Here's the kicker: We had interrupted this Sith Lord in the middle of a holoconference with a few Darths, one of whom happened to be his father. Yes, we killed a Darth's son as he watched helplessly through the holo, and then we danced about it while he was forced to stand there and wait for us to come over to talk to him (so we could hear his livid threats). Surprisingly, we didn't earn any Dark Side points for this. You have to feel kind of bad for him, but... c'mon, he's an evil Sith! It was pretty hilarious.

Some other favorite moments in the game so far:
The other night, my Consular briefly got to impersonate a Sith Lord. Fun, different, quite amusing, and I even earned some affection points with Qyzen, my companion. Good stuff.

My favorite quest so far was the series of missions for the Gree Droids on Coruscant. I loved these quests just because of the quest givers, the droids, because of the way they talk. Apparently Gree senses place a particular emphasis on shapes and colors, and their speech patterns reflect this. They're also a fairly remote species, so their droids' translations are not ideal. Here's a video of them talking. Just listen for a minute or so, you'll get the idea:

I remember at first being so confused: I could follow along OK, and then suddenly the droid would say something about an orange sphere or red perpendicular. After a while, though, I got used to their patterns of speech, which was a true, satisfying pleasure. I thought it was cool that even in a galaxy with universal translators, there can still be language barriers. I've earned other titles for my characters, but I still proudly bear the "Black Bisector" title.

Well, I've rambled on long enough for now. Until my next SWTOR update, may red tangents envelop you as you descry multitudinous purple parallels.