Loin

by wjw on August 8, 2018

IMG_2899Here at the height of summer, fruits and veg are flying in from the farmers’ markets, as wonderful accompaniments to the vast hunk of protein I cooked tonight.  Here we see a pork loin, to which I added aromatic herbs from the garden (not ours), and which I then cooked sous vide to a nice juicy pinkish medium, after which I browned the exterior on the grill and sliced it up just as it was bathed in the rays of the setting sun.

Served with organic sweet corn and gazpacho made with heirloom tomatoes, it was truly a feast for a somewhat Italianate king.

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New Format Quillifer

by wjw on August 4, 2018

Q'fer.

What should arrive in the mail but a box of Quillifer!  These aren’t the hardbacks that have been out since October, but brand-new trade paperbacks!

For those of you who didn’t want to shell out for the hardback, and prefer fine crisp paper to ebooks, this is clearly for you!

Order Quillifer at your favorite bookstore, or find it hereabouts: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, iBooks, and Kobo

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Aloy vs. the Apocalypse

by wjw on August 1, 2018

Horizon Zero Dawn 03 - Aloy

I just finished playing Horizon Zero Dawn after 150 hours of gameplay.  It’s not like I’ve been slacking off my other duties to play the game, because those 150 hours started back in January.  I had to slot in a few hours here, a few hours there, and sometimes a month or two would have to go by before I could get back to it.  My understanding of game continuity suffered.  I’d forget who those minor characters were.

The game has been widely praised and won a fistful of awards, including the “Ivor Novello Award for Best Original Video Game Score.”  (The score is in fact very good, and features improvised instruments, or conventional instruments played in unconventional ways, to compliment the story’s tribal setting.)

Zero Dawn is an action-heavy single-player roleplaying game with a science fictional premise.  We open centuries after the Robot Apocalypse, when self-sufficient warbots (with the capability to repair themselves and consume biomass) slipped their leash and began attacking their creators.  Humans are reduced to tribal groups living in perilous proximity to gangs of hostile robots, mostly modeled after natural creatures.  (Lots of bison and t. rex out there, not to mention gators the size of semi trucks.)

Our heroine is Aloy, who has a plausible character arc beginning as a child curious about ancient technology and ending as a teenager (I guess) who gets to save the world from Robot Apocalypse 2.0.  Aloy is able to access 21st Century technology because her genetics turn out to be identical to those of Dr Elisabet Sobeck, who headed a vast, complex project called Zero Dawn intended to save humanity from Bad Robots.  A large chunk of Aloy’s quest is to discover her relationship to Dr. Sobeck, who presumably died centuries before.

Actress/podcaster/writer Ashly Burch voices Aloy and makes her journey credible and sympathetic.  Since much of her journey consists of trying to convince tribal peoples to jettison their traditional ways, ally with strangers, and get on with the program of saving the world, Aloy’s dialogue toward the end begins to seem a little meta.  (“The Elders won’t approve?  Why am I not surprised?”)

Along the way Aloy gets to fight a lot of robots, along with bandits, renegades, and cultists who support the extermination of the human race.  (‘Cuz that’s what cultists do.)  To break up the action, there’s parkour up cliffsides, a lot of MacGyver-ing improvised weapons, and the occasional puzzle.

The game system is open, meaning that you can follow Aloy’s quest, go off on side quests, do errands for NPCs, collect bits of ancient tech, recruit allies, or just wander around on your own.  Wherever you go, you’re in a beautifully-rendered Southwestern U.S., filled with the ruins of an ancient civilization that built the Air Force Academy Chapel, Lake Powell, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Denver Stadium, Provo Utah Temple, Bridal Veil Falls Powerplant, and other recognizable (albeit ruined) locations.

Wherever you go, there is a cycle of day and night— I watched dawn breaking over the Rockies numerous times, and it was never less than gorgeous.  (Despite there being day and night in the game, like most video characters Aloy never needs to sleep.)  There are also weather patterns that will produce rain, dust storms, and snow, depending where on the map you are.

But I didn’t actually intend to talk about all that, what I wanted was to talk about the story.  Because it turns out that the story of this world isn’t at all what we’re led to believe.

We’re led to assume that the humans in the story are descendants of the survivors of Apocalypse 1.0, that the various machines stalking around are the robots that failed to completely exterminate them, and that Project Zero Dawn, headed by Elisabet Sobeck, was the agency that somehow preserved the human race.

None of that is true.

Aloy can piece together the true story by reading documents, listening or viewing old recordings, and interrogating various NPCs.  Along the way she finds her true relationship with Dr. Sobeck, and finds the artifacts necessary to halt Apocalypse 2.0.

These reveals are built into the game story, and were there all along.  Their discovery is organic and doesn’t contradict anything that we already know.  Yet they manage to be surprising, and they don’t feel like a cheat.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is one hell of a great job of plotting.  To be able to say to the players, “Everything you learned in the last 140 hours of gameplay isn’t true, and here’s the real story,” and have it not piss everyone off, is a real achievement.

My only real complaint with the story is that there weren’t any surprises saved for the end.  The climactic scene is a bossfight against some nasty robots, and that’s all it is.  Aloy’s fought robots before, and she fights these in more or less the same way, and it’s just another big scene.  I kinda wanted something a little more, umm, special.

But still.  If you’ve got 150 hours to spare, and you like the sort of thing that Zero Dawn is, then you won’t in any way be disappointed.

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Clouds of the Valkyries

by wjw on July 31, 2018

Tonight an enormous striated cloud formation, at least 40-50 miles wide, poured over the mountains and drifted in our direction.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

IMG_2892The supercloud looked all pretty and pink in the sunset, but I felt uneasy.  We’ve turned into Extreme Weather Planet in the last couple weeks, with summer heat alternating with downpours that have caused a lot of flooding.  (In fact last night, during class, my karate school got flooded when waters poured in under the back door.  Can’t say I didn’t get my exercise, since I ended up on a bucket brigade.)

IMG_2894

So now the clouds stretch over the sky and lots of lightning is jumping around.  Here we go again.

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Can We Have the Enterprise Now?

by wjw on July 25, 2018

So researchers at CERN have broken the speed of light, but only with neutrinos.

If confirmed, the discovery would undermine Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity, which says that the speed of light is a “cosmic constant” and that nothing in the universe can travel faster. That assertion, which has withstood over a century of testing, is one of the key elements of the so-called Standard Model of physics, which attempts to describe the way the universe and everything in it works. The totally unexpected finding emerged from research by a physicists working on an experiment dubbed OPERA run jointly by the CERN particle research centre near Geneva and the Gran Sasso Laboratory in central Italy . . . 

The findings were such a shock that CERN’s scientists spent months checking their data before making their announcement. But they have asked American and Japanese teams to confirm the results before they are declared an actual discovery. The data will also be put online overnight so that it can be scrutinised by experts across the world.

So I guess we can have starships, if they’re made of neutrinos, and they’d arrive at Alpha Centauri a few seconds ahead of anything traveling at the speed of light.

Now I’m looking with trepidation to the really bad science fiction that’s going to be written around this idea.

In the meantime, Kathy reminded me of this poem by John Updike.

Neutrinos they are very small

They have no charge and have no mass

They do not interact at all

The earth is just a silly ball to them

Through which they simply pass.

Like like dust maids down a drafty hall

Or photons through a sheet of glass.

(There’s more to this poem, I just quoted the good parts.)

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Babington

July 24, 2018

Who was it who, on this blog, recommended to me the works of Thomas Babington Macaulay?  I’ve searched but have been unable to find the comment. Be that as it may, Macaulay has become my reading for much of the summer. When I’m teaching at Taos Toolbox, there’s always the question of what to read […]

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Back at the Zoo

July 21, 2018

Went back to the zoo tonight, for a high-energy session by saxophonist/vocalist Grace Kelly.  Here’s a sample of the sort of thing we saw. And here’s Kelly at a previous concert at the Albuquerque zoo.  The video probably isn’t the best showcase of her talents, but it shows you what the venue looks like, the […]

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Chairman of the Board

July 16, 2018

A gorilla looking very much the elder statesman, though in fact he’s young.  Viewed at the Twilight ramble, last week.

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Tiempo

July 13, 2018

My summer entertainment has largely consisted of the first series of El Ministerio del Tiempo, a Spanish science fiction series available on Netflix.  (Don’t worry, there are subtitles.) It’s smart, it’s clever, and once you accept its (somewhat ridiculous) premise, it explores that premise thoroughly and plays fair with its audience.   More than that, its avoids […]

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Sleepy Kitty

July 11, 2018

This is not exactly your go-to blog for cute animal pictures, but sometimes even my stony heart has been known to melt. Tonight’s expedition was the Twilight tour at the local zoo, a chance to visit the animals in small groups led by a docent.  I was able to take this picture of a full-grown […]

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