Old Grump

All the views unfit to print

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas…

Posted by Eric M. Klein on October 14, 2008

The sun is currently at the lowest point of its 11 year activity cycle, and there have been a remarkably low number of sunspot this year (none, in fact, for the last 200 days). Boston.com has an awesome story with tons of big pictures of major sun activity, including a solar flare de-tailing a comet. Very very cool. Check it out here!


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Short Story of the Week: The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

Posted by Eric M. Klein on October 12, 2008

After a several month long hiatus, the Short Story is back! This weeks story is “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” by the venerable Edgar Allan Poe. It was published in 1845 and concerns the hypnosis of a patient on the edge of death. This is probably my favorite gruesome and creepy story of all time, and it’s available for free online, with all the obscure vocabulary hyperlinked and defined courtesy of PoeStories.com. Good stuff!

Story available here.

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Short Story of the Week: The Last Question

Posted by Eric M. Klein on July 27, 2008

Every Sunday I will be posting an entry to a short story viewable for free on the web. These will be stories that have inspired me, made me laugh, made me think, scared me, thrilled me, or otherwise tickled my fancy.

This week’s story is The Last Question,” by Isaac Asimov, published in 1956. It is possibly the only story about a supercomputer that takes over the universe…benevolently. Here’s a little more info, and some caveats courtesy of BestScienceFictionStories.com:

Story Length

  • Page count: 12
  • Word count: 4,434

“The Last Question” garnered the following awards:

  • It was ranked 15th on the 1971 Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll for short fiction
  • It was also ranked 15th on the 1999 Locus All-Time Poll for short story

A few caveats for those who don’t read a lot of older science fiction:

  • This is a thinking story – there is not much (if any) action in it.
  • It consists almost entirely of dialog – just lots of people speculating about the end of the universe.
  • It was written in 1956 so there are some quaint notions of computing – like the “future” computer that still prints out answers on a teletype.

Story is available here. Forget about Skynet. All hail MultiVac!

Please feel free to post your thoughts about the story in the comments.

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Friday Fiver

Posted by Eric M. Klein on July 25, 2008

Friday Fiver1. What are some recurring dreams you’ve had?
I can never remember dreams, but I do sometimes remember their settings. One recurring setting of my dreams is Disney World, except that the Disney World in my head seems to have no rides. So, yeah, just wandering around Disney World. Also, all my dreams seem to take place (inside the dream) at night. A blue sky in a dream is very rare.

2. What is the significance of dreams in telling you about yourself?
I think your dreams may be an indication of your true feelings about something. My belief is that dreaming is how your brain sorts out all of the random information is has accumulated throughout the day. As it goes through, separating the wheat from the chaff, it also sorts out your emotional connections with those memories. That’s why dreams can be so vivid and memorable.

3. How do you feel after you’ve had one of THOSE dreams?
Define one of THOSE dreams. If that means a sexual dream, I usually wake up a little confused, especially if it involved someone I know but am not currently in a relationship with. If you mean a crappy dream, I’m usually glad it’s over, but my crappy dreams are usually of the “dreaming I’m at work” variety, not the “oh my god something’s gonna kill me” variety.

4. What was the last dream you remember?
Like I said above, I don’t generally remember my dreams past a few minutes after bed. This comic is a good example of what happens to me.

5. When did you last dream about something that later happened as you dreamt it?
I have definitely had deja vu dreams. I had one about my current job, which was probably a logical extension of getting the job and wouldn’t really count. The one that really sticks out in my head is when I was around 8 or 9 years old, I had a dream of an overhead view of these funny little people sitting around a campfire. It almost seemed like a cartoon. A couple days later at school, we watched The Hobbit, which I had not seen before, and the exact scene from my dream suddenly showed up on the TV! Freaky.

I get my Friday Fivers from http://friday5.org/.

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Florida Baseball

Posted by Eric M. Klein on July 24, 2008

New Marlins Stadium, set to open in April 2011

New Marlins Stadium, set to open in April 2011

Didn’t know about this. In 2011, the Florida Marlins will be renamed to the Miami Marlins and will be moving to a new stadium to be built on the site of the old Orange Bowl.

Also, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were renamed to the Tampa Bay Rays, and are working out plans for Rays Ballpark.

I’m probably just really out of the loop, but I thought it was cool. At least Miami will be a permanent baseball city. Always seemed like the Marlins could move and no one would notice. Now there will be a ballpark. Hopefully it won’t cost $75 a seat like a Dolphins game.

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Movie Review: Transformers

Posted by Eric M. Klein on December 11, 2007

So I’ve finally had a chance to watch Transformers, directed by Michael Bay and starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. I know, I know, I’m a little behind. Sue me.

As a childhood veteran of the cartoon and one of the original audience members who was forever scarred as a child watching Optimus Prime’s death in Transformers: The Movie, I thought this reworking of the basic elements was pretty good overall. However, there were some problems with the movie that prevented it from being pushed over the top into “super awesome fantastic” alongside The Matrix or Aliens.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Eric’s Way Too Late Reviews: Street Rod

Posted by Eric M. Klein on October 26, 2007

Name: Street Rod
Developer: California
Year of Release: 1989
Genre: Racing
Graphics: 320×200, 16
Sound: Mono (PC Speaker)
Controls: Keyboard,
Rating: 3.5/5 Invaders
Download Links: Street Rod

So I’ve finally decided to dedicate some of my thoughts on video and computer games to virtual paper, as it were. There’s only one problem: I don’t play many (any?) modern games! However, as I always say, when life gives you lemons, return them to the dealership for your money back. So, without further ado, welcome to the first installment of (insert fanfare here) Eric’s Way Too Late Reviews!

As our first installment, I thought I’d review a PC game from way the hell back in 1989. Now, I know what you’re thinking. 1989! That’s the year Zsa Zsa Gabor was arrested for slapping a police officer! Yes, and it was also back when computer games had to be a little on the “imaginative” side. There were no 3D graphics, no (or very little) stereo sound, and multiplayer meant that you and a friend had to crowd around the same keyboard and use some incredibly weird key combinations to compete with each other. Given these limitations, it’s amazing anyone would try to make a game for these things, but amazingly enough, some people were insane enough to do so, and some of the games turned out to be quite good in unexpected ways. Such is the case with Street Rod.

First and foremost Street Rod is a racing game. It’s the summer of 1963, and you’ve scrimped and saved all of the money from your job from the previous school year to buy your first jalopy and start racing it against the guys down at the local drive-in burger joint. You race against various opponents 1-on-1 in one of 2 race type: drag or street. Drag race is a short straight sprint to the city limits. Your opponents will try to push you off the road, but that’s about the extent of the difficulty. Street race, however, is a longer race to the county line, full of twists, turns, lane closures, streets that narrow and widen depending on where you are in the race. Not only will your opponents try to push you around, the course itself is difficult to get through. As a reward for the effort of a street race the stakes are higher.

Each race mode has a wagering menu, where you set the stakes for the race. Lose enough races and run out of cash, and you’re done for the summer and the game is over. Also, if you crash you have one of 2 outcomes: low speed crashes damage your car which requires repair (read “cash”), high speed crashes total the car and you get a pittance back for the scrap.

Now, all of this adds up to a fairly standard 1980’s style racing game, but this is where Street Rod innovates. Not only can you buy and sell cars, you can also modify and tune your car. There’s a complete section of the newspaper (which is the purchasing interface) devoted to auto parts, which range from new engines to transmissions, manifolds and carburetors to tires. Just like real life, parts on your car actually wear down as you race, necessitating the replacement of those parts, and judicious parts purchasing can turn your run-of-the-mill jalopy into a mean machine. What I really love about the car modification interface is that it actually requires you to tighten bolts, which is just a great little touch. It makes you feel like you’re working on YOUR car, not just a random car in a game. You can also make 2 cosmetic changes to your car, namely a new paint job and chopping the roof. In another nod to reality, your car can run out of gas, and you have to run down to the filling station to top ooff the tank.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Street Rod is not without its faults. Like many other games from the 80’s, it is incredibly easy to “die”, especially in the early stages of the game, where you don’t have enough money to buy your way out of a nasty collision. Also, the street race difficulty borders on criminally insane. However, these flaws are almost entirely a product of the era when the game was written, either due to prevailing game design wisdom of the time, or the limitations of the PC as a gaming platform.

Overall, Street Rod is a blast to play. I played it when I was a kid around the time that it came out, and I’ve recently picked it up again as an adult. To play Street Rod on a modern PC, you need to use a program to emulate the PCs from 1989. The one I use is called DOSBox, and it is available for Windows, MacOS X (Universal binary, so it should run on both the PowerPC and Intel based Macs), and a whole host of open-source operating systems such as Linux. Using DOSBox is not for the command-line squeamish, however there is quite a bit of help available online. See the vitals box for links to the game and to DOSBox.

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