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27Dec2012 1030: Nonhuman Drama

This is exactly what I always feared. People opposed to not just real smoking, but all kinds of fake smoking and things that resemble smoking. Every generation is lucky they grew up when they did.

I have a little Christmas gift for you. Spend the rest of your precious holiday vacation reading about a hatofelt postapocalyptic romance and its inevitable descent into madness. This is a real thing that I have played. I regret nothing.

19Dec2012 2030: Chorizomas Cheer

Guys guys GUYS I think my Italian sausage quest is over. I made a little miscalc and used more spice and red pepper than was recommended, but it all worked out. So! Next step is casings, I guess. I only saw blech summer sausage casings on the shelves around here; maybe edible casings are all in a fridge case? As long as the spice continues to flow I'm set for Italian sausage. One pound bulk bags for $7? Eventually I'll try to duplicate it but hell, that sounds like a good deal.

For some reason it takes me like an hour to wrap five presents. I'm pants at presents. Wrapping and reveling in OmniDoor and watching an XP laptop update off to the side. There should be a comic update on Sunday, although...y'know, not really going to be about the spirit of Christmas or anything.

12Dec2012 1940: The Human Element

Late-breaking news headline: Grandfather Clock Technology Finally Discovered by Nerd Whippersnappers.

My Magic relapse ended when Guild Wars 2 came out. As did my TV watching and my playing of other games and most of my incidental mobility. But I still keep my eyes on the Magic sites as I am occasionally rewarded with joy. This week, the joy I discovered goes by the extremely metal name of OmniDoor ThragFire. Shout it out loud: OMNIDOOR THRAGFIRE!! (guitar solo)

I'll try and break this down at a preschool level. Magic is based around five colors; each of the colors does different things and requires a different resource ("land") card to power them. Most of the time, if you try to stretch beyond two colors you won't have enough of the right color land to actually do stuff. Some decks can manage three colors, and I've never heard of a good one based around a full four colors. Every now and then you'll have two main colors and then maybe a singleton from one or two other colors. That's the general strategy: build a solid two colors and win with them.

OmniDoor ThragFire (power chord) does not do this. It spends 80% of its time building a land base of all five colors, using them to alternately fetch more lands out of the deck (to hit its five-color requirements) and to wipe the opponent's army off the board (to buy time). And then! It uses this immense stack of all manner of land to suddenly play an unplayably-expensive card, Omniscience. That card lets you play any other card without actually paying the cost. The result is that suddenly you have the best cards from all five colors hitting the table at the same time and wrecking face. It is amazing. Goddamned amazing. The crowning moment of shenanigans is to use this awesome power to take an extra turn so that you have time to open the Door to Nothingness and straight-up win the game. With style.

Prototype 2, the followup to an amazing antisocial not-Hulk game, is a curious case of unintended meaning elevating my experience. Because, do not be deceived by what I am about to say, Prototype 2 is an incredibly stupid, vulgar game. The story is stupid, the characters are vulgar, and the vulgarity itself is also stupid.

BUT. The first Prototype's incredibly stupid story was about (spoiler) a sentient pile of viruses that believed it was a man named Alex Mercer but actually wasn't and a virus hive queen that opposed him and then at the end there was another super-virus person that I think started as a man and then I think a nuke went off? The important point is that the Alex Mercer we knew was never a human, and as the game went on he lost his human traits. He's nearly emotionless and considers himself above humans, even if he does show affection for his human sister (don't ask).

So now in Prototype 2 the incredibly stupid story is (spoiler) Alex Mercer disappeared for a year but now he's back and is now a badguy wait maybe the army is the badguy wait no it's Alex Mercer! Mercer's virusy plans involve infiltrating the army by converting other people into virus people and tainting the supply of vaccine to actually be virus so everybody will be virus people. Just like a real virus, if a real virus was bipedal. New protagonist James Heller was an actual human who got infected and became awesome. He's a dumb grunt, he swears for no good reason, and basically exhibits a range of emotion (annoyance to rage) that makes Mercer look like a robot. He spends most of the game avenging/saving his wife and daughter from Shitty New York. Mercer repeatedly tries to subvert Heller towards his virus agenda, but ultimately a father's love wins out over spiked fists made of writhing viruses. Disaster is averted as the best human stands up to the best virus and wins the day. With punches.

~ Prototype 2 is actually a touching drama about the triumph of the human spirit.

05Dec2012 1205: Collapsars

It's not transparent aluminum, but glowing plastic is still pretty sweet. My materials science is not what it should be, but at this point carbon nanotubes pretty much look like pixie dust. They just do...things, beneficial things, and I'm waiting for a catch. The catch will also be constructed of carbon nanotubes, increasing its strength fifty-fold.

Guys, do you understand how strange it is to be anything at all? I've been picking up a lot of basic cell biology against my will just through proximity at work. We're about to start working on a DNA/RNA/protein module and the wiki learnings are frankly terrifying. I knew that DNA gets read into RNA gets read into proteins but coming from a computer science background I just assumed that this process made some fucking sense. Like, over the billions of years of evolution it would have pared this down into the bare minimum of work necessary. But life is not like this.

If I were to sit down and design DNA, it would look like instructions. Right? Because that's what DNA is supposed to do:

  1. DNA is read into RNA, a straight one-to-one nucleobase translation. None of this thymine-becomes-uracil bullcrap, either.
  2. RNA is read into a sequence of amino acids, using the three-to-one conversion that currently exists. There are twenty(-ish) amino acids, so two slots of four nucleobases doesn't encode enough information. Three slots of three nucleobases would encode enough, but three bases can't pair up in the DNA. So we stick with four bases, three slots. This means there are 64 combinations with lots of redundancy.
  3. The amino acids fold up into a protein.
  4. You survive.

Simple, right? That's not what happens.

  1. DNA is read into RNA, pairing up the DNA's adenine with RNA's uracil instead of thymine.
  2. The RNA is then chopped up into pieces, because some of it isn't actually useful for making the protein. Certain of these pieces are discarded and the rest are glued back together into RNA.
  3. Extra stuff is then glued onto either end of the RNA, because if this extra stuff is not there your own body will digest the RNA before it can move the few micrometers it needs to travel to the ribosome.
  4. The ribosome then reads the RNA and builds the protein out of a sequence of amino acids. This step is relatively sane; each triplet is converted into an amine in a fairly simple manner. But. Leave it to humans to try and screw this up.
  5. Even after this protein chain is built and folded it still could require more changes to actually function, the most famous example being insulin. That's correct: even after removing pieces of RNA that have no functional use, some portions of the RNA encode sections of protein that have no functional use.
  6. You survive against all odds.

This...this is madness. This is like writing a letter to a friend, burning it, inhaling the ash, and spitting into an envelope. This is browsing the Interwebs over an Ethernet cable lined with swords. Why, and how, does the moist sentient torus you inhabit not immediately keel over and die and then explode in a thousand thousand directions?