Monster Machine

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How’s this for awesome picture of the week? I did a double-take when I first saw this picture but this is a real machine alright. It’s the Bagger 288 excavator and you can see more pictures of it on this blog. Particularly awesome are the photos of the machine chewing up a Caterpillar bulldozer, the poor little thing.

I picked up on this because this machine was apparently an inspiration for the developers of the upcoming Borderlands game by Gearbox Software. As you can see from this promotional picture, there’s definitely a distinctive resemblance there.

“Three Little Pigs” Offensive

BBC News has an article on a ebook retelling of the classic “Three Little Pigs” children’s story meant for primary school children being turned down for a government award on the grounds that some might find it offensive. The judges thought that the ebook which was distributed on a CD-ROM might offend not only Muslims due to its use of pigs as characters but also construction labourers since, well, the pigs in the story build houses.

Needless to say, I find this to be an example of political correctness at its most ridiculous. Sometimes a pig is just a pig.

Suicides of AI Pioneers

The biggest death is the news today might be that of Heath Ledger, whose performance I must say that I enjoyed in Brokeback Mountain, but the most intriguing ones for me are in this new article in Wired magazine that goes into the details behind the suicides of two pioneers in the field of Artificial Intelligence within a month of each other in 2006. Both persons, Chris McKinstry and Push Singh, were each brilliant in their own way and incredibly obsessed with AI. McKinstry clearly had suicidal tendencies all along but Singh had seemed to have a stable disposition. It’s sad to think that Singh might have been influenced by McKinstry.

I also found the fact that MIT has a reputation for high suicide rates among its students interesting. In a way, I guess that this shouldn’t be terribly surprising. Driven, intelligent people can be prone to sudden mood swings, add a highly competitive and demanding environment into the mix, and suicide can seem like an easy way out for stressed individuals. Given that Ledger’s death today will probably turn out to be a suicide as well, we should all take this as a lesson to take a little time out once in a while. Life is short enough as it is, and we should all enjoy it while we can.

A Game: Call of Duty 4

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Hollywood action blockbusters like National Treasure hold little appeal for me these days, and games like Call of Duty 4 are a big reason why. After all, why watch a big name actor go through the familiar paces of fighting against impossible odds when you can be the star and do it yourself? The Call of Duty series, or at least the installments that were made by Infinity Ward, have always emphasized the cinematic aspect of the gaming experience, and true to form, their latest effort is probably the most refined example of the video game as interactive action movie on the market today.

Everything in this game from the slick loading screens that double as mission briefings to the constant running commentary of your ever present companions and the relentless linearity of the campaign serves to reinforce the impression that this is gaming Hollywood-style. The great thing about Call of Duty 4 is that it mostly works. When your squad members are screaming at you to get on with your mission objectives while the nearby explosion of a grenade is ringing in your ears and you see wave after wave of turbaned generic Arab terrorists coming at you and there’s shooting and confusion everywhere, you really do feel like living an action movie.

Continue reading A Game: Call of Duty 4

Scientists Protest Over Pope’s Planned Speech

Pope Benedict XVI recently got in the news again when he cancelled a speech he was due to give at the La Sapienza University in Rome due to protests by professors and students. The protesters objected to having a prominent religious leader giving a speech in a secular and public institution and referenced a previous speech made by the Pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in which he seemed to defend the Inquisition’s verdict against Galileo in 1303, probably the most well-known case of science being persecuted by religion in history.

As far as I can tell, the rector of the university was willing to offer both parties space to voice their respective views, but the Pope decided to cancel instead, which as physicist Marcello Cini, one of the leaders of the protest, noted, was a very smart public relations move on the Pope’s part. The mainstream news coverage of the event sympathizes heavily with the Pope and the popular angle is that the Pope was denied freedom of speech by anti-religious scientists. But from my point of view, it looks like the Pope was willing to speak only if he were the only one allowed to speak, so who’s he to play the freedom of speech card?

Zombie Bird

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I spotted this picture over at the Quartertothree forums and you can see a larger version of the photo here. The picture speaks for itself and it is seriously freaking me out. I thought at first this must be a digitally manipulated photo or something but people are saying that it is completely plausible. Someone please tell me that this is not actually possible!

Books: The Baroque Cycle

Now, I have long been nonplussed by Isaac’s Alchemical research, but as years have gone by I have perceived that he would achieve a similar triumph by finding a single common underlying explanation for phænomena that we think of as diverse, and unrelated: free will, God’s presence in the Universe, miracles, and the transmutation of chymical elements. Counched in the willfully obscure jargon of the Alchemists, this cause, or principle, or whatever one wants to call it, is known as the Philosopher’s Stone, or other terms such as the Philosophic Mercury, the Vital Agent, the Latent or Subtile Spirit, the Secret Fire, the Material Soul of Matter, the Invisible Habitant, the Body of Light, the Seed, the Seminal Virtue.

– Neal Stephenson in The System of the World

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For a book written by Neal Stephenson, I had a hard time getting into Quicksilver, the first book of his Baroque Cycle. This is astonishing because of how much I enjoyed and how quickly I devoured his earlier books, Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. Quicksilver and its subsequent volumes The Confusion and The System of the World, appear at first glance to be a different beast entirely. For one thing, the events chronicled in the novel take place from roughly the middle of the 17th century to the beginning of the 18th century. For another, real historical figures from the period in question play a central role in the story and while most of the exploits described in the novel are fictional, they are skillfully interleaved with real historical events. For these reasons, ever since the publication of the first volume, debate has raged amongst fans and readers on whether or not it even constitutes science-fiction.

Continue reading Books: The Baroque Cycle

The unexamined life is a life not worth living