Posted on 16th September 2013 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Friday Night Magic at Earth 383
20 years ago this month, I introduced my college friends to a new concept, the collectible card game (CCG). Magic the Gathering was instantly addictive for all of us, a game one part role-playing, one part exploration and discovery, and ten parts ingenuity. I’ll never forget when my friends confronted me after a few weeks of play, demanding, “Why did you keep this from us for so long?”
Truth is, I had just discovered Magic a few months earlier when I found a couple of friends playing in their apartment. A game where you play a Wizard (excuse me, “Plainswalker”) collecting spells and creatures into your spellbook to use against other opponents? Sold.
So I decided to spend the weekend redesigning/modernizing my lifetime project, a citation-management tool memexplex, because the site is old and ugly looking and I wanted to play with some of the shiny new toys in CSS:
The 00s Called, They Want Their Website Design Back
So hundreds googlings and SOings and two sugar-driven all-nighter’s later, I’ve got the new “placeholder” tags in my inputs, nifty-gradient backgrounds in my divs, my inputs are modern-ish looking, and my checkboxes, buttons, and selects are all replaced with images. Yay!
Posted on 4th February 2013 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
I love love love The Big Bang Theory (BBT). I love the intelligent science references, the highly-debatable geek-culture references, and the cameos only a nerd would enjoy. Most of all, the portrayal of idiosyncratic individuals who bare an incredible resemblance to people I’ve had to deal with for decades working in IT and hanging out at Cons and Comic shops.
So it comes as a shock to me that there is a lot of hate for BBT in geek culture. Many geeks seem to loathe the way the show portrays geek mannerisms, habits, and argue that the show invites normal people to laugh at geeks and encourages belittling them. The show is simply a televised extension of the bullying we had to endure in high school. Geeks see it as validating that abuse through the reactions of the “hot girl” Penny, who lives across the hall from the geeks and whose reactions to the geeks are a source of amusement for the audience.
I don’t see it, and I’m honestly offended at some of the opinions and parochialism being exhibited by some of my fellow geeks. Defending an opinion isn’t like defending a scientific position, I can’t cite journal papers and research to back it up, but I can use logic and anecdotal evidence. So here it goes…
It’s been over a year since I signed up with 23andMe and several months now since I downloaded my raw genomic data from them and started seeing what I could learn from it on my own. Although very few services out there will fully sequence your personal genome, by focusing on sequencing an individual’s Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), pronounced “Snips” for short, which are the variables between human genomes, we can focus on what’s of interest in our personal genomic data and get this data relatively cheaply. By comparing the differences in our genes, our genotypes, my wife and I could learn about how they differently express themselves in our lives, our phenotypes, to gain insights about our health risks as well as interesting traits about ourselves that may explain our behaviors and experiences throughout life.
Posted on 27th February 2012 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
“Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted.” ~ John Lennon
“Time is the fire in which we burn.” ~ Tolian Soran, Star Trek Generations
We have a finite amount of time in this life, and we should be mindful of how we spend it. I’ve recently become highly cognizant of the fact that the majority of games are simply Skinner Boxes, tricking players into pushing buttons in return for meaningless rewards. Truly challenging games like Portal and SpaceChem keep you playing because the gameplay is its own reward, while Skinner Box games keep you performing repetitive tasks with virtual rewards. Other games, like Skyrim or Final Fantasy VII, keep you playing because the story and graphics are simply that engaging.
The Original Earth Starbase Was Just Okay
The Redesigned Earth Starbase Looks More Familiar
For the past two years I have played Star Trek Online (STO) casually, probably investing maybe a hundred hours in the game, two weeks of my life out of 104. So the question arises: Is STO time wasted? The game was never challenging, but was it at least entertaining? I think this is a question we should be mindful of with any game in which we choose to invest our time to make sure we aren’t burning it.
Fanboy: Hey gang! Did you read The Sword of Shanara? The characters traveled hundreds of miles described in excruciating detail for hundreds of pages, until they reached the ultimate battle between good and evil! Cool huh?
Scientist:Whatever. The characters in Red Planet traveled 48 million miles to Mars, while those in 2001 traveled 369 million miles to Jupiter. Characters in Asimov’s Foundation books travel millions of light-years all over the Milky Way galaxy in routine manner. Isn’t it amazing what people can accomplish when they don’t have to walk everywhere? Thank a scientist for your planes, trains, automobiles, and spaceflight whydontcha.
Fanboy: Yeah, but did you see in The Lord of the Rings when Gandalf fought the Balrog all the way down a really deep hole and then all the way back up to the top of a mountain peak!?!?
Scientist:Big whoop. The adventurers in The Core traveled to the very center of the Earth, fighting technological, natural, and human hazards all the way down and all the way back up to the Earth’s crust again. Characters in Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace fought their way all through the human body in microscopic form.
Fanboy: Ooookay… But did you see all those maps having to do with the Wheel of Time books? It’s a huge continent! Pretty epic, huh?
I attended the Experiments with the Imagination session at Science Online 2011, where we discussed what made good versus bad inclusion of science in fiction. Interesting points were made, such as audience members being able to excuse bad science for kick-ass portrayals of scientists, like in the movie 2012, and a deep concern for how science is portrayed in film because Hollywood blockbusters carry so much cultural influence in America.
There was also an intriguing question about working scientific elucidation into fiction, which stuck in my mind when a member of the audience mentioned how terrible was the film Tron Legacy and was met with lots of head-nodding and murmurs of agreement. I had actually enjoyed Legacy, and, after rewatching it, realized that I was seeing a very different film than the average audience member.
In his book On Writing Stephen King argued that to be a good writer, you must be able to “Kill your darlings,” where, for the sake of keeping the prose moving, you must cut out the non-essential parts, no matter how well-written:
Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggest cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings)…I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”
Writing code is much like writing prose, but I think it’s even harder to cut your most beautiful ideas from a computer program. In software design, we have to research heavily and go through hours of trial and error to produce some of our solutions. It’s one thing to slash several paragraphs of prose crafted in a hour of brilliant inspiration, it’s quite another to throw away an inventive solution and the wisdom that came with it.
Keeping in mind this is not the best example of a Prezi demo, you can step through and play with the MemexPlex Prezi itself below (alternately, you can browse popular Prezis here). Don’t confine yourself to just click through the presentation, as you can click-and-drag, double-click, and zoom as well:
Corrosion Mapping, Hotspots Highlighted
(Not an Actual Report Image)
One application I had the honor of working with in my time with the Coast Guard was a Corrosion Mapping tool used by Engineers to track the wear and tear on aircraft parts over their lifetime. Using an Active X control, users would bring up a TIF of an aircraft part, and then click on grid coordinates laid over it to identify places where corrosion was noted. These X and Y coordinates were then saved to the database, where they could be tallied in reports, with the number of occurrences of corrosion highlighted to identify weak points in the parts. It looked something like the image above.
Ryan Somma has spent 15 years as a professional software developer currently working in Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS). This blog is a variety show of his various nerdy interests, from information science, to Enlightenment philosophy, to science fiction.