Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

Stargate Worlds accepting beta applicants

Posted by Fred on May 1, 2008


FireSky Entertainment, a subsidiary of Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment that bills itself as a producer of SNAP games (Social Networks at Play), is now accepting applications for its closed beta of Stargate Worlds.  Stargate Worlds, scheduled to launch in Fall 2008, is a MMO online game set in the universe of sci-fi series Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis.  The screenshots certainly look interesting, and I duly put my name in the hat even though I’ve never really gotten into the whole MMO scene.

SG-1 has never broken through to the mainstream the way the Trek series did or the way Battlestar Galactica has, but it’s been on the air since 1997, making it the longest-running US science fiction series (Doctor Who, which ran from 1963-1989 and again from 2005 to present, is the overall winner in that category by far). It’s also one of a handful of shows that were derived from movies but transcended their source material. Stargate, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and M*A*S*H are all better on the small screen than they were in long form (sorry Kurt Russell and Kristy Swanson, but Richard Dean Anderson and Sarah Michelle Gellar have you beat).  I love science fiction, but I just never got into Stargate in any of its various forms (SG-1, Atlantis, or the straight to video Ark of Truth and Continuum). The new Terminator series, Firefly, The 4400, BSG and the various Star Trek spinoffs (except for Enterprise, which sucked), yes.  Stargate? Not so much.  The game does look pretty cool, but I’d still prefer one set in the worlds of Admiral Adama or Mal Reynolds.

[via Game | Life]


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Firefox 3 Beta 5’s secret robot page

Posted by Fred on April 9, 2008

If you enter about:robots in the FF Beta 5 address bar, you get a page about actual robots:


The title tag for the page is Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!  So you get references to The Day The Earth Stood Still, Isaac Asimov, Blade Runner, Futurama, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Battlestar Galactica.  Click the Try Again button and you get a button labeled Please do not press this button again.  Robots are cool. Except for the Evil Scary Robots, which are evil and scary. Except some evil scary robots are actually good, which makes my brain hurt.

[via Lifehacker]

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Hurray for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Posted by Fred on January 22, 2008

Kara Swisher likes the new Fox show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Me, too.

But a nicely menacing tone and a great cast, headed by tough chick mom Lena Headey (of course, I had to use this picture of the here), was a happy surprise.

bios_cameron.pngI too am a big fan of the Terminator movies.  Of course, in my world, there were only two. T3 never existed.  And that’s one reason I’ve been digging the TV version. It reimagines the world after T2 as if the aberration that was T3 never occurred. maybe the time travelers went back and erased it.

The other reason I’m digging it is two-fold.  First, with the strike, there’s nothing else on.  Second, it combines two great genres, dystopian sci-fi and butt-kicking chick show.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a great BKCS.  Alias was an adequate one.  Terminator ups the ante by giving you two butt-kicking chicks, Lena Headey and Summer Glau, kind of like the Buffy-Faith arc on Buffy, only not as sucky because Glau > Dushku.

Much as I like Lena Headey, the show works mostly due to Summer Glau, in my opinion.  Kara posted the Headey-as-Sarah Connor pic, so I figure Glau-as-Cameron deserves some props, too.

Posted in TV | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Stupid Smart Toys and thinking about Cloudmakers

Posted by Fred on January 11, 2008


Go read Philipp Lenssen’s story Stupid Smart Toys. You’ll be glad you did.

Now, as Tyler and his mom stood before the rattling boxes in the kids’ store, Mom was feeling the widening generation gap (toys were sure different in her time!). A little plastic window in each box was offering a glance at how the model performed its abilities, live, for hours on end – it almost looked like there was a living being trapped inside. Just last week, Mom read about a campaign by the Artificial Intelligence Rights Group who battled against the selling of extra smart toys. Smartbot Inc. countered with the usual public statement that each bot was “limited by design” to only show “truly artificial” intelligence without signs of “real intelligence.” By limiting each model to just a single advanced capability, the company said, even “sparks of actual human intelligence” were prevented.In short, Smartbots didn’t have wants, needs, self-reflection or soul, the company argued. They were lower beings merely reacting to orders – the orders of kids. Stupid smart toys.

As I said in the comments to Philipp’s post, any story based on smart toys reminds me immediately of three things: the Brian Aldiss short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, the Stanley Kubrick/Steven Spielberg movie A.I., which was based on Aldiss’ short story, and the alternate reality game created by Elan Lee and Sean Stewart to promote the movie (called The Beast both by the Puppetmasters who created the game and by the players who played it).

The movie was a bit disappointing, but the game was not.  Here’s Sean Stewart:

On the game, there was no time for serious or respectable either. The game was freaking pastiche Armageddon: It started from a Spielberg script inflected with Kubrick notions from a Brian Aldiss short story with echoes of Dune and Clockwork Orange, for God’s sake. Political tracts. Corporate boasting. Sex-kitten catalogues. Mysterious Oriental Gentlemen. Wistful midlife crises. Suicide notes. Gibsonian cyberpunk. I stole or hot-wired or tweaked up Shakespeare and John Donne and Tim O’Brien, Ovid and Iain Banks and Puccini and Bladerunner. I wrote every genre character ever invented, I think–bounty hunters and kept women and a bad guy made of nightmares, religious zealots and angry teenagers and streetwise hackers. Hookers with hearts of gold available on request from Belladerma SRL, in sizes petite to extra large, or (in one of the game’s creepiest phrases) cut to fit….

…I was talking to my friend Scott Baker, a very talented writer who was working on what would become our Viet Nam, the more than 200 pages of script for the mad virtual ghost, Eliza. “You know, Sean, I like your novels a lot,” he said, “…but you were born to do this.”

Maybe so. It was the most incredible, exhilarating experience of my professional career. It was street theater and a con game and a pennant drive rolled into one. As long as I have been writing, I have struggled under the feeling of trying to live up to the work of other writers–Tolkien or Austen or Banks or Dostoyevsky or some damn guy. The Beast was different. For one thing, I had team-mates this time (the same advantage Shakespeare had and don’t think he didn’t milk Burbage and those guys dry). And for once I felt like we were setting the bar.

Released in 2001 and officially solved on July 24, 2001 by the loose-knit group of players dubbed The Cloudmakers, the whole experience was incredible.  My one moment of glory in that game was a puzzle from May 23rd, 2001.

Earlier, we had discovered that if you went to the website of Martin Swinton Designs and clicked on the moon at the top of the page, you’d get the password entry page for Martin’s diary. In the version archived on the Cloudmakers page, the password window says Alas, poor Yorick! — I knew him, Horatio; The answer, of course is “a fellow of infinite jest”. Go read Hamlet if you don’t understand why. The diary entry for that day included some pictures; click on the one with the paintbrushes, and you get another picture complete with the sound of water dripping from the brushes into the sink.

Nothing in that game was ever what it seemed, so the sound of the drips was of course a morse code message that translated to:

1304 1300 1 TLE SRY SRY 1TL53

I was, I believe, the first to post to the Cloudmakers group the translation and suggest that it was an Enigma-encoded message. Someone beat me to the post of the solution, however, which was “I’m so sorry. I don’t have a choice. He’s got my sister.” Not much to hang my hat on, but it’s all I got.

So why ramble on about a seven year old web game created to promote a largely-forgotten Haley Joel Osment movie? Some experiences are so engrossing and some creations so groundbreaking that they change how you view things forever.  Reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was like that.  Blade Runner was like that.  So was Atlas Shrugged. I can’t read epic fantasy without thinking of Gandalf.  Anything dystopian reminds me of Decker. I have no idea if The Beast was the first ARG – Wikipedia suggests Dreadnot, originally published in 1996. But The Beast blew the doors off anything that came before it. It really was the “Citizen Kane of online entertainment,” as Internet Life called it.  It was creative, mind-numbingly deep, and incredibly engrossing.  The Puppetmasters changed the game on the fly – there was a whole subplot created from a 404 error because the designers didn’t get something finished on time, for example.

Because it was so groundbreaking, I haven’t tried anything since. Not Majestic or I Love Bees. Not even The Lost Experience. Some things just stick with you forever, and I’ll always be a Cloudmaker, wonder when I’ll be able to enroll at Bangalore World University or take my super-toy to the Electric Toyland Repair Shop (bringing us full-circle to Stupid Smart Toys).

Posted in Games, Stories | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Just how big is a death star, anyway?

Posted by Fred on November 9, 2007


Jason Kottke has a link to some sci-fi starship comparison charts, ranging from 10 pixels per meter to 100 meters per pixel.  The charts don’t include the Death Star, because it is “so friggin’ huge.”  Jason includes another link, however, which does include the Death Star and Death Star II.  This chart pegs the stations at 120 km and 160 km in diameter, respectively.  This seems really, really low.  Those are the offical LucasArts numbers, but some obsessive fans won’t accept it and have attempted to extrapolate the size based on things like Vader’s ship and the Equatorial Trench visible in the films:

The equatorial “waistband” trench of the Death Star II can be compared to the diameter of the whole battle station in photographs taken from astronomical distances. The local area around the docking bays used by the Emperor and Lord Vader can be measured approximately by scaling the shuttle with surrounding features. (The height of a landed shuttle is approximately 23m.) This local area appears to be somewhere inside the waistband trench; which enables us to calculate a lower limit on the size of the Death Star II.

A detailed image of the whole battle station appears in The Art of Star Wars: Episode VI. In this large scan, the polar diameter is 1682 pixels, the equatorial diameter is 1686 pixels and the height of the equatorial trench is 11 pixels (in the well illuminated region near the middle of the picture). That means that the diameter of the Death Star II is about 153±7 times the width of the waistband trench, whatever that may be.

The height of Lord Vader’s hangar can be determined from images taken during Luke’s escape. In this image the shuttle is about 85 pixels high (extrapolating the additional height of landing gear), and the bay aperture is about 244 pixels high. According to published blueprints, the shuttle is about 22.25m high, and therefore the hangar aperture is 64m high. (Similarly the width of the aperture is approximately 237/42 times the shuttle’s closed wingspan, according to this image taken when the shuttle was exactly at the entrance.)

Vader’s is the smallest hangar in the vicinity. The Emperor’s is 62/18 times higher. The bays are all set back into a rectangular notch, which itself is within a deep notch in the hull of the station. Neglecting the displacement of the hangars away from camera, this image shows that the inner and outer notches are respectively 260/18 and 501/18 times the height of Vader’s hangar, or approxoimately 0.92km and 1.8km.

The outer notch cannot be higher than the total height of the equatorial trench. If it were itself the equatorial trench then the entire battle station would have a diameter of about 270km. This is only a lower limit on the size of the Death Star II, because the outer notch is not necessarily the whole trench. Comparing this figure with the result from astrophysical considerations and Richard Edlund’s statement in CINEFEX, the outermost visible notch turns out to be a third of the height of the equatorial trench, or less. The top-left corner of one matte painting shows what may be part of the next higher level of notch. Therefore the most realistic picture is for a space station of over 800km diameter, with a ~5.3km equatorial trench containing ~1.8km high notches, within which there are deeper notches of 0.9km height, which contain hangars that are 64m high or less.

Or maybe you’d prefer astrophysics to space station architectural design:

The Endor moon needs to have a surface gravity strong enough for humans to move in comfort, and an escape velocity comparable to Earth’s in order to retain a breathable atmosphere [for detailed discussion, see Planets: Habitability]. The two extremes of viable solutions are:

  • a low-density planet composed entirely of the lightest silicates with an extreme povery of metals, but with a radius substantially greater than Earth; or
  • a globe with approximately Earth-like composition but a slightly smaller radius.

In the latter case, the Endor moon would be intermediate between Earth and Mars, but closest to the size of Earth. Assuming a bulk composition consistent with known terrestrial planets and a best estimate of 2/3 terrestrial surface gravity, the sanctuary moon’s average density would be about 4 – 5 g / cm³ implying a radius of roughly 5200 km (80% that of Earth). This is a very approximate value and might vary by hundreds of kilometres depending on the weighting of the particular assumptions. However this value serves as a strongly indicative lower limit because a light-element composition would imply a greater global radius, and a heavy-element composition is astronomically unattainable (and couldn’t shrink the diameter by much better than half). The moon’s radius could not conceivably be less than about four-thousand kilometres.

If there is nothing abnormal and artificial about the moon’s compostion then the diameter of the Death Star II is scaled to approximately

D = 900 ± 60 km

So I’m a nerd, but that’s just beyond the pale. It’s really friggin’ big.  But not as big as Halo.

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