Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Orbital mechanics


For those of you so woefully uncultured and ignorant that you don't understand this cartoon, Kerbal Space Program is a computer game - not one I play, myself, but one I've seen enough to find this funny. :)

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Devil made me do it

That's Dan Barker, apparently in a debate with Dinesh D'Souza.

Now, for a contrast, how about this?

With a real universe as amazing as that, why do we need a fake universe, a fantasy universe, an imaginary universe? Why do we cling to primitive superstition in an age of scientific miracles? Why do we insist on ignorance when real, demonstrable knowledge is so widely available?

Can you explain that? I can't.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The survivor, pt. 4

Southbridge - click image to embiggen

This is part 4 of my current play of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, continuing directly from part 3. But if you want to start at the beginning, or you want information on how to install the game or tips for beginners on playing it, check out the links here.

It continued to rain off and on all fall, so I stayed close. But when the first of winter dawned bright and sunny, I headed south, looking for a way around the town (still trying to get to that school).

Where the road had led south out of town was now a huge crater filled with rubble, and the nearby river had backed up in there, creating a nasty-looking swamp. It looked lifeless in the bright winter light, but still not something I could easily traverse with my baggage cart. 

To the east was a suburb, thick with houses - and zombies. So I went back to my hotel room to see if I could work my way across town from there. Ultimately, that worked fine, though I came face-to-face with a shocker zombie when I opened the door of a restaurant one night.

Luckily, it was at night, so it couldn't see me, and I was able to take it down with my throwing axes. I'd seen these creatures before, but only at a distance, so I wasn't entirely sure of their capabilities. They were always surrounded by the crackle and glow of static electricity, and I'd seen one send a bolt of lightning a surprising distance. (Sure enough, when I butchered this one, it turned out to have a bionic installed.)

There was a flat, open area in the middle of town there - not a park, but what looked to be empty ground developers had put together for a future project. That was a real help to me, as I was trying to find a way across town without bumping into zombies every two seconds. To the east of that was an apartment tower - still apart from the rest of the town - which I was able to clear and have available as an emergency bolthole. South of that, outside of town a ways, was the school.

As it turned out, it wasn't a college, but apparently a combination high school and middle school. It was big, and packed with zombies - the vast majority of them just kids. Well, what had been kids, at least. These had been older children than those near the swing sets in the park, but still just kids.

I had a hard time there. It wasn't that they were hard to kill - they were even easier than the ordinary zombies - but it just broke my heart.

Eventually, I got over it. Yeah, the whole thing was incredibly tragic, but it had been over and done with long before I got there. Nothing I could do would change anything. Those kids had already died. Their corpses were still moving, true, but they could no longer feel pain. They could no longer feel anything. I was on cleanup duty, nothing more.

As I say, I got over it. I cleared the whole school, and by the end of it, I was hardly feeling anything at all.

There weren't any houses especially close by, and a school still seemed a likely place for survivors to go - for the same reason I went there - so I built a fireplace and a bed in an interior classroom. I tried to clean up the place, too, so those hypothetical survivors wouldn't have to go through what I did.

I stayed there a little while, reading through the library books - mostly rather elementary texts, but still useful - and exploring the city nearby. At one point, I stumbled across a huge pack of zombie dogs. Now, these creatures weren't a big problem singly anymore, but I was glad I could stand in a doorway to fight off a whole pack of them. I wouldn't have wanted to be surrounded on open ground!


At another point, I encountered a horror the size of six men, with arms as wide as a trash can. Honestly, it was like the Incredible Hulk of zombies. It was fast, too, so it was on me before I could do much to slow it down.

Luckily, I dodged its attack - I don't know if I'd have survived getting hit by the thing - and chopped it down to size with my machete. It all happened too quickly for me to get scared, but I'm not ashamed to tell you that I shook for awhile afterwards.

I also encountered a zombie which had the unmistakeable gleam of intelligence in its eyes. It was still hostile - and still very dead - but there was more there than even with those 'scientist' zombies I'd encountered. It wasn't human anymore, whatever it was, and it terrified the hell out of me!

This one I encountered in a house, when I opened the door to a back room, so I could rush forward and decapitate it before it could really respond at all. But what would I have done, otherwise? My recent experiences were convincing me that I needed a ranged attack - something better than just throwing stuff.

I figured I had two options, basically. A rifle would work well, except that the more powerful rifles would be noisy, even with a suppressor. And ammunition might be a problem. Still, with a bayonet, a rifle would work well enough as a melee weapon, too - at least against lesser creatures, so I could save ammo.

A bow, on the other hand, would be quiet. And I was pretty sure I could make arrows - a bow, too, for that matter - since I'd learned a lot about such things in the past year. I'd have to carry a separate melee weapon, but that wasn't really a downside, since I'd come to rely on such weapons and felt more comfortable with one as backup, at least.

So I decided to go with archery, at least on a trial basis. I studied awhile at the school, then returned to my hotel room, where I crafted a fine bow - eventually - and some decent arrows. And then I practiced awhile.


By mid-winter, I thought I had the basics down. After all, I'd still have my melee weapons with me. (In fact, I'd taken the opportunity to forge a sword - in the Japanese style, according to the instructions I'd found - which was deadlier than anything I'd wielded before.) And the weather had surprised me by being clear and sunny most of the time.

So I thought I'd head to the northeast, to that second school shown on my map. I still thought that schools were a likely location to find other survivors, and a library would always be helpful. Worse come to worst, I could still clear out the school, so if survivors did show up, they wouldn't have to go through all that.

So that's what I did. I loaded up my luggage cart with spare gear, so I could easily establish a base, once I got there. And I stopped at my hideouts along the way, checking on things and picking up other useful items. Nothing had changed at my evac shelter. Well, that was both good and bad, I suppose.

The trip was uneventful, though I did spot some weird kind of walking fungus just before I got there. The school, unfortunately, was much like the last one. I went ahead and cleared it of zombies, then built a secure and reasonably comfortable base inside, both for me and for whoever might come afterwards. (Hope springs eternal.)

The library there was in good shape, but there wasn't much I hadn't already read (or, at least, collected, planning to read later). There were some houses to the north and a sewage treatment plant to the east. I checked out the latter, but didn't bother trying to bypass a locked security door.

Instead, I went back to that science lab nearby - the first I'd entered, months previously, in the forest northeast of the evac shelter. I built a little base there, too, disassembling the furniture in a storage room to make space for me and my equipment. I figured it was time to see what was underground.

North of Southbridge

It varied between mundane and horrifying. There weren't many zombies underground, although there was the occasional automated turret I had to watch out for. There weren't any people, either - and few corpses - though I found lots of living quarters, with clothes and other supplies scattered around.

I didn't try to hack into the computers - yes, some of the computers were still running - but I still discovered more than I wanted to about the experiments going on there. OK, they were developing bionics, of course. Installing machine components to enhance human capabilities was hardly revolutionary - I'd regularly been finding such things in zombies, too - although the variety there was certainly impressive.

Much more unsettling were the cloning labs and the mutagenic experimentation. There were vats filled with mutated limbs, and I discovered research journals which described deliberate attempts to manipulate the human body biologically - and some of the mutagens they'd developed, as well.

These weren't really mutations, not as a biologist would define the term. (Whether or not their creations would breed true was frightening, but undetermined.) No, these were ways of manipulating an adult human body to cause it to change in a deliberate, but usually bizarre, manner.

There were purifying agents, too, which would apparently undo such changes - some of them, at least - but there seemed to be far less research attention paid to that. Instead, the scientists there seem to have gone completely off the rails in attempting to create stranger and stranger alterations in the basic human form. (And whom had they used as test subjects? That wasn't mentioned at all.)

I suppose this was another military project - what wasn't, these days? - or had started that way, at least. But once they'd begun, maybe it had devolved into a contest, with each researcher trying to outdo the others in outlandish. Who in the world could have thought this was a good idea?

Yet, as bizarre and as frightening at that was, it was far from the most bizarre, the most frightening of what I discovered down there (and I haven't even looked everywhere, not yet).

At one point, I heard voices coming from a room to the south. Survivors? At last? I thought I heard gunfire, too, so I was afraid that human beings were under attack. But what I discovered paralyzed me with fright - literally.


Thank god these... nightmares were still enclosed in their individual cages, I hoped securely. When they saw me, they beat against the glass walls separating us, and my heart nearly stopped. I suppose those walls have held them for at least a year now (and how had they survived so long? - clearly, they weren't of natural origin), so I'd have no reason to expect them to break out now. But that didn't do much to settle my nerves, and it still doesn't.

How can I describe creatures I don't even want to think about? 'Bizarre' doesn't even begin to describe them. One, which looked like a cross between a fungus and a crab - in pink, with a head like the inside of a fish - was the creature I'd heard speaking English. But no two sentences connected in any meaningful way. It was all just insane babbling.

Another, like a fat man with a cow's head, constantly dribbling milk from slack lips, paralyzed me in my tracks, when I saw it. Incongruously, it was wearing nothing but a pair of tighty whities. Of course, everything about these creatures was incongruous, and that was certainly no source of amusement - then or now.

There were six of them, each stranger than the rest. (No, that doesn't make sense, but nothing about these creatures made sense.) Some seemed to have no connection to anything on Earth, but others were such a hodgepodge of Earth-like features, they didn't seem completely alien, either. No, that's not right. They were alien - incredibly alien - but it was as if they'd been molded into some bizarre amalgamation when they'd arrived in our universe.

Yes, I was convinced that these... things weren't even of our own dimension. Zombies looked homey - almost as cuddly as kittens - compared to these living nightmares. If I'd been a religious man, I would have thought them demons from the pit of Hell. These creatures made my blood freeze. I wanted to slit my own throat just to get away from them.

Instead, I left - as soon as my legs would work again. I closed the door behind me - as if that would do any good - and I went back upstairs. And now, between bouts of the shakes and periods of paralyzing, immobilizing fear, I'm trying to think.

Previously, I'd assumed that zombies had been the result of an experiment by the military which had escaped their control. Those giant insects, too. Well, we'd had previous experience with such things, so that seemed reasonable.

The blobs, though... the blobs were harder to imagine as a creation of human scientists - possible, maybe, but I don't know how. But these things? There was no way in hell that human beings had created these things.

Yes, scientists had been researching both electromechanical and biological methods of changing human beings. But what if they hadn't created a zombie virus? What if they had, instead, opened a door to another plane, another dimension, another reality? What if they'd accidentally let something truly alien enter our universe?

All of these things - the zombies, the giant insects, the blobs, that weird fungal creature I'd seen - all of them could ultimately stem from the same source, the same source as those terrifying things downstairs. I don't know why they were all different, but why would I? Maybe the computers downstairs would tell me something, if I could learn enough about hacking computers to bypass their passwords (and I were brave enough to go down those stairs again).

But I was sure of one thing. That portal I'd seen? The rumors I'd heard about such things, the rumors which had caused me to run away in panic the minute I'd seen it? These creatures had been the basis of those rumors, I was sure of it. Rumors couldn't prepare me for the reality, because they were far worse in person than I could have ever imagined, but this was the source of the terror which seeped into even the vague rumors I'd heard. I was sure of that.

So now what? Undoubtedly, that portal wasn't the only source of such terrors. For this kind of damage, there had to be more portals on the face of the Earth than just one, in an ordinary grocery store in one small town in America. But it was the portal I knew about. And what had been emerging from it? What was still emerging from it?

I was just paralyzed with indecision. What to do, what to do, what to do?

Note: You can find my other posts about computer games - including more posts about this one - here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

More false history from David Barton

I wouldn't expect ordinary people to know which parts of the Pony Express legend are true and which were simply made up afterwards, but David Barton pretends to be a historian!

He's actually a Christian evangelical and right-wing political activist, but he pretends to be teaching real history. I've blogged about him before (here and here, for example), but this is just more evidence that you can't believe a word he says.

Now, in this instance, there seems to be no particular reason for Barton to get it wrong - I mean, it's not like his deliberate errors when he's lying for Jesus - except maybe to make his talk more entertaining. But it does show his ignorance. And, more importantly, it shows his carelessness with the reality behind his words.

Like most faith-based people, he doesn't really care if his beliefs are true or not. And he certainly doesn't care if his statements are true, because he's using them for a purpose. That purpose might be to convince people to follow his own particular religious and political beliefs, or it might be just to remain a celebrity among right-wing evangelicals, but either way, the truth of what he's saying simply doesn't matter much to him.

After all, he already knows the Truth, right? (Apparently, when you capitalize that word, it no longer needs to have any connection to reality. That's been my experience online, certainly.)

We atheists are scary! :)

Stephen Colbert taking over the Late Show

I don't know what to think about Stephen Colbert moving to the Late Show on CBS. On the one hand, I'll really, really miss The Colbert Report (and no, he won't be doing his new show in character, apparently).

On the other hand, life is change. If you don't move, you die. Besides, right-wingers really hate it:
On Tuesday, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly (more than anyone the inspiration for "Stephen Colbert") tore into Colbert, branding him "one of the biggest mouthpieces for the progressive movement, ... playing exclusively to other believers."

And, just hours after Colbert was named the new "Late Show" host, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh was growling that "CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America."

"No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values (and) conservatives," he went on. "Now it's just wide out in the open."

That may be a premature assessment. O'Reilly may place Colbert in the ranks of "ideological fanatics." But ideology has never been at home on major late-night talk shows, which traditionally shoot for reassurance and diversion. What do such constraints mean for Colbert, and for viewers who dote on what he does as "Stephen Colbert"?

Yes, that last line is worrisome. But let's hope that Rush Limbaugh is right, for the first time in his life, and that Colbert won't pay the slightest attention to such "constraints."

Besides, if CBS has any sense at all, will they really want to ruin what has made Stephen Colbert an internet sensation? Hopefully, this is their attempt to move into the 21st Century, instead of clinging desperately to the 20th.

If nothing else, I hope that Colbert at least continues to take potshots at Fox 'News,' like this:

Heh, heh. Sometimes, I have to wonder if Bill O'Reilly is just putting on an act, himself. Still fighting the Vietnam War? Could he be any more out of touch? Or is his right-wing persona just as much an act as Stephen Colbert's?

The funny thing is that I regularly hear right-wingers parrot his remarks online. Still, even for O'Reilly, contradicting himself in his very next sentence is pretty bizarre, don't you think? O'Reilly favors laws which combat institutional bias, but doesn't think the government should be involved? Say what?

Anyway, I hope this kind of thing doesn't go away. But we've only got another eight months of The Colbert Report, with Stephen Colbert taking over the Late Show sometime in 2015. So I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Back to the torture

This just astonishes me! Cheney? Rumsfeld? Bush? The people who lied to get us into war and then tortured prisoners of war in order to try to justify it,... how do they dare even show their faces in public?

And why would anyone listen to them when they do? Why would anyone even care what they think? We're still trying to dig out of the first war they saddled us with, not to mention the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, thanks to their idiotic domestic policies.

Yes, Dick, it was torture. For a good century, certainly, America had considered it torture when it was done to our own troops, at least. If you don't consider it torture, I'd love to see it done to you. (Oh, man, how I would love that!) Then we could see what you thought after that.

And Rumsfeld? Please grin your way back under that rock you crawled out from under!

At least Bush is so embarrassed, or clueless, or simply unwelcome even in his own party that he generally stays under that rock. But when he crawls out, it's to softball interviews and art exhibits? He's apparently not embarrassed enough, huh?

By rights, all three of these people should be in jail right now. But there seem to be no consequences for crimes committed by the wealthy and politically connected at the highest levels of our society, and there's certainly no consequence to being criminally wrong about pretty much everything.

But why in the world would people still listen to anything they have to say? Haven't they done enough damage to our country? All three together aren't worth a bucket of warm spit.

Catherine Deveny's atheist alphabet

I think I like 'V' the best. :) But it's all pretty good.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Game developers in a fight with Satan

From Polygon:
"I need to be clear on this point: Are you telling me that Satan is literally working to confound your plans to release this game? You're saying that the actual Devil is scheming against you?"

I'm sitting in a nondescript office in an unremarkable neighborhood in Bakersfield, CA, interviewing three men about their plans for a Biblical game based on the life of Abraham.

"I believe that, 100 percent," replies Richard Gaeta, a co-founder of Phoenix Interactive. He argues that since the launch of the Kickstarter for Bible Chronicles: The Call of Abraham, trouble has come into all their lives.

"It's very tangible," adds his business partner Martin Bertram. "From projects falling through and people that were lined up to help us make this a success falling through. Lots of factors raining down on us like fire and brimstone."

Nobody is winking or joking or pulling my leg. There is no irony here. They are absolutely serious.

I just had to post this, given my interest in both computer games and faith-based thinking. How far into fantasy can people get? Their Kickstarter request failed, and it's all Satan's fault?

They requested $100,000 on Kickstarter, but they got only $19,000 in pledges. Hey, that happens. Frequently. It doesn't take Satan.

What's more shocking to me is that they got only 199 people to back the project! They couldn't even find more than 199 people who'd support this entirely for the goal to "stir hunger for God's word"? (Note that those people pledged nearly $100 apiece, on average, so I suspect that most of them were just Christians - or family members - not gamers.)

But they had faith. In fact, as another article says, "Prayer and conviction have kept them moving toward their goal of releasing a game every 1.5 years, beginning later this year."

Get that? They haven't actually created even one game yet, but through prayer, they've set a goal of creating one every year and a half. Starting with their first game. Which they haven't made yet and can't get anyone to support. Now that's faith!

I don't know what surprises me the most about this, but I think it's the fact that they couldn't get funding, even though they're backed by an assortment of religious leaders. After all, if there's one thing religious groups have in spades, it's money.

As an atheist, I wouldn't care if a game were based on Bible stories or not. I play plenty of fantasy games based on mythology, so why would this be any different? I do have to wonder at the choice of Abraham, though. That's the best they could do?

Still, I must admit to being curious about how they'd handle Abraham pimping out his wife to the Pharaoh, and again - when Sarah was more than 90 years old! - to Abimelech. Or that whole Hagar thing, including sending off his slave mistress and his first-born son to die in the wilderness.

Of course, given the fact that he was quite willing to cut the throat of his second son, Isaac, and burn him on a makeshift altar, Abraham was never going to get any father-of-the-year awards, huh?

And I wonder, how much freedom of action would you have, if your game is supposed to remain Biblically accurate? A wide-open world is fine - great, even - but not if you can't actually do anything but look around in it.

But,... Satan? Really? Even believing that a literal Satan actually exists is a bit much, but believing that you're so important he's taking a personal interest in defeating your game-developing ambitions? (Of course, your God is completely impotent, absolutely useless in support, if he gives a crap at all, right? So Satan gets everything his own way.)

Well, this is faith-based thinking. At least it's relatively harmless in this case. I just wish that were always true!

*PS. No, this game does not have "top-notch graphics" - not for 2014, certainly. Now, I don't particularly care about fancy graphics, but if you're going to brag about the "visually stimulating" graphics, you'd better have something to brag about.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Bank notary refuses service to American Atheists

Can you imagine the uproar if this notary had refused - for "personal reasons" - to do business with Jews or Muslims,... or Catholics?

The fact is, it wouldn't even have occurred to her. So what if the bank's customers didn't share her religion? And if she had done that, the uproar would have been huge, and she certainly would have been fired.

So why would she even think of discriminating against atheists? Why is it that atheists aren't automatically included in our respect for diversity and the freedom of religion? Buddhists don't believe in your god either, you know.

As this article points out, the Supreme Court is currently hearing a case about this very subject:
This is really the same issue which the Supreme Court is deciding in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. At stake is quite literally the ability of corporations or the individuals that work for them to legally discriminate for "personal" reasons. (We can call them religious reasons, but why bother? One need only cite a religion -- any old religion -- to qualify.) We are talking about 70 years of civil rights law being swept away in one fell swoop. If one bank employee can refuse to provide service for an atheist, why shouldn't a pharmacist be able to refuse to sell heart medicine to a Muslim?

Freedom of religion means that you can believe whatever you want in America. You can worship, or not, as you please. You can speak as you wish. You can gather together with like-minded people and try to convert the heathens, if you want.

But you still have to live in peace in a diverse nation, where other people might not share your beliefs. So what? That's none of your business. You can't dictate to your neighbors. You can't dictate to your employees. You can't dictate to your customers.

This is America. If you want to force other people to believe as you do - and that's exactly what this is all about - then move to Afghanistan and join the Taliban.

Money is speech,... or legalized corruption?

Yeah, it's a shame that billionaires have so little power in America, isn't it? I'm glad that the Republicans on the Supreme Court are standing up to for them.

After all, 646 (Stephen Colbert says it was just 591) of the richest people in America reached the campaign limits in the last election cycle. Those are the people the Republican Party thinks don't have enough influence in our country?

And note that this does not include the amount of money they can donate to PACs and SuperPACs (which is, thanks to previous terrible decisions by the Republicans on the Supreme Court, unlimited).

Oh, and note that Shaun McCutcheon is a self-described activist for the Republican Party, and that the Republican National Committee joined him in his lawsuit. (Here's the Wikipedia entry.) Wow, and the five Republicans on the Supreme Court, appointed by Republican presidents, agreed with the Republican Party in this? Shocking, isn't it?

According to the five Republicans on the Supreme Court - and like most of these terrible decisions, it was opposed by the four Democrats on the Court - the only corruption that matters is when you get a specific agreement from a candidate to vote a specific way due to that particular bribe.

Indeed, according to them, even the appearance of corruption is only valid in that particular, narrow, and hard-to-prove scenario. If the candidate just winks when he takes the money, well, there's nothing wrong with that, right?

This is why the terrible results of voting for Republican presidents lasts for long, long after that president is gone. We still have a slim majority of Supreme Court justices who are far right-wing Republicans. And just as they gave us George W. Bush as president, in a 5 to 4 decision back in 2000, they're continuing to make similar disastrous decisions even today.

Stephen Colbert talked about this last night, too:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Stephen Fry narrates four short videos

You know, I think that Stephen Fry could read a shopping list and make it interesting,... and these aren't shopping lists. They're four short videos from the British Humanist Association. Excellent, aren't they?

I don't call myself a humanist, because every humanist seems to have a different idea of what it means. I'm not kidding. I've encountered both a communist humanist and a libertarian humanist, and they couldn't have been more different in what they thought humanism was. Any label which can be stretched that far doesn't seem to have much value as a label.

In general, though, I'm certainly sympathetic to humanists, and if this is a representative sample of the British Humanist Association, well, I'm impressed. Of course, it didn't hurt to have Stephen Fry narrating these. :)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Something the Bible strangely fails to mention...

You know, Noah's Ark must have been an incredibly pestilential place, with every kind of disease-causing microbe known to man surviving in just eight people.

From Mycobacterium leprae to Yersinia pestis, from Variola major to Clostridium perfringens, from Trypanosoma cruzi to Epidermophyton floccosum - among many, many, many others - Noah and his family must have been walking petri dishes, infected with, quite literally, every disease in the world (and infested by every parasite in the world - lice, fleas, bedbugs, mosquitoes, tapeworms and guinea worms, to name just a very few).

Of course, the animals would all be infected and infested, too, with just two creatures of each species needing to host every disease-causing microbe and parasite which infects that species worldwide.

And if you stop to think of just how many different kinds of diseases, in humans and other animals, cause diarrhea - as just one symptom - maybe you'll start to get an idea of just what kind of plague ship we're talking about here.

It's odd that the Bible doesn't mention any of this, isn't it? :)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The survivor, pt. 3

Starting map of Southbridge

This is part 3 of my current play of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead. (The previous installments are here and here.) This is just for fun. If you want to learn how to install and play this free, rogue-like, zombie-survival game, check out my earlier posts here.

I'd hoped I'd left those 'blobs' behind, but I was still unsettled by the experience, so I thought I'd continue to explore south, along the west edge of town. I'd found a pair of binoculars, which helped, and when a day dawned bright and sunny, I though maybe it would be safe to explore an open area to the southwest, too. (I was still very worried about acid rain.)

There was forest to my west, and I'd run into more of those giant ants when I'd tried to go that way. This time, I went south to an office tower on the edge of town, then southwest across an open field, and I discovered another science lab, alongside a river, with a road leading north.

The lab had a small barracks, with beds and dressers, on the top floor (and a room filled with pits of goo on the other side - I closed the door and left that room strictly alone!), so it would probably work fine as an emergency base. Again, I didn't even attempt to explore the dark underground. Maybe someday.

Meanwhile, the day was still nice, so I went north along the river road. I really didn't find much. It looked like swamp on the other side of the river, and I could see an evac shelter far to the north of that, but there wasn't any way to get to the other side, bar swimming (and who knew what might be in the water).

After awhile, I found some wreckage in the middle of the road, and the bodies of scientists nearby (one of them animate), then more of those giant ants blocking the road further north. So I headed back to my temporary base.

(I was still having no luck in getting one of those ants to separate from the others. They were clearly hostile, and very angry at my presence, but even the big 'warrior' ants weren't willing to chase after me. After the blobs, that was kind of a relief, but it meant that I couldn't judge how dangerous they were without getting right in the middle of them,... and that didn't seem like a wise survival tactic to me!)

Northern part of Southbridge

The next morning, I was attacked by blobs again. I slept OK, despite the nightmares, but I awoke to find vast numbers of blobs moving my way from the north and northwest. (North, I could understand, since they were probably following my trail. But how did that long line of blobs coming from the west-northwest know where I was? Somehow, they clearly did.)

I spent half the day killing them, but I could still see blobs, far to my north, slowly heading my way. So I needed to try somewhere new.

My first experiment was to explore the sewers, since I'd found a manhole entrance in the middle of the street. It was unpleasant, and slow, but it seemed safe enough. (Obviously, I couldn't take my shopping cart with me, so this was just a scouting trip.)

The sewer went east, without any side corridors, until I found an exit that led to the subway system, coincidentally very near the subway entrance I'd explored in the middle of the night a few weeks previously. This time, it was daytime, and I had to fight a few zombies when I emerged - and then a zombear - but it wasn't too bad. (I'd found a machete, which was faster than my steel spear and did even more damage. Also, I'd traded my crowbar for a Halligan bar - which firefighters use - and I could do a lot of damage with that, too.)

Unfortunately, without my cart, I couldn't do much looting. And although I could move to the east side of town, if I wanted, I'd have to leave most of my stuff behind (again, without being able to use the shopping cart.) Plus, there were giant wasps very close by. I killed one of them when it attacked me, but then I scooted back down the subway entrance, and retraced my steps through the sewer, before I could be swarmed by them.

So the next day, I loaded up my cart and continued south. Past the office tower, I found a hotel that was off by itself, a bit, on the other side of a parking lot. It was full of zombies, but I could take them on individually. Of course, there were individual rooms with beds and dressers, and there was a basement with a swimming pool - and sewer snakes, admittedly - so I thought it would make a good base, at least temporarily.

I picked a room and boarded over the windows, then dragged dressers in front of them, for good measure. (The noise attracted a giant worm - that earlier sighting hadn't been my imagination after all - but I was able to kill it from a window without getting down into the dirt, myself. Actually, I chopped it in half with my machete, only to find both ends continuing to fight! But they weren't hard to kill after that - not like the blobs, luckily.)

I gathered stones from the fields nearby and built a fireplace with them. I was proud of that - it worked great! Then I looted a nearby library and a liquor store. (I needed reading material, for when the weather was bad - indeed, I was caught in acid rain again, though just briefly - and the liquor store was absolutely packed with booze. But even better than that, I found a road map that gave me some idea of the surrounding countryside.)

Southern Southbridge and surrounding roads

Then I started exploring nearby - trying to clear the zombies out of that side of town, if I could - when I got really sick. It was just the flu, I guess, but when I say "just" the flu, that really minimizes it. I was sick for weeks! (I was terrified that I might have caught some virus from the zombies. I mean, there was no one else around! How else could I have gotten sick?)

I was coughing so much at night that I kept having zombie dogs break through my boarded-over windows - and smashing through the dressers I'd barricaded them with - to get to me. Thank the gods there weren't any zombears, because I was so sick I never even woke up until they'd come that far.

Once I did wake up, the zombie dogs were easy enough to kill, but I had to keep rebuilding my defenses. (Why hadn't I dug pit traps outside the windows?) And one night, I woke up just as I was being poisoned by a giant spider. I was miserable enough already, and the poison certainly didn't help any! But I survived it.

And finally, about the first of autumn, I recovered completely. By then, I'd gone through most of my stash of food (I had plenty of water and fuel in the hotel, luckily), so I was really happy I'd accumulated so much food ahead of time. And I was happy I'd had a reasonably-secure hideout to recover in, too! I was lucky, in both respects. And I needed to remember that.

But with fall already here - and still no sign of other survivors - I had to start thinking about winter. What was I going to do next? And how could I best ensure my survival during the leanest part of the year?

My road map showed two large schools - community colleges, most likely - and those seemed to be likely places to find survivors, not to mention some of the resources - educational resources, primarily - that I'd need. One of them was far to the northeast, north along the road from that first science lab I'd found. But even with the lab in the middle, that would mean a lot of travel a long way from shelter, and I was still very worried about acid rain.

The other school was closer, but on the other side of town from me. Maybe I could skirt the town on the south. The river was that way, and I'd seen some swampy terrain from a distance, but most of that area was still a complete unknown to me. Or I could slowly clear a way across town. I'd been doing that already, to some extent, and the town still seemed to be fairly narrow at this point.

There was also that FEMA camp to the northwest. I had better weapons now, and more skill in using them. Plus, that liquor store had given me the supplies I needed to make Molotov cocktails. So maybe I could burn out that mass grave?

Well, first, when I got well enough to travel, I headed north to my closest stash of food and supplies and brought a wheelbarrow load of it back to the hotel. I wanted to be prepared in case I got sick again. Then I dug some deep pits in the dirt outside my boarded-up windows and set some sharpened sticks upright in them. Maybe that would discourage creatures from breaking in, next time.

Current kill count (my hotel room is in the background)

Finally, a day dawned bright and sunny, so I put some essentials in a shopping cart and headed off towards the FEMA camp. I traveled north, between the forest and Southbridge, as I had many times before, then cut northwest across that huge area of open ground, trying to avoid the slime pit to the north. But when I was halfway there, out in the middle of nothing, it clouded up and started to pour rain again!

Luckily, it wasn't acid rain, but it did turn to thunderstorms before I could make it to my nearest safe house, north of the crater (northwest of the blobs), and it turned to acid rain the next day. That's why I was worried about getting too far from shelter.

In fact, it rained and rained - thunderstorms, acid rain, heavy showers, drizzle. It just went on and on, day after day. I was going nuts, since I didn't have much to do - much I could do. I did explore around that part of town a bit - those few places I'd missed previously - and I found a rapier (yeah, an actual, honest-to-god rapier) and a .22 rifle and pistol, with ammo (with which I thought I could practice shooting a gun), but I was really going stir-crazy.

Finally, I woke to a sunny day, so I grabbed my cart and headed northwest again. As it turned out, there wasn't just one mass grave, but multiple mass graves, at the FEMA camp. I didn't even bother with my Molotov cocktails, because I didn't have nearly enough for that! The zombies weren't too tough, though. They'd been wandering through barbed wire so they were already injured, and they'd spread out enough that I could take them on one at a time.

I circled the camp, taking out the weaker creatures, then approached those soldier zombies in the middle. There were a half-dozen of them in a small building, and they saw me as I got closer. But they were so mindless that only two of them had sense enough to leave the building through the door, even after one had smashed it down (the others just bashed impotently on the bullet-proof glass). So it was easy enough to kill them one at a time, too - especially after I led them through barbed wire a few times.

I'd hoped to set up a base there, and I did find a solid concrete building in the center, with secure metal doors (only one entrance, admittedly). And I could see a river on the map not too far away, for water (not as convenient as I might wish, but workable). However, I just couldn't see sleeping in the middle of mass graves! I mean, I've become inured to a lot in the past few months, but that was taking it too far, even without the ever-present threat of zombies.

I did find some supplies, including an anvil! But I couldn't haul it all at once, so I loaded up my shopping cart and headed back to that temporary safe house, arriving just as it was getting dark, then went back for the anvil the next day.

It was getting cloudy by then, so I probably shouldn't have risked it, but I did a quick scout to the north after I got the anvil loaded up, and I found a survivalist shelter in the forest. It was small, and entirely underground, but it had a bed, a wood-burning stove, a source of water, and some supplies.

Frankly, it would have been the perfect place to build a log cabin, using the LMOE shelter as its basement, except that the ground was far too swampy to grow crops. (Admittedly, I'm far from ready to settle down as a hermit. I still need to find other survivors!) And as if it weren't swampy enough already, it started pouring rain again! So I grabbed what I could and headed back.

It's been raining pretty much nonstop ever since. If the winter is this wet, I may have to learn to use snowshoes! Despite the rain - and the ever-present risk of acid rain - I've been hauling cartloads of stuff south to my hotel base camp. It's been slow, wet, and boring, and my room is getting so full of crap that I probably won't fit inside, myself, before too long.

But with luck, I can use that as a base for awhile. I'm going to try to make it to that school, but it's probably going to take awhile. The southeast is still a complete unknown, but it's probably more city - which means more zombies, among other dangers.

Still, the acid rain scares me more than anything else, which seems to rule out the open plains and forests to the north and west (and even to the east, if I loop around that way). And assuming that I can still get food, the city seems like a better option for surviving the winter, too. I haven't seen those blobs in awhile, so maybe the nightmares about getting smothered in my sleep will finally stop.

Oh, and I finally encountered a warrior ant by itself. Those giant ants seem to be moving east, because I encountered what seemed to be scouts as I was hauling stuff back to my hotel room. That warrior ant wasn't as tough as I'd expected. In fact, although it clearly knew I was nearby, it didn't seem to know exactly where I was until I'd gotten quite close.

Of course, these are social insects, so I suspect that they don't do well on their own. Finding one ant by itself is a very unusual circumstance, and I shouldn't underestimate them. But I must admit that I'm far less worried than I was. At the very least, I could probably run away, setting a fire behind me to disrupt my scent trail.

Now, if I can just find a solution to the acid rain problem, the whole world would seem to be open for exploration.

Note: Here's part 4. And you can find my other computer game-related posts here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

And now the good news

Steve Shives has a whole series of these (obviously, as this is #77), but I particularly wanted to post this one.

Indeed, I meant to blog about that first discovery last week, but never got around to it. Here's the article in Scientific American:
Physicists have found a long-predicted twist in light from the big bang that represents the first image of ripples in the universe called gravitational waves, researchers announced today. The finding is direct proof of the theory of inflation, the idea that the universe expanded extremely quickly in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born. What’s more, the signal is coming through much more strongly than expected, ruling out a large class of inflation models and potentially pointing the way toward new theories of physics, experts say.

“This is huge,” says Marc Kamionkowski, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in the discovery but who predicted back in 1997 how these gravitational wave imprints could be found. “It’s not every day that you wake up and find out something completely new about the early universe. To me this is as Nobel Prize–worthy as it gets.” ...

Such a groundbreaking finding requires confirmation from other experiments to be truly believed, physicists say. Nevertheless, the result has won praise from many leaders in the field.

Yes, this announcement needs to be confirmed. But that's how science works. And that's how scientists - unlike faith-based thinkers - come to a consensus about what's true and what isn't.

Typically, theoretical physics is ahead of experimental physics, by which I mean that hypotheses are proposed which we have no current way to test. But our abilities to conduct experiments are advancing every day.

We recently had a discussion about this in the Classic Science Fiction Yahoo Group. Were we reaching the end of what we could test in science? (If so, you could hardly call it science, then.) But this demonstrates pretty clearly that, if that's true at all, we're certainly not there yet.

Frankly, I'm blown away by what scientists have already been able to discover - with real evidence - about those parts of our universe so far away in both space and time. And they're getting better all the time. Heck, we're still confirming Einstein's hypotheses, as our technological abilities improve.

In this case, scientists made specific predictions about what we should find - as scientists do - if their ideas about inflation were true. If those predictions had not held up, their ideas would have have been proven wrong. This announcement is confirmation, though still not 'proof' that their ideas are true. That's not how it works. But if these findings are replicated, it will be an important piece of evidence pointing that way.

Furthermore, there are different models of inflation with different expectations of what we'd discover. As the article says, if these findings are confirmed, that would rule out certain models which predicted a someone different pattern or strength of gravitational waves.

It's neat stuff, isn't it? This is how science advances. This is why scientists can come to a consensus about what's true and what isn't, and then build on that foundation of reliable knowledge. (Compare that to religion, with a million different ideas about what's true and what isn't, since everyone can just believe whatever they prefer to believe.)

That's only part of this video, of course, though it's hugely important. But the other parts aren't bad, either. That "chicken from Hell" is pretty darn neat, isn't it? Furthermore, it continues to confirm that birds evolved from dinosaurs. That may seem old hat to you, but I'm old enough that this stuff still thrills me.

OK, I'm not so old that I remember the first discovery of Archaeopteryx in 1861. Heh, heh. But in my lifetime, I've continued to see better and better images of fossilized dinosaurs with feathers. That's not what I was originally taught about dinosaurs, in grade school, though it probably is today. Neat, huh?

Plus, how could you not love the discovery of a five foot high, eleven foot long chicken? :)

Note that, as Bill Nye pointed out in his recent debate with Ken Ham, all it would take to disprove current ideas about evolution is - among other things - one fossil in the wrong geological layer. (As Ham proudly noted himself, nothing would convince him that he was wrong that 'God done it.' That's science vs religion in a nutshell.)

Finally, Shives notes the announcement of a new optical switching device with switches 1/500th the width of a human hair and a thousand times faster than current optical switches.

For years now, we've been hearing that computers are reaching a limit, that we won't be able to continue the rapid improvements we've seen in the past. Well, maybe so, but we're not there yet!

When it comes to predicting the future, there are a lot of naysayers around. Yes, there probably are limits. But predictions of such limits usually discount scientific research and human ingenuity and are almost always premature.

This is a particularly cheering video this week, but similar good news is announced pretty much every week. The advances of science we've seen in recent centuries aren't even close to ending. In fact, I'd say that our advances are accelerating. We don't have hyperdrive or fusion power, not yet, but what we are learning is good news, indeed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Flight to fantasy

This is embarrassing, isn't it? It shows not just the sad state of journalism in America, but the prevalent faith-based thinking here. Black holes? Bermuda Triangle? LOST?

I don't know if Don Lemon is this idiotic himself, or if he's just pandering to his idiot viewers, but note that CNN's ratings doubled during this period. How embarrassing is that? (At the very least, that will guarantee we see more of this kind of bullshit.)

As Jon Stewart says, "And don't worry about it if you're wrong, 'cause there are no consequences for that. At all. Ever."

And then it gets even worse. Psychics? Numerology? Noah's Ark? What have these people been smoking? And these are supposed to be news networks?

Yeah, numerology and Noah's Ark, really:

I guess that all we can do is laugh at this stuff, huh?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Educating Raymond

Yes, this is impolite, but keep in mind that Ray Comfort is the 'banana man' - the guy who claimed that the Cavendish banana was proof of God, because it was just so perfect for human requirements,... after being bred and selected by human beings for thousands of years for just those characteristics. ("The banana - the atheist's nightmare." Yes, that's actually what he said.)

And as this video demonstrates, he doesn't even know his own holy book, though he pushes it on everyone else just as hard as he can (and he certainly won't change his mind, even when the contradiction is read to him from his own Bible).

But then, this is not just Comfort's religion, but his job. He makes a very good living pushing this crap, and he's worshiped by his followers. I'm sure he wouldn't give that up, no matter what.

Baud Bits has made a whole series of videos about Ray Comfort, and this isn't even the most impolite. (Check out this one, for example - especially if you want to find out more about Comfort's banana claims.)

Extreme weather events linked to global warming

From the Associated Press:
Much of the extreme weather that wreaked havoc in Asia, Europe and the Pacific region last year can be blamed on human-induced climate change, the U.N. weather agency says.

The World Meteorological Organization's annual assessment Monday said 2013 was the sixth-warmest year on record. Thirteen of the 14 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century.

A rise in sea levels is leading to increasing damage from storm surges and coastal flooding, as demonstrated by Typhoon Haiyan, the agency's Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said. The typhoon in November killed at least 6,100 people and caused $13 billion in damage to the Philippines and Vietnam.

Australia, meanwhile, had its hottest year on record.

"Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change," Jarraud said.

He also cited other costly weather disasters such as $22 billion damage from central European flooding in June, $10 billion in damage from Typhoon Fitow in China and Japan, and a $10 billion drought in much of China.

Only a few places - including the central U.S. - were cooler than normal last year, but 2013 had no El Nino, the warming of the central Pacific that happens once every few years and changes rain and temperature patterns around the world.

Jarraud spoke as top climate scientists and representatives from about 100 governments with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change met in Japan to complete their latest report on global warming's impact on hunger, disease, drought, flooding, refugees and war.

Speaking in Geneva, Jarraud drew special attention to studies and climate modeling examining Australia's recent heat waves, saying the high temperatures there would have been virtually impossible without the emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

"It is not possible to reproduce these heat waves in the models if you don't take into account human influence," he said.

This won't get much attention here in Nebraska - it was pretty much buried by the local news station where I found it - so I thought I'd repost it here. I'm already hearing comments about the harsh winter (not so much here, but certainly in the eastern part of the United States) from climate change deniers.

Of course, local weather is not global climate, though global climate will certainly have an impact on local weather. And when it comes to science, I'm going with the scientific consensus, no matter what the issue might be.

I don't know how in the world you could imagine that you know more than scientists in their own field of expertise, or why you'd accept the claims of politicians and political pundits instead of scientists - again in their own field of expertise. Don't you understand the scientific method at all?