Thursday, March 31, 2016

Do I Really Have To Find The Conveniently Lying Around Puzzle Hint?: Basic Combinatorics and Computer Games

Screen text: I don't know the right combination, and trying to find it will take too long.
Situation 1: combination lock.  3 buttons (levers? thingamajigs?) , each button has 5 sides.  Without any further information to rule out possible combinations, I have 5 choices for the first button, 5 choices for the second button, and 5 choices for the third button, for 5*5*5 = 125 total possibilities to try for a brute force test-everything solution.  Assume I need 2 seconds to set each button to a possibility.  Then the maximum time I need to test a combination is 6 seconds (less for combinations where I need to change only one or two slots).  6 seconds * 125 tries = 750 seconds or 12.5 minutes.  Assume I stop for a break and to make notes to keep track of my attempts.  I can still reasonably force the lock in under 30 minutes.  Even in a real-time game, unless you are in a down-to-the-minute crunch, this is doable.  Tedious (very tedious!), but straightforward.  I don't truly need someone's conveniently left out password here. 

How about this one?
Screen text: I can't figure this out without a plan.
Situation 2: A clearly magical harp sitting in a swamp (if it weren't magical, we would have serious water damage to this poor instrument).  We do have a limited number of pitches: 17, one for each colored segment.  (My mouse pointer is covering up one such segment). If we assume the magical melody is
  • exactly 17 notes long, no repeats, we have 17 choices for the first note, then 16 choices for the second note, 15 choices for the third note, etc., for 17*16*15*14*...*3*2*1 = 17! = 355687428096000 combinations.  Way too many to test without a computer!  (Read the "!" as "factorial" in this context.)
  • exactly 17 notes long, repeats allowed, we have  17*17*17*...*17 = 17^17 = 827240261886336764177 possible choices.  Way too many to test!  (With a computer?  I'm not sure.  Let me do some more research.)
  • Less than or more than 17 notes? Less than, and you could probably still force it with a computer eventually.  Small enough and you could do it by hand.  More than 17?  Well, how much more?  At some point you can always make the problem too big.  Even the integers are infinite.  (And the real numbers are infinitely more infinite than the integers.  In a mathematically well-defined and amazingly mind-blowing way.)
  • If timing and tempo matter?  Forget it.  
I do need a conveniently lying around hint for this one, even with an untimed game.

Edit: turned out situation 2 was just about tuning the strings, rather than a combination.  Since tuning is an aesthetic choice (individual or cultural), yes, I did need a guide. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Australia's First 4 Billion Years

For light watching with lovely glimpses of geology and computer generated scenes of ancient life, I highly recommend Australia's First 4 Billion Years.   It's a NOVA documentary, but you can find it on Youtube, just search the title.

I think the best part is the "driving" into the past at 60 million years per hour: all of humanity occupies only the first 2 seconds of the journey, while it takes over 3 days to get to the beginnings of Earth.  It's a nice way to try to make the vastness of time more immediate and conceivable. 

My favorite parts are the CG scenes of trilobites and their world.  I find trilobites pleasingly symmetric and streamlined:
Order: Ptychopariida
Suborder: Ptychopariina
Superfamily: Ptychoparioidea
Family: Marjumiidae
Species: Modocia typicalis
Source: Trilobites.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"The Veal Holds No Uncertainty For Her, and She Shall Know No Fear of Death, For the Maker Shall Be Her Bacon and Her Shield": Dragon Age Origins Review and Opinions

Short Summary:

 Sword and sorcery real-time RPG.  Both swords and sorceries kick butt:
The column of flame is the inferno spell.  Love it.  Never sets fire to the landscape, either.

Prepare to die, darkspawn!


Good 3D graphics, comes with widescreen option, wide range of possible camera angles.  Lots of cutscenes.  Most dialog is both voiced and animated, both of high quality (even the few cheesy lines are done with sufficient conviction and sincerity to carry the day).  Approximately 85% fighting and 15% diplomacy, puzzles, or exploration.  World is not very extensive or open, but what there is is well-done.  Straightforward yet well-written against-all-odds fantasy adventure with a few twists that I did not anticipate.  Includes a few romance options.  Moderate learning curve given prior experience with Baldur's Gate or similar games.  I enjoyed it very, very much.               

Longer Opinions:

"In Death, Sacrifice"
"Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant. Join us as we carry out the duty that cannot be forsworn. And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten. And that one day, we shall join you."
                                                                          -Grey Warden oath

Despite my title, Dragon Age Origins is neither a happy nor a happily-ever-after fantasy.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"You Only Get a Sense of Fulfillment from Torture and Dominos If You Do Them Yourself": Art and Philosophy in Hoozuki no Reitetsu

The third OVA of Hoozuki no Reitetsu is now out! 
Hakutaku-san (left) and Hoozuki-sama (right).  Fan art from the web.

In this episode, Is Art an Explosion?, we come to the subjects of draftmanship, painting, and abusing one's powers!  Hoozuki-sama, Hell's secretary general and power behind the throne of King Enma, takes heavenly (for some values thereof) Hakutaku's terrible drawings as an excuse to force him into art lessons with Nasubi, Hell's resident up-and-coming artist.  Nasubi, a thoroughly likeable demon who works hard at his art and paints a mouth of truth mural in a previous episode, sees promise in Hakutaku's works: they're unforgettable. 
The mouth of truth will bite off your hand--or your head.

Mix in some taoist magic that makes drawings come alive, some philosophical thoughts about having such magic, and a little general mayhem, and Hoozuki-sama has another enjoyable day in Hell. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Waka != Haiku

I did not quite fling this book across the room in disgust, but it came very close:  


A cloud of blossoms
A hazy moon
Tast of mist, sweet wind

That is my waka for the spring tea that I plan for Auntie and my mother.  It is modeled after the greatest of the ancient Japanese poets, Basho.  His was better.

                            The Royal Diaries: Kazunomiya, Prisoner of Heaven, by Kathryn Lasky, p. 15



A waka is a classical Japanese poetic form of 31 syllables arranged in five lines. The Kokinshu (905 C.E.) is the first collection of waka only.  Kazunomiya would certainly have been familiar with it, as well as with later collections such as the Hyakunin Isshu, and would more believably have referenced such poets as Ki no Tsurayuki, Izumi Shikibu, or just possibly Saigyo.

An haiku is a later Japanese poetic form of 17 syllables arranged in three lines.   Crudely speaking, the haiku grew out of the first part of waka and came to be a standalone form.

Basho (1644-1694) was a master of haiku, not waka.  In a country with extant diaries reaching back to 600 years before Basho (Tosa Nikki, 934-35, oldest surviving diary written in the Japanese language), and extant literature from the early 700s C.E., Basho would hardly have qualified as ancient to Kazunomiya. 

I grant that historical fiction takes certain liberties with facts in order to create a more engaging story.  But unnecessary ignorance of even the basics of Japanese poetry styles, in a tale where such poetry is an absolutely key cultural underpinning?   When a wealth of material exists, beyond Basho? The author has been unforgivably lazy with this story.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Atlanta Opera Goes Piratical

The Atlanta Opera is a decent, but not fabulous, opera company.  They are the sort who get nominated for opera awards, but for accessibility rather than anything artistic. The only time I've actually seen them achieve fabulosity was during their 2015 production of Rigoletto, which I think was mostly due to Nadine Sierra.  Now that she is triumphing at La Scala, Atlanta will probably be henceforth unable to afford her. In opera, as in life, money is important.

With that in mind, the Atlanta Opera's Pirates of Penzance was decent, but not fabulous. It was fun; this operetta being difficult to make less so, but there were a few musical problems. Some of the cast were having projection difficulties, notably, and unfortunately, the chief of police.  That should be a standout role, and it just wasn't. Some of the general's daughters as well were difficult to hear, and since the orchestra was playing much more piano and less bombastically than I could wish (and it's a small orchestra) there's just no excuse for that. Also, the music was played more slowly than is an artistic choice of tempo I could agree with.  This operetta is ridiculous, and it should be played uptempo and with gusto.

There were definitely good points.  Maureen McKay, as Mabel, sang the guts out of her coloratura role while playing up the comedy as much as she could.  The general's daughters as an ensemble were fantastic, moving as they did in clumps and casting shade on Mabel's amorous choices.  Individually, they were only average, but they were well choreographed at least.  The Pirate King, Kevin Burdette, easily stole the show in his tight pants.  He would have been better with a police chief with a personality to be a foil, but what can you do?

The set was fabulous, consisting entirely of movable pieces which cast members moved around as they needed things to pose on or hide behind.  Except for maybe the set of their 2014 Rigoletto, which was a brooding pit of darkness with paintings of depravity beneath a gleaming white city, this is probably the best staging I've ever seen here.  I'm hoping they stay more with things like this and move away from their fancy technological projected backgrounds.

Pirates of Penzance is genuinely, sidesplittingly, funny material.  It's one of Gilbert and Sullivan's better (and better aging) works, and making it not wonderfully funny would require great effort.  We may have lost whatever they were mocking with the timid policeman and probably other subtleties, but enough meaning translates into modernity without effort that it's not a problem.  What is the problem is that I felt that the production was banking on funny to carry them through some musical weaknesses.  I had a great time, and I like going to the opera, make no mistake.  I'm happy the Atlanta Opera is returning to 4 productions for next year.  I think this is an important step to becoming a higher quality company. If it takes producing crowd pleasing operas with shoddy singing in places, to get there, well, I'll be willing to be pleased and hope they make enough money from me to invest in more singers than just the principals.

In the meantime, on to Gounod's Romeo and Juliet.  I have never seen this before, and I am so excited.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Computer Game Graphics: Then and Now

The first computer game I ever played:
Digger.  Screenshot from the web.  Still playable with DOSBox or online.
Except I played on a laptop with display tones all in blue/purple/gold, so it didn't look quite like the above.

The computer game I'm currently playing:

Dragon Age Origins. Gorgeous.


Living in the future is amazing!