November 2009

Champions Online: That's Just Super!

Lane Carter didn’t think much of Supers. Heroes were chumps; villains were creeps. So what’s a girl to do when an alien death-ray backfires, granting her super-speed and super-strength? She managed to keep the strength a secret for a while, but after the incident with the baby and the tiger cage, her speed gained her fifteen minutes of unwelcome fame.

Okay, so she got a nice writeup in the papers, and a big thank-you from the parents, but she also had to register with the feds, listen to boring speeches about Responsibility, deal with the suck-ups who insisted they’d always been her Best Friends, and learn to cope with the Internet. The bloggers were only a brief annoyance, and the way-too-personal edits to her Superpedia page were quickly reverted by the editors, but the basement-dwelling mouth-breather who called her “Fast Lane” and wrote hardcore lesbian “team-up” stories was too much. She thought his scooter looked much nicer as an ashtray.

Once they found out about her strength, the recruiters showed up:

  • "Join your 'team' and fight for justice? How about 'no'?"
  • "Become your 'henchman' and help you take over the world? Is your stupidity contagious?"
  • "Be your sidekick? Oh, come on, did your Mom make that outfit?"
  • "You want to give me 'special training' and a 'unique costume'? Put it back in your pants, creep."

The worst part was that she liked her new powers. She could explore the City any time of the day or night, zipping past terrorists, gangsters, aliens, and creepy middle-aged men without being noticed, and if someone did try to mess with her, well, a girl who can toss an SUV like a softball only gets hassled once.

If only there were some legal, rational way to use them to make a decent living…


Hero meets Villain

[What really happens when heroes and villains interact? In Champions Online, we don’t have the opportunity to chat with our adversaries. There’s some random speech bubbles and the occasional monologing cut-scene, but no real dialogue.]

“I’m not a super-villain.”

“You have a lair.”

“I have a lab.”

“It’s hidden in a deserted warehouse.”

“The lease was cheap.”

“It has security cameras and electrified doors.”

“In this neighborhood? I should think so.”

“It has multi-level interior defenses, including pit traps, gas bombs, and little flying robots with lasers.”

“I like my privacy.”


SuperMacro, to the rescue!

[no relation to the ancient Borland SuperMacro product, which we once used to automatically navigate the swamp in Leather Goddesses of Phobos. clap, hop, kweepa]

Like most MMOs, Champions Online has some built-in macro support. It’s fairly primitive at the moment, but there are certain key-bindings that I want for all characters.


Dear Mari Yaguchi,

This picture satisfies certain deep-seated needs.



I had a perfectly good reason for doing it this way…

declare id
function hexhex () {
  printf -v id %06X 0x$1

I do not recognize this place

Something about this story just seems a bit, shall we say, “over-hyped”:

In the space of 11 days this year, seven people were murdered in Salinas. Each killing, like the record 25 homicides the previous year, spilled from the gang warfare that this summer pushed the homicide rate in the city of 140,000 to three times that of Los Angeles. Residents retreated indoors at night, and Mayor Dennis Donohue affirmed his decision to seek help from an unlikely source: the U.S. military.


"Obviously, there are restrictions," said Salinas Deputy Police Chief Kelly McMillin. "Not only the constitutional part of it, but just the idea we are going to have choppers fast-roping onto Alisal Street."

As far as I can tell, it boils down to: “not many jobs right now for young male unskilled workers who don’t speak much English, so joining a gang seems like a good idea; at least, until you get used as cannon fodder in a fight against another gang”.

And, of course, when the total number of homicides is so low, it’s easy for one or two serious incidents to dramatically alter the rate, creating a dramatic “worse than LA” comparison.

Not to imply that there are no problems. It’s quite clear from the statistical data that, taken as a whole, the Salinas SMSA has crime rates comparable to much larger cities; it’s just highly concentrated geographically. The warzone they paint in the article is nothing like the kid-friendly neighborhood where I handed out big handfuls of candy on Halloween night to roving bands of (often unescorted) little monsters.

[Update: a quick bit of math to show the rate swing: in 2006, the homicide rate was only 82% of the national average (4.7 versus 5.7), while in 2008 it was three times higher (17.4 versus 5.8). Since these are numbers per 100,000, and the current population is 148,350, that’s a difference of 11 homicides. The rate was also significantly lower than the national average from 1987 to 1991, which happens to be a period with low unemployment and lots of construction.]

Never trust the comments, reason # 14B7

The comment said, “calculations done in base 16”. The code said, “n % 12”.

The code wins, always.

At least it wasn’t done in a base-11 substitution cipher, because that would stump dozens of highly-intelligent alien races for centuries.


Dear Blizzard,

Today I finally converted my World of Warcraft account into your new, one-ring-to-rule-them-all account system. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the email address I gave for my new, unified login name is “”. You sent me a confirmation email that my account had been converted, and that my new login name would be “n***”.

This would be a nice little touch of security, except for the fact that you sent the email to, making it pure theater. Next you’ll be asking me to take off my shoes and empty my water bottle…

[to be clear: the problem is not that they sent email. That was expected and desired. The problem is that the body of the message pretends to “protect” my login name by masking it, in a message sent to the email address that is identical to that login name]

Shock the Monkey

In this well-linked news, a team of researchers has reported success at curing erectile dysfunction with shockwaves. When describing how much force is being applied to the penis, they chose a very revealing comparison:

"These are very, very low energy shock waves," Vardi said. Each shockwave applied roughly 100 bar of pressure — some 20 times the air pressure in a bottle of champagne, but less than the pressure exerted by a woman in stiletto heels who weighs 132 lbs. (60 kg).

Apparently medical research is now being performed in full dominatrix gear. Who knew?

No pictures yet,

… but I have uncled. Matthew Marion Greely was born this morning, making my brother Mike and his wife Polina into very happy, very tired, parents.

Welcome to Earth, little guy. You share a birthday with Poul Anderson, Ricardo Montalbán, Joe DiMaggio, Andrew Carnegie, Amy Grant, and the Bush twins, so we expect great things from you.

"Just load the tapes, kid"

Many years ago, my college roommate had a job in the Physics department as a tape monkey. The department had a Large Grant to process data from Fermilab. Each run filled a 9-track tape, and the analysis required roughly 11 hours of uninterrupted runtime on their Vaxen. The average uptime on the server was a hair over 11 hours, and with very little slack in their schedule, someone had to be available any time day or night to make sure their delivery date didn’t slip.

My friend was a biochemistry major, and appreciated the importance of delivering high-quality analysis of experimental data, so he was a bit concerned by the fact that the programs used to perform that analysis were in a constant state of flux, a mess of Fortran hacked on by an ever-changing team of grad students. Not wanting to waste precious time, he got into the habit of running it on a small test dataset each day, to make sure it still worked before kicking off an 11-hour run.

The test output was frequently different, in ways that it shouldn’t have been. Ways that very well could have made all of their analysis completely useless to Fermilab. Ways that no one planned, expected, or kept track of. When he raised his concerns, well, their exact words are lost to time, but I remember them sounding an awful lot like, “just load the tapes, kid”.

I think of those words whenever I hear about a computer model that proves something significant that’s tied to the modeler’s funding. And I think that’s all that I need to say about the rapidly-unfolding saga of ClimateGate.

Words of wisdom...

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”