Wednesday, August 30, 2006

to a Perfection

I had planned on starting Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space after having finished the Hyperion Cantos, but finding myself hooked on Dan Simmons I went straight to Ilium and I've got Olympos (the sequel and conclusion) on my shelf ready for when I finish. Ilium is as good as it is hard to describe. Greek Gods, far-future quantum physics technology, sentient robots habitating the outer planets of the solar system and who study Shakespeare and Proust, mount Olympos on Mars, the Trojan war....all of this told over different points in history, during the trojan war and on in to the far far future.

I always really liked far-future science fiction. I feel like science fiction can really work as a medium for writing about the human condition when your characters are in a future so far ahead that everything is alien and the author had a clean creative slate.'s a picture of a loofa sponge I took when I was taking a shower. I liked the way the beads of water formed on it.

"We must make haste, Avatar!"

I'm playing through Ultima 7 Part II: Serpent Isle again, just since it's been a really long time and since I'm on a retro games kick after having built my retro machine. I have a bit of a history with the game: I bought when I was in....7th grade I think, and immediately regretted my purchase after finding out that I had not bought the wolfenstein-like Ultima Underworld that was also on shelves at the time. I made the best of it however, loaded it up and started playing. The first thing that struck me about the game was the sheer amount "virtual sandbox" gameplay it featured. I could wander around town, in the forests and mountains, fight anyone and take anything (well, hopefully without getting caught). I didn't get very far without buying the hintbook, which I still have, since the more subtle plot directions in the game were lost on me at that age (there was no "quest log" or anything, just dialogue with NPCs and the trust placed in the player to figure things out).

I never actually finished the game that first time through, since later that year I got a cd-rom and sound card kit for Christmas and after installing them found that I didn't have enough main memory left in DOS to play the game (it's infamous for both having huge memory requirements and being incompatible with EMM386, an extended memory manager). I didn't know enough about modifying things like autoexec.bat and config.sys at that age, so on to the shelf it went. For about 4 years I'd try again to get it to run, but to no avail. I really missed playing it, and as bizarre as it sounds, the game would start popping in to my dreams in various forms, I think it's safe to say I was obsessed. I only ever finished the game for the first time sophomore year of high school when our new family PC, some all-in-one piece of crap from Compaq, came with a DOS utility called Buttons for DOS that made it easy to restart the computer without things like CD-rom drivers and such. Loading it up again 4 years later was a moment of truth; the game was just as much fun as I had remembered.

If you ever want to check out the roots behind explorable, open, and incredibly detailed RPGs that are so popular and so well done nowadays (read: Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, Oblivion), check out Ultima 7, both parts. Getting them to run on modern machines has ceased being an issue since the latest release of DosBox, a full DOS environment emulator. Just make sure you have a relatively fast machine, and use a good front-end for DosBox, such as D-Fend.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Feeling Overwhelmed

I finally finished Rise of Endymion, and with it, the entire Hyperion Cantos. (The wiki link has spoilers, but they are marked. Be warned.) I say I'm feeling overwhelmed because the end of Rise not only brought tears to my eyes, something a book hasn't done in a while, but also because of what takes place and because of what is revealed over the course of the story. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I almost wish that what was said in the book was a true philosophy so that I could subscribe to it. What got me crying in the end was the love story that takes place and the bittersweet way in which it wraps up. Endymion was a very fun read, but mostly setup for what happens in Rise of Endymion. All in all I think Hyperion is still my favorite, but Rise comes closest to it out of all the books. I think next I'm going to read Revelation Space by Alistar Reynolds.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Doing It Old School

I'm finally putting my retro gaming machine together so that I can play some of my old favorites that either do not run or do not run well in DosBox, which is pretty much now the most effective way to play old dos games (so long as they're not too CPU intensive). Also worth looking into is VDMSound, which, although long since abandoned by its dev team, is a good alternative for games that can get away with not having that fullyemulated DOS environment and as a result run faster.

It's a simple P2 with 128 MB main memory on an old Asus board. I was hoping to get the version my board that had ISA ports so that I could have ultimate unquestioned sound card support in DOS, but alas, a good sound card remains my last hurdle. I've found a great site that lists which sound cards and their chipsets are most compatable with DOS, so now I know what to look for on eBay.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kidney Stone

When you heard people say that passing a kidney stone is the most painful thing they experience in their life, or at the very least one of the most painful things, they aren't kidding. Apparently I've had warning sings in the form of soreness in my lower back in the area of my kidneys but I didn't know enough to think it was a kidney stone. I'm only 26. I wake up in the middle of the night with a really nasty pain in my lower left abdomen. Later I would learn that this was the pain from the stone passing from my kidney to my bladder via a very small tube called the ureter. Going to the bathroom didn't help, though for some reason I thought it would. I go back to bed still half awake hoping the pain would just subside, but instead it grows very quickly. Within minutes I'm very much awake with the conclusion that what I was feeling was far too painful to be something that didn't require medical attention. I can best describe the feeling as someone twisting a knife in my abdomen, or perhaps tiny mage lords having an epic battle right above my left hip.

actually I thought I was experiencing the pain of appendicitis, but I would also later learn that appendicitis is always on your right side.

I call 911, realize in my mind that I was able to drive (a stupid decision I later regretted for its sheer stupidity) and ended up just asking them where the nearest emergency room was. I get in my car and drive to Goleta Cottage Hospital, literally screaming the whole way from the pain. By the time I get there, I'm pale, sweating, shivering, and nauseous, and these are just symptoms of the pain. I fill out a form, they stick me in a bed in a gown, tap me with an IV, and give me some morphine. This was my first experience with morphine, and I'm not sure if it was the nature of the drug or the fact that it was given to me intravenously or perhaps both, but I experienced a strange sensation in my throat and then, as if someone had their hand on a large volume dial labeled "Chris's Pain," and steadily turned it down. Over about 3 hours I slept a bit, had an MRI to confirm a kidney stone, and had about 5 doses of morphine. The radiologist told me the stone was almost done passing and that once it entered my bladder, the 4 mm stone wouldn't cause me anymore serious discomfort.

I ended up calling my Aunt and Uncle for a ride and to drive my car back for me, since being under the influence of morphine I was a total wreck. In fact, that's what made the rest of the day so terrible, aside from the small remaining amount of stone-related pain, was the intense nauseousness brought on by the morphine. I vomited about 7 times over the day, the last 4 times nothing but water, which is really frustrating when you're supposed to be drinking lots of it. A couple days later I passed the stone, and finally got to see the tiny little thing that caused me so much grief.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Cruciform

I wish more people have read the Hyperion Cantos so I could share this with them (I'm looking directly at you Mike). Very minor spoilers follow: in the series there is what is called the "cruciform," fist-sized coral like parasite that grow in huge numbers along the walls of planet Hyperion's labyrinths. Once worn, they slowly attach to a human and spread countless tiny tendrils throughout the body, and when you die they bring you back to life, slightly less intelligent, and, with enough resurrections, sexless.

Anyway, my dad brought me back a crucifix from Argentina that is large, and made of shell so it looks sort of like coral. Creepy. My dad is really an evil AI agent of the Techno Core (if you don't get it, read the books. They're excellent)