Monday, April 27, 2009

Sometimes I forget...

that Baseball is a game, too. Even though it took me years to become mediocre at it, I have always appreciated the game on a strategic level. Every once in a while, something comes along that really makes me notice what's going on. I missed watching this on TV, since I was too beat from band practice - but thanks to the internet, I didn't have to miss it. However, since I watched it this morning, all of the videos with adequate picture quality on Youtube were voluntarily taken down. Here's the link from the MLB page, I hope it still works. The picture quality is much better than the Youtube clips I saw anyway.  

This sort of thing only happens only once every few years, if at all. Jacoby Ellsbury stole home base. This sort of offensive play, sneaky as it was, only served to highlight the difference between the current Red Sox and the Yankees. This was not taking advantage of a wild pitch, this was not beating the rundown. This was speed and surprise. But then, no one expects the Spanish Inquistion.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tales from the Cube - Birthday Edition

I went out to Moe's for my birthday with the family over last weekend. I enjoyed my giant tofu burrito immensely. I got run over out in the parking lot with a shopping cart. It hurt, but it was fun. Later, we walked over to Best Buy to see what they had in the bargain bin. We almost picked up Slither for $5, but if I'm going to buy it I'd rather have widescreen and all they had was Full Frame (which is probably why it was in the $5 bin.)

I tried to play PS3 Guitar Hero on Hard on some song I didn't know but I couldn't manage to get in sync with the game. For all I know the display guitar's strum bar was all beat to heck, but I don't really know what it was supposed to feel like anyway.

I also played the new Wii Control Pikmin at the Nintendo kiosk, but I didn't like the controls at first. The idea of the Wii Control re-releases is that they take a game that sold well or got lots of critical acclaim on Nintendo's Gamecube, and then freshen it up so that it has native Wii controls. I hope that the freshening up process also includes widescreen support. It's one of those things that might be better if I just started over at the beginning and re-learned it. I still have my Gamecube copy of Pikmin and still play Challenge Mode periodically - so it's not like I'm unfamiliar with the game - but I didn't immediately 'get' the new control scheme.

After #1 son and I got tired of picking through the game section, we found Mom and #2 son back in the camera section. Mom was disappointed that more cameras don't list their minimum focusing distance on their specification sheet. The only advice I could offer was to not look for anything that couldn't physically support a decent lens, and that if the megapixels were high enough, you could compensate for lack of zoom somewhat. While we were chatting about that, an employee spotted my Rubik's cube, and asked me about it, and I solved it for him. I assume I took forty seconds or so, which is par for the course for me if I'm talking up a storm while doing it. He was dumbfounded, and dragged me over to the front where the other associates are and the Geek Squad counter is. I handed it to the first employee to re-scramble, and he dragged out one of the other employees, presumably someone he had to show this stupid human trick (Sorry, Mr. Letterman) to. The other employee asked me if I'm a professional cuber, which I both denied that I am and also denied that there are. I suggested to him that there might be a few people that make some of their travel money back, but that nobody does it for a living. I knocked down a slightly faster time, since I didn't talk as much, and they were even more impressed. After I finished, I walked past the nerdy looking girl (Please, no feminist outrage. I had Dana Scully on my work desktop for a while, and I dig the big black glasses look.) at the Geek Squad counter and I asked her "You can solve this, right? Otherwise, they wouldn't let you have the shirt..." She shook her head no. Maybe I should have asked her what devices the first group of IRQ's go to or what the pinout and voltage for USB is.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don't you hate it when...

Everybody you run into has to tell you the same news story because they know that you're the person that would be interested in it? Over the last two days I had a half-dozen people tell me that some kid solved 100 Rubik's cubes in a minute, or some variation thereof. I did not happen to see the TV spot on our local CBS or Fox affiliate, since I was probably watching Cash Cab or Time Warp on the Discovery Channel. So, like the good research hound that I am, I try to hunt it down on the internet. No dice. The closest thing that I can find on the internet is that some kid in Washington State solved 64 cubes in less than an hour. The news article even said that he had 19 minutes to spare, and that the previous record was 42 in an hour. That may be the Guinness record, but I don't put much stock in it. Let's walk through the math.

  • Assuming I understand what was in the news article, I think that what it says is that he solved 64 cubes in (60-19=) 41 minutes.
  • 41 minutes is (60*41=) 2460 seconds.
  • 2460 seconds divided by 64 cubes is 38.4375 seconds per cube. I hate to even mention this, but that's slower than my average - we'll give him the benefit of the doubt since I've never tried to cube for an entire hour.
Since this seems insane to me that it's a bona fide record that's worthy of a spot in the books, I went to to look to see if any of the WCA sanctioned (Yes, Virginia, there is a World Cubing Association...) record holders had done anything like this, officially or unofficially. My starting point will be Erik Akkersdijk, since he had the fastest official single time of 2008 of 7.08 seconds. Clearly, no one could get times like that for every single cube, because no competition average is that low yet, so I looked up his average. In a cube competition, that usually means 5 times reduced to three by throwing out the high and the low, and averaging the remaining scores. Erik has an official best average of 11.11 seconds. As a matter of fact, looking at the top 100, everyone has an average under 15 seconds for the format I mentioned. So it seems like to me that any of these guys in the top 100 could seriously sandbag and do better. Since there doesn't seem to be an official category for multi-solving other than blindfolded, I started looking at unofficial times on the speedcubing site. Now while they're clearly labeled unofficial, these are not likely to be bogus times - most of the same people who post these are the same people in the WCA sanctioned events. They're just not at the official events. On the 'Other Cube Records' page, there is both a 'Most Solves in One Hour' category and a 'Cube Marathon ( 42 cubes) category. The above mentioned Erik Akkersdijk has a time listed in the 42 cubes category of - are you sitting down? - 9:57.27. That's less than ten minutes, people. But hey - that's an average of 13.5 seconds per cube, which isn't faster than his official average. Of the times for 42 cubes posted, dating back to 2005, none is over 36 minutes!

Let's get crazy, and look at what's in the most solves in one hour category, shall we? There's a lot of names that no one will know on that list, and Erik wasn't on there to check against. However, all of those people that told me about 'That movie with Will Smith where he...' might eventually find me telling them about Tyson Mao and Toby Mao teaching Will how to solve a Rubik's cube. Wouldn't you know? Toby's name is on the list - with 150 solves in an hour. That's about 24 seconds apeice. Toby's best official average is 14.11 - but that's only for a few cubes. So, I think 24 seconds per cube seems rather plausible. To top it all off, Toby's not anywhere near the top of the list - Milán Baticz is at the top of the list with 245 cubes in an hour. He's no slouch, as he won or at least placed well in events all over Europe since 2005, and he's one of the few cubers to do longer marathons than an hour.

If anybody else has anything to say about 'that kid on TV' to me, I hope they come up with a better story than the one I found, and can tell me what his name is.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Catch-up, and Gaming on a Budget

So, I haven't posted in a month. :( I feel bad about it, but at least it gives me quite a bit to catch up on.

The cover band I was in in High School has gotten back together, and I had spent a lot of time preparing material and acclimating to a new piece of gear - the Zoom B2 bass multi-effects pedal.

I still have other audio work to do unrelated to that band, hopefully I can get that knocked out soon. It mostly involves rescuing audio from cassette tapes - things people recorded for themselves from things they no longer have, some improv humor from their childhood, some stuff from vinyl that ended up on tape, and so on.

I picked up a great $10 PS2 game, which was the Williams Pinball collection. It's worth it for Funhouse and Pinbot alone. I'm looking forward to seeing that on a progressive scan TV soon, I've only played it on my old-school TV so far. It also has Gorgar, Space Shuttle, Black Knight, Whirlwind, and Firepower? I'm not 100% sure of the name of the last one, but I do remember that the game audio for that one sounds suspiciously like Defender. The controls are simple - flippers on L and R, plunger on the right analog, and nudge on the left analog.

Also in the 'gaming on a budget' vein, I obtained an original XBox from a co-worker who had long since abandoned it for a newer, more family-friendly console. The only problem with it that I had discovered is that I occasionally have to open the drive door with a paper clip. Dissasembly of the drive is not as easy as the PS2's drive, so I wasn't able to re-seat the little white pin back into the groove on the underside of the disk tray - which would be all it would need. It's working now, so I won't fuss about it too much. I used a PS2 power cord to power it, and it didn't even come with a controller. I didn't even know if it would boot until a bought a controller. (Pelican, Wal-Mart, $14.97) Once I was able to get it to come up and play an audio CD, I figured it was worth taking the chance on some game purchases. Thinking about what I wanted for XBox that was never made for PS2 was easy. I didn't know if I would want to play any of the Halo games, as I had no intention of hooking this up to the internet. However, the Tecmo games were worth checking out to me. So, I went to Gamestop and dug through the used section.
  • Ninja Gaiden Black, $19.99
  • Dead or Alive 3, $4.99
  • Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball, $3.99
  • SNK vs Capcom - SvC Chaos, $7.99
SvC Chaos came out for PS2 but only in Japan. In the US, XBox was the only way. Ninja Gaiden did come out for PS3 as Ninja Gaiden Sigma - but that definitely would break our budget here. I also picked up a Udon Akuma controller for $4.99. So, for around the price of a new game for a new system, I was able to get several decent games and two controllers for an old-school machine. Several weeks later, on a trip to our local Kmart, I found the game section that time forgot. I picked up the Gottlieb pinball collection and Big Strike Bowling for XBox for $2.50 each. The pinball game controls the same as the PS2 one I mentioned above - the only down side is that the included tables were ones I was unfamiliar with except for Black Hole. The bowling game seems a bit lame with Wii bowling as a comparison, but it's still worth the $2.50.
Of the other games, I'm playing Ninja Gaiden the most. Since I'm not an aw3sum l337 gamerz, I'm playing on Ninja Dog difficulty after getting decimated on the first boss battle several times in a row. Now that I'm most of the way through the game, perhaps I would consider replaying it on the regular difficulty. If the boss battles turn out to be too tedious, perhaps one time is enough. The other thing I can't help but notice is the extreme similarity, down to the menu screens, with Capcom's Devil May Cry. The controls are actually better than DMC's, but the basic formula of the game is eerily similar. We'll see if I say the same thing when Bayonetta comes out.