Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Dalek That Time Forgot 2: Electric Bungaloo

SU-PER-I-OR news everyone! The final two parts of The Dalek That Time Forgot were released recently and are on Youtube. OB-SERVE.

A great ending to a great series, showing an interesting cross section of Dalek history. This was a great way of integrating the New Paradigm Daleks into established chronology too, as far as I'm concerned this is official canon. It's too well made not to be.

On behalf of the Dalek Objectivist Empire, I would like to thank Lee Adams for making this series and informing us of it's return. Five stars!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Not Really Thinking With Portals

If you're on Steam you might have seen me fiddling with the Portal 2 Authoring Tools. Yes, it's true, I've been trying to make a map for that game for the Perpetual Testing Initiative. And you know what? It's hard. It's downright unpleasant. Portal 2 maps are an entirely different kettle of broth than what I'm used to. In the Paranoia maps I did basically whatever I wanted and it would work. No one questioned why they need three batteries to open a door to ride an upside down train, they just accepted it because it's weird and they already saw weirder things just getting there.

But that's not the case in Portal. Here, everything needs a purpose, everything in the map must somehow contribute to solving the puzzle. At first I thought it was going to be easy. "It's just a simple test chamber!" I told myself, "I don't even have to decorate it (much)!"

How wrong I was...

When making a test chamber, the mapper doesn't just worry about making the test fun, but making sure it works perfectly and has an intuitive solution. As I drown in more and more plans for my own test chamber I'm starting to understand that these two concepts are more intertwined than I originally thought. As it stands, I've probably abandoned enough ideas for puzzles to make an entire mod, all in the hope that I'll divine some perfect, distilled test by churning these puzzles in my mind, stretching and pulling them into an ideal, mailable shape like some kind of proverbial taffy.

That isn't to say I haven't made some kind of progress; it is absolutely set in stone that the map is going to be a Penrose Triangle shape. That's a given.

Besides my mission to abuse the linked_portal_door entity, I've resolved not to use certain test elements and that's helped simplify planning. For example:
  • Mobility Gels: After playing a few custom maps that rely on propulsion and repulsion gel, I can't help but feel like they're unnecessary and sloppy, at least in the maps I'm hoping to make. Besides, conversion gel is only good for one thing and there's basically only one kind of test one can make with the stuff.
  • Thermal Discouragement Beams: As much as I love lasers I don't feel like I'm ready to tackle this testing element just yet. While it's easy to put them in a map, it's very hard to do laser-centric puzzles well. More often than not tests that rely on them turn into total snooze-fests because all the player is doing is moving Redirection Cubes around just to get the laser in just the right spot.
  • Turrets: This test is all about expanding the players mind to the possibilities of non-euclidean space. Shooting their brains across the room with automated guns isn't really mind expanding...well, it is since it's flying across the room, but...well you know what I mean.
And that's about it for now. I don't have any good pictures of the map so far. One last thing: this is probably the first time I haven't decided on a good name before working on the map. I almost picked Vertigo but it was already taken. So if you have any suggestions they're welcome in the comments. Who knows, I might even reconsider Sleep Apnea.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Smother's Day

Yes, yes. Mothers are great, buy them cards and flowers and things. Everybody loves them, they're the best members of the species blah blah Hallmark Channel blah blah pro-choice blah blah men are horrible.

Right. Now that that's out of the way, let me show you some species who consider Mother's Day a time of despair and terror because I'm a jerk like that.

Stegodyphus lineatus

It's not easy being a parent in this species. If you're a male then you might not even see a female before a bird swoops down to eat you. But even then the females don't have any scruples against killing or eating you before you have a chance to woo her with your bongo drum playing or whatever it is you spiders do. But if you're a female, congratulations because now you have to defend your precious eggs against the aforementioned desperate males who won't have second thoughts about eating them only to replace them with a new clutch he's sure he's responsible for. It's like those paternity tests on Maury in reverse. Of course that's assuming ants don't steal the eggs first and bring them back to their queen as a food offering.

But that's not the worst of it; assuming male spiders, birds, ants or even other females don't sabotage your eggs then you have something much worse to contend with once they hatch: the babies themselves.

Yes, the offspring are matriphagous which is a polite way of saying they eat their mothers.

Parasitoid Wasps

Sometimes, motherhood isn't frightening because of the pain the mother has to endure; sometimes the pain she's willing to put others through is much much worse.

Enter the parasitoid wasp: a huge family of insects that have made it their goal to get free child support by any means necessary. First of all, there's a difference between your garden variety parasites and parasitoids. Regular parasites are content to spend their entire natural life inside your body, feeding on your precious bodily fluids. While they're generally freeloading dead weight, it's not in their best interest to kill you so at least you have that going for you.

Not so with the parasitoid.

Parasitoids spend a comparatively short portion of their life inside other animals. You know, like after they've been forcefully injected into your body by their mother. Yes, there's an entire superfamily of wasps who forgo the raising of their children, leaving the responsibility to some other arthropod. They do this by sneaking up on their victim, injecting them with their eggs and flying away. Over the next couple days the aphid, caterpillar or what have you becomes the unwilling incubator of a new generation of parasitoid wasps. They grow inside it's body and hatch. Then they eat the host from the inside out.

If this sounds familiar maybe you've heard of a certain movie monster with a similar reproductive strategy.

No points for guessing which one.

Surinam Toads

Bogleech has something of a love affair with these particularly morbid amphibians. Not me though. I have to draw the line somewhere, even if it's at tiny baby frogs embedded in an adult's skin.

Allow me to explain. See, when a female Surinam releases her eggs, they stick to the skin on her back with help from the male. The skin grows over the eggs, trapping them in a nutrient layer of toad-matter. When the eggs hatch the newborns have only one option: burrow through their mother's back and swim away.

In a way I guess it's kind of cute in how dedicated these toad-mothers are to the well being of their children, protecting them in their own misshapen hunchbacks, it's just that it looks so so gross.

Naked Mole Rats

Quick, think of a small mammal that spends most of it's time in burrows. Are you thinking of rabbits?

Sorry to disappoint, but you're in Mole Rat Town now. But it's okay, because Mole Rats have plenty going for them. For example, they have an uncanny resistance to cancer and they live abnormally long for a rodent of their size, sometimes up to 28 years old. It sounds like they have a lot to discuss with the lobsters.

But naturally, their eternal youth comes at a terrible price. Mole rats are eusocial, meaning they live in hives like ants, bees and termites. This is completely unprecedented for mammals, there are only two species that have ever been recorded with such insect-like behavior, one of them being the Naked Mole Rats. They even have different castes like workers and warriors. And queens.

Yes, most females are sterile workers. Reproductive privileges belongs solely to the queen Mole Rat. She produces hormones to signal the beginning or her reign, summoning the males to her side. Then, she starts to undergo a horrible transformation to prepare her for her matronly duties. Her spine actually extends several inches to make room for all new Mole Rats she'll gestate.

So if you want to get an idea for what a queen looks like, imagine the above. The same pale, wrinkled troglodyte but longer, more worm-like in appearance. Constantly stewing in it's own filth, spewing hundred, thousands of offspring, attended to by the flabby mitts of it's minions. It's never seen the sun. All it can think of is eating, sleeping, producing more of it's hideous offspring. And it's out there right now. And it wants your blood.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Ultimate Predator

Make no mistake, I'm still furious about this update, I loath it. But my precious blog still looks normal enough for the time being. I'm just having a hard time articulating to you that if they change the editor it would be tantamount to taking one of the few things I love in life away from me.

But for now, lets just pretend I'm not having a meltdown and focus on the real reason why we all came here: to choose the next master race. Yes, if you remember the post about lobsters I mentioned another crustacean who could make world domination work like a cashmere sweater. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Mantis Shrimp:

"Anyone else feeling fabulous?" -Mantis Shrimp

That psychedelic fiend up there is the Peacock Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) and it is a proven scientific fact that it is one of the most bedazzled invertebrates in the ocean today. Mantis shrimps are neither real shrimps nor mantids, but belong to an unrelated order called Stomatopoda. In general, stomatopods are known for three things; their incredible eyesight, their powerful claws and being too disco for words.

First of all, the claws. Mantis shrimps are very active hunters and spend most of their time strutting around coral reefs like they own the place, wantonly putting an end to gastropods, bivalves and other crustaceans with their deadly claws which are tiny doomsday devices for all intents and purposes.

See, there are about four hundred species of stomatopods and they all fall into two groups depending on what kind of claws they have: spearers and smashers. Spearers have thin, spiny claws that end in barbed tips. They use these like harpoons to mercilessly skewer their opponents, harpoons wrapped in barbed wire and glitter.

(An uncharacteristically bland specimen displaying the spears of his people.)

Smashers on the other hand have huge claws like brightly colored maces or maybe disco balls. They use these to bludgeon other sea-beasts to a bloody pulp with. There's even been reports of aquarium owners being injured by the cruel morning stars of mantis shrimps who've snuck into their tanks during the transfer of fish from one into another, earning them the nickname thumb splitters. So yes, you can add espionage to the list of things stomatopods are experts at, along with crushing their foes and color coordination.

(A female peacock mantis shrimp with smasher appendages. Neon red is in season obviously.)

A final word on their weapons: they unfold and swing their raptorial claws to land a lethal blow. Essentially the shrimps punch their prey. They punch right through the hard shells of mollusks, disintegrating them into a fine powder and they do it with blinding speed. As far as I know, they strike with an acceleration of about 10,400 gees. That's 2080 times more force then an average drag racing car accelerates with. To put that in perspective their claws accelerate at a rate of 23 meters per second, the acceleration of a .22 caliber bullet. They have the fastest punch of any animal on Earth.

If that's not enough to kill you, your fancy fish and everyone else in the aquarium, don't worry, because they punch with so much force so fast that they create tiny bubbles between their weapons and the surface they're striking against. These bubbles collapse, producing a shockwave that can stun or outright kill their prey. Y'know, assuming they weren't already pulverized into a fine paste.

But that's not all, when these bubbles collapse, they do so with so much force that it creates a phenomenon called sonoluminescence, releasing small bursts of light at extremely high temperatures, somewhere on the magnitude of several thousand kelvins. They punch with so much force they make the water radioactive.

Finally, their eyes. Mantis shrimps have some of the most complex eyes on Earth; not only are they both mounted on mobile stalks that can move independently of each other, but they can see the entire spectrum from red to ultraviolet. It's not currently believed that they can see infrared light but you know they can. They so can.

They have compound eyes like flies, giving them higher resolution vision in high light environments like shallow coral reefs. Each eye is composed of about 10,000 ommatidia, each one specialized for things like color sensitivity, hyperspectral vision and even the detection of polarized light, something puny Humans are all but incapable of.

While we need two eyes to perceive depth, mantis shrimps have no such handicap. While we have binocular vision, the shrimps have trinocular vision. This means that each eye can perceive depth all on it's lonesome. Using both in concert? Suddenly they're open to a whole dimension of vision we cannot begin to comprehend.

As if that wasn't enough to make them some kind of eyesight wizards, at least two species (including the aforementioned peacock mantis shrimps) can see circularly polarized light. While certain species of beetles reflect left-handed circularly polarized light off their carapaces, only the mantis shrimps seem to visually interpret it. Apparently, the shrimps fluoresce (glow) during mating rituals, but at frequencies only other mantis shrimps can see.

Honestly, it's like they're the perfect animal. They have the fastest weapons and most advanced eyes of any animals on Earth. And that's no hyperbole, that is an objective statement of fact. It's a crime that there's so many people who don't know about these amazing beasts. Plus they're so bombastically colorful! People on acid could only wish they could see hallucinations as psychedelic as these real life killing machines. Plus they're very inquisitive, as if there's the glimmer of a fabulous, primordial intellect behind all the flash and sparkle. Now imagine what it would be like if could get them to replicate their telomere like lobsters. Then they would become like gods.

And to think, there's people who still like pandas. They're not even in color.