Everyone has her price

As an old (before the Web was born) friend of Aziz’ I’ve watched with amusement as he’s become a bit of an Internet celebrity. Even my father, who follows his posts elsewhere, has commented to me about his impressive online presence. Aziz has tried over the years to involve me in this crazy newfangled “blogging” thing he does (in MY day we had to write letters to newspapers to tell people our opinions!). But today Aziz made me the offer I couldn’t refuse. He offered to let me tell you about my Wolfram Alpha Spikey.

Wolfram Alpha Spikey sitting on Fernando's Shoulder
Spikey at the Dojo

Yes, this is a contest. Yes, I’m asking you to vote for my Spikey picture (preferably with every email address you, your friends, your family and all of your co-workers have, every day until January 3rd).

So how did Wolfram get me to do this? What is my price, and how did they meet it?

If you have not used Wolfram Alpha yet, it’s the best-kept search secret on the Internet…despite Wolfram’s attempts to make it NOT a secret. Want to know the average velocity of an unladen swallow? WA knows that. Want to know if you’re pretty? WA thinks you are. Want to use facts and authoritative resources in a discussion about socialized medicine comparing life-expectancy in various countries?  WA can calculate those differences, serve up the facts, show you the references, and point you at other relevant information.

In short, I was hooked on Wolfram Alpha the minute it was born.  This is one sort of potential that computing has to help us leap forward.  It’s the antithesis of Wikipedia (which has another sort of potential for improving our understanding of the world).  This uses the most rigorous and authoritative sources available, and applies Wolfram’s breathtaking calculating algorithms to let you explore it. Yes, a Google result will get you a quick answer (another brilliant outcome of computing), but a Wolfram Alpha result will be either right, or so open about how it was arrived-at that it can be evaluated by those relying on it.  Wikipedia is the “man on the street”, Google is that friend who knows everything, but Wolfram Alpha is the Britcom-loving red-haired research Librarian. The Librarian won’t evaluate your process, but they’ll get you to the best information and be fun doing it.

So when Wolfram Alpha offered to send me a kit to make Spikey, a beautiful red Rhombic Hexecontrahedron, just for picking a neat fact from an Alpha query…well duh.   I spent a week taking pictures of my Spikey in all sorts of places.  It’s amazing how well Spikey fits into my world.  Then I picked one of Spikey hanging out at the dojo with my dear friend Fernando for the contest.  And now I’m evangelizing Wolfram Alpha to get votes for my Spikey

But I don’t mind a bit.  Wolfram has done some revolutionary things for mathematics.  I remember struggling mightily with early versions of Mathematica, but they’ve come a loooong way since then.  Those who made it through “A New Kind of Science” see the world differently and perhaps more beautifully now. Wolfram does an array of cool things. But Wolfram Alpha…oh Wolfram Alpha…marries rigorous information, brilliant computing algorithms to explore that information, and a WHOPPING good geeky sense of humor. As Aziz would say…”Awesome!”

So whether you vote for my Spikey, or just go visit Wolfram Alpha, I hope something good comes out of this (like you winning a T-Shirt by voting, or me winning an iPad or Wolfram Stuff because you voted, or you saving the world by researching environment change or nuclear proliferation in Wolfram Alpha). That’s important, because according to Aziz, I will be posting here more in the future.

Sigh. What a geek will do for swag…

quantitative analysis of gold farming

This is a fascinating academic study of gold farming networks in EverQuest2. I am sure someone is doing something similar for WoW. I love this kind of stuff. These virtual worlds are not just fantasy worlds, the fact that humans are the primary characters makes them into fascinating real-world models for various behaviors.

Recall that MMORPGs have also been used to model disease epidemiology – for example, the “Corrupted Blood” in World of Warcraft which got published in Lancet!

the Dalaran portal cataclysm

Note to anyone who hasn’t played World of Warcraft in a while – the Cataclysm has occurred. No, I’m not talking about the emergence of the dragon aspect Deathwing, whose eruption from the elemental plane has rent the continents and reshaped the world; I’m talking about this:

missing portals in Dalaran
the cake is a lie

The portals in Dalaran are gone, partly to encourage players to go out and experience the world. That means that if you have low level alts hearthed in Dalaran, you might be royally screwed… because getting out of Dalaran, and Northrend for that matter, is not exactly a cakewalk.

(tip: check your hearthstone before embarking on an epic run home like Shamus did. You may have been reset to your race/faction’s home city, which means getting out of Dal is trivially easy instead of a major grind.)

Bonus – Deathwing is going to randomly show up in a zone on Azeroth and kill everything and everyone – mobs, players, NPCs, everything. Fun!

he blessed the raids down in Africa

Shamus explores the Barrens. The whole zone is so clearly African savannah themed, that everytime I go there the Toto song plays in my head.

And now, so will all of you! But I assume that the game designers were well aware of this possible connection when designing the quests. Look at the lyrics:

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She’s coming in 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you”

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I blessed the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what’s right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become


Hurry boy, she’s waiting there for you

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I blessed the rains down in Africa, I blessed the rains down in Africa
I blessed the rains down in Africa, I blessed the rains down in Africa
I blessed the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The Barrens has old men, wild dogs, mountains rising above the plains… and it even rains there from time to time. But anyone who has leveled there on foot know, “Gonna take some time to do the things we never had” indeed.

a guild of their own

It’s amazing how many people I know who play World of Warcraft. Even Shamus is getting sucked back in 🙂

I was thinking aloud a while back about how I’d love to start a guild named for Haibane Renmei. Most of my toons are Alliance, so I think a Horde guild would be fresher, and I have one alt on Staghelm I’d be willing to move to just about anywhere. The question is, is anyone else interested? The focus would be to stock a bank for leveling alts and grouping for end-game raids.

The main question is what server is would be, ideally a PvE server in CST to make it maximally convenient for everyone to be online roughly at the same time. I’d welcome suggestions as to what server we should pick. How many of you would be willing to bring a Horde toon or start a new one if we got this rolling? chime in on comments…

(as far as Cata content goes, like everyone else I am itching to play a Worgen, but for my Alliance toons I am content to stay on Staghelm as that’s where a lot of my friends are.)

UPDATE: We are officially Haibane Renmei on Blackhand! Here is the official Guild page.

Star Trek Online – temptation

UPDATE – the sale is over. Star Trek Online is now priced at $39 (still $10 off retail).

Excalibur class starship - looks familiar
It’s bad enough that I got hooked on World of Warcraft. Now I see Amazon is selling the new Star Trek: Online MMO for a ridiculous 45% off – $28instead of $50.

Man, though, it looks cool. I haven’t seen a decent space combat sim since the X-Wing days. And they are integrating it into the timeline of the original series/movies and the reboot. The Klingons are at war with the Feds again, the Romulans are creeping around, there’s the Borg and even Species 8472. No mention of Section 31, though, unfortunately…

Spider Man 4 dies so that Warcraft may live

I don’t really care about the news that the Spider Man franchise under Sam Raimi’s hand is over, except for the much more important fact that it frees Raimi to work on the Warcraft movie instead. As Harry says at AICN,

I feel confident in saying that the next film we’ll see from Raimi is going to be WARCRAFT… which after AVATAR, the concept of world building that particular universe could be astonishing – especially in 3D – especially after what Cameron just unleashed upon the globe. World creating Science Fiction & Fantasy… done by visionary filmmakers … well, it is a premium. We got THE HOBBIT coming, looks like an AVATAR 2… but the word I hear is that today – the phone lines were burning between a certain legendary locale and Raimi’s folks about firing up the furnaces to forge the weapons of war.

Some time in the next few months, I expect progress. I’ve heard that Robert Rodat (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, THE PATRIOT) has put together one helluva script.

A movie technology arms race between Jackson, Cameron and Raimi with the Hobbit, Avatar and Warcraft franchises is going to be one fun hell of a ride.

Just look at this again – click on it, zoom in, and really look at it – and imagine it on the big screen, alive: