Skyrim does have the Hearthstone expansion that allows you to build three somewhat customizable player homes, but I always found these to be a bit lacking. First, while its cool that you can build this huge mansion for yourself, it is still just a single house. It always ends up feeling empty and lonely. You can fill it up ok if you hire a bard and a stewart, and then also adopt a kid or two for it and have a follower with you. But even then, its just one house. You go outside and its lonely again. I wanted my house to be the head of at least a small hold. Second, its customizable in the loosest sense of the word. The entryway and the main hall, the back room, and the cellar all only have one way they can be setup. The customization comes from being able to add three of nine possible wings to your house. Even this is limited, as each wing is limited to three possibilities, which means that some combinations (like a kitchen and also a library) are impossible. Beyond this, the furnishings are all pre-placed, so you don't get any micro-customization at all.
I played around a bit with some mods to make the houses more customizable. I had mixed success here. I found some mods that let you build a limited set of furnishings and place them yourself, as well as a mod that lets you set each followers home, so that you can have multiple followers hanging out at the same house, which you couldn't in the vanilla game. So, I'm a big time hoarder in rpg games. I like to keep my old sets of armor to show my progression, and same with weapons. I also keep pretty every unique named item I find, as well as keeping the gear of the most fearsome foes I've slain. Hearthstone gives you a nice trophy room that you can show off some of these things in, but its so small that it can't come close to accommodating my item hoarding! Really, I narcissistically wanted to build, basically, a museum to my exploits, and none of the mods I've found so far allow me to build any of the furnishings that allow you to show off items.
But that still leaves the problem of just getting a house. The house is this great manor estate, but its just out there by itself in the wilderness. I wanted to be able to attract other settlers and at least found a little town. I found one mod that allowed me to do that at first called Blackthorn, but it still lacked the customization I wanted. It had a set of prefab buildings that you could build by collecting the money and materials for them, but there was no customization. It also had a manor house for you, the leader of the town, that actually had all the item display furnishings I wanted! Alas, the textures for the mod were pretty terrible and it was really laggy and glitchy, so I eventually gave up on it.
But then I found Tundra Defense and it was exactly what I wanted (at least in terms of building a village). You start out with just a few things you can build, which come in the form of plans. Use a plan and a placeable building appears, which you can put wherever and in whatever orientation you want. As your town grows and you complete missions associated with it, you attract more people with specialized skills and equipment. You attract a general store merchant, and inn keeper, a blacksmith's wife, a mining speculator, and probably more people I haven't found yet. With each one your town gets new buildings. You can build a guard house and hire guards, as well as set up a system for outfitting each guard, so you control how they are outfitted based on your own ability to get or craft gear for them but you don't have to go and outfit each one individually (although you can). You also get two houses, one huge manor house, and a smaller log cabin. You don't control their layouts, but you place them like any other building and they come completely empty. The furnishings for them work just like the buildings - you buy or make plans for them, then you place them wherever and however you want. Complete customization. The only problem so far is that, at the moment, the available furniture is really sparse, and all lower quality stuff, not befitting the lord of a hold! So I hope that as I continue to grow my hold I'll get access to new furnishings so I can make my manor how I want it (and hopefully that includes all of the item display stuff that I want). The last neat thing about the mod is that your hold is periodically attacked, and you have to hold them off with your guards. You can set the frequency and difficulty of the attacks, and your selection will yield different varieties of enemies. You can also initiate attacks yourself, for example if you want to test your defenses before you leave your town to make sure your guards can hack it.
Overall its a lot of fun, and I'm excited to keep building up my town and hopefully earning new furnishings for my manor.
I the vanilla game for some time, but once I figured out how to get past a few standard difficulties, it lacked the late game flare that I had hoped it would have. Getting through the initial precarious stages of starting a city, and the early low population die-offs from old age are the hardest parts. Once you get well over 100 population, there isn't much to do in the end game other than generate a lot of trade, which you need to do anyway since stone, iron, and coal are too unsustainable and personnel intensive to produce yourself. So I spend a lot of time making warm coats from cattle and sheep and selling them for iron, coal, and stone. Part of the problem is that there just aren't that many value adding buildings/professions. You can make cloths, tools, firewood, and ale. That is it!
As you might guess, this got boring pretty quickly. But I could see that the potential for a really great and involved game was there, so I went looking for some good mods. Boy did I find them. I found a medieval mod, which adds a more medieval aesthetic, and a LOT of late game professions and buildings, as well as splitting up the market into distinct stores. In addition, it adds canals, which are great for creating awesome looking cities. Finally, the houses stack up the three floors, so you can have a much higher density and place housing on top of buildings where people work. I also found a mod called Colonial Charter. Colonial Charter is substantially more complex, with exponentially more professions. I decided to go with the medieval mod first, and once I've started to play that out I'll switch to the Colonial Charter mod.
Now I want to show off my medieval canal city a bit.
One thing that I've learned to do, especially with the increased types of buildings, is to lay out my city beforehand. Fortunately, you can place buildings and then pause their construction. So I lay out most of my cities before even starting to play the game. Inevitably, things change a little bit and my preconceptions of what the city will be gets altered by unexpected terrain or when I get access to what crops and livestock. Here is my layout for my medieval canal city, Annecy!
Here is what the town looks like after being about half finished.
A look at a nice row of shops. These are the split up market shops with second story houses on top of them.
Another row of shops on the other side of the canal. These are a butcher, a baker, an alehouse, a clinic, a third story house that I used to make a sort of raised structure over a road, and a hostel.
One of the coolest things you can build is the cathedral, the first "wonder" you can build in Banished! Its quite the construction project! Here is what mine looks like as I began to build the second half of the city.
I thought my proposal was pretty good. It didn't seem, at least to me, that much different in quality than the half dozen others I read in preparation for me writing it. Nor were the comments from my committee all that bad. I addressed them, made corrections, resubmitted, and was ready for a defense that would not be a breeze, but I thought would mostly be me getting a feel for where my committee members and I disagree or hadn't adequately communicated what my project is. Boy was I wrong.
It was a two hour long pummeling. My 20 minute presentation stretched for 45 minutes because of all the questions that were interjected. Then, after that, its was another hour and 15 minutes of questioning and critique. For a good part of it, my committee practically started deliberating with me right there in the room. It wasn't comments directed at me anymore, but all of the stuff they felt I had not done adequately enough to pass being discussed among each other. It was very difficult, and a level of grilling that is completely uncommon in my department, and completely unexpected from me. The end result: Provisional pass. To put in context: this is a hoop you must pass. If you do not pass, that is your committee telling you to leave the program. In fact, if you are not going to pass, then your adviser shouldn't let you propose. The provisional means that they have to pass me and that is basically the only reason that they did. I have to complete a near complete rewrite before I can be considered official a candidate (i.e. considered having only the dissertation remaining).
One thing I did learn from it though: I'm doing too much. Given the amount of time and effort I spent on my proposal and the amount of work my committee thinks I should I have done, I took on too much. My first order of business is thus to pair down my project. I'm only keeping about 1/3 of what I originally proposed in terms of research questions and theoretical foundation. With that, I should be able to actually meet the expectations of my committee. At least I don't have to go through another defense...I hope.
We got a lovely little two bedroom apartment in Troy's Washington Park neighborhood. It has a lofted master bedroom with a walk in closet and a spiral staircase, as well as an open floor plan living area, a solarium, and we will use the second bedroom as a home office. Yay!
We left on December 1st, and arrived on December 2nd. We flew from Boston to DC, and then from there directly to Narita airport. Now that is a long flight! In addition, Narita airport is pretty far on the east end of Tokyo, and Sagamihara is pretty far on the west end of Tokyo. After our nearly 16 hour flight, we had to spend another 2 hours riding the train to get there. So our first day was pretty much get to hotel then sleep.
Day two was a Ghibli day (one could easily describe the free time portions of our trip as a studio Ghibli pilgrimage). We went to Sakuragaoka, which is the area that Whisper of the Heart is supposed to take place in. We got there and just started to walk around, seeing if we could maybe find something that looks familiar from the movie. We went up a road climbing a large hill, and found some stairs that seemed familiar so we went up those. After a while of not finding anything, though, we decided to head back to the station. On our way we saw a woman walking out of a shrine we hadn't noticed on our way up. So we went to take pictures and when we went back to the stairs to head down, we found a map on the ground. Now, we were just hoping that it would be a simplified map of the area so that we could manage our search for movie sites better. But lo and behold, it was a map of the movie sites themselves, complete with stamping stations! It turns out we were on the right track. The hill we were climbing was, indeed, the hill from the movie. So we went back up, found the where the import shop from the movie was supposed to be. Instead there was a bakery run by a little old couple. But they had decorations and were playing music from the movie, and the little old lady who was working the register was very excited, and talked to Stephanie about where we were from and why we liked Whisper of the Heart (didn't talk to me because I don't speak Japanese and Steph does). Then we went to other stamping stations (one of which we passed right by without noticing at the station) and went back to the hotel.
The next two days was the conference for Stephanie. I stayed in the hotel on December 4th and graded my student's final papers (yuk!). But I did meet Stephanie at the JAXA campus for a dinner and talked to one of her colleagues from Tokyo University about space policy. The next day, December 5th, was another day at the conference for Stephanie, but that day, I had a meeting with Professor Aoki at Keio University in Tokyo. So I took the train, and we talked for an hour about space policy and space law. She does a lot of work on deweaponization and demilitarization of space, which I find very interesting. She is also one of the few legal scholars I have found that is explicit about the normative aspects of her work, which I really appreciate. Today was also Stephanie's birthday, so on the way home I bought her a very tasty Japanese birthday cake at the station.
On December 6th, since the conference was over, we moved to a hotel closer to the center of Tokyo in Kanda. We dropped our bags off at the hotel, then we went to meet with one of Stephanie's friends who is a graduate student at the University of Tokyo. We met up in Ueno, and went out to Oyakodon for lunch. After lunch she showed us around her campus, and we walked through Ueno park. Then we took the train over to Harajuku for tasty, tasty crepes! After this we were thoroughly exhausted, so we went to a coffee shop where we just chatted for a while. After our rest, we walked around in Yoyogi park watched the sunset and talked until it got dark. Stephanie got to practice a lot of conversational Japanese with her friend, which is very good. She has been taking classes and knows a lot more Japanese than she did when she lived in Japan, but it isn't quite the same without being able to practice. After that, we parted ways, and Stephanie and I went back to our hotel for a bit. Today was a very social day, because at 7pm, we had dinner plans with another one of Stephanie's Japanese friends. This friend works for a space systems company, and studied space policy. We had a traditional winter meal, the name of which escapes me now, and talked for a while about Japanese space policy, which was quite fun! Her and Stephanie also did a lot of catching up.
December 7th, our last full day, was another Ghibli day! Today was our trip to the Ghibli museum. We had to go west again, to Mitaka. The museum is in this beautiful, overgrown building, with architecture that makes it look like it sprang from a child's imagination. Inside, it was like the whole building was designed for children. There were spaces that adults couldn't easily fit into, and tons of cool, interactive displays about how animation is made and how it works. They also play a short film, which changes over time. They never release any of these films, and when they stop showing it at the museum, they stop showing it for good. It was also one of the least paternalistic museum visits I've experienced. There were staff around watching the guests, but they never seemed to scold anyone, but rather encouraged them to touch and interact with the displays. There was also a roof garden modeled after Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Interestingly, they don't allow photography in the museum. I was initially disappointed, as it was so cool, I wanted to be able to share it with everyone. But in the end I was glad I didn't take any pictures, because it helped me to focus on what a cool experience I was having. At the end of our visit, we went to the gift shop for some souvenirs, and then had some green tea ice cream. We decided that we needed to get more souvenirs for friends and family, so we went to Akihabara for the evening. This mostly consisted of us walking around shops and in arcades. But the buildings were so huge, and there were so many lights that it almost looked like daytime. We had dinner at Yoshinoya then went back to the hotel.
December 8th was our last day. We started out by going to Tokyo station to buy Tokyo Banana (yum!). Then we did some shopping at the station. After we finished, we still had some time before we had to leave for our flight, so we decided to go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. We went up to the observation tower (there are two, but they open only one per day, trading off which one is open every other day) on the 45th floor. We had cake at the cafe up there, and enjoyed the views. But soon, it was time to take the hour and twenty minute long train ride back to Narita and a long flight home. One last funny observation, our flight out of Narita left at about 4:20pm Tokyo time. Our flight out of DC boarded at about 4:20pm Eastern time. Time zones are weird.
Estimated One Way Distance: 3 miles
Estimated Elevation Gain: 1700ft
Beginning Elevation: 11,100ft
Estimated End Elevation: 12,300ft
Trip Report Link: http://14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.
Fortunately it delivered. It's really fun to play, and the movement mechanics really let you take your interaction with the environment to the next level. Best of all, mutha-fuckin mechs! I had recently tried Mech Warrior Online, a free to play mmo shooter with the gameplay of the previous Mech Warrior games. Unfortunately, the free to play platform meant that as a non-paying player, I always lost to paying players. Always. No contest. So the mecha genre had a hole that needed filling as well. Titanfall fills that too. The mechs are pretty easy to control. You can enter and exit them in the middle of battle, and the AI controls them well enough that they'll hold out in a fire fight (but don't expect them to win) and are certainly not sitting ducks. A couple things I wish the mechs had is more customizability and more dynamic damage systems. You get to pick your main weapon, a hull weapon, and a special ability (for example, 40mm cannon, rocket salvo, projectile barrier) and pick from three different mechs, but I really like the Mech Warrior customization. You had a number of mechs bodies that balanced speed, heat dissipation, ammunition capacity, armor, and weapon hard points. You attached weapons to the hard points, which would either take ammo or produce heat, so you had to balance those weapons. This sort of customization would be nice in Titanfall as well. Mech Warrior also had more dynamic damage. If you hit a mech on the arm it damaged the arm, hitting the torso damaged the torso, etc. and when enough overall damage was done the mech was destroyed. This meant more balancing. If you had only one really powerful weapon it could be destroyed and you would be left helpless. It also meant that a damaged mech usually had a disadvantage over a fresh one. These added a lot of uncertainty to the game that made it lots of fun. I wish Titanfall had both of these, although there is certainly an appeal to the simplicity of the operation of the mechs in Titanfall. Its really easy so the player can focus on the fighting and really have fun with that.
There are lots of other cool abilities the pilots (you play as a pilot) have. Cloaking being the foremost. You can cloak for a short period of time, which makes you, not quite invisible, but really close. They also have a smart pistol weapon, which is an interesting concept. It locks on to enemies. It takes three lock on cycles to lock on to a human player, then it only takes one trigger pull to take them down. At first I thought "thats bs, way to take any semblance of skill out of it. With cloaking all you have to do is cloak, walk up to someone, and boom they're dead without even trying." This isn't quite right. Each lock on cycle takes a bit of time, and the range of a lock on is short enough that even with cloaking you risk being seen before it finishes. The lock on doesn't work through objects, so if your target runs behind a wall, even if they reappear you have to start the lock on process all over again. After playing, I would say that the smart pistol is well balanced. It doesn't take less skill, it just emphasizes a different play style. You must be good at dodging enemy fire, and playing stealthily is rewarded, which is not usually the case for FPS games, and feels very refreshing.
Some other cool things are that a pilot not in a mech can hitch a ride on someone else's mech. This means you could ride along on a teammates mech, or you can jump on the back of an enemy mech, open up the circuitry, and start shooting to damage it without contending with the shields (that is, if you can get close enough without getting shot or squished, and if another enemy doesn't shoot you while you do it, or the pilot gets out of their mech, or used their ability to give them a defense system, so its hardly a sure thing). The game refers to this as "rodeo" and its one of my favorite things to do because it feels so bad ass!
Anyway, so far its a really fun, really well balanced, really good game. It's brought me back into online FPS on the PC, and, even better, I'm actually good at it!
I've been working on getting this paper published for about 3 years now. I'm very happy to finally have it off my plate. Just not knowing how to write for a journal (as opposed to for a class) was a big factor in this. I also started when I was still in physics, and didn't know anything about social science methods, having to learn them as I went and making lots of mistakes that cost me lots of time. Trying to balance this with the immense workload of graduate school also meant that there was a lot of time when I just wasn't making any headway. But now its done! Yay!
1) I like soccer. Soccer is important to me and I really want it to continue to be a part of my life. To be clear I was never very good at it. I was better than most of my friends who didn't play it, but anyone else who had any real experience was better than me. But I was never this bad. I don't mind being bad, but being this bad means that soccer has really left my life in a way that I never intended and never wanted. I need to take more time out of my life for soccer than I have been. I'm afraid that I'll always find excuses not to, but I need to.
2) I am out of shape. I never really valued being in shape for its own sake. I'm pretty healthy and that is what matters. But I've been thinking recently that since I am going to spend so much time in Colorado this summer that I need to do some mountain climbing. Well, if the summer comes around and I'm still in this kind of shape, I can kiss any summits goodbye. I am too out of shape to do any mountain climbing, and that disturbs me. Mountain climbing is also an activity that is important to me, and I really only get a small window of opportunity to do it every year. If I'm not ready, and dedicated enough to be ready, than I will have essentially decided that it isn't important enough to me to do. And it is, so I need to step it up.
That's about it. I had a blast playing soccer, but doing so made me realize a few things that I don't really like knowing.
As a side note, this reminded me one of the reasons why I'm a PC gamer and not a console gamer. TVs have refresh rates sometimes as high as 120Hz, but HDMI only recently, with HDMI 2.0, has the ability to support 60Hz refresh rates (or 60fps). Otherwise you're probably looking at around 30Hz (fps). Monitors refresh at 60Hz standard. VGA, DVI, and Displayport are all capable of 60Hz (fps) refresh rates. Given the graphical strait of games and the power of your video card, a good in-game fps rate is probably around 40 (although for budget gamers 24 is about where things no longer look "laggy"). So, even though your TV can get the same resolution as my monitor, I still, as a PC gamer, have a higher refresh rate than is possible for a console gamer to achieve. I also don't have to worry as much about gimmicky "this TV gets 120Hz refresh rate!" even though you can't get enough bandwidth to support even half that.
On another side note. DVI cables are waaaaaay overpriced. That is all.
Intel i3 ___ processor
Asus P8 Z77 socket LGA1155 motherboard
8GB DDR3 Ram
NVidia GTX 570 Video Card
2TB Western Digital Caviar Green HDD
Power and Cooling Silencer MKIII Power Supply
Windows 7 x64
What I am most excited about is the very nice power supply I purchased for this build. After my last computer was basically destroyed by my power supply going way over voltage and having once had a power supply literally catching on fire, I have decided that it is more than worth it to spend an extra $50 on a high end power supply to save the hundreds of dollars in other parts that a cheap power supply can cost you. At the moment I am installing a suit of games on the new machine, but she will be going full steam this week I think.
As for the new phone, Steph and my phones have been steadily declining in quality after over two years of use. Our contract with Verizon is up and we decided to switch to the MUCH cheaper T-Mobile. With this switch, came new Nexus 5 phones. I love the update to Android Kit-Kat, and not having any of the bloat-ware on it from the phone manufacturer is excellent. It runs much faster and much more smoothly. Being a PC guy, there is also a lot of synergy with my computer because I use so much google stuff. Do I think google is an evil corporation? Yes. But so are all corporations, so as long as there is going to be a social expectation of constant communication, I might as well do it well and in a way where I at least get some enjoyment out of it. The whole smartphone setup also really really helps me stay organized for school in a way that I never was able to be before, which is great.
In terms of the rest of the conference, it was a lot of fun. San Diego is such a cool city, and I finally got to have some really good Mexican food (no such thing in upstate NY or New England). Went to some parties where I got to mingle with some very influential people in my field. Also, the President of my professional society (the society for the social studies of science, or 4S) threw a party that got so rowdy that the police had to break it up. Who says academics are stogy?!
All in all it was a good conference. Unfortunately, now I'm back in the real world, and I have a lot of catching up to do on work I didn't do while I was in San Diego. Oh well, such is life.
Essentially the argument I make in my paper is that the privatization effort currently underway in the U.S. is not a structural shift in the way the U.S. does spaceflight. Instead, it is indicative of a shift in the power struggle between two ideological groups: industrialists in favor of a nationalistic space program, and neoliberals in favor of deregulation and federal market protections. This is important because the ideological underpinnings of our current reform efforts will shape the next stage of space development in a way that the U.S. may not be able to undo. If you're wondering, I'm not actually in favor of either camp, and I'm frankly disappointed at the uniformity of the actors involved in this debate. Lets hope this one goes over as well as the last, and that I have the time and motivation to edit it to publishable quality.
I'll start with a brief recap of what I've been up to since the last time I posted, which was about a year ago, so there has been a lot.
I moved to Troy, NY to start on my PhD, and I have completed the first of my four years for that, which is exciting. This summer I still have to put together a portfolio of work demonstrating adequate breadth of knowledge in my field. Part of what feels like a never ending series of tests I have to pass to get my PhD.
I am in the process of upgrading my computer so that I can play the new Bioshock. I know its been out for a while now, but my old computer doesn't quite meet the minimum published requirements. I could play it, probably, but I would rather my fps not be total crap when I do. I also want to be able to play Shogun II total war without it crashing and without 15 minute load times. On top of which, Rome II total war is coming out in September, which I am very excited about and I want to be able to play it in a decent graphics setting. I'll post again later with the new build and maybe some pictures. Its been rather troublesome. That'll teach me to go so long without upgrading my build, I've gotten rusty.
Stephanie and I are also going to France in August, which I am very very excited about. I haven't done any traveling like that with her since I went to Japan to see her junior year of undergraduate. It will be nice to spend that time with her without having to worry about balancing that time with getting work done.
I also submitted my first article for publication to the academic journal Space Policy. I'm still waiting to hear back from peer review, but I'll try to keep this updated when I hear back (probably with a revise and resubmit). My abstract was also accepted for a conference presentation at the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) in...October I think? That was expected, as this conference tries to be a venue in which all interested academics can communicate their ideas, which I like. What I like even more is that it is in San Diego. Last year it was in Copenhagen, which would have been awesome to go to, but waaaaay too expensive. The year before that it was in Cleveland, which I also presented at, but Cleveland is much less like a vacation than is San Diego.
Well, that is pretty much what has been going on for me, at least that I can recall at the moment. I'll post again if I can think of anything else.