Tuesday, August 25, 2009

If My Age Were a Coin, You Could Play an Arcade Game With Me

Just over a quarter of a century ago, three people were born in Nuremberg, Germany. Well, I'm sure there were more than three people born in Nuremberg on August 23, 1984, but two of those three happened to be my brothers, and the third was yours truly.

I know that I'm 25 because, though I've been talking about "kids these days" for years now, I can no longer tell if I'm being ironic. Last night I got up at 2:40 AM to tell the college kids in the next apartment to keep the noise down. Earlier that day, the cashier at the grocery store had asked me if I was a Cal student. "I'm afraid my college days are behind me," I replied. "I'm an adult now. I don't know how that happened!" I was trying to make a joke, but she must have misunderstood. "Finally, huh?" she asked.

My generation seems to be having trouble adjusting to adulthood. Webcomics and blogs are full of jokes about people who are confused about suddenly being saddled with all this responsibility and wondering why they can't just sit around and play video games or watch cartoons all day.

Though I sometimes feel that way, myself, an even stranger thought has occurred to me: I like being an adult. I like people treating me like I know what I'm doing. I enjoy paying for my own rent and food. I enjoy having a job where I can contribute, as opposed to doodling in my notebook margins while learning what I need to ace my next test.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy video games, or comic books, or cartoons, but I can't spend a Saturday in front of a computer killing goblins and feel like I've accomplished something any more. I enjoy the same things I always did, and maybe I still wish I had a lightsaber, but those are all things that I do for fun, and I have those things firmly compartmentalized in my mind.

I know that I've got a long way to go, and I am not a wise man yet. But perhaps, at 25, I can at least be a man, and no longer a boy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Note About Firefox 3.5.2

Sorry for those of you who have been waiting for a new post. You'll be disappointed by this one, I'm sure.

But I thought I would warn you all that I upgraded my Firefox to the latest version, 3.5.2, the other day. It slows to a crawl if I have an email open in GMail in a tab when I'm working in another tab. If I open a Browse menu (meaning when I'm looking for a file on my hard drive so I can upload it), the browser hangs entirely.

That is all. Maybe I'll post for real soon.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Viking vs. Samurai

Most of you have already heard my spiel about Viking vs. Samurai as an alternative to the old Pirate vs. Ninja debate. In my argument, vikings are analogous to pirates and samurai are analogous to ninjas, with the advantage that vikings and samurai were both more likely to engage in straight-up battles, whereas the ninjas and pirates preferred assassination and ship-to-ship combat respectively. I think this makes it more of an even match, so rather than debating whether the ninja would slip poison into the pirate's mead before the pirate ship's cannons destroyed the ninja village, we can debate how two warriors going head-to-head would fare. That way, it's actually a discussion of combat techniques rather than a question of which one is cooler.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I recently learned that not only is there a show on Spike TV called Deadliest Warrior, where they match up two historical warriors in a hypothetical, computer-simulated fight, but that one of the matchups they chose was Viking vs. Samurai.

You can see the whole episode for free on Spike's website.

I won't give away the ending, except to say that it was very close. I'm going to take that as an indication of how good a matchup this is! Unlike every other nerd on the internet, I am not a combat expert, and my knowledge of vikings and samurai comes entirely from video games and movies. That said, there were a couple of things that I found interesting...

  • The katana shows why everyone loves it so much. Check out 8:00 in the video to see what it can do. But, that said...

  • The katana barely scratched the viking's chain mail. Even with a beefy swordmaster swinging it, the world's favorite sword had no real impact on simple iron chain mail. It's at about 9:20.

  • The part with the samurai bow (yumi) is insanely cool. Watch that part if you don't watch anything else. It starts at about 27:00.

  • Throughout the video, there were a lot of "bro pats" between the vikings. They really didn't try to fight the stereotype of the Viking as history's frat boy.

  • They probably shouldn't have bothered with the kanabo. I highly doubt this weapon was used very often in historical battles.

  • For all their talk of viking brawn versus samurai skill, the slow motion seemed to back up that generalization. Watch the slow motion longsword at 22:40 to see how the viking longsword was simultaneously less precise and more effective than the katana. (That said, a lot of the difference in technique was probably due to people they found to demonstrate the weapons.)

  • At 24:50 they start throwing viking spears. It's badass. I don't know why they bothered with the two-spears-at-a-time nonsense. One thrown spear was probably much more common and much more effective. Maybe a viking would chuck two spears at a time against a peasant rabble, but if a viking saw a skilled, armored warrior approaching, I'm sure he'd choose to throw one spear at a time.

  • That is, if he threw the spear at all. Both vikings and samurai used spears in combat, so why wasn't regular (non-thrown) spear combat considered? I found this to be the main oversight.

  • I also suspect that the viking shield (32:00) was entered into the computer simulation as a weapon, not a defense measure. Based on the episode, I don't think the computer simulation software can account for shields properly. (That said, based on some other things I've read about the show, the Spartan vs. Ninja episode apparently showed that the Spartan shield made a very effective weapon.)

  • Yes, they pad the show with a lot of talk and they seem to happily embrace every cliche in the way American audience see these two groups. Still, I think they did a fairly good job, and I'm inclined to agree with their results.

  • Nobody ever mentions that samurai were warrior elite, while vikings were the rank-and-file. Samurai armies were mostly made up of non-samurai foot soldiers, while viking armies consisted of, well, vikings.

It's a long show, but worth watching if you have some time to spare. Either way, I am curious about what you think: viking or samurai?