A simple model of selection

Inspired by Dawkins’ METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL program (hereafter just weasel) described in his book “The Blind Watchmaker,” and wanting to practice my blossoming C++ skills, I decided to write my own version of weasel. It was successful enough, and I found the results interesting enough to warrant discussion. Download the program (Windows .exe file) so you can try it out for yourself (and you can also get the source code if you want). In this post I’ll discuss what the program does and why. In the next post I’ll talk a bit about the results of the program.


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Bioshock and F.E.A.R. 2 make me cry

Like a baby. And not just any baby. These games make me cry as if I am a baby whose teddy bear was taken out of one hand and shredded by an evil clown and whose candy was taken out of the other. And then the baby was punched in the face. After being flicked in the eyes.

I know that Bioshock is and old game at this point, which is why I bought it in the first place (on sale on Steam!), and I had often heard that it was quite creepy. But seriously. I crawl through the game, quicksaving every two or three minutes, afraid to go into any unexplored areas. The makers did an absolutely amazing job of making Bioshock as creepy as possible. I decided to quit playing last night after I was in a room that suddenly filled with steam, then heard running, and when the steam cleared I turned around to find a bloodied mutant surgeon with a weapon standing RIGHT BEHIND ME.

I had just finished downloading the F.E.A.R. 2 demo on Steam, so I thought I’d give it a shot to calm my nerves. The original FEAR was great and, though creepy at times (especially the last 10 minutes) was entirely bearable.

From the very beginning of the FEAR2 demo, it was clear that this was going to be a different game. The opening scene is creepier than any of the scenes in the older game, and that damn little ghost girl is back! The game starts with a massive explosion, and you find yourself waking up where everything is blood-red, you can hear your breathing and heart beating, and ghostly figures appear and disappear. After following the ghost girl into a fiery pit, your character wakes up for real next to a burned-out helicopter with its bent blades slowly spinning. There is, of course, blood everywhere.

Your character then makes his way into a school building (either high or middle), where you have to kill a few soldiers (who, like in FEAR1, are being controlled by the girl-ghost) and then suddenly ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. Some teammate speaks over your radio saying, “I hear a woman crying, I’m going to go check it out,” which is obviously a horrible idea.

Now you are wandering through hallways with barricaded classroom doors and lockers lining both walls. You start to see ghostly figures flying in front of you from one classroom to another, leaving the doors swinging. As you walk toward a hallway intersection, a bunch of chairs and things sitting in the middle are suddenly pulled away (by nothing). The poltergeist shenanigans gets more and more pronouned as you proceed, with locker doors opening, lockrs falling over, doors falling to the ground etc. Finally, your vision starts strobing between somewhat blurry color and black and white, and the lockers at the far end of the hall starting opening themselves, faster and faster, until whatever is opening them blows by you. At this point, you start seeing ghosts flying toward you, and bleeding soldiers stuck to the ceiling and moaning.

I was taking this slow, but eventually I had to just run for it. Finally, I got to a door and, as it opened, a guy grabbed me and stared me in the eyes saying, “Stay away from her, SHE’S MINE!” Presumably he was talking about the girl-ghost. This was the guy who had radioed me earlier. Then, the whirlwind poltergeist action slams him against the wall, and me to the floor, my vision goes red, and when the guy falls to the ground HE GETS DISINTEGRATED!!!

Everything calmed down at this point, but I had to stop. If Bioshock is creepy, then FEAR2 is ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING. I was in a constant state of being adrenaline-pumped the entire time.

All in all, I only played both games for 20 minutes each before stopping, and then looked at cuteoverload.com for half an hour to calm down. There is nothing to stop an adrenaline leak like watching a sleepy kitten trying to stay awake!

eyeball appreciation day

I am sitting here writing this post with an eyepatch over my right eye. I had surgery 2 and a half years ago to make my eyes look straight (they were slightly crossed), and had wonderful single-vision afterward. Recently, however, my left eye has been getting weaker and has started to turn in again.

Now, this is causing me a lot of eye strain and general annoyance, especially with my upcoming departure to foreign lands. I visited my optometrist, who agreed that my left eye has gotten pretty crossed and is, in fact, awfully close to as crossed as it was before I had the surgery. This was disappointing, to say the least. So I made an appointment with my surgeon the next day to see what he thought I could do about it for the next two years, since there is certainly no way that I could have surgery before I leave.

The surgeon thinks that it is a muscle weakness problem, which is apparently not that rare of an occurrence a few years after surgery. We decided that my best bet would be to patch my right eye for a few hours every day to force my left eye to get stronger.

There are several interesting results of one-eyed vision that you lucky people with two, functional, straight-looking eyeballs would never even think of. The first is that, although my body is good at knowing where its parts are in space, it turns out that the brain relies quite heavily on being able to simultaneously see that body part. It can certainly get by without it, and it does this by automatically relying more on tough. Where previously I would reach for a coffee cup handle, even just using my peripheral vision to guide my hand to the right place, my body now guesses where it is, and then carefully bumps my hand into it and adjusts according to what was felt.

This is true even for things that are in the visual field of my left eye (the seeing one), because I am lacking depth perception. My hands are much less sure of where to go to hit light switches, pick things up, etc, but it ends up not being a problem because my brain shifts dominance from sight to touch. Automatically. Not at first though; it seemed to take about half an hour of being patched.

The wierdest thing is that, if I am not paying attention at all to the fact that my right eye is patches, I actually start to see things in my periphery that are not in my visual field. For example, there is a coffee cup to my right, and all I can see with my left eye is the very edge of it. However, while I look straight ahead and type, I can actually “see” most of the cup. It’s pretty fuzzy, but apparently my brain knows what it looks like and just fills it in as if my right eye was seeing to some degree.

Anyway, this is just a long, rambling way of saying that having two eyes is great, even if one of them doesn’t work properly. For anyone reading this with two eyeballs, GIVE YOUR EYES A HUG.

Rabies is (are?) neat.

While going through all of my old school stuff from the UofC and uploading it into gmail, I came across the poster project I did for an immuno class at the end of my third (I think) year. It’s saved as a jpeg, so I put it up on flickr for anyone who’s interested in learning how rabies works. It’s pretty impressive how much it can do with so little genome. Anyway, click the image below to learn about rabies!

Spore: please don’t buy it (yet)

I’ll write something longer about this later, but I just wanted to quickly add my expression of anger and frustration to the rest of the masses.

I had been looking forward to Spore’s release for years, quite literally. I pre-ordered it the first time it was supposed to come out and a major reason that I hooked myself up with a gaming desktop was so that I could play Spore for hours and hours before I took off on my traveling adventures.

Then I come to find out that, if I were to buy a copy of Spore, I wouldn’t actaully own it. I would only own three installations of the game. On top of that, it installs some kind of awful malware that EA uses to spy on you. And this is for paying customers. Meanwhile, the useless DRM was cracked several days before Spore was even release, and the pirates get to play the game without malware and without having to worry about losing their ability to play after a few installations. Maybe I should buy the game but then use the pirated version so that I don’t have to worry about breaking my computer…

In any event, I’m voting with my dollars along with a fairly substantial group of others. At $50, it makes no sense to pay for a game that breaks your computer and that you don’t even own. Vote with your dollars as well. Even just a thousand of us who want to buy it, but refuse to until the DRM is removed, will cost them $50,000.