This Week in Geekdom

Happy weekend everyone. Here's hoping that you're enjoying a new season, meteorological or otherwise. Things have been a bit crazy for the GIR and I, so fun new bits of nerdery have been especially welcome this past week. So, without further ado, let's move on to The Week in Geekdom.


We're still 2+ years out from the new Star Wars movie(s), but the torrent of speculation seems as though it will continue unabated from now till the 'Coming Attractions'  screen. The latest rumor? This open casting call for what seems like an individual capable of filling out a certain Wookiee costume.

One of the single most anticipated debuts of the new TV season was Tuesday's premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was very interesting to watch the enormous canonical weight that Disney/Marvel has put onto the Avengers storyline go from the biggest of the big screens to primetime broadcast on a major network. Fans of the movies/comics will likely need to adjust a little to the transition in medium, but the pilot was quite promising. If you missed Tuesday's airing, you can watch the full episode here.


Speaking of members of the Avengers, would-be Iron Man  Elon Musk and the rest of the crew at SpaceX oversaw the demonstration launch of their newest space-bound projectile: the Falcon 9 rocket. The upgraded Falcon 9 carried the Cassiope Mission for the MDA of Canada. Want to catch glimpse? Check out the video footage here.

A joint team of German and Greek researchers are determined to bring us one step closer to the Singularity. Meet JAMES, the closest thing we'll see to human-cyborg relations this side of the galaxy for the near future.

A little while back we chatted about CERN and their reactivation of the very first site to occupy the digital corridors of the internets. Well, now, in addition to the reactivation, CERN curators want to re-create the experience of browsing as it was some 20 years ago.

On the subject of the internets, MentalFloss compiled this list of what they believe are the most powerful sites in the history of the web to date. Do you agree?

Friday gave Red Planet afficionados some very exciting news. NASA was able to officially confirm that their Little Rover That Could discovered good old-fashioned dihydrogen monoxide.


Last week we talked a little about the release of Grand Theft Auto V, which may or may not have been something you were looking forward to. If you're in the latter camp, but love crime games, there's this helpful list that brings you some non Rockstar Games alternatives.

An increasing number of developers and researchers are making leaps and bounds in the effort to wed virtual reality software/hardware to the gaming experience. Vienna University hopes to be at the forefront of this push with their new "visualiser" rig that tracks a player's real-life gait and transfers the motion into a game. Full video of this brilliance can be found right here.

Oooh, trackpads
 Valve is keeping up their near-blistering pace of announcements this week with the unveiling of their new Steam controller in conjunction with two other hardware offerings that they hope will comprise the future of PC gaming. 

General Awesomeness

We've all been privy to the not-so-gradual downward spiral that DC's been mired in for the past few years. We've all thought this, but Chris Helmsworth actually says it aloud. It's so, so very true.

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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Cosplay: Building Your Convention Lineup

The title of this post might seem borderline nuts considering that the convention season is in the process of winding down for 2013, and part of me would whole-heartedly agree with that assessment. Unless you're heading to NYCCC or some similarly late-season con, this point in the year is usually prime downtime for cosplayers. You've toiled away for the past few months, proudly displayed the fruits of your costume-y labors, and are now not-so-secretly reveling in the fact that your fingers will be spared the thermal predations of your hot glue gun for a little while. Taking a little hiatus from the hobby is both understandable and well-deserved BUT this lull in our geeky calendar can also prove valuable when laying out plans for next year.

Yes, reading that last sentence is probably eyeroll-inducing, but bear with me just a minute and I'll lay out why it can be a good idea to get the planning ball rolling when you may be basking in the warm fuzzies your last con, or 6+ months out from a convention if you're considering cosplaying for the first time.

1)      The strengths and weaknesses of your last costume are fresh in your mind.
2)     Your imagination can run wild and draw inspiration free of the pressure of a hard forthcoming deadline.
3)      You can pinpoint any training or practice that might be needed for future costumes.
4)      The holidays aren't monopolizing your time just yet.

Organizational styles ostensibly vary from cosplayer to cosplayer, so, of course, what I'm about to suggest may clash with your personal system of preparation. This isn't meant to be prescriptive, but is merely a collection of things to consider when planning for future conventions.

Step 1: Assess Your Most Recent Cosplaying Experiences.

While this can seem like a bit of a chore, jotting down a few notes in the days immediately following a convention can end up saving you a lot of time and effort during future events. Just little one-off thoughts like "build more back support for wing harness" or "X brand of body paint lasted 12 hours without needing a single touch-up" are things you can note, then forget about until you sit down to start actively planning a new costume. If you're in the habit of using a Cosplay Lieutenant you can ask for their feedback too. Sometimes a semi-objective observer can point out things you wouldn't otherwise have been aware of or had shunted to the back of your mind while giddily romping around a convention. Having this information on hand can drastically cut down the time and energy spent researching or tinkering with an old costume, thus freeing you up to focus your efforts elsewhere.

Step 2: Take a Gander at a Calendar
Awesome use for a puzzle calendar

Whether it's a physical or digital calendar, having the visual breakout of when potential convention outings will fall relative to other events in your life is helpful even if you're not planning to don a costume. Aside from considering basic logistics like travel arrangements and hotel accommodations, taking the entire year into account as a holistic unit can let you start thinking about just how much preparation time you'll have to play with. It's incredibly easy to lure yourself into thinking "I have 6 months; I can totally wait to start the costume." Writing down what conventions you're planning on attending, then contextualizing them will let you know how much of those 6 months can actually be spent on your costume. It seems like plenty of time until you factor in things like the holidays, your cousin's wedding, the 8 weeks will get eaten up by the busy season at your workplace, or the fact that there were be several days during that 6 month period wherein you just won't feel like working on your costume. Some people enjoy working under pressing deadlines but, if you're not one of them, this step can prove fairly helpful.

Step 3: Brainstorm and Research

Now that you know approximately how much time you'll have at your disposal, you can start to give thought to the type and quantity of costumes you'll construct. Some things you may want to consider when brainstorming:

-          Are you attending local conventions or will your costumes need to be transported?
-          Will you need to learn a new skill to finish your costume?
-          Are you planning to attempt one of the Majors*?
-          Are you planning on entering a competition/petitioning to enter a cosplay guild or is this outfit just for fun?
-          Will you be making all of the costume or will you order some of pieces?
-          How accessible are the materials you plan to use in your costume?

The responses to the above can help shape the timeline on the construction process so you can start to get an idea of where your efforts will probably need to go. Realizing "hey, I'm going to need to learn to cast resin for this costume" is noteworthy 6 months out, but gut-wrenching if it dawns on you 6 weeks before you'd planned to walk the halls.

Beginning this process sooner rather than later allows you to reach out at your leisure to a number of different resources in your quest for guidance and reference images. Everyone's motivation wavers, so it's often easier to work with the ebb and flow of your mind rather than cram everything into several all-nighters (or just blowing stuff off in frustration).       

*A Major can be any one of a handful of costume archetypes that are especially challenging to execute well. Opinions as to what types of costumes constitute a Major vary somewhat, but most cosplayers will bestow that label on any of the following: making a full suit of armor (sci-fi, medieval, samurai, etc) from scratch, building functional prosthetics (deployable wings, animatronic tail, etc), cosplaying as something with a body that is less than 50% humanoid, or a costume that involves biometrics/robotics.

Step 4: Start Building/Learning

Now you have the what, the why, the who, the when, and at least some of the how. With this information in hand you can draw up your cosplay lineup, determining which costumes you'll be wearing, when you'll be wearing them, and how they'll come together.  This planning process can be as literal or metaphorical as you'd prefer. Some cosplayers prefer a detailed, thorough itinerary while others just like laying things out in the confines of their own minds. Feel free to experiment with various types of organization to figure out what works best for you.

This isn't the most glamorous or exciting part of making a costume but taking the time to get organized can often save you countless hours of frustration both during the construction process and at the convention itself. Sometimes a little administrative drudgery can result in exponentially more fun down the line.

Best of luck in your costuming adventures! 
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This Week in Geekdom

Woot! We're back to our regularly scheduled postings! There's some exciting stuff coming up in the next couple of weeks (COSTUMES!), so stay tuned. In the meantime, let's kick off This Week in Geekdom with this impressive new video from the dude behind A Capella Science:

General Awesomeness

If you aren't wholly fed up with the whole PAX kerfuffle (not that anyone could blame you if you were), this article over on Polygon offers up one of the most holistic, systemic analysis of the situation that has been written to date.

Ever wanted to act out your loyalties to the Galactic Empire or just give your neighbors more evidence of your overwhelming nerdiness? Got an extra $16,000 USD (£9,800) on hand?  Well, head on over to Ebay and bid on this to-scale replica of an AT-AT.

No one would cut you off in traffic...ever again.
Holy tidal shifts! This stunning photo series captures the extremes between high and low tide in various locales along the British coast as a ream of gifs.

Old and busted: Silly Putty. New hotness: Kinetic Sand.


Just how well do you see color? Take this interactive color gradient exam and find out!

Researchers at the University of Nottingham, while not ducking the financial predations of their Sheriff, announced in the latest issue of the journal Neurology that they have discovered a new biological marker for Parkinson's Disease. 

After we got official confirmation of Voyager 1's departure from our solar system, did you wonder what Earth must look like from that far-flung vantage? Well, wonder no more.

Oh Windows 8, even Microsoft is beginning to realize just how unloved you are. The mega-corporation announced on Tuesday that it would not only be providing a free update to the 8.1 version of the OS for those already using 8.0, but all new PCs that were to have received the base 8.0 OS will instead receive the less maligned 8.1 version. These changes are scheduled to go into effect in October.

And, immediately after making the above announcement, Microsoft then had to release an emergency patch for users of its Internet Explorer web browser after it was discovered that the latter was more vulnerable to hacking than previously believed. 

The forthcoming edition of the PLoS One journal contains some interesting insights about our species' ability to smell. Turns out, all smells fall into 1 or more of 10 basic stinky categories. Here's the science.


If you were one of more than 9,000 Neal Stephenson fans who chipped in to his Kickstarter to support his "attempt to revolutionize sword fighting video games" you may have to wait even longer than previously forecast. This week, the Snow Crash author and his development team were forced to concede that their project was not developing as planned and that the "pause button" had to be hit. Rock, Paper, Shotgun provides this rundown of the rapidly deteriorating situation.

On Monday, gamers who utilize Linux got some potentially exciting news. Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve, gave this keynote speech at LinuxCon in which he underscored the importance of open source platforms and reiterated that he feels Linux will be the future of video gaming. After the successful launch of Steam for Linux, it will be interesting to see just how many of Newell's predictions pan out.

The biggest story in gaming this week was undoubtedly the release of Grand Theft Auto V. Though the title has only been out for a matter of days at this point, gamers have already found a number of Easter eggs, including this one which requires the use of a black light in order to see during play. 

It was a sad week for those of us who grew up alongside Nintendo. The visionary businessman who brought Nintendo into households around the world, Hiroshi Yamauchi, passed away on Thursday at the age of 85.

Blizzard Activision's endeavor to buy themselves out from their parent company, Vivendi, met with a serious speedbump on Thursday when a Delaware court put a hold on the proceedings.


Lovers of Robert Jordan's literary odyssey, Wheel of Time, got a special treat on Friday. After nearly 2 years of work, a group of Utah-based fimmakers (and Jordan fans) debuted the fruit of their labors: the fan film Wheel of Time: Flight from Shadow. You can watch the entire final product here.

Gotta love the Kryptonian script on the edges

Canada really loves them some Superman. You may remember a few weeks back when we chatted about the release of a series of commemorative stamps featuring the Man of Steel. Well, now the Royal Canadian Mint has struck these coins in celebration of their favorite Kryptonian's 75th birthday.

As always, best wishes for an awesome week ahead!
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Game Review: Civilization V: Brave New World

<<Deep breath. Exhale.>>

Ahh. This whole not having the Doom of Damocles-esque thesis defense lofted precariously overhead is kinda brilliant. The hours previously spent parsing through notes can now be spent on posts that were at least partially written earlier in the year, but were crudely shunted aside by the thesis and an occasional elder hydra. The following was one such circumstantial victim but this will be corrected post haste!

Back in early July, Firaxis Games released Brave New World, the second expansion for the Civilization V base game. While long time fans of the series likely cued up their PCs to begin their pre-ordered downloads from Steam right at midnight the day of release, other gamers have been content to sit back and wait either for a price drop or for affirmation that the new addition would be worthwhile. That skepticism was largely founded in the belief that, akin to previous incarnations of the Civ franchise, expansion packs could be highly variable in quality. Where some expansions provided considerable upgrades in gameplay, others were simple bolt-on additions of new civilizations and their accompanying special units. This reticence is more than understandable. So, if you're in the latter camp and are waiting for a Steam Spotlight weekend or the somehow-already-forthcoming Winter Sale/holiday season, consider the following.
Brave New World is assuredly not just a handful of new playable societies, though nine new civs, eight new wonders, two social policy tracks, two playable scenarios, and twenty new units do come with the game. The new volume is quite literally an expansion of nearly all aspects of the game and specifically addresses some of Civilization V's major shortcomings, not least of which is the infamous endgame stage. More on this in a moment though. The overarching theme of Brave New World is 'make all aspects of playing more active' and the title definitely achieves that goal via these additions/improvements:

Trade - Before Brave New World, the economic portion of the game was largely dependent on city positioning and sheer luck. Either you happened to get a starting location in the vicinity of gold-producing commodities or you laid claim to said goodies from other areas of the map by tactical expansion, conquest, or befriending well-supplied city-states. While the methodology for laying claim to commodities remains much the same, the ability to generate gold no longer hinges on said goods. As you develop your chosen civ, you'll be presented with a new kind of unit: a caravan. This cadre of camels (yes, it's actually a trio of camels) can be sent from your capital to one of several nearby cities or city-states. Hovering over the potential destinations in the accompanying drop-down menu will give you a summary of what the resulting trade route will generate for you each turn. Trading with foreign cities will provide a regular stream of gold and will also act as a conduit for information, in this case scientific research and the tenets of your chosen faith, should your civ practice a religion. As you can imagine, this channel can often be something of a double-edged sword, as your civ will be similarly influenced by its trading partner.
Makin' all the monies

Establishing a route between two of your own cities can allow you to spread resources more evenly throughout your empire and gain a new element of city-level control, as a domestic caravan can transition gold, food or production between cities. Eventually, certain scientific discoveries will allow you to build cargo ships and create overseas trade routes as well. The initial range on trade routes is not great, but the income they provide is substantial. The trade units are defenseless and are vulnerable to plundering by hostile forces, but often such an act is more an inconvenience than a legitimate loss. Active trade routes last for 30 turns, after which they may be renewed and reconfigured and each civ may only build and utilize a set number of trade units (that number being dependant on technological advances and the developmental era).

The trade units make the economic process seem much more vibrant and active. Aside from providing a welcome source of income, trade routes are themselves a new method of control, allowing you to facilitate conversion, hasten research, bestow favor, and send enemies into crippling debt.

Tourism/Great Works - Culture was another facet of the game that had been a largely passive process. You built certain buildings, these generated culture, you synergized that production with certain polities, and so on. Victory by culture was laying the structural foundation to crank out as much culture per turn as possible in order to buy more social policies than your opponents. This victory condition is still one of the more passive options available, but attaining it is now more nuanced and complex. Culture itself remains largely unchanged (i.e. it's a resource generated at a given rate per turn) but Brave New World introduces a new component, Tourism, to the mix. Tourism is essentially aggressive culture, produced solely in order to gain influence over your opponents. Certain structures produce Tourism, but far more can be generated via Great Works. Occasionally your civ will generate a Great Person, either a Great Artist, a Great Writer, or a Great Musician. These specialized units can be deployed locally, putting their talents on display in an opera house or museum, or they can be dispatched to another civ to sow awe amongst the rival populace. A high rate of Tourism generation will also allow your civ to be viewed more favorably by the rest of the world. A well-regarded civ makes for more lucrative trade arrangements and easier diplomatic relations. Other civs often won't realize the extent of your cultural influence until their constituents are speaking your language and have adopted your fashions.

Artifacts - One method for generating Tourism is the excavation of artifacts. Once the 'Archeology' technology has been researched, your civ can build archeologist units that may traverse the globe in search of artifacts, which are reveled on the map akin to new resources. The archeologists are similar in function to workers, but are limited to only one ability: excavate. Once an artifact has been successfully unearthed, it may be displayed in one of your museums and will generate Tourism. The recovery of these precious items can be somewhat thorny, as other civilizations may be irked if you put their relics on display.
Soon everyone will want to be like you
Diplomacy/World Congress - Diplomacy was a more active, but often inefficient and unreliable as an actual method for winning the game. The process takes on new life in Brave New World, particularly during the last few eras of play. Instead of sitting half-asleep, writing notes for your RPG between opportunities to click 'Next Turn', you'll find yourself engaged often until the very last click. As you progress through the successive eras, the World Congress will be founded. This new legislative body will provide civs with a tool by which they may foster influence and goodwill or punish their erstwhile neighbors. Civs put forth proposals to the Congress ranging from 'let's build and host a World's Fair' to 'let's enact a standing army tax to make one warmongering civ's economy entirely unsustainable.' Civs are awarded votes based on their civ score, the current era of play, and the number of city-states that count themselves as your allies. As such, city-state relations take on a whole new level of importance. Additionally, your individual voting record can have long-lasting repercussions with other civs, particularly if you helped nix what they felt was an important proposal.
Ideologies - Another manner by which angst or goodwill may be fostered is your choice of ideology. After your civ reaches the Modern Era, you can select an ideology in lieu of a social policy. Each ideology comes with its own benefits and even proprietary wonders you can build. Other civs that choose the same ideology will relate to yours more easily, while civs that choose other belief structures will tend to be aloof, ornery, and easily angered.

Brave New World builds upon Civilization V in such a way as to make the latter a richer, deeper, more enjoyable experience.

Wait, what about multiplayer? That was one of your big qualms about Gods & Kings!

Ah, yes. Someone at Firaxis must have heard my kvetching, because the multiplayer seems to be much more stable and, with the diplomatic enhancements, much more fun.

Speaking of Gods & Kings, do I need to buy that in order to play Brave New World?

No. Brave New World is entirely separate and contains all the critical elements of Gods & Kings, minus the civs that came with the earlier expansion. You do not need to buy one in order to play the other and vice versa.

The AI in Civ 5/Gods & Kings drove me crazy. Is it better in Brave New World?

It's definitely better. Are the cues governing its logic still pretty obvious? Yes. Are you going to mistake it for a human player at any point? No. Is it parsecs removed from the AI in any other Civ game to date? Very, very yes.

This expansion is legitimately impressive and definitely worth a try, even if you've never played any Civilization games before. It's good to see that the guys at Firaxis are still willing to listen to us, the gamers, and are striving to improve on their already impressive product lineup.

And there are 60 new achievements to be had! Woot!
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