Monthly Archives: June 2015

Screaming Nostalgia: Waiting for the Cicadas to Return

Nothing screams nostalgia like cicadas for me.

Yes, that’s right, the 17 year cicadas (Brood IV) have returned to my hometown in Kansas.  Although their love screeching has died down only last week, I already miss them dearly.  I was eight years old when they last showed up and I was terrified of them.  I remember their cries and I remember their shells, but most importantly, I remember being pelted by them the moment I stepped outside.  I was terrified of them as you couldn’t go a meter before a cicada would fly haphazardly into your face like a drunken moth.  I refused to go outside after the first few attempts.

It’s funny that pure, childhood terror has transformed into complete fascination with life’s derpy animals.  I love the hell out of these guys whether they are the seventeen year or the annual brood (the “dog days” cicadas) that we get.  Summer doesn’t seem right without these animals filling the humid evenings with their songs.

My love for them have even transcended over to video games to which I’m of course referring to the Pokémon; Nincada and its evolutions Ninjask and Shedinja.  When I first played Pokémon Sapphire I would train a Nincada briefly (unique typing at the time) and would eventually move onto other Pokémon for my team.  In the Generation 6 games, I trained him again only this time training both Ninjask and Shedinja.

The fact that Ninjasks’ ability is “Speed Boost” makes it so funny in my head just imagining this huge cicada flying around all over the place and bumping into things. MEEEEEP.  Image from bulbapedia.

The Nincada evolutionary line is the Pokémonified perfection it has achieved in bringing cicadas into the Pokémon world.  Nincada looks like the nymph stage, Ninjask looks like the flying adult while Shedinja is the discarded skin of the molted adult.  Nincada is the only Pokémon to evolve into two Pokémon at once, a trait that even Eevee can’t touch.  What’s more, Nincada’s Ground/Bug typing is perfectly suited for the nymphs burial ground while Ninjasks Flying/Bug typing suits its flying stage.  But it’s the discarded Shedinja that seals the deal having achieved a Ghost/Bug type.  It’s perfect!  The shell still has its original form but now takes life as a new being!  How bizarre.  I love these guys so very much!

Pokémon aside, I have had a fascination with these insects for years now and I waited very patiently for them to finally come back.  When they did, I was ready.  For those who don’t know, I’ve been working at a plant nursery job for several summers doing general landscaping.  I was keeping an eye out for any cicadas that had crawled out of the ground when we were working on lawns.  I managed to get a few photos of their infestation.

Bunch of holes in the ground that tell where the nymphs lived

Bunch of holes in the ground that tell where the nymphs lived

cicada nymph

Caught a nymph that hadn’t molted yet

Managed to get one while it was molting

Managed to get one while it was molting

cicada shells

many of the nymphs molted on the underside of leaves

Cicada shells at tree base

A LOT of them were at the base of trees, this dog just loves eating them!

cicadas

Seriously, cicadas are basically all-or-nothing. They were either not there or they were everrrywheeeereee.

giggity

giggity

Cicada food

Yummy

During the height of their infestation, Mary and I went to a public event hosted by the natural history museum on cicadas.  There, we got to learn more about the cicadas and WE GOT TO EAT THEM TOO!  Students either fried them up, caramelized them, buffalo sauced them, or chocolate dipped them!  Oh man, I don’t normally eat bugs so I had to build myself up for that one.  I started off easy with the chocolate dipped one but then went into the buffalo sauced ones.  Then for dinner, I had some fried ones in a taco.  The best way I can describe them is that they’re a cross between a shrimp’s shell and a popcorn kernel.  Don’t know how else to describe it, it wasn’t bad though.

Man, these insects are very pretty.  Mary and I saw a girl who had a huge cicada tattoo on her back and it looked beautiful.  Cicadas have a very nice looking wing structure and they have these cute little black pupils in their huge red eyes.  They also have a nice color palate too with gold, black, and red complimenting each other nicely.  Now even am tempted to get a tattoo of one!

During my free time, I actively hunted for spots that had the highest concentration of them.  I found a few good ones where you could easily see them zooming around the trees and screaming their little heads off.  I made it a habit to find their favorite trees and pick up a few just so they could crawl around on my arms and head (I even was pissed by them a few times, haha).

 

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Now their music has died down and the females will soon lay their eggs.  I will miss them dearly.  Though we will always have the annual cicadas, I will miss the 17 year ones.  They are the best definition of nostalgia for me.  Something that happened, albeit briefly, in my childhood that had a lasting impact for the rest of my life.  A fear that transformed into fascination.  I love these animals so very much.  I look forward to seeing their offspring another 17 years from now.  And with that said

MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

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Initial Reaction to ABC Battlebots (2015) Episode 1

Holy Crap.

Battlebots has returned this year on ABC and it’s as ridiculous and amazing as it was more than ten years ago on Comedy Central.  To begin with, I want to say I felt like my ten year old self again while watching this first episode.  The hype, the out-of-place suave commentators, the flashy stage, and the killer robots threw me back to my parents’ couch years ago.  It was fun, stupid, and most importantly, robots fought each other for the glorious nut!

First, few things I was disappointed about before I gushed about everything else.

-No original theme?  That makes me sad.  The original Battlebots referee Mark Beiro was also not there but considering his long and great career, I’m totally fine with that.

-They didn’t say “The box is locked, the lights are on, it’s robot fighting time!”  Come on!  That was basically their slogan!

-As mentioned before the main three commentators seem out of place but given the nature of Battlebots history, that’s typical.  At least they’re not as annoying as the original ones!

Okay!  Onto the good stuff!

This season of Battlebots (season 6) has made some good choices in order to both highlight the builders and televise the battles.  Instead of a huge assortment of robots we get just 24 robots in one weight class.  This cuts down the shallow coverage of the robots and gives us a more in-depth look into each of them.  This is great!  We learn why we should care for each of the robots, it makes us root for them more, and it gives us the opportunity to connect to them and remember them better.

Some people complain about the coverage on the builders but that’s typical Battlebots!  They love to focus on the builders!  It humanizes them!  It gets the audience to know them better and why we should root for them!  It also shows how anyone can build robots and compete in the tournament!  It’s pretty funny too when you get this juxtaposition of these cool, suave announcers interviewing the dorky and sometimes rigid builders.

At first I thought when they were focusing on the builders they were only showing the winners of each battle.  Thankfully, I was wrong with that as evidence by the Warhead vs. Biteforce battle.  Good!  I don’t want things to become predictive!

Okay, now onto the battles!

First off, Razorback vs. Icewave.  Nice, good battle to start on!  Razorback is interesting; I never have seen a Battlebot design like that before.  What were they trying to accomplish there?  Anyway, Icewave was definitely the highlight for this battle.  I liked the builder, Marc DeVidts, he reminds me of me a little.  He saw Battlebots around my age and wanted to build his own Battlebot because of which.  That’s awesome.  Icewave actually reminded me of the former Middleweight Champion, Hazard thanks to its spinning blade.  Icewave was just tearing apart Razorback and it was greeeeeat.  I look forward to Icewave’s next battle!

Next, Wrecks vs. Plan X.  Anyone recall the Middleweight T-Wrecks here?  Hm, maybe me.  Regardless, Wrecks is nothing like T-Wrecks.  God, this robot is so funky!  I freaking love this guy!  Team Captain Micah “Chewy” Leibowitz explained that he came up with this robot after waking up from a dream and I can tell!  Then there’s Plan X which is also freaky thanks to its glowing brain.  Former Battlebot competitor Lisa Winter built this robot and I was pleased to see her return.  Female representation in a male dominated sport is always a plus especially when the builder is young and confident in herself.

This battle was probably the most entertaining out of the four thanks to these two weird, weird, robots.  It looked like Plan X was going to win it at first then Wrecks started shuffling back like a determined terrier ready to take down a german shepherd!  I was laughing my ass off during the entire fight.  Part of me was hoping Wrecks would win this one due to its comeback in the last ten seconds and the huge damage it was inflicting on Plan X.  Definitely a favorite.  I was disappointed by Plan X’s spinning weapon but hopefully it will do more damage in the next round.

Next we get the upset battle Warhead vs. Biteforce.  Ah, Warhead, one of the few veteran robots that unfortunately couldn’t seal a win against his opponent.  And to be fair, it was a bad matchup.  Biteforce had a strong drive and a highly defensive ram.  That drum spinner barely dent Biteforce and the arms and tail were useless.  Biteforce had this battle right from the get-go by pushing Warhead all over the place and into two different pulverizers (which made me laughed hard)!  Biteforce reminded me of Complete Control thanks to its unique design and ability to handle dangerous opponents.  Good work Biteforce!

Finally, we get the amazing battle between Nightmare and Warrior Clan.  Man, ABC missed their chance to talk about how Team Nightmare and Team Whyachi had fought each other before in Season 3 for Nightmare vs. Son of Whyachi where Son of Whyachi won hands down.  They should have mentioned that!  Anyway, great battle even though my favorite, Nightmare, got flipped over (again, another bad matchup for a veteran robot).  To be fair though, whether done intentionally or not, the new Nightmare design kind of helped Nightmare in its dire situation.  I’m sure Jim Smentowski was trying his damndest to flip his terrorizing robot over.  Regardless, DID YOU SEE WHAT NIGHTMARE DID TO THAT BITTY FLAME BOT!  That was hilarious.

We still have more qualifying rounds to go through so I’ll withhold my judgement of flame and multi-bots until then but so far they seem to be working out well.

As for wildcard…there are 24 robots and 12 battles which means 12 losers.  Only four of the twelve losers will be picked to fight in the second round (if I’m interpreting the rules correctly).  The show briefly mentioned that the judges will pick the four robots that did the best in their respective matches (which is a great idea).  If I were to pick a robot or two from this episode it would be Wrecks or Nightmare.  Both did a great job fighting their opponent and I can’t decide who deserves it more.  I guess I lean towards Wrecks cause I want to see more of him!  He’s so funky and hilarious (but also he lasted the full three minutes as well)!

My Pick to Win the Nut: I think Icewave might have the best chance.  Battlebots has had a history of vertical rotator robots (e.g., Hazard and Son of Whyachi) winning the Nut.  Icewave’s blade was just wailing on Razorback showing that he is both a good defensive and offensive robot.  However, Icewave was smoking by the end of his match which isn’t good and he’ll have to worry about flipping robots like Warrior Clan (who might even be too low for the swinging blade).

Overall, the episode was great and I look forward to seeing more episodes of Battlebots!  Woo!

Greatest Moments in Battlebots History: Son of Whyachi vs. Biohazard

We love a good underdog story and honestly, who doesn’t??  There was a plethora of 90’s sports and kid films that just milked this trope repeatedly.  I think by far though the best film that pulled off the underdog story is Rocky.  Can I get a hell yeah on that one folks?

Anyways, what’s better than an underdog in film is one in real life which brings us to today’s article, Battlebots.  Now, I already talked about Battlebots last year where I critically analyzed how well it held up (hint: not very) but with the recent revival of the series (yay!) I want to go back to the show and talk about one of the greatest moments in Battlebots History, Son of Whyachi vs. Biohazard.

Okay, let me set the scene, it’s season 3 of Battlebots and the show is reaching its peak in popularity.  By now, many of the series’ fan favorites have already made their appearance (such as Nightmare and Hazard) or will make their rookie appearance (Mechavore) this season (the season was already starting off great when Nightmare destroyed Slamjob in the first episode in a spectacular fashion(see above video!)).

As such, the stage was set for veterans and newcomers to fight each other to determine top bot.

image from Battlebots Wiki

One of these top bots was one of the most winningest battlebot of all time, Biohazard, a several time winner of the Heavyweight division in Battlebots.  Biohazard has taken down foes again and again no matter how formidable they were.  Biohazard was definitely one of the best defensive robots of all time.  It was incredibly low to the ground and it had steel flaps that protected itself from getting flipped (and it minimized damaged significantly from blades).  But the most important feature of Biohazard was its god damn lifting arm which he used incredibly well to flip over high-centered gravity opponents and push them against the hazards.  Biohazard’s ability to tank hits, be aggressive, and easily disable opponents won him many battles.

Image from Battlebots wiki

A rookie to season 3 is the now glorified, Son of Whyachi.  Whyachi unusual makeup helped him win many rounds.  He had a spinning helicopter-blade like weapon that was supported by strong cables at the end and topped off with hard spikes to jam into the opponents.  Whyachi was also a walking robot and as such, got a weight bonus that was allowed towards him meaning he could be much heavier (walking robots, in general, have not worked very well and have won few battles which was why they got a bonus).

Both of these robots faced each other in the finals and the best part is that they almost seemed like they were destined for each other for the fights they went through.  Biohazard took down Little Sister and the more famous Overkill and Tazbot while Son of Whyachi knocked down Nightmare (in a glorious fashion mind you, see above video), chipped away at Mechavore and tore apart Hexadecimator.  All of these robots the two fought, mind you, have won their share of battles and would win more in the following seasons.  But more importantly, these were robots that everyone knew and recognized.  Overkill, Nightmare, Hexadecimator, Tazbot, Mechavore, these were celebrities in the heavyweight division!  Taking these guys down earned you much street cred!

And oh man!  The HYPE surrounding these beasts were incredible.  I was rooting for Son of Whyachi so hard, I always liked Nightmare but not even he could take down Biohazard as evidence in their fight in the previous season.  You know what, I’m going to shut up and show you the fight.  It’s awesome.

This is like eeeevvverrryyything a Battlebot battle should be like.  A long battle where the bots continue to go at each other despite their limping, broken status.  These bots were not giving up and would keep going if their battery connections allow them to.  It’s too bad this is not the status quo because some final round battles are either dull or one sided but this is definitely not one of them.  It’s really similar to Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa just pounding the shit out of each other in Rocky I and not letting up until the final round.

The result of the battle was monumental in the Battlebot community.  Biohazard’s almost untarnished record was smashed along with his sleek, unbent and unbroken body.  Son of Whyachi proved a wholly offensive robot could take down the defensive based Biohazard and that walkers were not all useless.  Unfortunately, newcomer Son of Whyachi, although he won the Nut, was never able to reclaim his glory because he was that good.  I’m serious, it used to be that you could have a 50% weight bonus if you were a walker.  Son of Whyachi dropped that down to 20% the following season.  As such, Whyachi had to adjust to his new environment in the Super Heavyweight environment where it miserably failed to go the distance having suffered a bad design plan in Season 4 (it was saaaaaaad) and only going to the sweet sixteen in Season 5

The build up, the battle, and the fallout afterwards made the Whyachi/Biohazard bout one of the greatest in Battlebots history.  There are few battles I can recall that were this epic and not one-sided.  I sincerely hope that with the upcoming new Battlebots show on ABC, we’ll see more battles like this with intensity and power.  Fingers crossed!

I Finally try out the Bill Nye Shake

First off: Do not try this at home.

With that out of the way, in fifth grade, my teacher rolled out the glorious television set and put on for us the Bill Nye the Science Guy episode of Digestion. You can actually watch the episode right now on Netflix if you so desire. Anyways, halfway through the episode, Bill does this

After Bill drank the contents of his glorious stomach shake, everyone in my class went “Ewwwwwwwwwww!” while I just sat there and wondered, what did the shake taste like?

This question had been sitting at the back of my mind for half of my life. I always wanted to try out the Bill Nye Shake but I never did because I just…well…never gotten around to it! Truth be told, I always thought it would be kind of good.

Now, for the purpose of this blog, I have made and tasted the Bill Nye Shake.

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Psyching myself up, I trekked down the local Burger-Fi shop and ordered myself a burger, some fries, and a chocolate shake. Strolling confidently back, we cleaned out our blender (which still had remnants of a blended strawberry daiquiri in it) and proceeded to put all the basic ingredients in. Realizing that if I hated the shake I would have wasted money, I only used half of my food so at least to make the Bill Nye Shake.

Anyways, after a satisfying blending, it was time for the taste test. Truth be told, it looked like a regular chocolate shake albeit a little chunky. A faint whiff of onions from Shake tickled my nose and then I downed it.

Bill Nye Shake

Describing the taste is quite hard though I have to say upfront that it was not good. Bill’s reaction the drink is very similar to my own. Bleh. It’s not surprising though that it just tasted bad considering it was a mix of fries, buns, meat, tomatoes, pickles, onions, a chocolate shake and fries. My stomach even felt queasy holding it in despite its food that my organ has seen plenty of times before.

Bill Nye Shake

I think the worst part though is the consistency, holy crap if the consistency was better than the drink would be tolerable. The best way I can describe it is if you took a milk shake and mixed it with a whole bunch of poorly grounded peanuts. It tasted so….chunky.

Anyways, lesson learned, never doing that again. Though I still want to bake my hotdog, fries, pickles, and barbeque sauce pizza again in the near future. That was delicious!

This Could Work-A Total War: Great War Game

Revolt, Rebellion, Revolution.  These three “R”’s are the magic words that help define both the Creative Assembly-produced Total War video game series and the awful Great War which is currently “celebrating” its centennial anniversary.  I am both surprised and not that these two topics haven’t come together to produce an in-depth, strategy-filled game that takes place during the Great War-era.  This game has the potential to be amazing but it could very easily be bogged down with bloated mechanics and stretches of time where you do nothing but click the next turn button.

I first thought about this marriage while I was playing both Empire: Total War and Napoleon: Total War.  Compared to other Total War games, both of these games take place relatively late in human history representing late 1700s and early 1800s respectively.  The use of guns and canons is a far step forward compared to the arrows and swords Total War embraces in its Rome, Medieval, and Shogun settings.  But, they are done surprisingly efficient especially when combined with cavalry and fortresses.

The Great War is also extremely perfect when playing as certain factions.  You can play as Britain, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and maybe even Ottoman Empire and Italy.  All seven of these nations fought in huge conflicts that ranged throughout a greater part of Europe.  And it’s not like the Great War: Total War would restrict you to certain allies or enemies.  You could start the game in say, 1900 (or even 1870 if you want to include the Franco-Prussian War) and have all the participants naturally decide their allies on their own accord.  It would be very similar to the board game Diplomacy now that I think about it.

The United States (and other foreign powers) could also play an important role in the game even if the map focuses only on Europe.  All these countries can play as a neutral to a less-than-neutral position at the beginning of the game.  Do you choose to sink a neutral power’s supply ships in hopes of hurting your opponent?  That may backfire and the neutral power could declare war on you (and your opponent could get maybe 10 more, free, soldier units or something).  Perhaps you could win over a neutral power through diplomacy, gifts, and trade agreements.  The choice is yours to make.

Given this is the late Industrial Era; you can have many improvements for your home country such as the usual factories and farms but even infrastructures such as railroads, electricity, and telecommunication.  Man, you could transport your armies so fast if you built railroads in your homeland.

The three “R”’s would also play a huge role in this game, perhaps more so than other Total War games.  Worker riots and soldier mutinies run rampant during the Great War, then you got the occasional independence rebellions like the one the Irish started in 1916 and of course, you got some major Russian revolutions to cap it off.  Soldier morale could also be affected by say recent gas attacks, current weather, or battles where many soldiers died and nothing was gain from it.  Whole units of soldiers can lay down their arms or even fight you in response to the awful conditions!  Also, can you imagine sending terrorists or instigators to your rivals in hopes of stirring a revolution?  That would be awesome!  On the one hand, you would have to keep your people happy but on the other, you can cause chaos from the inside out!  The Austria-Hungary Empire could disintegrate before your very eyes as armies representing different nationalities spring up and take back cities belonging to the people!

And maybe get a certain Archduke assassinated to start off a major conflict…? Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archduke_Franz_Ferdinand_of_Austria

Although a Great War setting is not a far cry from Empire or Napoleon and can be done easily there are a few key differences that have to be addressed.

The first key difference, machine guns, and by extension trench warfare, were such an integral part of the Great War that it’s hard to find one without the other.   So many soldiers were killed on both sides by these weapons of war that it was probably one of the main reasons why stalemates happened all the damn time.  This is where a Great War: Total War game can be frustrating if not done right.  Your own soldiers can be killed en masse after several machine gun units mow them down.  Though historically accurate, it’s not very fun to play with (except when you’re the one shooting of course).

As such, you can do several things to nerf the power of machine guns.  For one thing, they are a better defensive than offensive weapon.  As such, soldiers carrying them would be quite slow and cumbersome.  The soldiers can also only fire them for so long before the gun either jams or overheats making them not very effective for long battles.  Technology upgrades can fix these overheating issues somewhat but you still wouldn’t be able to fire them for very long.

Gas grenades and shells would be easier to incorporate as they’re basically a stand in for the howitzers.  You could probably do some sort of penalty against soldiers with tear gas (like they’re slowed down, do not fire as well, or morale is lowered) but the awful chlorine gas is where things truly matter.  Not only would there be a lot of fatalities but it would be a good morale killer for even hardened veterans.  And of course, one of the first technology upgrades you can get for the soldiers is the ability to wear gas masks which would be represented as a button on the tool bar during the real-time battles.  The gas masks might lower accuracy and make your soldiers tire faster but at least they’re not being gassed at.

Tanks would be another technology upgrade you could easily incorporate into the game.  At the beginning of the game, you could have cavalry units for horses which although they might be useful very early on (especially if we’re starting the game 1870), they can soon be antiquated by the arrival of the machine gun.  Tanks wouldn’t make their appearance into very late in the technology tree but once they do, they can easily smash through defensive lines of barb wire and trenches.  Still though, they would be expensive to produce and they would be rather slow and have the chance to break down (again, trying to make sure they don’t become OP).

But the most difficult technology to incorporate would be airplanes.  Though it would be easy to use biplanes for reconnaissance or blimps to bomb distant cities, the real-time strategy would be much harder to handle if it’s used at all.  The real-time section of the games work on a (mostly) two dimensional terrain and adding aircraft to the mixture would make them impossible to control, much less use them for their full potential.  Perhaps you can send in a squadron to bomb a certain part of the map during the overworld phase.  Maybe a passive advantage is an added accuracy bonus for artillery allowing them to hit a group of soldiers on target.  Though both of these sound acceptable, they still don’t really use the planes to their fullest capabilities.  This will need to be played around with before aircraft are fully realized.

I really hope the Total War series makes a Great War game.  After thinking about it and writing all the potential it has, I really think it could work very well.  The lack of a prominent Great War game should be filled by a prominent series.  The Total War series is that game as its elements of nation building and alliance forging go perfect with the Great War along with its real time strategy on the battlefield.