Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trek Thursday: The Man Trap

#56: The Man Trap



In case you forgot: A shape-shifting salt vampire, whom Bones believes is his beloved ex-girlfriend, chows down on some redshirts. She spares McCoy because he has such strong feelings for her (she also feeds on love...?), but turns on her husband and the captain. McCoy is the one who has to shoot her to save Kirk and the ship, of course, because of the Rule of Drama.

Getting to see the rest of the crew of the Enterprise have some more lines and some more personality is a nice change of pace. This could be either a good or bad thing, depending on how you feel about the somewhat painful exchange between Spock and Uhura; personally, I wish it had carried over into later episodes (though written more competently). Regardless, a salt vampire is kind of a cool idea for a monster, shape-shifting or otherwise, and the pathos of the species' extinction at the hands of the good doctor doesn't feel at all hamfisted.

Also, I'm probably the only person in the world who thinks the handpuppet flower in Sulu's botany laboratory is a cool, cute effect.

But what potential this episode had is squandered pretty quickly. (There's a reason it's not ranked higher, after all.) McCoy may get a backstory, but what he gains in character development he loses in smarts. We all do stupid things for love, but Bones makes some decisions that are just, well, bone-headed. (Hah, hah.) To be fair, McCoy isn't the only one holding the idiot ball: Kirk and the crew seem to be pretty unnaturally slow on the uptake that they're dealing with a shape-shifter.

There's also far more shots of the creature wandering around the Enterprise looking for a meal than is really necessary. Smells like filler, to be honest.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

November is Coming



NaNoWriMo—"National Novel-Writing Month," the mad dash where thousands of people around the world try to write 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel in November—is almost upon us. This year, in addition to all the writing, I'm helping (in a small way) to organize local NaNo events in the Stockholm area. This will be interesting, as I'll also have work and class to keep up with as well.

If you've always wanted to write a novel, NaNo is the perfect crash course in getting started. It's also a great way to meet lots of great, geeky people. (NaNo attracts a lot of geeks and nerdy types. I'm not sure why.) And, finally, it's lots of fun. It's a great way to to perk up the cold, dreary month of November.

Some things I have found useful in NaNos past:

100 Questions to Answer Before You Start Writing Your Story

Assorted Generators

World-Building Questions (Fantasy)

Many people like to use Scrivener or Ywriter or some other fancy software, but I don't. The bells and whistles are too distracting for me.

Will you be participating in NaNo? What will you be writing?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Foodie Friday: Pre-Prepped Veggie Life Hack

Show of hands: how many of you browse Pinterest at least a few times a week? Now, how many of you ever follow through on the things you pin?

Yeah, me too.

But this spinach and tomato quesadilla recipe from Budget Bytes looked good and easy. The beauty of the stuffing is that it is super versatile and you can use it in a variety of dishes. If you make a whole bunch over the weekend, you won't be tired of it by the times it runs out on Friday! You can even be super ambitious and double the recipe and freeze it for when you don't feel like feeding yourself. (Hint: this would be a good one to save for NaNoWriMo!)



Pre-Prepped Veggie Life Hack

(because it's too easy, lazy, and basic to really be a recipe)

What You Need

  • Half a pound/200 g of fresh spinach
  • 3–4 diced Roma tomatoes (2 is just not enough, IMO)
  • One pound/500 g of shredded cheese (if you're not feeding vegans)
  • One half to one whole shredded onion
  • One shredded chicken breast or equivalent amount of your favorite vegetable protein (if you like)
  • Favorite spices
  • A big-ass bowl
What You Do
  • Dump the spinach in the bowl and shred the hell out of it with some scissors. Or you can use a blender, if you like, I'm not judging. Set aside. (Budget Bytes uses frozen but I find it easier to hack up a giant bag of fresh spinach than mess around with thawing frozen and then squeezing out the water.)
  • Dice the tomatoes. This is the most time-intensive process for me. If you want to be lazy, just slice 'em up. If you want to be a little fancier, squeeze all the pulp and water out of the tomatoes and then dice 'em up. Add to your bowl of spinach.
  • Slice the onion. I never know how much I use because I always use what's left over from our last dish. JV likes to cook with onions and he'll slice however many he bought that night, regardless of how much the recipe needs, but I would say it's probably "mostly one" onion. Add it to your bowl of spinach and tomato.
  • Add the cheese if you have it.
  • Set it aside and prepare your chicken breast however you like it. This is the other time-intensive part but I skip it by asking JV to prepare and shred the meat (I trust him with preparing meat more than I trust myself). Add the chicken to your bowl of veggies and cheese.
  • Add your spices and combine well.
That's it! This was enough to last two people for four dinners (in this case, quesadillas) each and it takes about 15 minutes, maybe like 20 if you include chicken or a vegetable protein. If you keep it in a sealed container or bag in your fridge, it'll easily keep for five days. It's good to use in quesadillas, burritos, omelettes, scrambled eggs, sandwiches, wraps, or just on its own. Other things you might like to add:

  • Beans
  • Bell pepper
  • Mushroom
  • Shredded carrots
  • Corn
  • Arugula 
Whatever you think is tasty and have the time and energy to prep!

Bon appetit!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Trek Thursday: Bread and Circuses

#57: Bread and Circuses




In case you forgot: It's Roman times with television, with Christianity thrown in as a bonus plot twist.

This episode has always felt like a script that could have been really cool and awesome if it didn't have to go through the assembly line sausage factory that was TOS filming. Televised gladiatorial combat as entertainment? Within the realm of possibility—contemporary audiences can't seem to get enough of things like The Biggest Loser or Big Brother. A culture where slavery is still the norm? For sure. It's not like we don't still have slavery today, after all. But society that's just a straight Roman empire clone with TV thrown in? Come on, Genes. You can do better than that.

The whole Sun/Son switch-up at the end is what sours this episode for me the most, though. Whenever religion crops up in TOS (or any kind of progressive science fiction from the middle of the century), it just sucks. It seems like token attempt to placate the more conservative, Christian viewers at the time, and it's at total odds with Roddenberry's original vision of the future: "everyone is an atheist and better for it."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I Played: Lord of the Rings: War in the North

This got a brief shout-out from me both on Twitter and in my latest Read Play Blog response. But I think it's worth sparing a few more words here because I don't think Lord of the Rings: War in the North (PS3, 360, PC, and OS X) got the acclaim or recognition it deserved. On Metacritic it has something like 63 / 100. Google aggregates it as 3.5 / 5.

War in the North is basically the first LotR-inspired game I've played all the way through. I've dropped in on a couple of LEGO Lord of the Rings sessions, and there was some weird isometric puzzle one for the GBA for Fellowship of the Ring but I quickly lost the patience for that one. I've also heard tell of the LotR MMOs but MMOs are not my bag. There are games that predate the Peter Jackson movies, mods for preexisting games, and on and on, but despite my love for the books I never played any of them

I am a LotR video game noob and that is where this review is coming from.

JV picked up War in the North because he heard it was a fun hack 'n' slash game to play co-op and we can always use more co-op games. This was to tide us over until Reaper of Souls launched (and then dropped in price), and it ended up being incredibly fun in its own right.

The story of War in the North is contemporaneous with the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Your party engages with Sauron's forces in his northern outposts and, it's implied, help the Fellowship by keeping Sauron distracted. Yeah, being unsung heroes!

The character setup is your standard thief/fighter/mage trilogy: a human ranger, a dwarven fighter, or a lady elf mage. (You also get a giant badass bird after the first dungeon, but he's strictly NPC.) Each class has its own set of skill trees (AW YISS SKILL TREEEEEEEES) for you to puzzle over. Whichever character isn't controlled by a player is controlled by the AI. After meeting Aragorn at the Prancing Pony, off you go to kick some ass and take some names.


The control scheme is intuitive: you have heavy and light attacks and you can defend and counter. Simple, but elegant. Overall the controls are responsive and the fighting is very fluid and easy to get used to. The level design is also fantastic and mostly succeeds at balancing the challenging-versus-fair tension necessary for every successful game. There are long runs of minion hordes, endurance fights against siege weapons, wave survivals, and rewarding bosses and minibosses. (And no bullshit escort missions!) 

Other reviews judge War in the North for being too repetitive, and I see how it could be, but since my personal heaven is an endless hack 'n' slash, I could not give a flying fuck about "repetitive." It's what it says on the tin! MASH THE BUTTONS. KILL THINGS. KNEEL BEFORE ZOD.

The loot system is also impressive. Each helm, armor, or weapon has its own unique style. The same helm will still look different on the ranger than it does on the dwarf or the elf, so every item in the game has been designed three times over. The artists for War in the North did a superlative job with the design.

I freaking loved this game. I did. I loved the hell out of it. It is just sheer fun to play. You can go back and replay previous missions (though you won't be able to fight the unique monsters, minibosses, or bosses) or, if you want to grind or just see how much ass you can kick, you can choose one of two bonus "survival" levels: Lorien or Osgiliath. They're not part of the story in any way. You can just go and kick ass for the hell of it, or to grind a bit for the next dungeon, or to stock up on ammo and potions. Not to mention there are, of course, a wide range of difficulties you can complete the game on if you want to go for that True Completionist Mode. 

I do have a few beefs, however.

1. The story is just too short. You can finish the game (which takes place over the entire trilogy) in a weekend, and that just doesn't feel right for something as epic as Lord of the Rings. I mean yeah there are some sidequests and things, but that's not enough. It could have benefited from some Fallout level NPCs, sidequests, and world exploration.

2.  Ally AI is just dumb as a sack of bricks. Theoretically you can tell your AI player (if you're not playing with two other players) to "attack" or "defend" with up and down on the D-pad, but in practice it's useless and overall the AI-controlled characters are idiots. JV and I played as the mage and the dwarf, respectively. The mage has a pretty essential spell called Sanctuary that blocks enemy missiles and (after some early levels up) heals. It is the backbone of the game. And every time JV would cast it when we needed some healing, the AI-controlled ranger would just stand RIGHT OUTSIDE the dome unless I maneuvered my dwarf as far away from him as possible (without stepping outside the AOE). 

However, the game was designed to be co-op, so I can see why the developers wouldn't want to sink a lot of time into complex AI. The game is designed to be played with other people, not with the computer and definitely not on your own.

3. But the worst issue, by far, is bugs. Game-breaking bugs. This might be less of an issue if you play online or on PSN (which seems to be the style of play the devs were considering the default), but playing co-op with JV was riddled with issues. At one point near the end of the game, because we teleported back to town to do some maintenance before facing a boss, the boss never loaded. The save was totally ruined and we had to start all the way from the beginning. Dying also seemed to trigger some weird buggy issues, as did trying to drop into a game with a higher-level character. We were able to play around these by playing the game on Easy (no dying), doing dungeons in straight runs (no teleporting back to town), and always playing together (no significant level discrepancies). 

Despite these issues, War in the North doesn't get the love it deserves, and I'm bummed that in the 3 years since its initial release, there hasn't been a sequel, a reboot, or at least some fucking patches. It's easy to get into, it's fun, and overall it's designed well.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Birthstones: Turquoise (December)

If cold December gave you birth,
The month of snow and ice and mirth,
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate'er you do.

According to the Kansas City list, December has a few choices (turquoise, blue zircon, tanzanite; lapis lazuli prior), but we'll start with turquoise.

Turquoise is a secondary mineral; instead of forming under heat and pressure like silicates, diamonds, or corundum, it's the result of weathering and oxidation on copper deposits. Its chemical formula is CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8·4H2O, making it a hydrate. On a microscopic level, turqouise looks something like this:


If you want to peek at most of the modern Kansas City birthstones under an Internet microscope (metaphorically), this Japanese website (in English) has a really handy list!

Turquoise forms in arid regions with histories of volcanic activity, and because its formation is highly irregular, the stone can vary significantly in its color and characteristics. Thus, it's become common to refer to turquoise by its mine or place of origin, as turquoise pieces from the same mine share similar characteristics.

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise


Kingman Turquoise


Bisbee Turquoise

Turquoise is one of the oldest precious stones known to civilization and was found and used all around the world, even in ancient times. The ruling classes in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, Egypt, Persia, Tibet, and China (just to name a few) used it as adornment and often as a magical talisman or good luck charm. The oldest known turquoise mine was operating in Egypt as far back as 5500 BCE.

The English word turquoise comes from an Old French word for "Turkish," turqueise. World-renowned for thousands of years, turquoise nonetheless did not make its way to Europe until well into the Common Era via Turkey, though the stone itself originated in mines in Iran. Other, older names for turquoise include callais (according to Pliny the Elder), pirouzeh (Persian, "victory/victorious"), firouzeh (Arabic), and teoxihuitl (Aztec).



Since it's such an old stone, traditions and beliefs about turquoise abound. In Ancient Persia it was believed to be a talisman against, and also a harbinger of, death: it was worn for protection, and a change in the color was believed to be a warning of imminent doom. Turquoise can absolutely change color, but this is the natural result of exposure to radiation (even just sunlight) or chemical reactions with cosmetics, perfumes, or the oils of the skin.

The Zunis and Apache tribes in the New World also sported turquoise. According to Apache lore, turquoise improved aim. The Zunis believed that it improved a horse's sure-footedness and prevented the rider from being injured from a fall or throw.

Turquoise is a soft, porous mineral—about a 6 on the Mohs scale. It can absorb perfumes and scents very easily; if turquoise is going to be part of your ensemble on a night out, apply any perfumes/hair sprays/etc. before putting on your jewelry. Do not store turquoise in airtight containers (like opal, it needs some ambient moisture), and be careful not to leave it with particularly malodorous items, lest it pick some of it up. It is also very susceptible to the solvents used in most cleaning solutions; instead, it's best to clean turquoise with a soft toothbrush and plain water.

Because turquoise is so soft, it often undergoes treatments to increase its hardness and durability. These include waxing and oiling (using wax or oil to fill the natural fissures of the stone), backing (using adhesive to attach a thin slice of turquoise to a more durable back), and stabilization (similar to waxing and oiling, but using an epoxy or sodium silicate instead). Dull pieces are often dyed with Prussian blue to enhance their color. Gemologists can determine what treatment a stone has been subjected to, but those tests are often destructive (ruining the color of whatever portion is tested). There is also reconstituted turquoise: flakes and turquoise powder useless on its own combined and suspended in a resin. This often referred to as "block" turquoise, or sometimes just "block."

Naturally, turquoise being so popular, it is often imitated. Not all reconstituted turquoise contains any turquoise at all: often, block turquoise is nothing but resin and dye. Howlite, a white, porous stone with gray veins, is often dyed to resemble turquoise. Some stores are up front about this and some are not. I've also noticed that people on Etsy will tag anything veiny and light blue as turquoise, though if you read carefully it's "turquoise variscite" or "teal howlite" or whatever. Read those item descriptions carefully! And there is no such thing was "white turquoise": I suspect that's a sexed-up term for howlite.


Friday, October 17, 2014

101 in 1001: Lothlorien!

I made it safely through Moria and past the Balrog to get to Lothlorien!


Soon I'm going to have to decide which route I want to take first: go with the hobbits to Isengard to Isengard! Or go with the rest of the Fellowship on a slightly different route to Isengard?



I have also accomplished a few other things that are much less dramatic: eating loads of fresh produce (grapes and smoothies are my favorite summertime snack), blogging regularly, finally getting a new images for my blog header/Etsy banner/FB photo, etc. That last one is probably the only other thing that's at all interesting. Now everything matches across all my platforms: Facebook, Etsy, the blog, and Twitter. It's convenient to have a boyfriend who enjoys working with the GIMP and graphic design!