Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ATTACK TERROR ZEPPELIN

I have no idea how long this will stay here, but for the time being enjoy a documentary on zeppelins.



I've always loved airships. So it deeply saddens me that the only form of air transportation today is stuffy, cramped airplanes. People flew in style in the past;  they had big, luxurious balloons to travel in, fine dining and spacious cabins. You didn't arrive as quickly as you would in a jet, but you didn't have to; not when the journey was half the reason for traveling.

While lighter-than-air vehicles are making something of a comeback, there's still plenty of bias against them. People hold onto this belief that zeppelins are just flying tanks of napalm, ready to go up in flames at a moments notice. But as that video shows that simply is not the case.

The problem is that the worst zeppelin disaster in history was probably also the most well documented. It completely transformed the public's perception of these machines, souring their opinion of them virtually overnight. Any mention of airships or zeppelins inevitably recalls it's name: Hindenburg.

Cruise ships are constantly coming back to harbor full of people suffering from food-borne diseases, but people still go on cruises. There are countless car crashes on the road every day, but we still use them. If your average passenger jet's engines fail it's going to start falling out of the sky. So why do airships get such a bad reputation?

If a zeppelin's engines suddenly fail it'll stay in the air. It will start drifting, but it's not like it's going to drop out of the sky. Because it's a zeppelin. It's buoyant.

The frustrating thing is that all the problems associated with the Hindenburg are easily rectified using modern technology: Don't use hydrogen gas, don't use flammable paint. Easy. Problem solved.

If the Hindenburg were rebuilt today using helium gas it would probably be the safest thing in the air (and that's including birds). Hydrogen was the fatal flaw in all old zeppelin designs. If they used slightly more massive helium they wouldn't have any problems with flammable gas leaks. To the contrary, they would be nigh-indestructible.

If you haven't seen the video all the way though, the British eventually learned how to destroy the German zeppelins using alternating explosive and incendiary ammo to punch large holes in the gas bags. This would let enough oxygen inside to start a fire. Using concentrated fire, they could ignite the hydrogen, resulting in the complete conflagration of the airship. You know what would foil that plan? Helium.

If they used helium gas it would be impossible to fill those zeppelins with enough bullets to bring them down. They would bomb all of London with complete impunity and no one could do anything to stop them.

Don't get me wrong; I'm glad London isn't a smoking crater. I just feel the need to point out a rigid airship full of helium is basically indestructible. Last time I checked, the 747 can't boast indestructibility.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dirty, Filthy Birds

It's Bunday, which means it's time for us to revisit our home away from home: Ōkunoshima, also known as Rabbit Island.



Speaking of which, I'm now accepting donations for the Shadgrimgrvy Relocation Fund. Your generous donations will go to a good cause: shipping me to Ōkunoshima, where I will live the rest of my life. With your help, we can raise enough to buy me a plane ticket and keep me hidden from the Japanese authorities for years to come. Plus, donations of $25 dollars or more will receive a stylish tote bag.

Every little bit helps.

But that's not all; I actually have some map related news if you can believe it. It isn't Lost Highway though, it's an entirely new project.

Someone messaged me on Steam a few months ago, describing their idea for a new game mode in Garry's Mod. Essentially what they were making was a single-player campaign, with multiple player characters who's scenarios were all part of an overarching story. It sounded good to me, but what really caught my attention was the setting, which was so unusual I eventually gave in and agreed to make a map for them.

Their plan, as it turns out, was to make a game mode based on The Birds with the player having to defend themself against huge flocks of ravenous, eye-peaking birds. They would have to scavenge ammo and equipment from around the map during the rare moments of calm before they started to attack again, with the ultimate goal of seeing how long they could survive against endless waves of dirty, filthy birds.

I've only seen a couple of demonstration videos so far, but the idea really translates into a game well. It's incredibly creepy seeing a flock of birds rushing the player, even when using the seagull and crow models from Half-Life 2. Plus, where else are you going to see a Hitchcock video game?

We've occasionally discussed his plans for the mod and it's all starting to sound very involved. Custom models, in-game cutscenes and of course programming to make the birds actually do damage, since it seems impossible to do so with mapping inputs (believe me, we've tried).


The map I've made was based on the schoolhouse in Bodega Bay. Surprisingly, there weren't very many reference photos for the interior. But going by what appeared in the movie and what little I could glean from an old newspaper I made something that might make sense, going by what I thought it would probably look like inside.

I haven't seen how well my map works as a playing field, but I haven't received any complaints yet so I assume everything's fine. I included plenty of fog on the assumption that it would hide the map's borders and obscure the bird's approach, giving them ample time to sneak up on the player and peak out their eyes.

From what I gather there's at least two other people making maps for the game mode and by now, I'm actually really eager to see what they look like. I discussed it with D.E.L.B. a few weeks ago and we both agreed there should be levels based on other Hitchcock movies too. Imagine it, fighting off swarms of seagulls at the Bate's Motel or inside James Stewart's apartment. Heck, there could even be a map that takes place on top of Mount Rushmore.

I have no idea how many people are actually involved by this point, but there's at least one person making concept art for each character and map, including mine:


I actually think his picture looks better than what ended up being the .bsp file. If I could go back and rework the textures a bit, make the grass more overgrown and unmanagable or make the fog thicker I think I would be happy. But as it is I'm actually really optimistic for this project. It sounds like a great idea and from the work I've seen so far it has a lot of promise.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Order In The Next Five Minutes

I still feel bad about making so few posts last year. I don't know why it happened, it just did. So, I've resolved to not repeat that mistake and write plenty more posts this year. It's 2014 and I'm going to buffet you readers with a neverending whirlwind of album covers and nasty international cuisine. And yet I run into the same problems; my original plan for a long, rambling speech on the future of the Half-Life franchise wasn't going anywhere. So instead, here's some videos of guns:



No, I'm serious.



There's a whole channel of this stuff.



Floating around out there is a huge collection of gun videos. And it's set to smooth jazz of all things. Part of me wants to know why these videos exist, but mostly I feel like I don't want to know. I get this awful feeling like I've stumbled upon some black market Internet gun catalog. It's like they want me to buy one of these machine guns and smooth jazz is their way of enticing me. Or maybe these videos were meant for a specific customer, like they were supposed to be encrypted but weren't. And now that I've seen too much this shadowy organization needs to send a hitman after me. That means I'm in danger.

And now that you've seen them that means you're in danger too.

Of course, it may just be footage from some Japanese documentary, but it's so much more entertaining to imagine the worst.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fruit Of My Labor

My original plan was to write about the "5 Most Heinous Doomsday Devices of the Cold War". But that's not happening this week. Instead, you're going to read about something even more frightening than nuclear annihilation...

...exotic fruit.

Buddha's Hand


Native To: Either China or India

What it looks like: A lemon crossed with an octopus.

Buddha's Hand is a kind of citron; a citrus fruit related to lemons. It's also a tentacled monstrosity.

Buddha's Hands are typically too small to eat, juiceless and sometimes even seedless. But they have a very thick peel which makes a good zest. They're also very fragrant. Generally, Buddha's Hand is cultivated for ornamentation and fragrance, with only nominal use in cuisine. I guess you could glue googly-eyes to it too if you wanted.

Fruit of Hala


Native To: The Pacific Islands

What it looks like: A cross-section of the Earth, or some kind of demented golf ball.

This suspiciously grenade-shaped fruit goes by many names; Thatch Screwpine, Hala, Fala, Bacua, Vacquois, Mudu keyiya. But from what I can gather, Hala doesn't actually taste very good. In fact, it's full of stringy fibers that can make it very unpleasant to eat. Most of Hala's value comes from what it can be made into; baskets, thatch roofs, sails, even grass skirts. And maybe, in a pinch, you could actually convince someone it's a grenade.

Pitahaya (Dragon Fruit)


Native To: Central America

What it looks like: A sacktick.

Dragon fruit is a variety of cactus apples belonging to the genus Hylocereus. Despite it's vibrant color, Pitahaya apparently only has a very mildly sweet taste, with a texture comparable to kiwis. Only the creamy pulp and seeds are edible. Apparently it's also used to make wine.

Cherimoya


Native To: Probably Central America, but grown throughout South Asia, South America and California

What it looks like: A pangolin crossed with an avocado.

If I was stuck on an island and forced to eat something from this list, I would want it to be Cherimoya. Cherimoya is described as a strange combination of pineapple, banana, strawberry and even peach and papaya, all with a texture like sherbert. It's also said to taste like bubblegum, so I don't know what to believe.

Whatever it is, it must be good. It got Mark Twain's seal of approval, who said the Cherimoya is "the most delicious fruit known to men.". With a reputation like that, I can't help but wonder why I haven't heard of it before. 

Ackee


Native To: West Africa, but popular in Jamaica

What it looks like: An Alien

On the other hand, if there's one thing I would desperately like to avoid, it would be ackee. Despite being native to West Africa, ackee is most common in the Caribbean where it forms half of Jamaica's national dish: Ackee and saltfish. Despite this, I can't actually find out what this stuff is supposed to taste like. When cooked, it's said to have a texture eerily similar to scrambled eggs, without actually tasting like it.

Also, fun fact: the black, eye-like seeds and skin are completely inedible and, in fact, dangerously toxic. Both contain hypoglycin A and B which can result in acute illness called Jamaican vomiting sickness. When unripe, the whole fruit, even the otherwise edible arils are dangerous to eat. How something that causes hypoglycemia ever became cultivated as food, let alone became part of a national dish is a mystery.

Oh and I wasn't joking about it looking like an alien. Compare ackee to the alien pilots from The Thing. Coincidence or family resemblance?


It's the eyes I tell you.

Monstera Deliciosa


Native To:  Southern Mexico

What it looks like: A banana-snake hybrid.

Monstera deliciosa is a species of flowering plant native to the rainforests of southern Mexico, typically cultivated as houseplants. As you can guess, they also produce fruit. These apparently delicious monsters are said to have a taste similar to jackfruit or pineapple. But you have to make sure to brush away the scales that grow on the outside of the fruit, as they contain calcium oxalate, which can't be anything but unpleasant to eat.

That's all there is to it really. I don't know how excited you can get to eat the fruit from a plant growing in your hotel lobby.

Carambola (Star Fruit)


Native To: The South Pacific and East Asia

What it looks like: I don't have a clue.

Star fruit are grown absolutely everywhere, which is appropriate, because unlike most everything else on this list, the entire fruit is edible, even the skin. They have a grape-like texture and a taste like a combination of apple, pear and grape. They're slightly tart, due to having a much lower sugar content than most fruit. In Australia, they're typically either pickled or turned into jam.

But really, most of the appeal is probably pretending they're little starfishes.

Black Sapote (Chocolate Pudding Fruit)


Native To: East Mexico and Central America

What it looks like: A rotten tomato.

Alright, besides Cherimoya this is the one fruit I would like to try. This might be surprising because it looks just like a mushy tomato. Black sapote is actually a species of persimmon and is said to have a texture similar to papaya. It's skin is inedible. But that's okay, because Black Sapote's real claim to fame is that, apparently, it taste just like chocolate pudding.

How? I have no idea. But everywhere I go I hear the same thing: this fruit has the exact same taste and consistency as chocolate pudding. Honestly, it sounds like the kind of thing a little kid would make up. But no, apparently this is a real fruit. And somehow, it hasn't already cornered the entire worldwide fruit market.

Go figure.

Durian


Native To: Southeast Asia

What it looks like: A spiky Tribble.

Durian is basically the archetypical exotic fruit. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground with Durian; either you love it or you think it's revolting. The biggest reason for this is it's unusual flavor and infamously pungent stench. The smell of Durian has been described as something like gym socks, raw sewage and vomit and no one seems to be able to adequately describe what it tastes like. Anthony Bourdain just called it 'indescribable' and left it at that. Others have tried to compare it to rich, almond-flavored custard.

Whatever it tastes like, Durian is almost always under some kind of ban in the countries that grow it. In Thailand, it's illegal to bring Durian on the subway, in public buildings or in airports due to it's formidable stink.

Nevermind trying it, I'm not sure I want to be on the same continent as this stuff.

Akebia


Native To: Japan

What it looks like: A sea cucumber.

Akebia gets a lot of attention in Japanese literature where it's used to evoke a pastoral setting. Authors often describe an idyllic childhood out in the country where they would forage in the hills for akebia. In spite of this, there's isn't much demand for the stuff. The fruit isn't imported anywhere but urban Japan and even then it's mostly as a novelty.

The white, translucent pulp is edible and described as having a sweet, but ultimately bland taste. This is a shame, because you'd expect such a vibrantly purple fruit to be, like, psychoactive or something.

Jabuticaba


Native To: Southeastern Brazil

What it looks like:  Those scarabs from The Mummy.

As far as I can tell, Jabuticaba is the only fruit to grow on tree trunks. And honestly? That frightens me.

But it can't be all bad. I've only ever heard it's taste described as sweet, with a rosy-white, gelatinous texture. Plus, it's apparently full of antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds. The reason why it isn't exported to other countries is because of it's extremely short shelf life. But within it's native Brazil Jabuticaba is used to make jam, wine and tarts.

That's good, because otherwise I'd be afraid of them growing legs and walking around like the robot spy from Jonny Quest.

Monday, December 30, 2013

PARANOIA DAY 2013

Well I'm back. I never bothered to mention it here, but our family was out camping all last week. We were staying at Agua Caliente, a little patch of desert nestled at the base of a hot spring near San Diego. It's a great, desolate environment that I hadn't had the chance to visit for several years. Besides the trees at the base of the hills, it's completely flat, with nothing but cacti and desert shrubs for miles around. The air was very clear, which let one see as far as the other side of the valley. If the hills weren't there, I'd imagine it would be possible to see all the way to the Salton Sea.

But more than anything, I was surprised by how quiet it was there. If one is standing on a hiking trail far from camp, it's completely dead silent. Several times when I was out walking, I would go a little off the trails, sit on a boulder and listen to the sound of blood in my own ears. I don't think I have ever encountered such perfect, deafening silence before.

I had a great time there; the silence, isolation, the sheer asceticism, it was all wonderful. It's why I've always liked the desert. It's such a strange, otherworldly place.

And speaking of strange, otherworldly places. Today is the Fourth Annual PARANOIA DAY!

Paranoia was released four years ago today and each year we have commemorated it with a special holiday that I hope will eventually replace Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and even Festivus as the holiday of the holiday season. Paranoia Day is a special time of year where your entire family forms elaborate, disturbing conspiracies against you. It's the time to quietly rearrange furniture and personal items, then pretend it's always been like that so your loved ones start to question their perception of reality. Paranoia Day is, of course, also a time to make cakes in the shape of doors.

Sadly, we didn't have anything planned for Paranoia Day this year. Everyone was too partied out already from camping, it seems. But next year! Ho boy. We'll have triangular cakes. And we'll build staircases that don't lead anywhere. And send each other vaguely threatening letters. And there will be cosmic despair and existential dread for everyone.

That's what the holidays are really about.