Monday, October 31, 2011

virtual life

I'm a real sucker for artificial life games, although it seems like no one makes them anymore. My favorite game of all time is Creatures 2. It had 3 species of creatures: the cute Norns, the industrious Ettins and the dangerous Grendels. Each individual creature has it's own digital DNA, with genes that control their biochemistry, organs, brains and appearance.

Creatures 2 Ettin, Grendel and Norn
Raising Norns was a challenge, they were very dumb and hard to keep alive. It wasn't uncommon for a Norn to die of starvation, surrounded by cheese blocks, and me telling it to "EAT FOOD", damnit. But all those hardships made it so much more rewarding. They lived in a world that had an interesting ecosystem: plants, insects and animals that lived their own life cycle, independent of what the player is doing, though you could also influence them. There was a splice machine, vulcano, oceans, deserts... I loved this game so much that I started working on my own Norn breed, which looked like red squirrels, although I never finished it.

my  own Norn breed

Now, it's about 10 years ago that the last creatures game was released. The docking station servers are down, downloadable content is no longer available, none of the games work properly on the newer operating systems anymore...the games are truly dead. And there haven't been any new games in the artificial life genre that I know of. It seems to be a niche that no one cares about, and no one wants to develop games for. It's such a wide, open field,  with a lot of possibilities...It's a shame. I wish that I was a programmer, so I could develop my own artificial life form.

Currently, a new Creatures game, Creatures 4, is being developed by the Belgian indie game studio Fishing Cactus. I've never heard of them, but I hope that they'll do a good job. The game should be released early 2012.
The graphics look very simplistic and colorful. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I just hope that it's not an indication that the rest of the game will be simple, childish and lax any complexity. The Norns look so different from all the previous games. They just aren't cute. Their eyes are too small, and they look like little trolls. On top of that, there won't be any Ettins and Grendels in this game. I just hope that they don't downgrade the importance of ecology, biochemistry and genetics, which were very present in the previous games. I'm a little concerned because only genetic feature that I've heard them talk about in their interviews is colour... Let's hope that they didn't dumb it down to just that.

After I found out about the new Creatures game, I started playing Creatures 3 again. Boy, what I've seen of Creatures 4 looks very bad compared to it predecessor. But there's another type of virtual life being developed that looks a lot more promising...Grandroids!

This is a new game/research project of Steve Grand, the person that was responsible for making the artificial life engine used in the Creatures series. It will have real virtual alien life forms that can live in a virtual world.

I'm not talking about a computer game designed to simulate lifelike behavior; I mean genuine artificial life. I mean virtual creatures constructed from complex networks of virtual brain cells and biochemical reactions and genes. They'll learn things for themselves and have their own thoughts. I don't program them to behave in a certain way - they make their own decisions. If they get sick it will be because something has disturbed the delicate balance of their biochemistry, and remedies must be discovered that can rebalance it. If they evolve new traits or suffer from unknown hereditary diseases it'll be because nature has taken its course, not because it's part of the plot. If you conclude that they're conscious, thinking, feeling beings then it won't be because I've somehow fooled you. I'm not here to fool you; I'm here to celebrate the beauty and complexity of life with you...I think I have the key to an artificial life form that can actually think. Norns could react but they couldn’t think – they couldn’t make plans, have hopes or intentions, dream dreams, learn physical skills, etc. Higher consciousness can’t exist without an imagination either. It remains to be seen how smart they actually prove to be but they’ll certainly be much more realistic than the norns in lots of ways and hopefully a lot more fun to look after.

Seriously, that stuff is so interesting. He's a computer scientist and life philosopher, and what he's basically doing is being a God, creating new life that lives in a virtual world... And by doing something like that, you can learn a great deal about what life is really about. It's a different approach than scientists use in the lab; instead of researching life that's already there, making life of your own. Both ways will teach you a great deal about life forms.

These games are a perfect mixture between fun and educational for me. They stimulate my mind in many ways.

If you want to read more about Grandroids: faqinterviewkickstarter

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ordering jewelry on ebay

One of my newest discoveries: there is cheap jewelry for sale on ebay. For about $1-3, you can buy very nice and fashionable necklaces, including free shipping from China. Sometimes they look a bit different than in the ebay photo, but only minor differences and they always look nice.

Some examples of things that I bought:

owl; the colors looked less intense on the ebay picture

another owl; it had white diamond eyes on the ebay picture though


eaten apple

Sunday, October 23, 2011

aquarium update

I added 3 more Endlers, so now I have 9. I think that I'll add 2-3 more, and that should be enough. I really don't want to overstock.

I've also added 2 red ramshorn snails to the tank. They add some extra colour and life, but..they also proliferate like crazy.

Ramshorn snail eggs on the glass. They almost exclusively lay
eggs on the plants, though.

This is how big the babies are, 3 weeks after I put the parents in the tank.
They sure do grow fast.
I also have small pond snails that probably came with my plants. I've started removing all the snail eggs that I can see from my tank, so I don't get a snail plague. But because I also feel bad about just throwing the eggs away, so I put them in a cup next to my window with salvina natans in it and give them small pieces of vegetable as food. I'm hoping that they will start proliferating less rapidly. If not, I'm thinking that I should get one of those cool assasin snails (Anentome helena). Would surely make things more interesting, but I'm not sure that my aquarium is big enough to keep one fed without completely destroying my population of other snails. 

The mondo grass was starting to look bad, so I took it out of my aquarium and planted it with my sanseveria's. As compensation, I added a moss ball to my aquarium. They seem pretty neat, because they are actually algae, they should prevent other algae from growing by competing with them for nutrients. I've  also read that fish sometimes nibble on it, which could help them survive the weekends, when I can't feed them.
My aquarium as it is now. Note the moss ball (right).
As floating plants, I have salvina natans, duckweed and some unknown plant. I got the latter two from the water in which my Endlers were transported. They all seem to be thriving in my aquarium and have grown quite a bit.

Top view of my aquarium

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A song of ice and fire

About a month ago, I ordered a boxed set of the first 4 books of George R. R. Martin's series "A song of ice and fire" on I did this after watching the HBO series "A game of thrones", of which the first season is based on the first book. The TV series was very good, so I decided to give the books a try, after reading a few chapters online first.

By now, I've read the first book and I must say that George R. R. Martin writes very well. The story is very intriguing, and although I already knew what was going to happen because I watched the TV series, it was still a good read. 

Before buying the boxed set, I was pondering for weeks whether to buy it or not. Mostly, I was worried about the quality of the print. I had read some reviews saying that the cover breaks easily, the paper being too thin and the print too small. But I finally decided that it was worth the risk of paying €15 for about 3500 pages to read. (Damn, just checked and they sell it for €13 now! I feel so ripped off...)
So, I'm posting this review to help other crazy people like me decide to buy it. I really am crazy in this aspect, I looked at any review I could find, photos of every detail. These pictures were taken today, after I read the first book. I took it with me on the train, bus, on the plane to Africa and it even survived the horrible mess that was my suitcase while I stayed in the middle of the Kruger park. You can see that the edges have a bit of damage, there's also a crack in the middle of the spine. But those things are very minor and don't bother me at all. The print is fine and the paper is thin, like other reviewers said, but still it's easy enough to read. All in all, I think it's very good value for the small price that I paid for it and I'm looking forward to reading the second book.