Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Power Ranger for life

Holy Crap! I just now looked at this article sent to me by a friend: a former Power Ranger has joined the UFC wrestling guild and challenged Jean Claude van Damme to a fight.

Ordinarily, I don't like linking to news articles in a blog post because a) they're of limited duration, and b) everyone else is linking to them on their MyFace tweets too, so they don't need to be covered by me.

But this one is special. Because, if you refer back to one of my earliest posts, you'll know that I'm a hardcore Power Rangers fan. Keep in mind, I was in college when Power Rangers originated, in 1992 or '93. I used to skip philosophy and religion classes in order to watch the show.

Jason David Frank was the first person to expand the ORIGINAL (and most awesome) crew of five rangers, taking up the mantle of the previously unknown Green Ranger. Only, in reality, he was a thrall of the evil Rita Repulsa and single-handedly defeated all five rangers — in part due to her mystical aid, but mostly because he was that stinkin' awesome. But just before Rita could kill them once and for all, he overcame her control and saved the team. Shortly thereafter he became the most pure and powerful ranger of all — the legendary White Ranger, and led the team to many a victory against Rita and her replacement, the evil Lord Zedd.

JDF went on to star in more subsequent incarnations of Power Rangers than any other actor, even taking on the role of archaeology professor / mentor to the group of rangers in Power Rangers: Dino Thunder.

And all this just pours right out of my experiential memory. I am such a dork.

But as far as I'm concerned, there's no one better to whip JCvD's ass. Look out Jean Claude - it's morphin' time!

(I apologize for the lack of images in this post. I wanted to add a LOT of them, but in searching for images, I started reading blogs and quickly got distracted.I haven't sussed it out yet, but there might be a new PR series (or maybe just a new season of PR: Jungle Fury) starting next month!

Now reading: Catching up on my pile of comics - Detective Comics, Ex Machina, Sword, and Doctor Sleepless.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero

Book review 2010.04

Author: Robert Kaplan

A summary of this book from chapter 15: “We have come to know zero intimately in its mathematical, physical and psychological embodiments. It remains elusive.”

After reading three really enjoyable novels, I decided a change of pace was in order. This is one of those books that’s been on my shelf for some time. It’s a recent work, as academic treatises go, from 1999, and purports to be a historical look at the role of zero in mathematics since the dawn of time.

You see, ancient peoples didn’t have zero in their math because they were, as Kaplan describes it so well, only using numbers to represent heaps of things and exchanges of goods and monies. They weren’t doing any fancy theoretical maths.

The first section of this book explores that history and how the concept of zero evolved in math and in philosophy. It turns out that our beloved null spent time as the representation of the evil absence – the void; and at other times as the embodiment of brahman and God - all that is.

My reaction to this book is conflicted. Kaplan is an entertaining writer and a master of the food metaphor. His explanations and mathematical examples are clear and concise. And there isn’t too much math; I didn’t walk away from the book at any time feeling like I had bombed his test. Overall, I enjoyed the exploration.

Should any of you care to borrow the book, you can expect short examinations of the mathematics of Greece, India, and the Middle East, all of whom intermingled their ideas, creating a wonderful melting pot of mathematic theory. He also addresses the Mayans, who developed their science in isolation.

The author naturally makes his way to the Middle Ages where mathematics really evolved into our modern forms. He doesn’t dwell on any period or place overly much, and only discussed my heroes Descartes and Leibniz in passing. (I admit that I sneered when he referred to Leibniz as the “co-founder” of the calculus. While I’m glad everyone plays nicely together for the love of the craft, I’m just an armchair mathematician, so I can pick a favorite, and for me, it’s my man Gottfried.)

What I had trouble with was his philosophical meanderings, especially in the latter part of the book. After covering the role of zero in mathematics and philosophy, which was the real meat of the book and done very well, Kaplan branches out to explore zero's roles in the physical world and psychology. And that got boring pretty quick. Still, I couldn’t stop reading because I was in the home stretch and as I said, Kaplan is a skilled writer. He kept the math/philosophy/psychology geek in me entertained in his winter wonderland enough to shovel my way through that unending snowfall that is the last quadrant of the book.

If you like mathematics or philosophy as much as I do, it’s worth a read. I certainly learned some stuff and enjoyed the ride. But for the other 98% of you, don’t bother.

While I’m on the topic, I’ll point you to two other excellent books for your math fix. First, for a wonderful read on the history of math and philosophy in the Middle Ages, check out Descartes’ Secret Notebook by Amir D. Aczel. I read this book last year and enjoyed every minute of it. It was more dry than Kaplan, but had a very strong historical essay bent. And of course, covered my favorites in detail: Descartes, Leibniz, Galileo, and a bunch of others.

Next, for a fun way to brush up on your basic math and math theory, please do yourself a favor and read The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (I own that one and would be glad to loan it to you.)

And now I’ll leave you with my favorite line from this book: “Pause a moment to savor the bouquet of so absurd a situation.”

Friday, February 05, 2010

Gamers raising money for Haiti

The RPG download store, DriveThruRPG (also known as RPGNow) recently made the gaming community an offer we couldn't refuse: donate $20 to Doctors Without Borders in exchange for a ton of gaming materials donated by a big list of gaming publishers.

This offer ran through the end of January, and now that the whizzing of the computers has settled down, they have their final tally. Table top gamers threw down an amazing $178,900 in support of helping Haiti. That's a major donation for humanitarian aid that came about because the people who run our favorite gaming supply store took the trouble and time to rally the publishers for contributions of products to sweeten the pot for us gamers.

Many of these publishers are normal men and women for whom these products represent a major investment of time and money, and not giant gaming conglomerates. The goons running the music industry would have us believe that artists and creators can't afford to and shouldn't give away their creative properties. Well these artists and creators decided that a major loss in sales and profits of their core products was a small price to pay in order to entice much-needed donations out of their very tiny pool of customers. Well, at $20 a pop, apparently our little community isn't so tiny after all!

I lift my glass to all of these people: the gamers who donated their money, the publishers who donated their works, and most of all, DriveThruRPG / RPGNow for pulling it all together so quickly. But the real winners are Doctors Without Borders.

Read their official announcement here.