If youâ€™ve been commenting to my last few blog posts on the World of Warcraft, or you have a scientific hypothesis of your own about the nature of Azeroth and how it came to be that way, or you have too much time on your hands and enjoy thinking about stuff that doesn’t make sense, then I have created a Google Group to act as a venue for the continuation of the valuable discussions begun here. Itâ€™s called Azeroth Science and I urge you to sign up to it.
I note that my previous post has sparked some academic debate in certain circles relating to the validity of my research techniques and data. Therefore before we embark into a new area of discussion, I must address some of the comments addressed to my previous data. Specifically these relate to two areas: (1) is Azeroth, the World of Warcraft, spherical or flat? And (2) if itâ€™s spherical, how can we accurately gauge how large a sphere it is?
To address point (2) first: there are two existing illustrations of Azeroth as a sphere: the globes that can be seen at various locations in the World of Warcraft, including in Dire Maul and Moonglade:
and the view of a planet assumed to be Azeroth that can be seen from Shadowmoon Valley in Outland:
Both give an equivalent view of Azeroth-as-sphere: the known continents occupy a roughly 180-degree arc of the surface, with the remaining area (in the Moonglade globe) filled with ocean and occasional small islands. That is the premise that underlay my initial observations and measurements.
But all this is moot. Other empirical evidence demonstrates clearly that the world of Azeroth is flat, the maps and globes are wrong, and the view from Shadowmoon Valley is an optical illusion. To illustrate this, here is a picture of a troll standing on a thin pathway that divides the Great Sea from the edge of the world. If the existing maps of the World of Warcraft are to be believed, this should be somewhere off the eastern coast of Dustswallow Marsh, between Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, and well south of the Maelstrom.
Since no sphere can have an edge with an apparently bottomless drop, this means the World of Warcraft is fucking flat, all right?
The pathway at the edge of the world shown above does not run around the entire perimeter of the world or even around Kalimdor, or we could have used the walking-measure described in part 1 to work out the size of the rectangle around the continent. But from visual observation, we have to report that Azeroth seems to exist on the end of a very tall pillar; possibly two or even three very tall pillars, one for each continent. In other words, please disregard pretty much everything I wrote in Part 1 because it’s balls.
We can make no firm statements about the length or breadth of the World of Warcraft, or its density, which leaves too many variables unknown to calculate the height of these pillars. We are not sure why the sea doesnâ€™t fall through the side of the pillar, since it does not seem to be solid. We are also not sure what the bottom of the pillar is resting on, but it may well be a turtle. This is all so improbable that you should ignore the last three sentences of this paragraph, including this one.
However, we still have to accept that Azeroth (a) is flat, (b) is quite small, and (c) does not rotate relative to the stars around it. Point (d) is that its sun and moon behave in a manner that makes no gravitational sense. Azeroth has a single sun that rises in the north-west and sets some hours later, also in the north-west. Shadows cast by it point persistently south-east, though this does not seem to affect vegetation that grows in this perpetual shade. Azeroth also has a single moon, which also rises in the north-west and sets in the north-west. If it has phases and eclipses then none have been reported.
It is hard to explain this movement of Azerothâ€™s celestial bodies unless we assume that they are acting under the influence of gravity itselfâ€”rising above the horizon, reaching a zenith, and falling back below the horizon, where something reverses their momentum and propels them back upwards, once every day. Our personal theory is that beneath the level of the horizon is a very large giant juggling very slowly, but we have no hard evidence to support this.
(The cosmic physicist Doctor Myles Corcoran suggests that Azeroth could be an Alderson Disk, a large or infinite plane with holes of sufficient size through which the sun and moon oscillate back and forth endlessly. This implies two things: that at some point the plane of Azeroth, if such it is, loses its atmosphere and becomes frictionless vacuum; and the deity, intelligent designer(s), Old Gods, Titans or whatever other beings may have been involved in the creation of Azeroth are massive SF geeks. Frankly we prefer our theory with the giant.)
Despite the comparatively low surface gravity, it is clear that the atmosphere of Azeroth is much thicker than Earth’s. Without this density of gas the various giant insects and spiders would not be able to breathe, and the dragons, wyverns, hippogriffs, other large flying creatures and surprisingly small zeppelins would never get airborne, let alone carry large passengers. The ratio of gases in the atmosphere is unclear: the same flame that can set a massive stone creature or water elemental ablaze in an instant is unable to make the slightest impact on a tree, wooden building or field of dry grass. Ordinary fires will also burn underwater, which implies something very interesting but Iâ€™m not sure what.
The apparent density of the atmosphere also explains one of Azeroth’s more puzzling features: the fact that it is difficult to see clearly for more than a few hundred metres in any direction. While visibility over short distances is clear, large objects such as buildings and geographical features are either indistinct or completely invisible at distances of more than a few hundred metres. At closer range objects, mostly other living beings, come into sharper relief as the viewer approaches in a manner that suggests that either every inhabitant of Azeroth is strongly myopic, or there is something in the air that causes this effect. I will return to this subject in the third part of this paper, on the ecology of Azeroth.
Meanwhile my esteemed colleague Professor Sulka Haro of the University of Habbo has observed that the majority of the zones of Azeroth have no wind. In fact only one zone experiences wind, the desert region Tanaris, and that only sporadically, which may be due to factors other than climate. This must indicate, he hypothesises, that there is absolute thermic entropy in Azeroth. This is supported by the fact the lava one sees coming out of the volcanoes is so that characters can could safely walk on it (though this may be an artefact of the frictionless pads on their feetâ€”see above). It may also go some way to explain how zones of intense volcanic activity can sit a few hundred metres from zones of perpetual snow without the former turning the latter to slush.
(Prof. Haro expands his thesis to cover insect lifeâ€”â€I haven’t seen any pollinators around, yet people are able to farm. The Azerothians crop must hence all be self-pollinating. But how is this, with no wind? Most bafflingâ€â€”and the small animal lifeâ€”â€œI’ve also come to the conclusion that the Azerothian rabbits are either herbivores that reproduce by seeds, or are parasitesâ€ but here we begin to impinge on the subject of the third part of this paper, the ecology of Azeroth, and we should hold back to let your minds digest the meat of this instalment, in much the way that the stomachs of WoW’s wildlife donâ€™t.)
I am disappointed at the small number of essays I have received so far. More application and less fieldwork, class!
In certain circles there’s been a lot of excitement about the Current Cost, a meter that clamps to your mains electricity cable and measures how much power your household is using, comparing usage over time with numbers and little graphs. Evidence shows that having a device like this can save you 15% on your electricity bills. Plus it’s, you know, data.
What sets the Current Cost apart from its competition is the fact that on its underside is what looks like an RJ-45 port. This is entirely undocumented—neither the manual nor the website acknowledge that it exists—but geeks being geeks, there has been a flurry of enthusiasm and people bodging together cables to get the data off the machine and onto PCs and the web.
There’s no official software for this. We know the device spits out an XML packet every six seconds, and people have been grabbing that and feeding it into Google Charts or homebrew solutions. The Current Cost website gives a demo of an interesting-looking app which is apparently under development but not released yet. And it’s only a matter of time before people start aggregating their data using a service like AMEE, and then things get interesting.
The chief stumbling block till now has been the lack of a cable to physically get data from CC to PC. People have created their own—apparently it’s TTL to RS232,3.3V, running at 2400 baud—but I bring the glad tidings that you can put down your crimpers and Maplin catalogue because Current Cost sell data-cables to those in the know. Send a cheque or purchase order for £11.12 per cable (£7.95 + VAT and shipping) to:
Current Cost Ltd (attn: Steve Allen)
1 The Mews
Surrey GU7 1NN
And in the UK you can buy Current Cost from here, £28 plus shipping.
Not strictly games-related business, I know, but if we can turn data-gathering of this kind into a game-like behaviour, with status rewards for greatest improvement and so on, then energy-conscious behaviour ceases being a worthy chore and becomes something that you want to do. People used to game Last FM in the early days when it was still Audioscrobbler, running multiple simultaneous iterations of Winamp and iTunes to push their ‘tracks played’ total higher than anyone else’s, just to have the biggest number on the site. Pointless but fun.
If you engineer the same behaviour but use it to gather data that has a purpose, does it make it any less fun?
Just to assure you I’m still alive…
ApparentlyÂ thereÂ areÂ onlyÂ threeÂ countriesÂ inÂ theÂ worldÂ thatÂ haven’tÂ officially adopted the metric system: Liberia; Myanmar; and the United States of America. How richly ironic is itÂ thatÂ theÂ USA’sÂ wayÂ ofÂ measuringÂ thingsÂ isÂ whatÂ theyÂ callÂ the English system, andÂ theÂ restÂ ofÂ theÂ worldÂ callsÂ theÂ ImperialÂ system? (And they can’t even get that right: there are 20 fluid ounces in a pint, not 16. Please, these things are called ‘standards’ for a reason.)
InÂ otherÂ news:Â SpaceÂ GiraffeÂ isÂ aÂ hugeÂ disappointment,Â andÂ IÂ willÂ deliverÂ someÂ thoughts on BioshockÂ as soon as Play.com bothers to get my copy to me.Â InÂ the meanwhile,Â please stop talking about Psychonauts like it was the second coming ofÂ Infocom. It really wasn’t that good. BeforeÂ tellingÂ meÂ I’mÂ wrong,Â pleaseÂ graspÂ that there is an important difference between ‘fun’ and ‘funny’: they may overlap but they are not the same thing. Psychonauts may haveÂ beenÂ funnyâ€”inÂ partsâ€”butÂ myÂ lordÂ itÂ wasÂ anÂ awfulÂ grindÂ toÂ play.
I know this is all over everywhere, but I enjoy watching people turn everyday tools into playthings.
Petition asking Gov. Schwarzenegger to free Paris Hiltonâ€”as I write, 16741 signatures
Petition asking Gov. Schwarzenegger to jail Paris Hiltonâ€”as I write, 29576 signatures
If you enter the location of an event as ‘TBA’Â inÂ Google Calendar, the systemÂ will offer you a map to it. Clicking on the linkâ€”which of course you would, or at least of course I didâ€”reveals an entirely blank plan ofÂ Tabibuga station, Papua New Guinea.
IÂ knowÂ nothingÂ about Tabibuga, butÂ as far as I can glean from the internest it’s a ranger-station with an airstrip and is close to a place called Minj.Â Now I am filled with a strange desire to organise a massive party there. Who’s in?
(To spoil the fun, thereÂ isÂ a logical reason why TBA resolves as Tabibuga station. See if you can work it out without googling.)
Sony has just released full details of the Folding@Home software that’ll be available for the Playstation 3 from the end of March. Folding@Home is a distributed-computing project that uses a computer’s or console’s idle-cycles to process chunks of data relating to the behaviour of folding-proteins related to forms of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Huntingdon’s, cystic fibrosis, and various cancers. Once processed, the data is sent back to a central server for collation. It’s a very cheap, very efficient form of supercomputing.
That said, there are two problems with having it run on the PS3. First, a PS3 is not a PC. It shouldn’t have idle-cycles. There is no reason to leave your PS3 running while you’re not using it: its boot-times are fast; apart from downloading there are precious few applications that need to run when the machine’s unattended; and F@H won’t run if the PS3 is doing anything else.
Second, the PS3 is a massive power-hog. It sucks up 380W, around twice the wattage of an Xbox 360 and more than five times the consumption of the PS2. According to VNUnet, that means four hours of PS3 play will cost almost a quid in electricity. So will four hours of letting the machine run Folding@Home. That’s not counting whatever your TV drains, and saying nothing about the carbon emissions.
So the question has to be asked: is Folding@Home on the PS3 a genuine piece of altruism on behalf of Sony, or a cynical attempt to pump up the console’s feelgood factor at the expense of customers’ fuel bills and the environment? Put it this way: Sony doesn’t pre-install Folding@Home on its less-fuel-hungry but not-in-need-of-a-PR-boost Vaio PCs.
In all the hubbub and furore about the commercial success of the Wii, its strengths as a games machine and its viability against the PS3, one thing’s been missed. Nintendo is about to snatch a huge crown out from under the noses of Sony and Microsoft. While the Xbox 360 and PS3 fight it out to provide the best online play, movie downloads and iPod playback in the name of being not games consoles but Home Entertainment Centres, the Wii is making a stealth approach on the position of market leader in a different space: the Home Information Hub.
When you switch on a Wii, you see a brief text screen and then you’re at the system’s front end. This is a grid of 12 boxes like massive desktop icons, six filled and six waiting for downloads either from the Virtual Console (retro games) or in the form of ‘channels’. Your out-of-the-box Wii already has two (Photos and Forecast, meaning weather), plus the News Channel (not up yet but video here) and the optional-download Internet Channel. That leaves space on the main screen for five more. Scroll right and there’s another grid of 12 boxes waiting to be filledâ€”and another, and another.
I believe Nintendo’s intention with these channel-spaces is to make the Wii a one-stop at-your-fingertips centre for all the information you want at the touch of a button or flick of a Wiimote. When you think about whether you should take an umbrella, or what happened in the cricket, they want your primary source for that information (and by primary I mean easiest and fastest to access, most convenient and after a while instinctive) to be the Wii. It won’t download movies, it won’t hold all your MP3s, but barely a day will pass without you consulting it. That at least is the intention.
I’ll go further. Wii channels you will see before long will include: sports news; business news and share-price checking; travel news which remembers your regular journeys; family health; food, diet and fitness, probably tied to the shopping channel and maybe even to the fitness section of Wii Sports; and (longer shots these) online grocery shopping with delivery in association with a major supermarket chain; online pizza delivery; and more.
How can I predict this? Because I’ve been here before.
Six years ago I was part of 3Com’s short-lived internet appliance division. We brought one product to market, called Audrey. With 50s styling and a 10″ touch-screen, Audrey was a cross between a grown-up Palm Pilot—more of a family organiser than a personal one, it could sync two Palms and combine their calenders and address books—and a dedicated net-machine, with IR keyboard, web browser and a sweet email client that would record and embed audio and pictures at—literally—the touch of a button. It was, in a word, sweeet.
But it was more than that. Directly below the screen was a dial, like an old TV. Settings corresponded to six basic information channels, updated regularly throughout the day so that whenever you touched the dial, you had access to information no more than a couple of hours old. And those channels were, in rough order: weather, news, sports, business, showbiz news, and space for us and users to add more. To people who remember five paragraphs up, this may sound a bit familiar.
One of my jobs was choosing and creating the information channels for the European launch, so I was intimately involved with this end of the business. And while the Wii is very far from an Audrey knockoff—Audrey didn’t play games for a start—I recognise many of the thought processes underlying the look and feel of the Wii’s interface design. Time-to-data, for example. An Xbox 360 takes 22 seconds to boot, even with no disc in the drive. To get to its desktop the Wii takes less than half as long, and that includes pressing the (A) button to synch the Wiimote.
This is crucial. The Wii is not the only device that can give you this kind of information on demand. Opera Widgets and Firefox Extensions can put this functionality in your browser, as can Google if you’re prepared to type a couple of words. Avantgo will put it on your smartphone or PDA. The Apple iPhone will have it built-in, judging by the early screenshots. But the key point is the time between demand and delivery, and it’s my bet that the Wii will beat all of them on speed and ease of accessibility.
(This was something Audrey did astonishingly well. It had an instant-on, and though it was pre-broadband it logged onto our server five times a day to get updates, so the information you saw was never more than a couple of hours old. If Nintendo is smart—and the name it’s chosen for the Wii’s internet connection, WiiConnect24, indicates it has been—the Wii channels will do the same. In other words, when you want the weather forecast the device won’t need to retrieve it from a server because the latest update will already be stored on board.)
Nintendo clearly considers time-to-data so crucial that it’s done away with any Wii splash screen at startup. This is, if you’ll pardon the geek-pun, revolutionary. When was the last time you switched on a console and didn’t get the brand-name front and centre? By removing its own logo to save a couple of seconds of load-time, Nintendo has signalled that it considers the Wii to be more than just the next generation of games machine. That may turn out to be its biggest play of all.