half-life_2_04_1024 I play a lot of video games and I’m particularly keen on the FPS style of game. For those who don’t know, FPS is short for First Person Shooter. This is a style of video game where the presentation on-screen is done right through the eyes of the character you’re playing, as if you’re in their skull, looking through their eyes. It’s particularly immersive and some of the greatest selling video games have been FPS style. Half-Life 2 (left) is one of the best and most well known of the genre.

But how do we perceive things as a first person in a world that does not exist?

Most FPS games have some kind of on-screen map so you can tell where you’re going, where enemies are, in which direction your objectives lie, and so on. There are basically two ways to display this map and I’ve become very familiar with both.

The first way is that you are a point on the map, which scrolls with you. The map itself is always oriented to the north no matter which way you are going.

The other way is that the maps spins with your perspective. So the map is oriented to the direction you’re currently looking.

So what’s better? And what does that say about our perceptions of direction in the real world and the virtual world. Researchers are working on this question, but what in the hell does it have to do with you? You don’t have some miniature map that points the way on your heads up display, do you?

Well, yes you do. And such things are becoming more and more common as handheld GPS shows up in standalone devices, phones, cars, and anything else they might think to stuff one into. Now you ask yourself a question. You’re traveling in an unfamiliar locale and you whip out your GPS. Do you want the map to rotate based on where you’re looking, or do you want to be a blip on a stationary map oriented to the north?

Just another way that the real world imposes itself on video games and vice versa.

One funny note. Many notice that Dr. Gordon Freeman, the main character of Half-Life 2 who’s sporting the glasses and crowbar in the picture above, bears an uncanny resemblance to another famous fictional doctor.


square-root-wallpaper The transmission of information through space is particularly interesting to me. All those awesome photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mercury MESSENGER mission, and the Mars probes; all of that information was sent through the depths of interplanetary space back to Earth.

Let’s put it another way. A small robot orbiting or sitting on the surface of a planet hundreds of thousands to millions of kilometers away snapped a picture. Then that information was encoded and beamed back to a small, rather insignificant chunk of rock circling a class G star. The target of this transmission is moving through space and doing so while the origin of the transmission also moves through space.

Amazing, really.

Then we get to see that information, or the results of the information, from the comfort of our computers via the Internet.

But what happens if we can’t understand what we see because it’s in another language?

hdtv_077_1_l We simply take the information and transform it. In this case, we can look at the spectacular final photos of the Kaguya lunar probe. Why are they the final photos? Because the Kaguya was purposefully forced to crash into our moon. Problem is, the website containing these images is, as you might imagine, in Japanese.

No problem, thanks to a web page translator. Google Language, in this case, does the job for us. And while the translation is admittedly imperfect, you can still look and understand.

In short, you’re able to look at a webpage with complex information like that generated by a lunar probe and, even though that website was written in a language you didn’t understand, you can now.

It’s stuff like that which makes an amateur astronomer and information scientist titter with glee.

windows7logoLifehacker reports that the upcoming release of Windows 7 finally inludes something that Windows has been lacking since its creation. You’ll finally have the ability to create a new folder using nothing but your keyboard.

Now this may sound like nothing big, but the fact of the matter is that, as a computer geek and librarian, I tend to squirrel things away in folders all the time. I have a graphics directory that’s meticulously ordered using several folders. Creating folders is just one of those things you tend to do a lot of, especially when you’re dealing with music files, pictures of the kids, and stuff like that. But to do it you had two options: You could either right click in the window, select New, then select Folder, and then name the folder or you could drop to a command line and do it manually.

Neither are particularly fast, especially when you’re trying to organize several gigs of images or MP3s.

Windows 7 finally allows you to create a new folder with a simple keyboard command Ctrl+Shift+N. This is the kind of thing that’s existed in software for decades, but not within the Windows OS itself.

Now, how’s about the ability to print out the contents of a directory? Can we get one of those, please?