All posts by theking

Why MUD?

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Walt Whitman

To the uninitiated, MUD stands for Multi-User Dungeon.  Those of us who were born in the 70s and actually had a computer in the house started off early, with Zork, or Colossal Cave, playing on a text screen for hours on end.  The next logical step was connecting the computers and going head-to-head; when modems and networked LANs became popular, so did Richard Bartle’s MUD1, or, in my own case, the Scepter of Goth.

For many of the aging-nerd set, MUDding was the door we stepped through to go on to bigger and better things. Many of my friends went from this, to EverQuest, or Ultima Online, or World of Warcraft, and have been happy gaming with friends and colleagues ever since.  The imagination was stirred, and didn’t keep quiet, always questing for a new game, a new setting to play in.

“listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go”

e.e. cummings

Looking up the family tree of online games and gaming, MUDs tend to cut across a huge spectrum of categories and games.  Reading across the wikipedia article above, the links become very obvious; MUDs fired up the imagination and kept the kettle of the imagination boiling, while tech got better and better.

I stepped away from MUDding in the 80s, and came back to it in the early 2000s for a while; a whole subculture and set of terminologies had sprung up while I was gone.  I had to make sense of guilds and ‘remorting’ and all sorts of other things, while figuring out the leveling, RPing, and client mapping as well.

“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?”

The Matrix, 1999

I’ve been away from MUDding again for a while; I just started to come back to it last year.  I really get excited about MUDs less as a player, but more as a designer, or a Dungeon Master (which is the role I traiditonally played with my friends back in the 80s and early 90s).  Over the years I’ve been looking at different MUD code bases, starting them up, creating a few areas, pulling them apart in some cases.

MUDding ain’t dead; what we’ve been seeing over the years is a steady progression of the game, from text to graphics, and now from just graphics on a screen to augmented reality/virtual reality.  And traditional entertainment has gone along with that; whether it was the Matrix trilogy, which brought along with it several other films in that time period (I’m looking at you, Dark City and Thirteenth Floor) or Westworld garnering Emmy nominations right and left, the popular culture has always found a place for ‘virtual world’ concepts that let the imagination – and its players – run a little wild.

Over a few months, I’ll write more about MUDs from the point of view of world building and designing; the early code bases were interesting beasts, and most of them have been open-source and viewable/downloadable for years.

How to become (nearly) fluent in Russian

Kharkov Ukraine 2013This post was originally inspired by the blog post How to become (nearly) fluent in German, care of Cultural Vistas

I get compliments on my Russian all the time.  Wait, that’s not true.  I get compliments on my spoken Russian all the time, by other students of Russian.  But that counts for something, right?  Seriously, though, I tend to clam up about my own Russian skill, even though it’s something I’ve been doing for about the last twenty years or so.

I got bitten by the ‘Russian bug’ in what would become the Bard-Smolny program, which at the time was sending students from Bard College to Leningrad, USSR.  A few weeks after I arrived the city where I landed in August of 1991 became St. Petersburg, but the boarding pass still said ‘Leningrad’ on it.

taken from NYC 1991 on our way to Leningrad

Ever since then I’ve traveled back and forth between the US and the NIS, often for work, but not always.  My third time back I went with the Alfa-Bank Fellowship Program in 2006, which placed me in Moscow for a year and gave me the contacts to find a job there shortly thereafter.

Me in Baikal, 2006Nowadays, I spend time in Ukraine, and I’ve been here since 2009.

So, how did I do it?  How did I become so good in Russian?  I would put it down to three things:

  1. Humility, and a sense of humor: I still make many many mistakes in Russian every day.  People on the street can hear my accent.  That business never changes.  I accept that.  Despite this, I can understand almost everything that I hear, and comprehend everything that I read (Google Translate helps, though).  I use that to my advantage, more often than not, and can make myself understood.  That’s the goal.  I also have the ability to laugh at myself when I make a mistake.  I’m sure there’s a blog post out there about all the similarities and differences between Russian and English, I won’t like to it here, but they are many, and they are strange.
  2. Willingness to get out there and interact with native speakers: were there a lot of days when I thought my Russian sucked, and no matter what I would say I would sound like an idiot?  Sure there were.  It didn’t stop me from getting out there and talking to people.  Even when I was a student, in 1991 Russia there were not a lot of Americans out there, and invitations to exchange Russian for English were plenty.  Even today, with my work experience I’m invited to speak at a number of places, and I can turn that into an interaction in Russian when I want.
  3. Intellectual curiosity and the desire to find out more: together with humility, I am always interested in listening a bit more to Russians (or Ukrainians) speaking Russian.  Even turning on the TV over here is always hilarious, as there’s always something else that is being stated or said or shouted in Russian that I haven’t heard before.

Related to point #3 above, there are a number of films that helped me learn.  Over the course of the last twenty years I have seen each of these movies at least once, and they have moved my knowledge of spoken and cultural Russian ahead, if just a tiny bit:

Ironiya Sudbi, ili S Legkim Parom (1975) – Soviet comedy?  It sounds like a contradiction in terms.  However, there were a full set of films from this period that were funny and light-hearted, not even counting the Soviet animation greats (I’m looking right at you, Cheburashka).  While Ironiya is text-heavy and has fewer sight gags than some of the others, it captures the spirit of the Soviet (and now Russian) theme of the ‘New Year’s Eve Film’.  Other films in this theme included Kavkazskaya Plennitsa, or Gentlemen of Fortune.

Stalker (1979) – Dark, moody Soviet science fiction, the films of Andrey Tarkovsky are rich, verdant images with few, but powerful lines.  I had to watch with subtitles all the way through when I was still a student, despite that his films never disappointed.

Taxi Blues (1990) – One of the first pictures to make it out of the USSR to depict its late-eighties, end-of-empire, crumbling beauty.  Every hero was an antihero, every soul exposed a dark Russian soul, a lonely loner, not worth saving.  Other films in this theme include Igla, starring pop-icon Viktor Tsoy, or Interdevochka.

Brat 2 (2000) – One of the films to show off the talents of Sergey Bodrov, a young, charismatic actor who was killed too early.  This film is also interesting because it films the actor in the United States, and shows how Russians viewed the USA.  A similar film in this vein is American Daughter.

Nochnoi Dozor (2004) – Vampires in Moscow!  This is the film that starts to take Russian film-making to the next level, as it’s helmed by charismatic Russian actors and actresses and the very talented Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (think Wanted, etc).  Compare this with the grainy shots from Brat 2 and you can already see that the film industry undergoing a turn to modern action and fantasy in under four years.

Turetskiy Gambit (2005) – Also from the same modern style as Nochnoi, but following the exploits of one Erast Petrovich Fandorin, a Russian answer to Sherlock Holmes, depicted in the novels of Boris Akunin.  This film follows the adventures of Fandorin as Russia wars against Turkey and the Ottoman Empire.

Viy (2014) – My final recommendation, and ironically the one film that is related to Russian literature the most as it’s inspired by the stories of Gogol.  Witches and demons terrorize a small Ukrainian village.  Somehow a foreign visitor from England gets involved.  No political foreshadowing here, hmm.

OSDDlinux – Operating System for Drug Discovery

The main purpose of OSDDlinux is to provide an in silico platform for computer-aided drug design. This is a collection and compilation of large number of software and web services which will be directly or indirectly useful for researches working in the field of drug discovery/designing. Overall objective of OSDDlinux is to promote open source in drug discovery, crowdsourcing and network based collaborations.

tags: 2013, biology, bioinformatics, linux, drug

OSDDlinux – Operating System for Drug Discovery