Two Almost Physicists With Almost Something To Say

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Back on the Wagon

I was recently inspired to shovel some coal back into the tender engine running the Xbox. I enjoyed an eight-month run as a member of society, but falling temperatures and a primal desire to trade physical exertion for coziness have won over. This is a dangerous time, life chronometer-wise, to take up hobbies of any creed or mode of dress. The barometer has fallen sharply, and a dark and turbulent stretch of thesis writing is on the horizon. The air smells of ozone and poorly-constructed sentences on the nature of dark matter. This is a storm that must be weathered with all vigilance. I have asked Siri for directions from my Current Location to employment at a grocery store; Route 1 is a slippery slope.

Thus it was with a distinct feeling of illogic that I laid monies for a new game. The vessel of vicariousness I chose was one called Dishonored. The choice was not made lightly, but, as with all major life choices, was the culmination of a search through every Internet there is, tallying those anonymous spirits which point apparitional fingers toward that thing you want to do and say “yeah dude worht it.” Not that they could have easily dissuaded me, as the promise of a game where freedoms with consequences are introduced has strong allure. I don’t recall ever finishing Red Faction: Guerrilla; I think I was too busy knocking holes in walls and then walking through them repeatedly, manic grin on my face, recalling the days of Nintendo when your environment was immutable. Being able to approach a task from any particular angle is not only liberating, but rewires some rat’s nest of dendrites near the front of the brain, forever changing the way one perceives the world. I hardly use the door to my apartment anymore.

Dishonored seems to be about rolling in human filth and eating food found in sewers, in a time of plague. I have on occasion been known to miss the point, but this is the aspect outstanding to me. There isn’t a single facet of the game which is not constantly turning around to you and saying “bro, outbreak, not a good day for whatever it is you want to do.” There are literally posters on walls reminding you. NPCs will not shut up about it. Rats abound. It hardly seems appropriate to be eating tins of fish out of dumpsters. The outrageous bit is that the game rewards you for this behavior by increasing your health, rather than immediately laying you out with the flux.

In between episodes of consuming trash, you are expected to perform acrobatic feats and, optionally, get into fights. I avoid the latter, for three reasons: (1) I am my mother’s son; (2) I’ve played Halo too many times to be enticed by the prospect of battle with belligerent Englishmen; (3) the game doesn’t want me to. I am frequently offered incentives for passing by an opportunity to rumble, be they in the form of ethereal Achievement Points, or fewer rats down the line (seriously), or 10% off my next meal at Pizza Pie-er. This means doing battle of a different kind, with the ill-conceived notion of “hiding” in video games. One typically hides by concealing about 50% of your body behind a thing, and that is considered close enough, because legs are really the indicator of a troublemaker. Occasionally some enterprising individual spots you anyway, despite your efforts and intentions, which I guess is supposed to be a life lesson. You start to take exception, before you remember that, in fairness, you were just kind of standing in a bush and expecting that sort of thing to be okay. Rightfully you should have been spotted about five steps into the level, and you have thus far been saved only by a high level of unprofessionalism amongst the computer-controlled gestapo.

Then you turn into a dog or something, and that’s cool.




You are a Providence DPW worker. You stand, shoulders slumped, mouth agape, on a busy sidewalk. Directly in front of you, a foot from the curb, is a traffic sign. This sign has made some grave transgression against the City, and it is your job to remove the iconoclastic guidepost completely, shaft and all, before it can cause further chaos. Somewhere in desolate, wind-scoured badlands of your mind, a lone synapse indolently fires once or twice before slouching over and calling it a day. “This sign doesn’t really look like an agent of mayhem,” it says. “It seems unnecessary to remove it wholesale. We could just remove the sign and leave the post, or replace it with a different sign.” But, meh, your brain just works here. We gotta get this sign out of the ground and then make sure rainwater is flooding the streets before we go to the bah.

You are faced with two choices.

  1. You can break into the concrete around the post and remove the entire assembly. This will leave a small crater in the sidewalk, approximately the same size as every other crater already in the sidewalk, including the one your right foot is currently in. Patching it is entirely optional. The job will likely require a jackhammer, or maybe just a sledge.
  2. You can hack the sign off midway through the post, leaving a four-inch razor-sharp nub protruding from the pavement, which will become a bangin’ night club for C. tetani. You can optionally allow tall grass to grow through the cracks around the nub, effectively camouflaging it from people who might be trying to watch where they are placing their sandaled feet. The job will require any sharp tool that might be in the back of your pickup.


Can you intuit, based on the fact that there is an article about it, which option you choose?


Providence actually has an app for reporting woes on the go, called ProvConnex. You can use GPS to report your exact location, and you can totally upload some sick hazard snapz. You have to choose a specific category under which to file these reports, but they have conveniently left “tetanus” out of the listing. Luckily the picture says it all. The DPW web team will review my complaint and wonder, is that rusty piece of metal always covered in blood? Not always. Only when it matters.

Do you remember the date and location of your last tetanus shot? If you’re like me, computerized records don’t stretch back that far. Computers don’t really stretch back that far. I was feeling particularly slothful after I was bandaged up, so I decided to ask Dr. Interwebs if medical treatment was truly necessary. Tetanus sounds like Tetris, which brings a deluge of fond memories of ten-pound monochrome Game Boys and that Russian squat-dance. I ignored all of the Google links to the NIH and CDC websites and went straight for WikPed. Fun fact: the first symptom of the disease is “lockjaw.” I read that word and didn’t even finish the rest of the sentence, just stood up and made a beeline for the doctor. I refuse to contract pirate diseases.

I suppose I should be thankful that the injury wasn’t massive, and that I could limp into Health Services for prophylaxis, and now that I have I can wrap myself luxuriously in discarded barbed wire for another 7-10 years. I am not thankful. They stabbed me in the foot with rusty negligence.

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Lockpickbot, Part 1

In a previous life, before there was Apple Maps, someone enthralled with their newfound ability to boundlessly string prose together made the poor decision of entitling an entry “Lockpickbot, Part 0.” This implies, somewhat forcefully, that there are subsequent parts to this saga. So here’s a serving of whatever.

The project is broken down into “lock,” “pick,” and “bot.” We acquired the “lock” aspect at a hardware store some time ago. There are two disembodied locks–one a deadbolt, one a typical doorknob–sitting on our coffee table. I have no qualms about having spent money on these. In the event that this project goes awry, they can actually be used to lock things, things like doors. I’m not sure which scenario one finds oneself in where one inherits a residence sans locks, unless one relocates to a shack in some marsh. Then you don’t really need locks, unless there are velociraptors. I’m not actually sure what sort of animals live in swamps, since I don’t watch reality TV shows on History. I have a vague idea from Donkey Kong Country: gators, long-legged birds, swordfish, rhinos, apes wearing neckties and hats. I will also mention that locks are cheap. At these prices, one can’t afford not to have deadbolts on one’s closets.

$50 not only buys you a universal key, but a lifetime’s worth of free dentistry.

GS already owned a set of lock picks. That’s fine, I imagine that he was a Dickensian street urchin at some point in his life, it’s not something to fixate on. Here’s what’s up with the picks: there are like a hundred different tools with exotic geometric shapes on the ends, and when you unroll the case it looks like the canonical movie torture scene. Two of these tools are actually useful. The rest are designed to confuse and bewilder, in case some n00b tries to use your shit, and the shafts will probably just snap right off and jam the lock up for all eternity. These are the “scorched earth” tools.

Lock mechanisms are totes cool. This is a hard point to sell, so, here, enjoy a fun animation that should give you the general idea. There is no sound. If you need sound you can combine it with this. The typical lock has an inner rotating cylinder and a stationary outer housing. Several two-part pins, with the relative lengths of the two halves somewhat randomized, sit in grooves that span between the inner and outer parts. The inner cylinder, which is directly coupled to the actual physical piece that keeps your door from being opened, is only free to rotate when the pins are positioned exactly such that the breaks between all of the pin halves are in line with the gap between the cylinder and the housing. Otherwise, the cylinder can’t turn, because there’s pin in the way. You can get into your house because you jam in a piece of metal with its shape “keyed” to the exact lengths of the inner pin parts. Johannes Deadbolt was a genius.

As for how to pick, here is another animation and musical accompaniment. The idea is to manually push each pin into its free position, and get the pin to stay there afterwards. How? With awkwardness. Each pin has finite fatness, and God makes no two pins the same. If the lock is under a bit of tension, and you depress each of the pins, you’ll notice that one of them is a bit sticky. This pin is the fattest and weakest of the herd, and you are a lion. Maintaining tension, push that pin in. At some point you’ll feel the lock give slightly, and you may even hear a small click. You just popped that pin into the open position, and that pin is now actually locked open because of the way the inner cylinder just shifted. Do not release tension. Never release tension, unless you’re feeling nostalgic for that time when all of the pins were popped out. Now test-depress the remaining pins. There will be another sticky pin. Repeat, and repeat again, until all of the pins have been popped. At this point you can open away.

Here’s how that plays out in reality, from my experience thus far with our practice locks:

  • Jam your dentistry widget into the lock and “rake the pins” to get the lay of the land. What did you just feel? A bunch of crap. How do you interpret that? No fucking clue. How many pins do you think are there? Somewhere between 1 and 30.
  • Stick a shim into the bottom of the lock and twist to apply tension. Enjoy your easy win. It’s probably the last one you’ll have for quite a while.
  • Start your search for this mythical “fattest pin.” Because you can’t interpret the sensations coming through your hands, test the same pin like four times in a row while skipping others entirely.
  • You’ve found something that’s hard to move. Push it to win.
  • Nope; turns out that it was just some fucking feature in the side of the cylinder. Where did the pins go?
  • GS just got his lock open. Mazel fucking tov.
  • Now it suddenly seems like this back pin is acting suspiciously like the fat pin of lore. Here goes nothing.
  • Jesus Christ the lock actually just shifted a little. If you could move you’d be doing the airplane up and down the block. Get your shit together. Try to find another stuck pin.
  • They are all stuck. Is this okay? Who knows, go for it.
  • That pin just went in 100% of the way. That’s probably a bad thing.
  • Do another pin. Feel a shift. You have no idea what’s happening. There’s a goddamned party going on in that lock, your shit-faced friend is there, and you’re on the phone with him trying to figure out where he’s at but he’s too far gone to be any fucking use. Is this progress? It’s something.
  • GS just picked his lock back closed. Is that even fucking possible? Now you can’t even remember how locks work when you have a key like a normal person.
  • Develop an itch on your nose. Don’t you dare let the tension off those fucking pins. You’ll be goddamned if you’re interrupting your mind meld with this doorknob. A cop could come along, you stand your ground. Do you remember what the pin ordering is? Didn’t think so. Mash your face against the door to scratch. Get back to your business.
  • The clicking of the pins coalesces into mocking laughter, resonating between your ears. They watch you struggle, bereft of compassion. You can feel the onset of thrombosis, but you will not succumb. Those pins would just fucking love it if you up and died right now. Do not give them the satisfaction.
  • Pretty sure you just went back to the first pin and shoved it further into its shaft. That seems like another step backward.
  • GS just picked his way into a bank and used the stolen funds to buy more practice locks, which he has also already opened.
  • Hail Mary: vent your rage by shoving all of the pins up as far as you can get them.
  • Lock just opened.
  • Lock just opened in the wrong direction. So that’s how GS re-locked his. File that one away under reasons to kill yourself. See you back at square one.


Luckily I’ve found that adhering to the standard playbook is wholly unnecessary; I can just put tension on and flail blindly around in there until it pops. Also my recipe for pleasing the ladies. In fact, that was the original premise for the design of the “bot”: grab onto a lock and do random unholy things to it until it opens. As it turns out, given that tumbler pin locks have been around since the 1800s, this solution already exists. And everyone is already aware of that, because everyone has seen a movie. We are now in the awkward position of trying to invent a more exotic way of lock opening so that we can be burdened with the construction of a robot to perform the task.

Meanwhile, if you get locked out of your place, ring me up. We’ve gotten really good at picking.

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Let me put that right in my calendar, assholes.

The Internet is making some unwarranted assumptions about me. In specificum, that they can come into my house and show me pictures of how they’ve put Kung Fu Panda and World of Warcraft in a blender and then expect me to do something with that information. My entire goddamned morning web routine is throwing this in my face, which makes me think this is specifically targeted. Now I’m tracing back through my entire life, trying to find the moment when I made myself a target of choice for this particular dickery. My sum total WoW experience consists of having watched that one South Park episode. I have on occasion played a Video Game, but I never told Google that, and I had the lights off and the doors locked, and my phone was in my pants, both far away from me. I once told that panda joke where he eats, shoots and leaves. I apologize if that was a spoiler. (Here’s another: Apollo 13 survives re-entry.) Also there was that time when I searched for “mmorpg racist panda conical hat” over and over until I blistered.

Now that I’ve been pulled into the vortex, I’m having a crippling flashback to the strategy-based Warcraft games, which had no World attached to them, and had no requirement that you be social at all. In fact, the early games forbade it, but more because the Internet then consisted of a stream of pigeons slowly flapping from house to house — white for 1, grey for 0, was the mnemonic they taught us in school. Each of the three original games was groundbreaking in its own way. Warcraft I, back in ’94, pushed the limits of how much bullshit one could crowd into sidebars; lesser computers would grind to a halt while attempting to render the next-generation shaded button borders. Warcraft II, released a year later, was never actually played; instead, one would simply begin an orc campaign, pause, and turn the speakers up to max, because the high-energy timpani-driven score was like doing coke. I’m sure Warcraft III did something notable as well. I can’t remember what, because now I’m listening to the Warcraft II soundtrack and preparing to jump through the ceiling and fight a cop.