Friday, December 18, 2009

Everything Wrong with Terminator Salvation

Alright, so I just got done watching all of the Terminator movies nearly in a row, and there is so much about the fourth movie that bugs me. So this is why I have a blog.

I've always been of the opinion that plot holes should always be thought through first, to see if they're really plot holes or not. Here's the only way that the events of T4 make sense; Skynet is really stupid. Now I don't just mean stupid as in "unintelligent", more stupid "idiot savant". It's really good at some things, and really bad at other things.

For example: the terminators are really bad at firing weapons - even worse than people. Ballistics were one of the first things that computing power was turned to, because it's one of those things that's pretty much all about calculation and not about higher thinking. In World War II soliders would consult artillery tables - which were created by human computers. Somehow, the terminator method of firing is about pointing the gun in the general direction of the target and firing a huge number of rounds. They're armed with miniguns, for god's sake. Why not something with precision? Because Skynet is stupid, that's why. It gets even worse when they don't have a weapon, because their default method of attack is to throw people. People can survive being thrown, as happens numerous times throughout the series. What they can't survive is a fist through their skull. Again, this is Skynet being stupid. Even if we accept that the servos suck (which is what gives them the jerky robot look in the first place) it should still be possible to snap someone's neck, or jerk them violently from side to side like a dog (producing the same result), or at least throw those people at something hard.

There are also significant problems with time travel. It's outright stated that both sides know time travel will exist at some point in the future, even if the tech isn't available quite yet. Here's the problem: it should only require an incredibly simple test to figure out what kind of time travel rules the universe uses. The problem is, in none of the established rulesets for time travel does it make sense to send people back to create a new outcome for you. If you're using stable time loop rules, then changing the past is impossible, and it's a waste of resources to attempt it. If you're using multiverse rules, then it only makes sense to change the past from the persepective of the traveller, which means that time travel is again pretty useless in a war. If you're using single universe overwrite rules ... well, then it might make sense, but sending someone (or thing) back is tantamount to suicide. So in short, there's pretty much no circumstance in which using time travel is actually a good idea.

Here's another problem I have; why is Skynet not using nukes? It's explicit that Skynet has control of nuclear power, and that nukes have been used on the rest of the world, but for some reason when it comes time to fight the Resistance Skynet holds back. Since radio signals are blaring out every time Conner gives one of his speeches, it should be a simple matter to triangulate his position (or failing that, at least to track down his transmitters one by one). Even if Skynet is locked out of nukes, they should still be able to develop rodding technology, or slam nonessential satellites into whatever target they need to hit. If you're fighting a war with absolutely no regard for collateral damage, exterminating humanity should be fairly easy.

Here's another tactical problem; why does Skynet have a headquarters? I can maybe understand it from a manufacturing standpoint, but there's no reason for Skynet to retain centralization. This goes double when your manufacturing plant is filled with high explosives. Command should be completely decentralized, or at least in cells, research should take place in one location, and manufacturing should take place in another.

Also, why isn't Skynet saturating the area with mustard gas, neurotoxins, or some other form of biowarfare?

Also, why do their bots have USB plug-ins at all?

Okay, rant over.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Geometry of D&D


Alright, this post is about both D&D and math; that's your cue to click over to some other tab or window before you get bored to death.

4th edition D&D uses non-Euclidean spaces to simplify combat. Rules-wise, this means that moving along the diagonal counts as the same distance as moving vertically or horizontally on the battle mat. If you know anything about math, you will quickly realize that this is stupid; moving five feet along the x axis and then five feet along the y axis does not make you five feet away from the origin - it makes you the square root of 50 away from the origin (about 7 feet and some change).

What this means is that everything is completely wonky when you extrapolate for a little bit. Take, for example, travel times. To your left you will find a handy MSPaint map, showing the settlements of Aberforth, Baelish, and Codwyn. Now then, the distance between these towns can't actually be determined by looking at where they are on the map. Instead, you need another piece of information - which direction is the grid of the world is aligned?

If the grid runs due north, then Baelish is twice as far away from Aberforth as Codwyn. In fact, it takes just as long for me to go to Baelish whether I travel through Codwyn or take the direct route. That's because there is no single direct route; so long as I'm moving up the y-axis (aka north), it doesn't matter where I am on the x-axis (aka east and west). This means that if you're traveling from one point to another, and the line between points is aligned to the battle grid, the shortest distance between two points is not the single solution it is in the real world (a line) but a whole host of solutions which are confined to a square with one corner at your destination and one corner at your origin.

However, if the grid were to be rotated 45 degrees, to be pointing north-east, the distances between the towns change dramatically. At this alignment, Aberforth, Baelish, and Codwyn are all equidistant from each other. That's right - they now form an equilateral triangle, albiet not one that's equiangular. We now have the opposite problem we had before; the shortest distance between two points which are 45 degrees offset from the grid is, in fact, a straight line - and any deviation from that straight line takes comparatively long than a real-world deviation.

This is weird; geometry now depends not only on angles and distances, but alignment to the grid as well. In our ABC triangle, the AB side can shrink by half depending on which way the grid is aligned.

Let's take another example; let's say you're standing in the center of a 25ft. x 25ft. room. In the real world, the corners are further away than the sides. But in D&D world, every point on the wall is equidistant. Some thought on the matter will reveal that this doesn't describe a square, but a circle; a circle is composed of those points which are equidistant from the center. But again, this depends on how the grid is aligned. A square offset from the grid would translate more properly into a four-pointed star; the sides are all bowed in.

Imagine that you built a box that spun in D&D world. As it went through its rotation, its alignment to the grid would change, causing the physical properties of the box to change as well. At full alignment, the inside observer would see the walls as a circle; as the box kept turning, the walls would start to shrink inwards, until the box resembled more of a box - at which point it would keep going, the walls bending inwards until there was less than a quarter the original space, the corners seemingly distant.

Of course, it's likely that the observer would be undergoing similar effects, so it would probably just work out to be a not-too-exciting spinning cube. Sadly, I lack the higher math to figure out more of this world; if you happen to have high level math that can help me, post a comment.