Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Submit your news to the News section!

Rejoice! The Trollish Delver now has a dedicated news section of the blog that keeps you up to date with all the latest geek news from across the web and the best part is that you can submit your own news instantly!

Powered by social news curation site, Rockzi, the news section allows you, dear reader, to submit the geek news that you would like to see on the blog.

This means that YOU get to play a part in what gets put on this site, and I'd love you to join in and submit your news. You can also vote up and share stories that you like.

(Pac)Man on the moon

Ok, so it's not our moon... and there's been two 'men' found, on separate moons. This is still a really interesting finding, though. It would seem that the rotation and orbit of two of Saturn's moons, coupled with the impact of high energy electrons on their surfaces, have contrived to produce a striking image of 80's arcade game character 'Pacman' on both Mimas and Tethys when thermally imaged during the day.

So, how is this all happening? Well, it’s all rather complicated but to break it down; it appears that high energy electrons found within either moon’s ‘magnetosphere’ are flowing retrograde to the spin of each celestial body. It’s thought that this is causing to impact the surface of the moons leading hemisphere and somehow increase thermal inertia at lower latitudes. An increase in thermal inertia simply means that the lower latitudes of Mimas and Tethys are less prone to change in temperature in either direction. So how does this lead to the moons looking like Pacman under  thermal imaging?
Look specifically at the image at the top right hand corner of the figure above (taken from Howett et al, 2012). You can clearly see that the temperature near the equator of Tethys is cooler than that further away and that this difference disappears the further away you look from the leading hemisphere… creating what can only be described as Pacman.

I fully expect a report claiming the existence of multi-coloured ghosts on Mimas and Tethys to be published within the next couple of years!

Genome sequencing: the next steps.

The majority of people with access to any kind of mass media will have heard of the human genome project and be aware of genome sequencing, even if they don't know the ins and outs of it. A lot of those people will know about the 1000 genome project, the results of which were published in Nature last month, and plenty of people will know that the genomes of all of our main model organisms, such as Arabidopsis thaliana, Mus musculus, Danio rerio, Drosophila melanogaster, Saccharomyces cerevisae and (of course, the laboratory workhorse) Escherichia coli (That's Thale Cress, Mice, Zebrafish, Fruit Flies, Brewer's Yeast and E. coli, respectively). Advances in genome sequencing, particularly in pyrosequencing, mean that sequencing the genome of a whole organism is no longer a major issue. The time consumed by the process, as well as the cost, is coming down rapidly in some kind of Biological version of Moore's Law. So now that we're edging ever closer to the ability to personalise human medicine based on our own individual DNA sequence, and we can be sure that the big commercial sequencing companies will keep chipping away at the both the cost and time issues, which direction will basic research be taking from now on?

One avenue being pursued is that of 'metagenomics', or the sequencing of genetic material isolated from whole environments or ecosystems. The main interest in metagenomics stems from the fact that a technique called 'massive parallel pyrosequencing', a technique based on sequencing between one and one hundred million short DNA sequences in parallel, allows an unprecedented snapshot into the diversity of bacteria present in a given environment.

The process involves the extraction of DNA from environmental samples before cloning into a bacterially derived artifical chromosome capable of accommodating up to 350kilobases of DNA. The DNA is then amplified via the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequenced. In the past, this would have meant the Sanger chain-termination method of sequencing, which was quite low throughput. Now, pyrosequencing is used, which involves building a strand of DNA based on an immobilised template strand. Each letter of the genetic code (A, T, G and C) is added sequentially to the reaction. As one of the letters is incorporated into the growing strand a fluorescent signal is emitted. Because only one letter is present in the reaction mixture at a given point in time, it's easy to figure out which letter is being added when the fluorescent signal appears. This gives you a heck of a lot of sequence data but leaves you with a big, big problem... you could be working with approximately 10,000 different species and dealing with an impossibly large number of sequence reads, most of which will be code that has been read several times in the same experiment,  so how do you even begin to make sense of this information overload? In short, the answer is 'with great difficulty'. Bioinformaticians have developed programmes which should, in principle, assemple the sequences into genomes accurately. However, most of these programmes are optimised for single organism assemblies, not for metagenomic studies. The use of a 'reference' sequence improves accuracy immensely but there are relatively few bacterial genomes available outside of the main species used in the laboratory, which makes it quite clear that sequencing the genomes of single organisms is far from flogging a dead horse.

So, what's the point of all this? Well, it's a pretty big deal. One of the major metagnomics projects is the study of the human microbiome, particularly the gastro-intestinal tract microbiome. Human associated bacterial cells outnumber your own body cells ten to one and species diversity exceeds 10,000, we simply have to accept that the influence they have over us is enormous. There's even one school of thought, albeit a hotly constested one, that the unit of natural selection in evolutionary terms is not the gene, or the organism, but the organism and all of the associations it forms with microbes. The idea states that an organism is capable of utilising the genome of the microbes it hosts (humans, as an example, use gut bacteria to aid food metabolism) and that the microbial genome evolves at a faster rate than the host genome. This gives us what is called a 'hologenome' and the hologenome's propensity for rapid evolution allows a far greater level of adaptive potential than would be possible when considering the host genome alone.

Quite simply: an understanding of the microbial communities we host will allow us a better picture of who we are and where we came from, as well as opening the door to a new generation of medicine, acting in concert with personalised medicine stemming from the sequencing of individual human genomes.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Current season of Merlin to be the last

Sad times in Camlot as the BBC has announced that Merlin will conclude with the current season, ending with a two-parter this December.

Many of us have been speculating as to whether season 5 will be the finale, as the writers have set up much of the end of the tale, including the fated Battle of Camlann.

In a press release issued by the BBC, the cast gave their utmost thanks to fans and talk of the good times they had creating the show.

Colin Morgan, who plays Merlin, said: “From the beginning this was always going to be a five year journey that we embarked on and I think the show has run its natural course. The show has grown and grown each year and now we’ve arrived at its strongest point and we’ve achieved what we set out to do… I know this is the end, and I know this is goodbye, but thank you for being there on the journey with us because it has been a lot of fun!”

The creators have confirmed that the series has run its course and will end at a logical point.

Co-creators and executive producers, Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy, said: “This is the series where the storylines truly reach their apex. We always felt the story of the legend was best told across five series, leading to a spectacular finale that draws on the best known elements of this much-loved story and brings to a conclusion the battle for Camelot.

“We’d like to thank the amazing cast and crew for their professionalism and dedication, the BBC, FME and all of our partners globally for their incredible support and encouragement across the last five series.

“But chiefly, our thanks go to Merlin’s remarkable and loyal audience around the world for their enthusiasm for the characters and Camelot universe.”

I, like many others, will be sorry to see it go, but respect that this is the time for Merlin to bow out on a high and for the show to end as it always should have.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Buy a gamebook and help save a life

If you're a regular reader, you'll know the love I have for the BEAN! The D2 roleplaying game and its creator, Jeff Freels. The recent controversy due to the naming of his campaign setting, which was originally called Beanworld, has blown over (it's now The World of BEAN) but Freels is still in need of a life-saving operation.

Tunnels & Trolls writer Sid Orpin has released a two new solo adventures for BEAN! called Cellars of Castle Cassoulet and East of Fabassia, and all proceeds go towards the Jeff Freels Transplant Fund. Beware the zombeans!!

Here's the descriptions:

Cellars of Castle Cassoulet:
The Lords of Soy have made their ancestral seat at Castle Cassoulet for the last 9 generations. In former times it was a magnificent place but since the 7th Bean Baronet of Soy started to dabble in the darkest of the dark arts the family have been reduced to allowing thrill-seekers like you to explore his abandoned cellars and taking 10% of the value of any loot that is brought out.

East of Fabassia:
 A hearty adventurer can make their fortune in the Great Sea Of Ash & Dust.  All they have to do is survive the harsh climate; avoid the roving slavers; defeat the many deadly creatures, curses, and other hostile challenges there; and somehow find the secrets buried beneath the centuries of dust.  Do you think you're up to the challenge?
The books are only $2 and $3 each respectively, so please head over and buy Cassoulet and Fabassia. If you don't own BEAN! then now's the time to buy it - it's only $3!

Review: Merlin 5.08 - The Hollow Queen

Minor spoilers ahead

We're now over half way through this season of Merlin and so far it's the strongest its ever been in terms of writing and acting. Guinevere is still in league with Morgana and Merlin is coming ever closer to doing something about it. The Hollow Queen continues Morgana's nefarious scheming, using Gwen as her pawn in an attempt to off Arthur once and for all.

While Merlin still feels like a family show, the subject matter of treason, politics and torture aims this story arc at older viewers. The episode begins with a druid boy, Daegal, breaking into the citadel in search of the young warlock in order to convince him to aid his dying sister. While Merlin at first flat out refuses, he's swayed by the young man and heads off on a treacherous journey into the Valley of Fallen Kings, leaving poor Gaius to make up an excuse to Arthur for his serving boy's absence. Predictably, Merlin's journey is a wild goose chase, as the only person waiting for him is an ever-vengeful Morgana, who poisons him and leaves him to die and the "druid" to collect his bounty. As a result, Merlin is pretty much out of it for the episode, leaving Gwen to carry out her treacherous deeds in the kingdom unhindered.

Shakespearean actor John Shrapnel makes a fantastic appearance as the Sarrum of Amata, a merciless ruler who makes an appearance in Camelot in order to sign an agreement with the kingdom. We discover that it was the Sarrum who imprisoned Morgana for two years in the pit with her dragon Aithusa, and it's clear that he relished every second of her captivity, describing in excruciating detail how the dragon grew too large for the pit causing its body to twist into a malformed mess. After witnessing Arthur's defeat to a warrior of Amata, Gwen convinces the Sarrum to assassinate the king in order to claim much of Camelot's land as a reward.

Although Merlin is on his back for a fair bit of the episode, he does show off the more bad-ass side we saw last season when he killed Agravaine. For instance, he faces off against a large mob of bandits, responding to the exclamation that he has no sword with "I do not need a sword" before blasting the leader across the encampment. He also flat out kills someone, showing that he's come a long way from the jokey kid who arrived in Camelot all those years ago.

Still, the episode is very predictable and Gwen's smirky creepiness is beginning to grate a little. From the teaser for the next instalment it looks like there's going to be a change to the 'let's all try and kill Arthur' formula of late, and it looks like we'll be seeing Mordred and Aithusa again.

Not the best episode, but a rung above mediocre - The Hollow Queen was enjoyable and saw a return of some of the humour that Merlin has been missing, for better or for worse, this season. But it does look like things are going to heat up this week, so stay tuned.


Tunnels & Trolls 4th edition now available for download

Great news for Tunnels & Trolls fans as well as lovers of rare old school roleplaying games. Flying Buffalo
has released the 4th edition rules for Tunnels & Trolls, a rules set that has been like gold dust up to now. You can download the PDF from DriveThruRPG for $4, the original price of the book when it was released way back in 1977.

Even if you're not going to play it, this edition is an interesting one as it marks a time before what we would consider as 'modern T&T', which started with 5th edition. There are loads of little rules in 4th edition that have been stripped away in newer versions, such an alternative missile combat rule, expendable shields, charisma effects and berserk rules. Throughout the rules charming cartoons are dotted around, which jars a bit with the more serious Liz Danforth art, but that's what this game is all about - being different and not taking itself seriously.

This edition seems somewhat more detailed than current ones, with more detailed rules and advice given to the GM. For instance, the rules specifically state that you cannot fight while carrying a torch or casting a light spell and that if you drop the torch too hastily, it will extinguish on a d6 roll of 1-4. Now that's specific! I quite like this added detail, but I do appreciate why stuff like this has been removed in subsequent editions. T&T works best as a rules-lite game, so it shouldn't be too bogged down in minutiae. Nevertheless, 4th edition is definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of the game. It's still T&T but a bit different.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Marvel hero Bond girls are awesome

I love me a nerdy mash-up and this one definitely caught my eye. From the talented hand of Bill Walko come these amazing Marvel heroes fashioned as Bond girls. These are seriously fantastic and I strongly urge you to head over to his DeviantArt page and check out the other awesome work he's done.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Dragons Den skit hopes to win Kickstarter funding for Turn to 400

I've written about Turn to 404 before, a Kickstarter project that's looking to make a documentary about Fighting Fantasy. I've pledged money myself because I believe this could be something fantastic, but with only 8 days to go and only £10,442 pledged out of a hefty goal of £40,000, it's not looking great. But film-maker Sean Riley isn't about to give up just yet, releasing a clever mock Dragons Den video where pitches the documentary to the Dragons. It's really funny, so give it a watch.

But seriously, if you are a fan, ever been a fan or are just into roleplaying games in general, you should totally fund this. There are some great incentives up for grabs, but more importantly you'll be helping a great filmmaker make a great film.

Go, go, go - fund this baby right now!

- Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on Twitter

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Russia to the rescue in mission to the Red Planet

Last year it looked like a joint ESA-NASA programme to launch a satellite, followed by a rover to Mars was destined to failure as NASA revealed that it would not be putting up its side of the funds for the venture.  Luckily, following talks this year, the project is back on track after Russia was ‘invited’ to join the mission.

The partnership got off to a rocky start; when talks began between the ESA and Roscosmos it was pretty one sided… the ESA got two Russian built proton rockets and Russia got, well, nothing. 

Unsurprisingly, Russia said no.  Proton rockets are particularly expensive and Russia would get no tangible benefit from the project. Despite all this, Russia’s scientists continued their interest in the joint mission and, thankfully, have more or less reached an agreement which will see them provide the rockets needed to launch the satellite and rover in exchange for space on both launches for their own equipment and places for their scientists on the ESA research groups.

It’s hoped that the satellite will launch in 2016 and look for possible points of origin for Methane on Mars, which will inform a 2018 rover launch, which will look for signs of life, past or present, on the surface and up to 2m into the surface. However, these dates could be pushed back further… the agreement between the two space agencies hasn’t been signed and sealed yet! Although work as begun and most of the £1.2 billion required is in place.

Oh, and the Americans haven’t quite gone away; a smaller rover built by NASA will be accompanying the European rover in 2018.

- Ben Hall

Follow @benkhall on Twitter

What you should be reading: People I Know

I'm going to spend a few posts talking about some of the gems I discovered at this year's Thought Bubble Comic Con because I think it's important to showcase small press creators as well as the big guns. My hope is that after reading this series you will go and check out these comics and support the people behind them.

Today I'm taking a look at People I Know, the brainchild of Timothy Winchester, a London-based cartoonist who I happened across at the con. His bright, bold and simple art style popped out at me and after a quick flick through a couple of his books I just had to throw some money down. The particular book I bought was called Thirteen, a choose-you-own-adventure comic that revolves around a conversation with a fairy who casts a bunch of magic spells for you, from turning into an owl tote bag to making everything 8-bit. It's a fun idea and being a gamebook fan I had to take it.

Winchester also runs a webcomic where he publishes all his strips, some of which make it into print volumes. He started drawing these in 2009 and has since done hundreds of them, ranging from slice of life comedy to cutesy absurdism, with characters like Toby, a dinosaur who's constantly looking for a boyfriend, Christina the piece of toast and Toby's sort of friend, and three wizards who have a habit of appearing every Wednesday. Like me, Winchester has a love of puns and throws out some zingers as well as some groanworthy ones. His style is quite sweet and the plethora of colourful characters makes this a really fun comic and one well worth checking out.

- Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on Twitter

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Pratchett's daughter to continue Discworld legacy

In an interview with The New Statesman, Discworld author and all round legend Terry Pratchett stated that his daughter, Rhianna will continue writing the series when her father is no longer able to write.

Currently, Pratchett uses dictation software and the help of his assistant Rob Wilkins, who has been aiding him for 12 years. However, as Alzheimers takes more of a hold of the author there will be no way of him continuing.

Rhianna doesn't lack writing chops, having worked on Tomb Raider, Heavenly Sword and Prince of Persia to name a few videogames. Having grown up with her father's stories, I have no doubt that she will do his work justice and keep Ankh-Morpork ticking over nicely.

I've been a fan of Pratchett's books for many years as I was introduced to them when I was quite young. The mythology he's created is unimaginably brilliant and it will be a very sad day when he has to stop writing. Still, I have no doubt that Rhianna will be an excellent writer and someone who will keep the Discworld alive for decades to come.

[Via io9]

Monday, 19 November 2012

10 gifts for your nerd this Christmas

Can you believe that it's almost a month until Christmas? Me either, and if you're anything like this lazy nerd you probably won't start shopping until at least three hours before the big day. However, this year I want to make it easier for you to find the gifts the nerd(s) in your life will love. So prepare the chestnuts over the fire and put up the tinsel - here's ten gift inspirations to set you on the path to present success.

Subscription to their favourite comic book

Make their life easier by finding out their favourite ongoing comic and buying a subscription to it. It doesn't cost a whole lot, but it's a gift that keeps on giving for a whole year. Either that or if they're Marvel fans, buy them a digital subscription, which I still believe to be the most value for money of everything ever. Seriously, you can read thousands of comic books, making the fee negligible. Trust me, they will thank you for it.

A personalised superhero action figure

Imagine tearing open the wrapping to find your likeness on the body of Iron Man. That would be awesome. Make it someone's dream come true with one of these awesome personalised superhero action figures. All you need to do is send a couple of photos of the recipient (how you obtain these secretly is up to you, I don't want to know anything about it) and choose a figure out of heroes like Batman, Thor, Power Girl and Superman.

Rebel pilot headphones

Gold leader standing by and rocking out. You know what it's like - you're cruising in your Y-Wing, getting ready to bomb some Imperial bunkers but dammit, you have no tunes to compliment your wanton destruction. Any good pilot goes out with some damned snazzy headphones like these ones, so you can crank out The Trooper while taking down the Empire. Oh yeah!

 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Remember the days when death came swift and bloody to most characters in D&D, in the time before healing surges and ridiculous hit points? The grognard in your life sure does, so why not treat them to a copy of the new AD&D rules re-print! Being able to go back to the days of yore, when fighters bashed people with a sword and wizards fled under a table when they were out of spells.

Game of Thrones: The Card Game

Whether they're a fan of the books or an initiate into George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy world through the TV show, Fantasy Flight's upcoming card game will surely be a winner. Players wage war on the fields of Westeros, using plot cards to change the balance of power and overcome your opponent with military might. Why not stick on the series soundtrack while you play?

Star Trek Catan

How did it take so long for this to be made. Mind melding the classic resource management boardgame with Star Trek, the latest version of Catan sees the federation populating the galaxy and harvesting resources from planets. Just look at those super cute USS Enterprises! All tiny and junk. If you're sick of playing Monopoly with the family at Christmas, give the gift of Catan and watch your family degrade into crazed resource hoarding lunatics.

The Hobbit Lego
By far the most anticipated movie this winter is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where we return to Middle-Earth for more awesomeness courtesy of Peter Jackson. It was inevitable that Lego would seize the opportunity to produce some cool blocky dioramas of some of the key scenes from the film. There are a bunch of sets to get, ranging from Attack of the Wargs to Escape from Mirkwood Spiders. You can see the full range here

Blood of the Zombies

You've probably heard all the praise I have to give for the latest in the Fighting Fantasy series but I can't stress enough how much I love Blood of the Zombies. If they're a zombie or gamebook fan, this is a must. In this book, YOU are the hero as you try to escape a maniac's castle that happens to be filled with flesh-eating zombies. Gather an arsenal of weapons and start tearing into these undead critters, lobbing grenades, beating them with a bat and mowing them down with machineguns. All within a book. Awesome.

Fund a Kickstarter

Sure, this isn't one that's going to produce a tangible gift on the 25th December, but if there's a Kickstarter that they want to fund then why not give them a helping hand by pledging some money towards it? 

The Wonders Collection
There is a god and his name is Professor Brian Cox. The Wonders Collection includes two amazing series: Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe, in which Cox expertly takes the audience through the creation of the universe and the magnificence of astronomy. Not only is this a terrific exploration of science, but it's Cox's cheeky charisma that really makes these series shine. 

- Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on Twitter

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Thought Bubble Comic Con Day 2 - Kate Beaton steals shows

The second and final day of Thought Bubble wrapped up today and although I'm sad to have to wait another year for it to return, I had lots of fun and met some great people. I actually had chance to properly browse creators' wares today and have some nice chats with a few of them about their experiences. Read on to find out who sang to me, why Hollywood are very lazy, and how Kate Beaton was Queen of the Con.

Sunday was a day for browsing, and it was the day I picked up the most comics. I decided to focus only on small press and independent creators rather than going for the big guns because it's always good to discover brand new things and support up and coming artists and writers. The first panel, Women in Comics, was by far the most popular of the whole con with a queue that snaked around most of the Armouries Hall, and for good reason. The panel consisted of Alison Bechdel, Kate Beaton, Simone Lia, Hannah Berry, and Fiona Stephenson, moderated by Dr Mel Gibson (yes, she did make a joke that she has been invited to a prison to give an inspirational speech in place of the actor). What followed was a funny and insightful panel, looking into the perception of females in the comic industry, what the panellists grew up reading, and how more women have come to work in comics. No doubt the star of the show was Kate Beaton, creator of Hark! A Vagrant, who shone on every panel she was on with witty snark and an amazing down-to-earth attitude. Of course, the rest of the panel, particularly Alison Bechdel, were fantastic too.

After the panel I went into wandering mode, approaching most tables and chatting with creators. One particularly memorable exchange came from Timothy Winchester, who greeted me with a sing-song voice and instantly captured my attention. He's the creator of People I Know, a hilarious webcomic that's now in print which captures slices of his daily life as well as some nice surreal humour. The particular book I purchased was Thirteen, a choose your own adventure comic (hear that, Mr Lloyd?) which I'll be reviewing this week. I also spoke to Joe List, who did some promo art for the convention, and picked up all of his stuff because, frankly, it's awesome. I then queued for a while to meet Kate Beaton and get her book signed with a sketch.

Soon I was off to the last panel I'd be attending, From Stand to Screen - Comics in Film, which included Robin Furth, Jock, Charlie Adlard, and Phil Noto. All of them had worked on TV and film in some way or another, from The Walking Dead to Dredd, and opened up a discussion about translating the comics medium to film. The panel became more like an intimate conversation with the audience, which was great. I managed to ask them whether they thought the influx of comic book movies has impacted the mainstream perception of comics. The answer was that with well-known franchises like Spider-Man and to some extent The Avengers, it was negligible, but for less well-known comics like Ghost World and The Walking Dead there's clearly a lot of people becoming interested in comics through film. The most interesting and revealing part of the discussion was when the panellists spoke about Hollywood optioning properties. It's not uncommon for Hollywood to go to a convention like San Diego, approach creators and tell them to list all their properties they would like optioning. Because of this, producers end up with huge lists of potential properties to choose from, very few of which come to light. Hollywood loves comic books because a) it saves money on creating new ideas and characters, and b) they can easily visualise characters and scenes because most of the work is already done for them, again, saving them lots of money. It was a great panel to wrap up the final day and I came away from the weekend educated and lighter in the wallet.

- Scott Malthouse

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Review: Halcyon & Tenderfoot #1

Remember the innocent days of superheroes when the good guys were actually good instead of being good sometimes and arses to each other the rest of the time? If you fondly recall those days, then Halcyon & Tenderfoot is probably a comic you want to pick up. While it's primarily aimed at children, this small press gem is something that an adult can definitely embrace, especially one who has become jaded with the current spandex scene.

Written by Daniel Clifford, known for his work on Sugar Glider, Halcyon & Tenderfoot doesn't wait around to introduce all the main players of the story. Halcyon is the world's best superhero and an overt commentary on the state of the modern day 'gritty' superhero. He stands for justice and goodness is every respect and outright denounces other heroes whose methods straddle the line of heroism and villainy. He's also had a long career and is seen by many as washed up and irrelevant in today's society. At the beginning, Halcyon introduces the world to his new sidekick, his son Lennon, also known as Tenderfoot - the 'fastest boy on Earth'. Tenderfoot is unsurprisingly excited to get out and do some real heroics, but his father tells him to be patient and cherish the moments that he's not out trying to save the world. However, this changes when it's discovered that a prolific villain has been released from prison. Although this is a book for young people, that hasn't meant development and real human emotion has been edited out of the equation. At the end of the day this is a story about a father and his son, and when they're both out on the field there's not a single panel where Halcyon doesn't look concerned about his boy's well-being. It's a testament to Clifford's writing that something as deep as this can be read in what could have been a simple two-dimensional comic.

Not to spoil anything, but the final panel definitely comes as a shock and I'm looking forward to reading the second issue. Lee Robinson does the artwork, which is bold and clean, popping out of the page even in the absence of colour. I especially love how Robinson draws facial expressions and he also has a really good eye for perspective. However, one day it would be great to see this book in full colour.

It's clear that a lot of heart went into the creation of Halcyon & Tenderfoot and while on the surface it's a kids' book, underneath lies a commentary on modern superheroes as well as a touching relationship between father and son. My only real complaint is that the dialogue can be a little stilted on occasion, but this is a minor fault.


-Scott Malthouse

Hard science: the future of crop protection

Food security, whilst something of a buzzword, is one of the great challenges facing this generation and every generation for the foreseeable future. A major threat to global security is pestilence. Total yield lost to pathogens and pests is an immensely difficult thing to quantify. It’s subject to a whole host of variables but a decent estimate would be something in the region of 25% globally. Gone are the days when crops could be liberally doused with chemicals designed to kill the disease causing agent as standard procedure, largely because these chemicals have an annoying tendency to kill things we’d really rather keep alive! Not to mention the remarkable speed at which populations of pathogens resistant to our chemical warfare emerge. In the future, a smarter approach is required, one which will probably involve genetic engineering. Those best placed to provide the solutions are molecular biologists working at the interface between pathogens and their hosts.

In the contemporary plant pathology scene, the major paradigm is the study of so-called ‘effectors’. An effector is a small molecule, often a protein, which is secreted into the plant cell by microorganisms with the aim of eliciting some kind of response in the host which will benefit the pathogen. However, the pathogen certainly doesn’t get it all its own way. Plants, unlike animals, don’t have an army of motile immune cells capable of rushing to infected tissue to repel invasion. Plant cells, as a rule, don’t move. Sure, they possess a fully functioning vascular system roughly analogous to an animal circulatory system, which transports water, sugars, hormones and other signalling molecules but it most certainly does not transport immune cells. What they do have is a very efficient surveillance system capable of recognising signals associated with pathogens and then producing an immune response.

The first layer of resistance recognises microbe-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs for short), which are patterns which microorganisms produce on account of being microorganisms. A good example is flagellin, a protein involved in cell motility. MAMP recognition triggers a weak immune response. Why bother with a weak immune response though? If you know you’re under attack surely it’s better to hit the attacker with everything you’ve got? Well, not necessarily. The fact is that all microbes produce MAMPs but not all microbes produce disease. As a ‘strong’ plant immune response tends to involve localised cell death, killing your own cells every time you recognise a microbe would be a terrible strategy in terms of evolutionary fitness. This is where the second layer of resistance comes in, a resistance which concerns the effector proteins I mentioned earlier. One major function of effectors is the subversion of MAMP triggered immunity in order to facilitate infection. However, as well as recognising MAMPs, plants are also capable of recognising effector proteins through the production of recognition proteins from genomic regions termed ‘resistance (R) genes’. Pathogens produce a diverse array of effectors and plants possess an equally diverse set of R genes, the system is a classic example of an evolutionary ‘arms race’, a race which the pathogens most definitely seem to be winning! Recognition of an effector by the product of an R gene often leads to a robust immunity in the form of the hypersensitive response, a localised cell death signal which restricts the growth of pathogens that require living tissue to complete their life cycles. Unfortunately, many effector proteins are not recognised by R gene products and are free to exert their effects on the host.  In order to develop resistance to important crop pathogens we need to fully understand how effectors produce their effects in the host cell and how effectors and R proteins interact. Knowledge of these processes remains thin on the ground so current research is very much focused in their direction.

One fruitful avenue of research is the structural characterisation of the key players involved in this system. It’s parsimonious, then, that the 1000th crystal structure determined at the Diamond Light Source, Oxford, happened to be that of an effector protein secreted by the tomato pathogen Pseudomonas syringae, which was published in the journal PNAS last month. Scientists from the John Innes Centre, using the x-ray diffraction facility at Diamond, were able to figure out the structure of the protein, known as AvrRPS4, by inference from the electron density pattern it produces when x-rays are directed at the protein and diffracted. This structural information was then used to inform the generation of mutant effector proteins which were no longer recognised by the associated R protein and of mutants which were able to interact with the R protein whilst still inducing resistance but without any associated cell death.

The Diamond Light Source, Oxfordshire
The implications of this are pretty cool. Firstly, it tells us which parts of the effector are needed for recognition by the host. Secondly, and more importantly, it adds to an emerging body of evidence suggesting that cell death is not a requirement for resistance. This is a big deal! Resistance without cell death is extremely desirable in terms of food production and this research represents a massive step toward developing it and, ultimately, deploying it in real crop production situations.
As an aside, structural study of effector proteins also allows an incredible snapshot of how protein structure underpins the incredible rate at which these ‘molecular weapons’ evolve. And, trust me, they evolve extremely quickly!

For those interested who have access to PNAS, the reference for the full study is as follows:

Sohn KS, Hughes RK, Piquerez SJ, Jones JDG, Banfield MJ. (2012) Distinct regions of the Psuedomonas syringae coiled-coil effector AvrRps4 are required for activation of immunity. PNAS. 109(40): 16371-16376.

- Ben Hall

Follow Ben on Twitter @benkhall

Thought Bubble Comic Con Day 1 - Mark Waid REALLY hates motion comics

The first day of Thought Bubble has ended and it's been a damned good one. Between the parade of cosplayers and the panels, this year's con is shaping up to be the best yet. Read on to find out why Al Ewing mentioned talking penises, how come Kieron Gillen overused the word 'demi' and why Mark Waid bloody hates motion comics.

The day began with a panel moderated by Gosh! Comics with creators talking about the best comics they have read this year. Anthony Johnston, Kate Brown, Kieron Gillen, and Al Ewing had an entertaining discussion their picks of 2012, which included a whole lot of talk about Hugo Tate by Nick Abadzis as well as pretty much everyone stating a love for webcomics in general. I neglected to take a notebook because I'm a witless oaf, so I can only remember a few of their recommendations. Journalism win! However, from the get-go, Journey into Mystery scribe Gillen was being given a hard time for his use of the word 'demi-mainstream', and rightly so! From then on it was demi everything and much laughter was had by all.

Next up was the 2000AD 25th Anniversary roundtable, which is the panel I was most excited for. It put together some of the giants of the publication in the same room where they, get ready for it, talked about comics and stuff! Rob Williams, Al Ewing, Simon Fraser, Simon Davis, Leigh Gallagher, Robbie Morrison and Mike Molcher, who delivered a fantastic talk about life working for the galaxy's greatest comic, including answering questions about their sense of decency when coming up with art and scripts. It soon became clear that Tharg's mightiest were also filthier than a rotten dishrag as they regaled us with tales of rejections due to talking penises and a particularly racy Nikolai Dante story that forced the publisher to seal the comic in a bag. Of course, they had to drop in a question about what they thought of the new Dredd film and surprisingly enough they all loved it (except Morrison, who admitted that he still hadn't seen it).

Then it was straight into the next panel - a discussion about digital comics, with Simon Fraser, Becky & Frank, Kate Beaton, Scott C, Mark Waid, Ketan Majmudar and Paul Duffield. This is where I learnt that Mark Waid can talk... a lot. Not to say that's a bad thing, he's eloquent, wise and full of anecdotes, so it's always a joy to hear him speak. Also, while he's a huge promoter of using comics in the digital medium with Thrillbent, he explained his disdain for motion comics, one that we both share. He stated that one of the most important thing about the medium is the ability to give the reader freedom to choose the pace of the story, as well as voices and sound effects. Motion comics take away from that, turning the reader into a passive agent rather than an active one. However, he did say that there are great things happening with digital comics, a view that was shared between the panel, even quasi-Luddites like Beaton and Frank. They showed us a great example of innovation in comics using CSS, where resizing the browser reconfigures the action on the page, making it easy to read comics with any sized screen. It was clear that everyone was enthusiastic about the future of digital comics, especially Waid, who would go on to talk more about it in a later panel.

After pottering around the main hall for 20 minutes, checking out all the awesome that was on offer, I headed over to see Kieron Gillen give a keynote talk about his foray into the industry and the advice he was offered from some of the best writers in the business when he was starting out. It was a funny and inspirational talk that gave a great insight into breaking into comics and how you shouldn't just try to be a good writer, but also a great human being.

To round off the day, I attended the writers' roundtable where industry veterans including Jason Aaron, Andy Diggle, Ivan Brandon, Mark Waid, and Nick Spencer spoke about the comics industry in general and the ever enthusiastic Waid gave a hopeful writer a point-by-point primer of how to write a script. Everything from keeping schedules to the varied ways writers got into the industry were covered in this insightful panel that may not have had the comedy of previous ones, but contained some eye-opening information all the same.

So that was day one of Thought Bubble - and what a day it was. Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the final day's events.

- Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on Twitter

Kobold Quarterly closes because it "ran out of miracles"

Sad news today that the bastion magazine for Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons, Kobold Quarterly,  is to close its doors for good after a five and half year run.

Editor-in-chief, Wolfgang Baur, stated that the closure was due to severe time constraints but said that Kobold Press will instead focus its energy on publishing adventures, campaign settings and other RPG material.

"This is a very sad day for me personally, and I know this comes as a disappointment to many of you," Baur said in a statement on his website, "The line on small press magazines these days is, “every issue is a little miracle.” We finally ran out of miracles, but it’s been an absolutely stellar five and a half years with Kobold Quarterly’s contributors, subscribers, and readers."

While Kobold Press recognised Kickstarter as a funding option, they decided that the money raised would not be enough to pay staff on a consistent basis.

But Baur is confident about the future of Kobold Press: "And now, as adventurers do, we will gather in the tavern to hoist mugs of ale and talk about the monsters we slew and the treasures we won. And then we will begin planning and scheming for the next adventure."

Future projects include Player Guides for the Midgard Campaign, the Valhalla Project writing project and two 'top secret' 2013 projects.

The Trollish Delver wishes Baur and his team the very best in the future and we're sorry to see such a great publication close.

[Via Tenkar's Tavern]

- Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on Twitter

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Preview: Maelorum gamebook

There are a tonne of great gaming projects getting the Kickstarter treatment at the moment but one of the most interesting for me is Maelorum, a self-described 'epic gamebook' that's 10 years in the making. Created by William Fincher, Maelorum is a hugely ambitious project that combines the interactivity and depth of videogames with the nostalgia of the Fighting Fantasy series.

One of the biggest surprises that Maelorum presented me with was the choice of characters. This isn't like the new editions of Fighting Fantasy where you get to choose from a few heroes but you inevitably head off on the same story - in Maelorum each character has an in-depth back story as well as their own storyline throughout the adventure. There are three to select from: Edan Kain, the warrior and the king's favourite knight; Raevena Cantor the gypsy rogue; and the aptly named Bryn Morecast, a wizard. Each character feels three-dimensional, with their own history, emotions and goals. They also have their own stats that reflect how difficult they are to play. For instance, Edan Kain is essentially the amateur setting, while Raevena is medium and Bryn difficult; meaning Maelorum has replayability written all over it. Heck, there are even achievements you can earn such as 'Heroic' and 'CodeBreaker', meaning completionists will probably have a lot to go at.

In my playthrough I chose Edan the knight, favourite of King Riordan, who happens to be the reason he's sent out on a mission to investigate the possible return of Goblins in the Elderwood, a blight that could be devastating to the kingdom. So off I go, being teased by the other knights while I leave into the wild green yonder like a bad-ass.

It's not long until my horse and I are attacked in the night by a shadowy assailant who I choose to chase into the mountains, a decision that comes with the first stat change for Edan. This is a really cool idea - each character has intelligence, persona, damage and defence as well as hit points, but these stats can change depending on your decision. Effectively, your choice of direction on your adventure directly affects how your character evolves. Because I chose to immediately head off into the night after the assassin my intelligence was reduced (since it wasn't the best idea) but my persona increased (because of my force of will). This mechanic somewhat echoes features in computer RPGs like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect and it's an interesting way to handle a gamebook.

 Eventually I come to the Black Cloister, a seemingly abandoned wizard sanctuary, which is where I encounter my first combat - a wraith in the guise of a child. Combat is handled in a pretty ingenious way - first you roll to see if you get to attack, which occurs on a two or higher. If you do, then you take your damage value and subtract the opponent's defence value; the result being the amount of damage you do to your opponent. The enemy then rolls 1d6 and you consult its chart, which is unique for every creature. The number rolled determines what happens and how much damage it does. In the case of the wraith, a roll of a two means that it only grazes your arm, but if you roll a six the creature stabs your right through your armour, delivering some severe damage. This combat system keeps each fight exciting and fresh while also being really quick and easy. You eventually also incorporate an NPC into fights, which is resolved in turns, but it never feels at all complex.

In the cloister, I came to a hall where I could select from a multitude of doors. There was a full colour image to go along with the scene, showing the doors each with a number on them. This made it really easy to navigate the section and it's an idea that plays out really well throughout the adventure. This page also contained a little picture of a bookmark denoting that I should either stick a bookmark in there (unfortunately not possible with a PDF) or just record the passage number shown on my character sheet. This is testament to how huge this game is to need save points. Fincher actually states at the beginning that it would be a bit ridiculous to start the book again if you die because it's so huge. It would be like getting firmly into Skyrim and then having to completely re-do it when you're offed. It also means that you can run multiple characters through the book simultaneously, which is a first for me with a gamebook.

I continued my adventure, finding items, solving puzzles, overcoming traps, gaining experience and slaying creatures. Once thing that really stood out was the quality of the writing. While it's true that I was using a draft copy of the book and of course there were a few inconsistencies, it is an amazingly written book with a good story and fleshed-out characters. This definitely isn't just your everyday dungeon romp - it's a multi-levelled adventure where your character grows through both experience and based on your decisions. The options presented to you throughout are logical and plenty, and with multiple characters there's no way you'll be finished with Maelorum for a long time to come.

Maelorum has just hit its funding target, but giving it an extra boost will go far to make what is shaping up to be an amazing gamebook into an even better experience.

Fund Maelorum on Kickstarter. Thanks to William Fincher for sending a preview copy of the book.

-Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on Twitter

Guest post: who can be counted as a casual MMO gamer? (part 2)

Liam Harper concludes his exploration of casual players in MMOs. Check out part one here.

While the majority of the first part of this post seemingly been me defending Blizzard (I’m quite often a huge critic of theirs, if you follow me on Twitter you will know that), however there are some things that have really irritated me.

  • Cross Realm Zones - The idea was a noble idea, but in reality it’s killed the enjoyment of low level zones for me. They feel too crowded, the competition for mobs too severe. I’ve felt myself bubbling up on quite a few occasions when I have to wait for a quest mob to spawn because it has just been killed by someone on another server. I feel like an old grandad running out of his front door and saying “GET OFF MY LAWN!”

  • Items behind gated content that is behind gated content. - Whilst this doesn’t bother me, I do agree with people’s grievances about it. For example you have to do dailies with one faction to unlock another faction, to get access to the gear for that faction. You then need to make sure that you have the correct reputation AND valor points to get the item you require. They’ve hidden things behind too many gates and that needs looking at. I’m not against some gating, but having 3-4 levels to go through before finally get there feels a bit too much.

  • Rep grinding too slow - This again is to do with dailies, but one of the things that put me off the whole daily grind is that you’d sometimes hand in a quest and get 138 reputation. 138?!? Was there really any point? There’s an argument going around that tabards should be reintroduced, and I agree with this. You should have to do dailies until you reach honored and then have the option to either equip a tabard and run heroic dungeons or carry doing the dailies. I don’t see a problem with this.

And finally

I saw a great tweet the other day from Velidra that said:

Dear everyone. If you have already got 9x raid ready characters and are burning out, I'm not going to have much sympathy”

This is so true that I can’t even begin to describe. You’ll be surprised how many people post and say “I’ve got to level 90 in 3.5 hours, I reach exalted with everyone since the 15th of last month. I’M BORED”

Well to be honest. That is your fault. If you don’t pace yourself then you only have yourself to blame!

- Liam Harper

Follow Liam on Twitter @Guillin

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Guest post: who can be counted as a casual MMO gamer? (part 1)

Today The Trollish Delver is excited to invite Liam Harper to share his thoughts on casual gamers in MMOs in the first of a two-part series of posts.

“Casual Gamer” - it’s a term that is thrown around more often than a cricket ball, one that has seen more use than your local taxi service. Once it probably had meaning but now, it’s thrown around way too liberally and seems to be used whenever someone can’t get their own way. What do I think is and isn’t a “casual gamer?” Well here are my definitions and as you can see, even these get a little blurred as we move on.

When I used to play World of Warcraft religiously (I didn’t get on my knees and pray, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see the screen properly) I would frequent the EU and US forums. Yes I realise that I’m lucky I still have a hand left after all the facepalming I did, but at least 5 times a day I would see the term “casual gamer”. A casual gamer for me is someone who either chooses to or is unable to play videogames for more than 2 to 3 hours each day and not every day. This could be due to a demanding job, a busy family or simply that they don’t wish to play any longer. For me that is the SOLE definition on a casual gamer. Topic over then right? Well not quite.

I don’t raid there for I am

One of the common reasons you will see for a casual gamer is “I choose not to raid therefore I am a casual gamer”. Here’s a revelation to you. That does not make you a casual gamer.

Speaking from experience as someone who quit raiding in World of Warcraft back in Wrath, you can still play all day and choose not to raid, but that does not make you casual. In fact, that makes you as much as a hardcore gamer as those who raid and in some cases even more so. The fact that you’re choosing not to raid has absolutely no bearing on whether or not you are hardcore or otherwise. Despite having the obvious time to do what is required, you are choosing not to. Whether that’s because you don’t enjoy raiding or just can’t be bothered is neither here nor there. If you play all day, every day, then you are a hardcore gamer. In my eyes there are no two ways about it.

Earlier on I said that raiders can be more casual than those who stay on all day and don’t raid. “But raiding is for hardcore only”. Again, I totally disagree with this. There are hundreds of guilds out there who raid three times a week and only three hours at a time. On top of that you also have the option of using the Looking for Raid feature. You DON’T need to be a full time professional gamer to raid. You just need some willpower to actually do it.

I have a family to look after! I should still get stuff!

I’m sorry but say what? That’s like (and I know analogies are normally frowned upon) saying “I’m not going to work today, PAY ME ANYWAY!” It doesn’t work like that. This is going to sound harsh but I have to wonder. If you pay for a subscription game that is designed to take at least an hour or two out of your day and you don’t have time to do that. then what are you paying the money for? Surely that could be better spent elsewhere?

As for people complaining about the content and level 90? Here’s my thoughts.

Everything is too time consuming! There’s too much to do!

I must admit on this one, at the start of Blizzard’s latest expansion this is totally how I felt. You have about six million and three dailies, pet battles, scenarios, dungeons, battlegrounds and so on, but only a few hours in the day to squeeze them all in. This is what I would do. For the first couple of days I tried to squeeze everything into the little time frame that I had. I felt myself getting stressed and nearing burn out. It’s an old school mentality that people really need to get out of and let me explain what I mean.

Back in vanilla WoW and The Burning Crusade expansion, you felt like you had to do dungeons, you had to raids, you had to do PvP and near the end of The Burning Crusade, you had to do dailies so that your character could stand a chance in even participating in the world. This got engrained into a lot of us, and when Mists of Pandaria hit we saw everything that we can do and our brains suddenly thought “oh my god! We need to do all these things.”

That is not why Blizzard have done what they have done. They’ve given us options this time. Want to raid? Go ahead, Want to do dailies? Sure. Pet battles? Why not! PvP? Go get pummeled by the warrior. What they’ve done and really for the first time in the history of the game, is that in my opinion they’ve made the game non-linear. You don’t have to do X-Y-Z, you can just do X, or Y, or hell even J if you so choose. Each path has it’s own progression. Some are titles, some is gear, some are vanity rewards. You don’t have to do everything because it is there.

I, myself, gave up on dailies pretty quickly. I found them to be monotonous, cramped and just downright tedious. What did I do? I tried the other sides of the game and found that I became ridiculously addicted to pet battles. Everyone has their own opinion of what they find fun. For example, when I do log onto the game, my guild master loves doing as many dailies as he can, he just loves them, and that’s fair enough. One of the officers spends all his time doing challenge modes and again, that’s ok too.

It’s kind of worrying to me when you see some people in the player-base who seem unable to make their own decisions about what they need to do. It seems to me that unless it’s clearly laid out with a big sign saying “THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO DO”, then they will just run around in circles chasing their tails. Word of advice. Figure out ONE thing you want to do today and do it. If you have time after that to do something else, then great! If you don’t, then at least you’ve accomplished your main goal for the day. Get out of the mindset of “everything is there, so I must do everything, and I must do it now”

by Liam Harper

Follow Liam on Twitter @Guillin 

Don't forget to give your two cents about this post in the comments 

Comic artist slams 'Cosplay Chiks', the internet ignites

Comic book artist Tony Harris, known for work on Ex Machina and Iron Man, has ignited controversy with a tirade against 'Con-Hot' female cosplayers, calling them fakers.

Harris took to Facebook in a rant that has the internet geek community reeling.

So what did he say? Here's the full rant:

I cant remember if Ive said this before, but Im gonna say it anyway. I dont give a crap.I appreciate a pretty Gal as much as the next Hetero Male. Sometimes I even go in for some racy type stuff ( keeping the comments PG for my Ladies sake) but dammit, dammit, dammit I am so sick and tired of the whole COSPLAY-Chiks. I know a few who are actually pretty cool-and BIG Shocker, love and read Comics.So as in all things, they are the exception to the rule. Heres the statement I wanna make, based on THE RULE: “Hey! Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot-Girl, you are more pathetic than the REAL Nerds, who YOU secretly think are REALLY PATHETIC. But we are onto you. Some of us are aware that you are ever so average on an everyday basis. But you have a couple of things going your way. You are willing to become almost completely Naked in public, and yer either skinny( Well, some or most of you, THINK you are ) or you have Big Boobies. Notice I didnt say GREAT Boobies? You are what I refer to as “CON-HOT”. Well not by my estimation, but according to a LOT of average Comic Book Fans who either RARELY speak to, or NEVER speak to girls. Some Virgins, ALL unconfident when it comes to girls, and the ONE thing they all have in common? The are being preyed on by YOU. You have this really awful need for attention, for people to tell you your pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate. After many years of watching this shit go down every 3 seconds around or in front of my booth or table at ANY given Con in the country, I put this together. Well not just me. We are LEGION. And here it is, THE REASON WHY ALL THAT, sickens us: BECAUSE YOU DONT KNOW SHIT ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER. And also, if ANY of these guys that you hang on tried to talk to you out of that Con? You wouldnt give them the fucking time of day. Shut up you damned liar, no you would not. Lying, Liar Face. Yer not Comics. Your just the thing that all the Comic Book, AND mainstream press flock to at Cons. And the real reason for the Con, and the damned costumes yer parading around in? That would be Comic Book Artists, and Comic Book Writers who make all that shit up.

This attitude is unfortunately something that some men (and probably some women too) hold towards women who happen to be attractive that are heavily into fandom. Somehow Harris thinks he has everything sussed out, but he just comes off as shallow and a douche. Women have more to them than their image, and that's something that really needs addressing in our community and I think this combined with other recent events has brought that to the forefront. 

- Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on twitter