Last updated: December 2, 2020
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What Middle-Aged Women Can Add to Gaming
Housemarque has a new video game that struck me as so unique and fascinating that I was compelled to buy it.
I made the decision to buy the game without watching a ton of demos or reading up on internet reviews.
It was a no brainer. From the trailer, I could already tell that Returnal was similar to many other games. It was about a strong, smart, and capable protagonist who had to conquer the odds. That is not what compelled me to make the purchase.
The main character Selene is a woman. That in itself is an anomaly. But what makes her even more of an oddity is her age. Selene is a middle-aged woman.
Female videogame characters are typically youthful and sexy. The few who are not young are elderly women revered for their wisdom or hated for their villainy.
So a middle-aged female lead captured my attention so strongly that I just had to buy it.
I could finally see someone like myself in a game. You see, I am a 50-year-old woman who has recently found out that (surprise!) middle age is not exactly what I thought it would be.
At 50, I do not feel young. I do not feel old either. My body is not as fast as it was in my youth, even though I am in good shape.
In fact, I feel like I am at my best ever. But there is a certain invisibility that middle aged women can all identify with.
People can be rather awkward around a 50-year-old woman. Rarely do they start conversations. When they do talk to you, they ask about your children.
This adds another layer of awkwardness and invisibility for me as a childless woman.
With no children, they cannot imagine anything else to talk about.
When you find a woman in a game, she could be a companion or just there to add color to a party. She is not the star.
We can all remember how big of a shock it was for fans of Metroid to discover that the hero they had admired for so long was really a woman.
It was supposed to be a shocking plot twist. And it did shock many.
Today, gamers who want to play as women have many more opportunities than ever before. Some games even allow you to create the character you want to play.
But these female characters are almost invariably young.
To be honest, there are advantages to playing younger characters. Younger bodies are stronger and more agile. So it makes sense to have a main character in their 20s or 30s.
In Tomb Raider’s 2013 reboot, Lara Croft’s youth and experience are a huge part of what makes the story powerfully inspiring.
She was a fresh college graduate who found herself alone and injured after surviving a shipwreck.
Her inexperience meant that she had to challenge herself in ways she had never done before. She was discovering her own strength and we were there to watch her develop resilience. It was an awesome journey.
As a 50-year-old gamer, I cannot help but imagine what Lara Croft would be like two or three decades older. What challenges would she face? How would she tackle them? What allies and enemies would she have acquired along the way?
We have no way of knowing. Because the creators are not particularly interested in Lara Croft post 30.
At this point, you are probably wondering just how many gamers are wondering about the same thing I am wondering about.
I looked up the numbers, and female gamers my age are almost as many as male gamers. There is only a 2% difference in the numbers.
My point is that if we can have such a variety of middle-aged male characters, then women my age deserve representation, too.
I would love to see more female gaming characters who are my age saving the world, solving mysteries, and slaying the occasional dragon.
Speaking of dragons, I can remember when the dragons in video games looked more like ducks than dragons.
Not too long ago, Ubisoft argued that they could not increase the playable female assassins in Assassins Creed because they were difficult to animate.
We have made some progress since then, thankfully. But we still have a long way to go.
I love that Selene features on the cover and stars in the game. I feel validated by her presence.
Selene represents the best aspects of being middle aged. Young people are more ambitious but also vulnerable to people-pleasing.
Selene comes armed with life experience the way only a middle-aged woman can be.
She is sure of herself and understands who she is and what she stands for. She is guided by her own internal compass and not other people’s opinions.
She has the confidence to steal a spaceship and go on a mysterious quest.
She is decisive and confident in her ability to handle whatever comes her way. She goes after what she wants without apology. I would love to see more characters like Selene.
Scientists Create the Most Detailed Atomic Image in History
Scientists at Cornell University are working with a unique technique to record images to a higher level of detail than ever achieved before. The result is the highest resolution atomic image ever created.
The researchers magnified a 3D sample of a crystal 100 million times. The resultant image has twice the image resolution.
It earned them a Guinness World Record in 2018. They are now to break their record.
The researchers used electron ptychography to shoot a billion electrons per second at a target material. The beam of electrons aimed at a surface consists of a billion electrons each second.
With the beam’s slow movement, the released electrons hit the target from a variety of angles. The electrons can either pass straight through or bounce off of atoms along their path before they exit.
According to David Muller who is a physicist at Cornell, ptychography is like a game of dodgeball with your opponents in darkness. In this game of dodgeball, distinct atoms are the targets and electrons are dodgeballs.
The advanced detectors allow Muller to ‘see’ the atoms by seeing where the electrons stop. The electrons generate a speckle pattern that algorithms use to calculate the original location of the atoms and their shape.
Scientists have used ptychography to photograph materials with a thickness of one atom. Now, this study shows that it could capture ten to a hundred layers of atoms and more. The study was published in the journal Science.
Material scientists can rely on the technique to learn about the properties of materials with a 30-50 nanometer thickness. This thickness is so small that your nails grow more than that in a minute.
“They can look at stacks of atoms now, so it’s amazing,” declares University of Sheffield engineer Andrew Maiden. Maiden was not part of the new study, but he participated in developing ptychography as a technique. “The resolution is just staggering.”
This new development is a breakthrough in electron microscopy. Electron microscopes came about in the 1930s. They made it possible for scientists to look at objects of interest, like viruses.
The poliovirus, for example, is smaller than a light wavelength. Electron microscopes cannot deliver higher resolutions without a corresponding increase in the electron beam’s energy. This would give rise to an electron microscope that utilized enough energy to damage the material.
Researchers theorized about ptychography in the sixties’ as a possible solution to the problem. But scientists could not apply the technique for decades because they were working with limited computational power and limited capacity detectors.
Earlier versions of ptychography used x-rays and visible light instead of electron beams for imaging atoms. At the time, scientists were looking for ways to make electron microscopes better and this was so effective that it superseded electron ptychography. According to Muller, only true believers in ptychography still paid attention.
The long-term impact of this work will be better electronics. Computers and phones will be more efficient as well as powerful. Batteries will last longer because scientists would study the chemical reactions in greater detail.
Scientists Create Cool New, Nimble and Bug-Sized Drones
Scientists are drawing design lessons from insects to create more resilient, nimble, and tiny bug-sized drones. The new drones move around more freely and are good at surviving hazards like gusts of wind, obstacles, and confined spaces.
Like insects, these tiny drones have a remarkable ability to withstand crashes and to navigate cramped spaces.
Insects demonstrate remarkable dexterity of movement that helps them to move through different environmental conditions. The researchers deployed a new soft actuator that enabled the remarkable drones to survive the ravages of flight.
These robots could one day be useful for delicate operations like pollinating plants or inspecting machinery in smaller spaces.
Drones fly over open spaces where they are not likely to collide into anything or have to move in smaller spaces. Super small drones are different.
Unlike insect-sized drones, regular drones run on motors. Motors are less efficient for tiny drones, so they have to be built differently. The bug-sized drones, a tiny actuator made with ceramic and piezoelectric tools do the trick.
The first micro robots to take to the air were powered by piezoelectric ceramics. But they were not resilient enough to handle collisions. They were fragile compared to bumblebees, which survive the frequent collision. Bumblebees run into obstacles every second.
The team had to swap the harder, more breakable actuator for softer and more resilient rubber cylinders. Thin and coated with carbon nanotubes.
The carbon nanotubes react to live voltage by setting off an electromagnetic force whose effect is to squeeze the rubber cylinder and elongate it. The wings of the drone beat more than 500 times a second in response to the continual contraction and elongation. This makes the drone as resilient as a bumblebee.
These drones are capable of recovering from a collision during flying and carrying out somersaults. The super small drones are super light, weighing about as much as a bumblebee at 0.6 grams. They look a lot like winged cassette tapes. The team is creating another prototype to follow this one. This new prototype will look like a dragonfly instead of a bumblebee.
The soft actuators enable the robot to continue with its flight even after encountering obstacles. This feature means that the robot can navigate cluttered airspace and serve many practical functions that larger, more traditional drones cannot.
The challenge is that the actuators operate on high voltages and they necessitate tethering robots to a power source that is wired. Once this challenge is circumvented, these robots will unlock many possibilities.
Engineers could deploy these mini-drones to carry out engine inspections to make complex machinery more functional and safe. The drone can fly inside a small space equipped with a tiny camera that enables it to look for cracks in the turbine plates of turbine engines. The tiny drones can also help to pollinate crops or help with disaster relief operations by aiding search and rescue.
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