Monday, May 30, 2005
Sunday, May 29, 2005
We had a birthday party for him the other day, and lots of people showed up. People had a lot of fun, eating cake, talking, and playing games. Everyone was happy to come help us celebrate.
Privately, I was celebrating something else - his escape from the shadow of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Like most apprehensive first-time would-be parents, we attended birthing and parenting classes to prepare for the arrival of our baby. Of course, there was the cautionary stuff about not letting the baby sleep on his front, because this drastically increases the risk that the child will die suddenly of SIDS. But the thing that has really stuck in my mind was the fact that SIDS can strike a child anytime up to a year.
My son has been partial to sleeping on his front for the last several months, which has filled that what if part of my brain with a flicker of terror every time I'd go in and find that he'd flopped over onto his front. He was actually very cute in that pose - him lying there, head looking sideways, arms back, and his knees curled under him, making his butt stick up in the air. How he slept like that, I'll never know. But any enjoyment at seeing him like that would flutter away when I remembered the danger that the pose held. I'd dutifully go in, and turn him back over onto his side, and maybe risk waking him up with a kiss on the head. But I'd be back in there soon to make sure he hadn't switched back to face-down.
Kids his age face dangers every day. He likes to try to pitch out of my arms regularly, and quite often tries to shove too much food into his mouth. But we understand those threats. We don't understand SIDS. All we know is that there's this death trigger that trips arbitrarily and for no known reason. It seems to be correlated with sleeping face down, but it's still a mystery. You worry more about unknown fears than known fears.
Sure, there are a thousand more worries lurking in the wings, and they'll only accrue as he gets older. But as I smiled, watching that little boy smearing frosting on his face at his one year birthday party, I just took a moment to mentally cross SIDS off the list of hovering specters threatening my son. That alone was cause enough for celebration for me.
And now, when I go in and see him sleeping with his butt in the air, well, I can take the time to smile at it. It really is pretty funny.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Friday, May 27, 2005
We playtested my card game A Death in the Family again last night. It's got some really great game mechanics that simulate the Machiavellian intrigues of a conniving, backstabbing family. Unfortunately, some of the game mechanics would allow a player to basically put another player out of the game early on, so we made some adjustments to the rules for last night's gameplay.
Turns out we adjusted the rules too far. We played for 45 minutes last night with hardly a budge to the game state. At that rate, it would take four hours to get anywhere in the game.
Luckily, I have a group of friends who are intelligent, patient, and creative all at once, and we came up with some great ideas for balancing the game out a little more. But this process of fine-tuning the balance of a game (or even doing a rough cut at game balance), is a long, slow, painful one. It's not often that we have an opportunity to play the game, so adjustments take months to test. I guess this is why the game publishers hire a team of playtesters.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
Unfortunately, that statistic doesn't mean much to most people - what does it mean to have an ecological footprint of ten, sixteen, or twenty-two, for example? Well, there is one clever way to drive home what it means. If you divide it by the number of biologically productive acres per person worldwide, you can find out how many planets we would need if everyone lived like you.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
The game itself appears to be a glorified chat room at first, but there are lots of things that extend it beyond that. Customizable avatars, a game world currency, personalizable rooms, and pickups throughout the theme park are just the start - there's also a framework for delivering multiplayer games, like the excellent pirate ship combat game (particularly interesting since we're working on a similar themed game ourselves).
Monday, May 23, 2005
Anyway, I'm glad they did, because The Grudge is a solidly-delivered horror movie that gets under your skin. Granted, I'm a sucker for a good haunted house flick, but with fantastically creepy makeup effects for the ghosts, nonlinear time that keeps you off balance, and well-tensioned attack scenes, director Takashi Simizu has established himself as a talented architect of fear. He'll have a chance to solidify that reputation, as there are more Grudges on the way.
And perhaps remaking this movie for American audiences wasn't such a stupid thing after all. In this case. There's something to be said for localizing a horror flick such as this one, because different things scare the Japanese than do Westerners - different views how the universe works drive different reactions to supernatural-based horror. (For example, The Exorcist is unlikely to scare an Atheist as much as it would a fundamentalist Christian.) And Shimizu puts the localization to good effect by playing up the fish-out-of-water feeling you can get when being immersed in a different culture. So, while it's a shame that they had to go to such lengths to bring the story to American audiences, it may have made for a movie that reverberates more deeply with its audience.
The sad thing is that on CNN's web page for the story, they have a happy photo with a caption that reads: "CNN's Gerri Willis has 5 tips if you're worried about becoming the next victim of ID theft." Hey, thanks Gerri. But considering the story, what tip could have helped people avoid this?
Don't put your money in banks. Instead, keep all your money under your mattress at home. You won't accrue interest, but at least you can trust your cat not to go sell your current net worth to a Soprano.
Sunday, May 22, 2005
The fan film has secrets in it that you can unlock by clicking on elements in the different scenes - well worth the effort, because "Monkey Island Karaoke" is pretty good (who knew the Monkey Island theme had lyrics?).
Here's how to get the secrets:
- In The Full Monkey, click the "open" sign.
- In Purple Haze, click the window by GuyBrush's head.
- In Zoiks, Walt!, click on the slime on the floor.
- In No Questions Asked, click on the television.
Guests on the attraction will be virtually paired up with internet partners who will join the adventure at Disneyland in real time through web cam technology. At-home participants will help increase the scores of guests on the attraction by raising the value of targets along the way.I wonder if we're seeing a new marketing drive for building brand awareness of the parks themselves. (See also the Virtual Magic Kingdom.) If so, it's smart - letting people actually experience the parks virtually is a good way to do that, since a lot of what differentiates the Disney parks is the environmental experience - it's not just roller coasters and scramblers plopped down on big concrete slabs like at most theme parks.
Friday, May 20, 2005
The gameplay hinges on using programs to hack into network nodes, using each program's strengths to gain different advantages on the battlefield. The storyline, even early on, brings in a mystery of sorts, where you don't know who to trust, despite the simple yes/no dialogue interface. For a promotional online game aimed at kids, the game creators really pulled out all the stops. Pretty impressive.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
I first picked up their music at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, where their music was being used in the haunted house attractions for the park's seasonal "Howl-o-Scream" event. Since then, I've used their music, with their gracious permission, in my own home haunt to fantastic effect. These artists are down-to-earth and generous with the use of their music, a refreshing change from the hostile DRM-laden attitude that seems to be pervading the music industry lately. Support these guys by picking up one of their albums, and listen to it - it just might inspire you to start up your own home haunt this Halloween.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
According to the web site, the idea came from an outrageous example in a philosophy paper about Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, and has now turned into a bona-fide community event.
This is one of the largest volunteer-based immersive environment projects I've seen, and from the looks of the photos, it was probably a blast for the kids to experience and for the adults to create. I've been involved in smaller-scale environments for kids, and it's always well worth the effort. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that it doesn't matter if the environment you create doesn't look Disney perfect; when you make the effort to create something on an immersive scale, most people (especially children) can see the fantasy of what you were trying to build, rather than the reality.
Perhaps you should start up a similar immersive environment event in your community.
Monday, May 16, 2005
Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.This belies the claims the Bush administration made when they could produce no WMD's that they were just going on the best available intelligence.
There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.From this, it's clear that someone made the point to him that he should at least consider an exit strategy. But now we're in a quagmire that we can't extricate ourselves from, with insurgents taking pot shots at our boys in uniform.
No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.This one shocked me. I'm pretty skeptical of Bush's motivations, but I didn't really think that he timed the war specifically for political gain for conservatives. But this is clear evidence that the timing of the war was largely a ploy to shore up conservative power.
It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.If, as Bush had claimed, it was imperative to act to stop the threat of WMD, then why did we attack Iraq? Is it because the American populace was predisposed, and it would play well for election time? I didn't think that before reading this memo, but now it's clear that this war had a strong domestic political motivation.
Of course, my question is, why isn't this being reported here in the US? It's apparently widely reported in Britain. You can find some scant mention of it on CNN and like places, but not much. Salon did an article on it, and the Washington Post has analysis too. But the television news sites seem silent on the issue - not even the usual spin doctoring.
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Recently, the army decided to offer 15-month tours of duty in order to try to recruit more young men and women to join up. That sounded pretty desperate, but now, a Denver TV station has reported that army recruiters are encouraging potential recruitees to lie by creating false diplomas and transcripts of their high school degrees, and to take pills that (supposedly) help avoid a positive on a drug test in order to qualify for enlistment.
The kid that exposed this shameful state of affairs sounds intelligent and sober, so there was no harm done in this case, but it's unlikely he was the first to be told to lie in order to enlist. One wonders how many dropout stoners we sent over to Iraq before the story broke.
Friday, May 13, 2005
If you can't respect the attourney-client privilege, don't become a lawyer. If you can't stay true to the Hippocratic oath, don't become a doctor. If you can't keep people's dark secrets to yourself, don't take confession. And if you can't put the little blue and white pills into the little brown plastic cup, then don't become a pharmacist.
It is not the pharmacist's place to inject his or her personal beliefs into something as personal and protected as the medical deliberations that occur between doctor and patient. It's none of your damn business what drugs I'm taking. Do your damn job, or change jobs.
An article over at Grimwell Online points out the perils of this plan:
When the game becomes nothing more than a tool to drive more money to the shareholders, it's quickly able to shed all vestiges of a game.He correctly points out that there is great temptation now for the executive producers to demand games that are little more than vehicles to prompt people to buy in-game content - and indeed, to hold back the best content for the highest-paying customers.
And what does this mean for educational games? Well, first, it means that the commercial gulf between the emerging "Hollywood" game development culture and educational games is widening further. Not only can educational game titles not compete on the graphics and depth of media against the AAA titles, but now, they'll have to compete against games that make money not only on the initial purchase (which already tends to be steeper than educational games), but continue making money after the sale.
Probably not much educational titles can do to encourage micropayment competition against entertainment titles, although I could see a devious model which allows the hapless student to pay fifty cents to skip over the boring educational parts of games to get to the fun parts. Heh.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
However, it looks like a new line of Disney merchandising is breaking out of that mold. Faithful reproductions of the spectacular wall sconces from the Haunted Mansion are what I'm drooling over, but there appear to also be the paintings from the stretching gallery, the talking skull from Pirates of the Caribbean, and detailed replicas of the birds from the Enchanted Tiki Room.
Tellingly, all these replicas appear to be based on the older rides, hearkening back to the days when the Imagineers were really breaking ground with courageous, visionary design, rather than optimizing things to tweak the most dollars out of an attraction and cross-market their movies and television shows. If these are the rides that people will shell out the big bucks for in order to revisit cherished memories, what does that say about the new crop of rides?
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Of course, since this is the rapid prototyping process, the goal is to get a playable approximation of the final game out as quickly as possible. Ideally, this is throw-away code, and when we go to build the final project, I'll be able to rewrite the game engine from the ground up from a complete design document. But realistically, chances are good that this will be pretty close to the final code, mod game asset swapping. So I find myself balancing between speed of development and flexibility for future use.
Thankfully, the Interface Stack Model that I used in Sacraments (detailed in a Director Online article I wrote) is a flexible and lean architecture that you can use for pretty much any game. It excels at allowing "exceptions" to intrude into the main game engine by popping up dialog boxes or cutscenes that pause the main action while you interact with the user. It's quick to set up and work with, works with any context - sprite-based 2D, Imaging Lingo 2D, 3D, or any combination of the three - and nicely compartmentalizes each game interface.
This is the first time I've used it beyond Sacraments, and it's already working very well, allowing me to easily and seamlessly drop in cutscenes from some exuberant rat commentators about what the player is doing without having to have any of the other code be aware of them taking over the interface while they talk. I'm pretty happy with this scheme.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Monday, May 09, 2005
"The world of games desperately needs to become relevant and desirable within our culture... With all the exciting facets these new games have to offer, publishers should be holding the keys to a lifestyle that people want to be part of."
After lobbying the government to strip consumers of all rights to the media they purchase, and to criminalize even fair use of that media, it boggles the mind that she would be whining about this. The DMCA, which she helped usher in, made it illegal to create a device which could be used to freely pipe music around, which is exactly what she's complaining about not being able to do with her iPod. Locking out competitors is just a corollary - the business case for draconian music control is one of her own construction. If she hadn't helped kill the culture of mobile music, this wouldn't be an issue in this generation of portable music players.
The question is: is she actually this hypocritical? Or is she just too dim to understand that she is personally responsible, perhaps moreso than any other human on the face of the planet, for the frustrations she's having with this new era of complete music lockdown?
One little glitch: I had Entropy's installation of PHP5 running on my machine, and the installation broke it. Luckily, pasting the init lines back into the httpd.conf file and setting AllowOverrides back to their original values fixed it.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
The car stereo adapters for iPod that we have work like this: you select the frequency they broadcast on, and then you tune your car stereo to that frequency to listen to your music. I had assumed that the broadcast range wasn't very far, so that you wouldn't interfere with other cars and their iPod broadcasters.
But as luck would have it, my cheap-o battery powered adapter's batteries started dying about fifteen minutes south of Socorro. Hellbilly Deluxe started sounding like crap, with a lot of static and noise over it. So I just turned it off.
But a tap on the 'seek' button on the car stereo turned up my wife's iPod broadcasting her Angels and Demons audio book, clear as a bell. I found that I could lag back ten to fifteen seconds behind her and still have a good source.
So it appears that you could broadcast a radio program to your local neighborhood with just a cheap personal radio transmitter. Normally, this would be useless, but I'm thinking it might be a good way to scare up some anticipation for our Halloween festivities this year. If we were to put out a sign that says "Tune to 88.1" and stick an iPod on repeat with some pre-prepared radio dramas that describe the history of the "Carnival of Souls," perhaps intermixed with some awesomely spooky Midnight Syndicate tracks, then we might just kick-start the Halloween season early...
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Naturally, this sort of thing causes a lot of tension and apprehension. Is my job secure? Who will I be reporting to? What does this mean for what I do in my job? Thankfully, our Dean and Department Head were willing to sit down and tell us what they can tell us about what is happening, despite the hand-wringing that will ensue. I'd much prefer to hear frank and honest talk about what's going on, even if they can't tell us everything, than having to rely on rumor and speculation.
One of the things I like about working in Extension here at NMSU is that there is a culture of cooperation and service. A corollary to this, I believe, is open and honest communication. Maybe I'm being naive, but I don't feel that my job is in jeopardy. I'm good at what I do, there's more work to be done, not less, and I'm an active participant in many cross-college and cross-unit projects. So my personal apprehensions currently lie beyond my own job security.
One of the things I wonder about this change is whether this culture of service and straightforwardness will be preserved. On one hand, we have a different reporting structure, and presumably, different duties and clientele to go with it. Who knows what that will do to our workplace environment? But on the other hand, we're unifying our communications effort. Maybe we'll be able to extend our service culture beyond the borders of the College and start providing outreach services from the other colleges. Personally, I'd love to work on some outreach materials for the Math and English departments, maybe even children's shows on KRWG.
I don't know where the future is going to lead, and there are definitely going to be some down sides as I bid farewell to some of the people I've become accustomed to working with, but hopefully, there will be good things that come of this change, too. Maybe this is just a huge opportunity.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Monday, May 02, 2005
They're, of course, framing it in a "It's wrong because God says so" context, but they fail to point out that this is the Old Testament God we're talking about here, the same genius who recommended that we stone to death women who are raped anywhere but out in the wilderness. (The idea being that if they're raped deep in the woods, they might have called for help, but no one might have heard to come to their aid.)
This on the heels of states like Florida and Texas banning gay people from adopting children. Because, you know, children are better off alone than with two loving mothers or fathers, and it's better to encourage abortions by having a tightly constrained adoption landscape than to have a surplus of homes for needy children.
And of course, let's not even get into all the whining and handwringing over gay marriage. For the life of me, I don't get why anyone would support a law that says we'd rather have your daughter marry Mike Tyson than Ellen Degeneres.
But what are you going to do? People need scapegoats, and they like to feel righteous. Homosexuals make good whipping boys nowadays because there's an obscure passage in the Bible which, if you interpret it in just the right way, puts God on your side (as long as you ignore that little bit about "Above all things, love.")