Tuesday, August 30, 2005

First attempt at Papercraft Crypt of the Phantasm

For Halloween this year, we've been batting around the idea of giving out coloring books, activity books, or other fun giveaways rather than candy, the idea being to extend Halloween beyond November 1st, and to give out something that sparks kids' creativity rather than rotting kids' teeth. Thanks to Raven's Blight, the idea came to create Carnival of Souls themed papercraft goodies.

Unfortunately, we'd never done any papercrafting before, so I just took a shot at making a papercraft version of our Crypt of the Phantasm from last year. Here's what it looked like when I had assembled it (with my craptastic papercrafting skills):
First attempt at Papercraft
Everything you see for this model was built from a single sheet of 8.5"x11" card stock, including the base (the idea being to hand out one sheet per model). Not perfect, but not bad for a first attempt at this stuff - I expected to go through more revisions to get even this far. The fonts on the tombstone didn't come out, and I didn't bother to build the other tombstone, since it became obvious that I needed to sacrifice the page real estate to add a ghost to the crypt, but other than that, I think it turned out pretty good.

The final version, if we go this route, will be black and white for the kids, so that they can color their crypt however they like.

How-to for LED-based faux lanterns

Unpleasant Street has a how-to for making cheap glowing lanterns using a cheapo store-bought lantern and an ultra-bright LED. I was going to use faux fire, but I might go with lanterns instead for the mausoleum.

Virtual Relay for Life

As you probably already know if you've been reading my blog, we're participating this year in the American Cancer Society's yearly fundraiser called Relay for Life. We're building a wild west town with games and activities for kids to enjoy while the adults are making their rounds on the track.

But the people over at Second Life are building something, too: a Virtual Relay for Life. Hey, why walk 'til your feet fall off when you can just hold down the up arrow, eh?

A new A List Apart

The awesome and handy A List Apart web site has just undergone a transformation. It's now AJAX-capable and sitting on Ruby on Rails. Sexy. Zeldman even expounds on what they did.

You know, just when I think I'm starting to catch up, the industry leaders speed ahead again into new, cool things that I just don't have the time to dabble with, dammit. But bless 'em, without their efforts, I'd still be writing HTML code like back in the Netscape 4.7 days, so it's good to see innovation, even if you're only watching from the sidelines.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Shadows Over Camelot Review

The Games Journal has an interesting review of Shadows over Camelot, a new cooperative card and board game from Days of Wonder. It sounds like a good game, especially if you like cooperative gameplay.

The review author makes an interesting point at the end of the review about replayability of games like this, and whether a reviewer should recommend games that are great on the first play but not so great once you master the game. Personally, I don't get to play games often enough to master them, so for me, it's a no-brainer: it sounds like a good purchase.

Unfortunately, when you don't get to play games often, that also tends to discourage buying games that are in the $50 price range. So in this case, it's a Catch-22: for it to be worth the price of the game, you have to play it a lot, but if you play it a lot, it's no longer worth the price of the game. Oh, well. It's a good thing the game components look so beautiful - at least you'll feel that the money is going for some great visual design...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Making a Case for Medium-Length Games

Gamasutra posted an article called Making a Case for Short Games, in which the author of Strange Adventures in Infinite Space expounds upon the virtues of short games.

Now, I'm on board with a lot of what he says, but using this game as the example undermines his argument. SAIS is a fun game, to be sure, but I don't think I've ever played a game that drove home the need for longer gameplay than that one. SAIS is basically the moral equivalent of a quick jaunt into a dungeon in a standard RPG; you start out with certain small abilities, you go exploring, you fight some stuff, get better equipment, and then come back out when your resources run low. But unlike most RPG's, the game ends when you get out of the dungeon.

I don't care for that. Most games you play, you visit five to ten stars, where something random happens to you, and you get back home either buff or banked out, and your score gets tallied. Sometimes, you'll get some great item that you never get an opportunity to use. I'd much prefer a longer-form game that allows me to explore more of the so-called "infinite" space, put the buffs you earn to good use, and generally have some more continuity to the game. Just when the game feels like it's getting going, it ends, and you're bumped back to square one for the next game.

There's certainly a middle ground between a 50-hour RPG and the 20-minute game. SAIS's charm is that it's unpredictable and random, so it wouldn't suffer the "story games go on the shelf after you've played them once" fate. But ultimately, SAIS is just too short. They didn't have to make it as long as Escape Velocity Nova to distinguish itself - an option to control the length of the game would have been a simple matter to add, and would allow people to adjust the length of game they wanted to have.

First Carnival of Souls puppet show design meeting

We just finished our first design meeting for the black light puppet show that will accompany our Carnival of Souls Halloween celebration.

Last year, we introduced the neighborhood to Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour, where they met Madame Sarita, a kindly young witch looking to flex her mystic powers, and a host of summoned ghosts, including the evil Marius Blackwood, the old carnival ringmaster and dabbler in the dark arts.

This year, the story will pick up where we left off. Sarita, having narrowly saved the ghost of the beautiful Sarah Beaumont, has been doing her research all year, and now thinks she can take out Marius once and for all. All she needs is to wait until Halloween night to be able to summon him again. But are her newfound magic incantations strong enough to defeat a minion of the Dark Powers of the Earth? Will she finally allow the spirit of Sarah Beaumont to rest, or will she find her own destruction? I guess we'll find out on Halloween night...

We've come up with a host of great visual ideas for this year's show, and we'll be cutting back on the narrative in favor of a more action-oriented display. We've got an outline of the plot, and a list of effects we think we can accomplish, and by next week, we're going to have the first draft done and a list of effects to build. Boo scary!

More Haunted Dimensions papercrafting

With our recent interest in spooky papercrafting, I should point out that Ray Keim has put up a new papercraft project, the Haunted Mansion Entrance Pillars. They look really good.

Day four of Carnival of Souls construction cancelled. Go to the Deming Duck Races instead

Sadly, I woke up today with a hella sore throat, so I cancelled the construction day. It's cool with Daniel, because the annual Deming Duck Races are this weekend, and he's got some kiddos to take.

If you've never been to the Deming Duck Races, and if you're within reasonable driving distance, consider going - it's great fun. There are lots of food, music, and crafts, and the activities include karaoke showdowns, hot air balloon ascensions and nighttime balloon glows, horseshoe tournaments, poker runs, outhouse races, carnivals, green chile cookoffs, and of course, the world-famous and ever-popular duck races. I tell ya, nothing is funnier than the high-speed waddle of a running duck.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Big Lots run

Managed to sneak in a trip to Big Lots today, and picked up a few things.

First, I picked up two more "bluckies." Bluckies are blown plastic almost-lifesize skeletons, way cheaper and lighter than buying the anatomical teaching skeletons. They look like crap out of the bag, but with a little corpsing, they look okay, especially if you replace out the deformed-looking head with a proper skull.

Second, I picked up two skulls to attach to the bluckies. Heh. These were the typical foam skulls that get sold around this time of year, but these had an interesting aged effect to them that might save me some trouble.

Third, I picked up some more rats for our "Rat toss" game.

Finally, I picked up a big bag of spiderwebbing so that we can choke the ceiling of the mausoleum with spiders and spider webs. Should be a pretty cool look.

There were other things there I'd like to buy, but they were either unusable for our haunt or overpriced. My son liked their animated gargoyle. Sort of. He was fascinated by it, showing a proper interest in spooky items, but when it did its roar and flapped its wings, I could feel him cling to me tighter. Still, he kept pointing at it, wanting me to set it off again, so I accommodated him. Hopefully, he won't have nightmares about it tonight.

Relay for Life construction day

Today, we built some of the structures for our local Relay for Life event. As I mentioned earlier, Relay for Life is a fundraiser for Cancer research, and is basically an excuse to throw an overnight party for charity.

Our contribution to the event is going to be a wild west themed fun area for kids. Our original ideas of wooden facades and such were pared back drastically when we compared them to our budget, and the subsequent de-scoping landed us firmly in the territory of cardboard. But that's okay - between the refrigerator boxes we got to the leftover paint I had lying around, we were able to put together a few cool things. They won't last years, but they'll be fun anyway.

We have a shooting gallery that looks like a bank; robbers will appear in the windows and you shoot them with a ping pong ball gun. We have a jail that people can get put into until someone is willing to pay bail for them. We have some large panels that kids or adults can get behind to take photos of their heads on the bodies of an outlaw, a prospector, and a saloon girl. We have some other tricks in the works by other members of the team, so hopefully, we'll have enough cool stuff to draw a crowd of kids.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Ten CSS tricks you may not know

Evolt has posted an article called Ten CSS tricks y ou may not know. Some nice little tricks in there that I hadn't heard of before, and was well worth a read for me.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Touch of Death

Stumbled across the blog of one of the people making their own Crypt of the Phantasm projects that I blogged about earlier. His blog is called A Touch of Death, and he's chronicling his progress building his Halloween props this year. Besides the progress photos of the Crypt, he's got some nice photos of a cool scarecrow prop he's building. Check it out.

iPuppet progress

Worked some more on iPuppet tonight. It is now set up so that you can add, edit, and delete image layers, and you can add animators to cause them to move about. I have key commands working now to cause item states to change, but the only animators I have right now are an oscillator and a waver. Still, it's exciting to see a Jolly Roger being built by importing images, and then making it float around with a few oscillators and wavers. Tomorrow night, the goal is to get something like mouth movements possible.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Relay for Life

As if I don't have enough to do between now and All Hallow's Eve (building a mausoleum, stagecrafting a black light puppet show, building new carnival games, creating other props, releasing iPuppet), I'm also on a team of people to help create a booth at this year's Relay for Life, an overnight Cancer research fundraiser about two weeks from now.

My wife had the idea that we could create things that would work for both Halloween and this fundraiser, so that all this work could be used more than once a year. So we started up a Relay for Life team. While typical Halloween fare would be too morbid, we thought a "Pirates" theme would be fun, and anything we built for that could be repurposed.

Unfortunately, as the team grew, the theme got changed to "Wild West," which is not really repurposeable at all, and now I'm committed to creating a wild west "Saloon and Dance Hall" facade. Which is fine, except for all the other things vying for my time and attention right now.

But it should be fun anyway - anything creative like this is fun. Luckily, we've decided to aim low - we're getting refrigerator boxes and decorating them. Easy peasy, and we should be able to knock them out a morning. A teammate dropped off the boxes today, so this weekend, we'll be creating a wild west town. Yee-haw!

iPuppet coming along

iPuppet ScreenshotResponse has been so positive and voluminous to my Magic Mirror application, I've decided to make a generic digital puppetry application, called iPuppet, that will allow haunters to build their own digital puppets for use in their haunts. Shown here is a screenshot of the application under development.

iPuppet won't (currently) allow you to create 3D models like the Magic Mirror, but it will allow you to create 2D puppets like what you see on my Jolly Roger preview. Basically, you draw the pieces in another application like Photoshop or Flash, import them as layers, reorder them, and add animators to define how it all moves. Animators can be set to trigger on a keypress, thus turning your images into a digital puppet.

Hopefully, I'll get version one out in time for haunters to use it in the upcoming 2005 season.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Sinister Shadows

Giant propI have seen the top of the mountain, and it is good. A talking mountain, actually. The guys over at Sinister Shadows are my new heroes. Not only are they a bunch of home haunters that pull out all the stops (something I can relate to), but they really knocked one out of the park last year with a two-story pneumatic fully articulated talking giant. I can't even begin to imagine how much work that was (they said it took them 16 months), and how much talent they needed to pull that off.

Haunted Paper Toys

Midnight Banshees gameBoingboing recently posted a notice about a mechanical paper toy bat, but that bat is only one of over a dozen awesome papercraft goodies with a spooky theme.

This guy does it right. The artwork is superb, the papercraft is innovative, and the toys sounds downright fun. The image shown here is from a papercraft game called Midnight Banshees, which features an innovative beneath-the-gameboard spinner which makes it a mystery which crypt the vampire is hiding in. Awesome!

Even better, we've been bandying about the idea of, instead of candy, handing out a coloring book, activity book, or similar item for Halloween this year, customized for our attraction, to help the Halloween magic last beyond the 31st for the kids. Well, after seeing this guy's site, I'm inspired to see if we can design some papercraft goodies of the Carnival of Souls for the kids to construct and play with. That would be much more fun than just a coloring book...

Star Wars symphony performance

If you live in the Albuquerque area, and you're a Star Wars geek, you might enjoy this one. The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra (almost 200 strong) will be performing John Williams' famous music from the Star Wars movie on September 23rd and 24th. Tickets range from $15 to $45.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Day three of Carnival of Souls Construction

Daniel poses with a crypt doorI just added some photos to my flickr photo album showing day three of construction on our new big attraction for Carnival of Souls 2005.

Basically, what we're building is a mausoleum, complete with working crypt doors in one of the walls. It's going to be about ten feet wide, ten feet deep, and a little over eight feet tall. This thing is going to be huge, but the ambiance of having something this big, I think, is going to be well worth the cost, time, and effort.

Daniel, my buddy shown here in the pictures, is being a tremendous help with this project. I couldn't have done it without him. Not only does he has a prodigious array of tools, but he's a fast and skilled worker who encouraged me to go for something this big in the first place. The fun factor at Carnival of Souls this year will be in large part due to his hard work and generous gift of time. I can't wait to see this thing all detailed and assembled!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Death in the Family Playtesting

Did some more playtesting of my card game Death in the Family tonight. The test session came out well! The game was still a little long (a little over two hours) but it shook out a lot of gameplay elements that were weak before. This session was interesting because the dynamics of the game really floated around. The person who took the first big hit in the game actually ended up winning, so the game stays as anyone's guess until the very end. Also, this was with a new group of playtesters (mostly), and the response was uniformly positive, despite the flaws that were still lurking in the game - one player asked how much I was going to sell it for, so it sounds like the game would be marketable if I can get the remaining design bugs ironed out.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Growing Up Chamberlin

Growing Up ChamberlinOkay, I finally got the movie I made for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary party bumped over into a Quicktime movie you can watch. Here's the final product: Growing Up Chamberlin. (Sorry for the terrible voice acting - it was late at night when I did that - heh.) To see larger versions of the individual frames, you can see them on my flickr album set up for that purpose.


sherwoodGene Endrody over at Maid Marian has been working on a Shockwave-based multiplayer 3D game called Sherwood that is playable through your web browser. It uses Macromedia's deprecated MUS technology to provide the connection between players, so I don't know how long of a life it has, but it sure is an impressive feat for a lone developer. It's got nice, smooth motion, a fun environment, and just plain looks good.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mighty Mouse

Apple Mighty MouseSo my boss bought everyone in our web developer's group an Apple Mighty Mouse today. An aptly named product, I must say! The scroll ball works great - even better than a scroll wheel - and the scroll ball button and squeeze buttons have already given me a productivity boost.

My personal setup is to have the programmable buttons activate Exposé, so that the scroll ball button hides everything but the desktop, and the squeeze buttons show all open windows. Makes Exposé much more useful, because you don't have to go hunting for function keys.

The Arthropod Museum

I recently took a tour of the NMSU Arthropod Museum here on campus. Dr. Dave Richman showed us around his collection that features many arthropods from New Mexico, but includes many from other areas and times as well. We watched warily as he nonchalantly picked up scorpions and spiders to show them to us. Dr. Richman is a pretty cool guy - his knowledge of creepies and crawlies is extensive, but he's also cognizant of the general public's perception of them.

For instance, we asked him if he had a sample of the Death's Head Moth from Silence of the Lambs, and he did. He showed it to us, and started telling us bug-movie trivia, such as the fact that for the Death's Head moth in the movie, they had to paint a different moth because they couldn't find the real thing.

The museum is not just a collection for looking, however. Insects have a huge economic impact on New Mexico's agriculture industry, and the research the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science does benefits agricultural producers throughout the state and beyond.

Unfortunately, the Arthropod Museum has lost part of its funding. The museum will continue on, providing collection and outreach services, but I'm sure this is a severe blow. Hopefully, they'll find a way to re-establish more funding soon.

More Spawn of Crypt of the Phantasm

Wormy T's CryptApparently, there is someone else who is making the Crypt of the Phantasm for Halloween this year: the prolific Halloween-L poster WormyT has posted photos of her version of the crypt, too.

Her version has some nice touches like ivy creeping over the structure, some hand-crafted finials, and interesting stonework around the door. (And bonus points for taking photos with people trapped in the crypt with the ghost!)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Spawn of Crypt of the Phantasm

Lovermonkey's CryptIn case you missed it, someone posted in my blog's comments that they are building a Flying Crank Ghost crypt using our detailed plans for the Crypt of the Phantasm.

His version looks awesome, and includes some embellishments to our original design that make it look even better. He has added a floor, some steps, some skull details, textured stonework, and a two-sided gate with skull-headed finials. When he gets a Flying Crank Ghost in there, it's going to look great!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Day two of construction

Today, I went over to my buddy Daniel's place, and we continued work on the new Carnival of Souls attraction for 2005. Unlike yesterday, today was pleasantly overcast with just a bit of cooling showers, so I was in no danger of worsening my sunburn. We made great progress, and have it nearly all framed out. All that's left is the top.

I've set up a Flickr album that I'll put construction photos into as we build.

First day of Halloween construction

Today, we had our first day of Halloween construction on our major new attraction. Despite getting a pretty bad sunburn, I would say it was a success. My buddy Daniel and I worked from 9am to 1pm, and got about two thirds of the way through the wooden frame we're building. Last night, we went to Lowe's and Home Depot to get the building materials, and the total came to about $150 in plywood, hardboard, studs, and foam (cheaper than we estimated, actually). We haven't bought the paint or the incidentals yet, but I think we're going to get this thing out of the way for under $250.

Unfortunately, the frame is the easy part. Once the frame is built out (probably by tomorrow afternoon), we'll be cutting the foam pieces for detailing - that's what takes a lot of time, because we cut stonework into the foam for realism, and then hand-paint all the stones. We want this thing to look real. That means that we've still got a few weekends of work on this thing.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Fiend Without A Face

Just knocked Fiend Without A Face out of my pile of Netflix movies. It's a rather campy and low-budget 50's sci-fi/horror movie. Despite the plodding pace, cliché characters, and laughable (by today's standards) special effects, the movie manages to work. Looking beyond the special effects and imagining what the author had in mind, you get a pretty cool end sequence where a group of people have barricaded themselves into a house to hopefully survive an infestation of tentacled brain-sucking brains (yeah, you read that right).

At first, the brain-sucking brains are gross-looking, but by the end of the movie, well, they're kinda cute. The jerky stop-motion animation is charming, and the way they sit up on their tentacles and look at you has a distinct puppy-dog quality to it. (More's the shame when our heros blast them with their sidearms.)

Filled with 1950's atomic power skittishness and sporting a genuine mad scientist who creates monsters, Fiend Without A Face is one of those movies that I wouldn't mind seeing Hollywood update. It's not good enough to get upset over Hollywood "ruining" it, but it has enough potential to make for some great eye candy. Thumbs up on this one, if you enjoy campy 50's sci-fi.

Happy Birthday, Haunted Mansion!

Early Haunted Mansion sketchMy wife just informed me that Wednesday, August 10th, was the 36th birthday of Disney's Haunted Mansion.

So, happy birthday, Haunted Mansion! Since you were born, you've spawned two official descendants (Haunted Mansion Orlando and Phantom Manor), and numerous unofficial offspring. There is an entire community of fans out there, and my own Carnival of Souls never would have happened without you firing my imagination as a child.

So thank you, Haunted Mansion (and the Haunted Mansion imagineers), and happy birthday. May you see many more.

Harry Potter's Hidden Villain

If you've read the Harry Potter books, you know that they read like mysteries, and that they tend to have surprising twists at the end. These twists, of course, are supported by subtle clues throughout the book, but they're hard to see coming.

In the latest book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, everyone is talking about Dumbledore, Snape, and the other principals with regard to what's going to happen, but I want to put forth an alternate theory about what is going on in the J.K.Rowling series. It concerns one of the overlooked minor characters: Ginny Weasley.

Warning: there be spoilers ahead!

We know, from "Chamber of Secrets," that Ginny had been solidly under Voldemort's control at one point. Ostensibly, the destruction of the Diary freed Ginny of that control. But did it? There is ample evidence that Ginny remains a thrall of Voldemort. Consider:

* Ginny's personality has changed radically. Where before there was a shy, uncertain girl, now, suddenly, there is a headstrong, confident girl. This girl freely admitted to engaging in a long campaign of deception to catch Harry's eye - at the end of book six, she even says that Hermione advised her that Harry would "take more notice if [she] was a bit more - [her]self." That pause may not be a simple hiccup of emotion, but Ginny stopping herself from saying something that might betray her nature as that of Voldemort. And indeed, Harry DID take more notice when she was acting more like Voldemort (headstrong, confident, impetuous) than Ginny (quiet, shy, skittish).

* In the sixth book, the Weasley brothers opened their joke shop, which included a wide variety of love potions and other enchantment charms which sold briskly to the female students of Hogwarts. It was also revealed that the Weasley Brothers were also creating higher-power, "weaponized" charms and trinkets for use by the Ministry and other high-end clients. As a blood relative to the Weasley brothers, Ginny could have had easy access to much more powerful and subtle enchantment magic than the likes of Romilda Vane. Furthermore, it was clearly established that love potions were easy to sneak through security, so she could have easily taken them into Hogwarts to use against Harry.

* Ginny was in the D.A. with Harry, and so had intimate knowledge about him AND exactly what he knew about the Defense against the Dark Arts. She would have known what spells and potions Harry would have been able to discern or counter, and which ones he would not.

* As we saw with Ron falling victim to a love potion, the effect comes on suddenly, and is very obvious to friends what has happened. To create a more gradual effect, Ginny would have had to slip Harry smaller doses regularly over time. But Ginny had regular access to Harry and his personal possessions. Between being a Gryffindor (thus having access to the Gryffindor tower), being a Weasley (thus being "in" on the goings-on of the group), and being on the Quidditch team, it would have been a simple matter for her to slip him a dose of love potion whenever it was required, either a large emergency dose, or small doses over time so that he or his friends do not realize he is being slowly charmed.

* Harry found strange thoughts jumping unbidden into his head, as if from some other source. Harry's infatuation for Ginny manifested rather suddenly, and it surprised him. This came at a time when many other girls happened to be vying for his attentions, and it came just in time to stave off his direct interest in any of them.

* Harry's sudden infatuation with Ginny doesn't make sense. First, she's pretty young for Harry, especially when the people around him are hooking up with their own graduating class (most notably, Ron and Hermione). Harry never gave her a second thought before - indeed, she was a bit annoying. And he had ample time to get infatuated with her during their frequent Dumbledore's Army (DA) meetings, but he did not, opting instead for Cho Chang. And then, Harry started staying with the Weasleys, and came to think of Ginny as more of a sister, making it VERY out of character for Harry to suddenly have little unbidden thoughts come squirting into his head. Clearly, he was being worked over by subtle magic.

* Dating Ginny posed inherent dangers which Harry strangely seemed ignorant or dismissive of. Surely it would be inappropriate for a Quidditch team captain to date a member of the team, since concerns could be raised about both preferential treatment and coersion. Second, Ginny had become strangely popular with the boys practically overnight, and Harry's already enviable position (being the Quidditch team captain, the "Chosen One," etc.) could have sparked an attack from a disgruntled classmate. Finally, though, although he worried about Ron's reaction should he start dating Ginny, Harry did not even consider that the friendship that he, Ron, and Hermione shared was key to his very survival according to Dumbledore. Had he shattered Ron's friendship, he'd be imperiling himself, but he seemed somehow not to think of this sort of consequence. Perhaps this was Ginny's ultimate goal - to drive a wedge between Harry and Ron, to peel Harry's friends away from him.

* When Harry asked Luna to Slughorn's party, he did it suddenly, and was surprised that he had done it, almost as if he had temporarily lost his own will. Furthermore, Luna was a "safe" choice for Harry - her quirks made her an unlikely long-term match for him. Ginny, close as she was to Harry, and having had ample time to watch his reactions to Luna during their D.A. meetings, would have known that Luna offered no romantic potential for Harry. This effectively blocked Harry from asking out a girl he might come to really like. And somehow, it never even occurred to him to go with Hermione, despite the fact they were discussing not having anyone to go with. If he was simply looking for someone to quell the love potion attempts on him with, why not Hermione? Ginny couldn't risk that the romantic overtones of the party would push them together, and she wanted Harry separated from his friends, not closer to them.

* Ginny was privy to the fact that Dumbledore was giving special lessons to Harry, but not about what. Occupying Harry's mind with thoughts of Ginny would interfere with whatever it was that Dumbledore was teaching him or instructing him to do (and it worked). Also, there was a good chance that Harry would tell a girlfriend about what Dumbledore was teaching him, something that Voldemort would really want to know.

* On the day Harry took the luck potion, Ginny could reasonably assume that the Scoobies would be in the Gryffindor common room, since everyone would be discussing the results of the Apparition testing. Reasoning that Harry might be in low spirits because his friends could take the Apparition test while he could not (and correctly guessing that at least Hermione would pass), Ginny had a good opportunity to seal the deal with Harry. All she would need to do was to fabricate an argument with Dean and turn to Harry for solace. But when Harry took the luck potion, he narrowly missed that scene, passing by them just as Ginny started up a fight with her boyfriend. The reason for the fight was particularly lame ("he tries to help me through the door!"), so it was clearly meant to be a public break-up in front of Harry.

* Harry's brief contact with Voldemort left him able to tap into Voldemort's thoughts and feelings. Ginny was mentally controlled by Voldemort over the course of nearly a year. There's no way that she could have come out of that experience without an even deeper, permanent connection to Voldemort.

* When the Diary was destroyed, one of Voldemort's Horcruxes was destroyed. Or was it? When the Diary took over Ginny so completely, it's possible that the Horcrux passed over to her - after all, Dumbledore did say that living creatures can serve as containers for a Horcrux, and we have seen Voldemort cohabitating a body with Professor Quirell. Apparently, the Diary was smart enough to not only communicate with Potter and Ginny, but also to plot ahead, deceive, and perform magic. Moreover, this may have been its intended goal. Dumbledore said that Riddle desired an artifact of Gryffindor for a Horcrux, but that he had been denied access to any. Perhaps he then built the Diary to lie in wait for a Gryffindor to take possession of it, and then transfer the soul fragment into that poor child. Then, Voldemort could act through that student, and could always claim to have been struck by an Imperius curse if he got caught.

* When Harry is breaking up with her at the end of the book, he tells her that the reason is because he doesn't want Voldemort coming after her. Her response is that she doesn't care. This is unlikely if Ginny is innocent, because she's already tasted what a fragment of Voldemort's soul could do to her, and has seen many of her brothers nearly killed by Voldemort. Having only dated Harry for a month or so, it's unlikely she'd be so flippant about giving her life to be with him. She'd at least hesitate. The only explanation is that she knows that he has nothing to fear from Voldemort.

* Whenever we see Ginny at home, we also see that the Weasley clock points everyone to "Mortal Danger." While we are led to believe this is the general state of affairs for everyone, it's unlikely they are all in "mortal danger" all the time. That's like having a terror alert system with only one level. Instead, perhaps it is a specific reference to the fact that Ginny has turned and is ready to kill with the Avra Cadavara anyone who figures out that she's a thrall of Voldemort. Because her family knows Ginny best, they are in the most danger of being cursed.

* On the day of the Death Eaters' attack on Hogwarts, as the theory goes, the pub owner in Hogsmeade, Rosmerta, was under an Imperius curse, and that she was the one that noticed Dumbledore leaving and alerted the Death Eaters to come to Hogwarts. But why would she be under the Imperius curse? Voldemort would have no reasonable expectation to think that she would witness when and where Dumbledore apparates away, and Malfoy would have no use for her after a failed murder attempt with the necklace. More likely, Ginny was still a thrall of Voldemort, and when Harry re-activated the DA and told them that he was going off with Dumbledore, Ginny saw her chance and alerted the Death Eaters herself. To throw suspicion off of herself, she implanted in Harry's mind (using whatever tactic she used during her seduction of Harry) the idea that the poor lady was under the Imperius curse. (Also, it was probably Ginny, not Rosmerta, that planted the deadly necklace from the ladies' room.)

* During the fight with the Death Eaters, Ginny was locked in battle with a Death Eater who would throw spells around wildly instead of aiming them directly at her. Was this the effect of the luck potion? Or complicity? The luck potion would have made them near misses, not hugely wide shots as the text implies. Furthermore, Ginny, despite her assailant's wide-open flailings, apparently refrained from cursing him, probably because Ginny did not actually want to hurt the Death Eaters.

* How did Malfoy know about the Room of Requirement? None of the students were supposed to know about it. Ginny was one of the few who did, being in the DA. She could have easily informed Malfoy of the room. And how did Voldemort let Malfoy know that he had been chosen for a task, and how was Voldemort putting pressure on him to complete his task? If security was tight enough to keep Voldemort out, he must have had another insider (besides Snape, who apparently could not communicate with Malfoy) with which to put the screws to him: Ginny.

So the evidence is clear: Ginny is Voldemort's double-agent inside the Scooby gang at Hogwart's, and they have no idea. Sparks will fly in book seven!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Safari / Shockwave3D bug fix coming!

Yay! The dreaded Shockwave3D vertical shift in Safari appears to be fixed in the OpenDarwin codebase. It will still be a few months before it trickles up into common usage, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Carnival of Souls Design Meeting

We had our first Carnival of Souls design meeting on Sunday, and boy are we planning something ambitious this year!

We started off with some fairly ambitious ideas for what this new attraction should be, but my buddy Daniel was there, and his willingness to devote his time and tools to the project caused us to plan something even more ambitious than we had originally been thinking. The construction effort will be two to three times what we embarked on last year for the Crypt of the Phantasm, and it will be equally cooler, creepier, and compelling if we can pull it off.

The plan from here on out is to alternate design and construction weekends, with extra construction days as needed. In addition to our big new attraction, we have several things we want to accomplish for this year:
  • Rework the black light puppet show to be even better, with more special effects and less exposition.
  • Touch up the Magic Mirror facade.
  • Add a new carnival game.
  • Have more people in costume, acting in character.
  • Add some smaller features to help with crowd control.
The 2005 Carnival of Souls is sounding like it's going to be a blast. Halloween is fast approaching, but I've got a team of dedicated, talented woodworkers, artists, and actors, so hopefully, we'll be able to top last year's awesome work!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Well, I finally finished the new Harry Potter book last night, and, as usual, J. K. Rowling didn't disappoint. Another year at Hogwart's passes with plenty of mysterious things going on to wonder about as you go through the story.

The Harry Potter books read more like mystery novels than children's books or fantasy novels, which is why I think they have such wide appeal. It's also why they seem to generate a lot of speculation and discussion, since, basically, the mystery won't be wrapped up until the final book.

The problem with mystery stories, though, is that once you know you're reading a mystery story, you expect the plot to twist and flip over on itself, and go for the most surprising ending without the reader feeling that they were cheated (meaning, the solution to the mystery could not have been predicted by the clues that led up to it). What this means is that it's very difficult for the author to get the reader to take something at face value.

And this is doubly true in the Harry Potter world where magic makes anything possible. I won't engage in spoilers, but I will say that I don't think that one of the people who dies in this book is really dead. There's some little evidence you can point to in places to support this claim, but the main reason for believing this is that, well, Rowling spent a lot of plot fuel convincing us that this person really was dead. In a mystery novel, that's a sure sign that the person is going to turn up alive and well at some later dramatic moment.

But then, Rowling knows this. I've got my suspicions about how things are going to play out, but the truth of the matter is that Rowling still has a lot of freedom - she hasn't boxed herself into a corner with the evidence and hints she's dropped to date. She's managed to sustain this mystery over six books, and it's still interesting. That's the mark of a good mystery writer.

Friday, August 05, 2005

A lone courageous voice from within the Vatican

The New Scientist is reporting that the Vatican's chief astronomer has opposed recent unfortunate statements by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn that evolution is incompatible with a belief in God. It is a rare religious figure that defends the findings of science nowadays.

With the ever-present threat of Christian Creationist Intelligent Design proponents (including Presidoink Bush) trying to get their personal superstitions taught alongside science in the schools, it's refreshing to see that someone in the religious trenches has the courage to publicly say that we should let the evidence, not our emotions, drive policy.

More Microsoft Working Against You

Yet again, Microsoft is planning to make your computer less useful. Boing Boing is pointing to a story about Windows Vista that explains that if you upgrade to Microsoft's Windows Vista, suddenly images that have special codes in them will be blurred out on your monitor. The only way to see them non-blurred is to buy a special type of computer monitor. And this monitor needs a high-bandwidth internet connection, and will surrepetitiously report the images that you are looking at to God-knows-who.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Don't Confuse Web Design With Sex

Web Pages That Suck claims that web design is not sex. While that's true, one shouldn't overlook the considerable similarities:
  • When it looks good, you feel good.
  • When it's not working, you need to open things up and do little fiddly things with your fingers until it gets right.
  • When you do it too long, your eyes glaze over and you feel a little light-headed.
  • It's all about the interface.
  • If you're using any Microsoft products while doing it, chances are, it's not going to be very good.
  • It's good to get a little <h1> at the beginning.
  • You must connect to server.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Grudge Flash Site

Wonderland turned me on to the Flash site for the movie The Grudge. Most Flash promo sites suck, frankly, but this one manages to capture some of the creepy ambiance of the movie, letting you explore the haunted house from the movie.

The best part, though, is when the house finally gets you. The site says "The Curse has claimed another victim," and it starts fading in the names of other players who have also lost in the game. A clever twist, connecting the game itself to the other players it has apparently taken as its victims. Very cool, and very much in line with the all-consuming theme of the movie. Well done.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Boo Scary

Apparently, Shadowlands thinks that our local Toys R Us is haunted. According to them, "a little boy about five or six years old haunts the store in the night you could here [sic] his laughs and during the day has always playing with the toys so employees have a hard time keeping the toys off the floor."

(Gee, and all this time, I thought it was the living boys and girls playing with toys that made it hard to keep toys off the floor...)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Beyond Re-Animator

My wife informed me that all of our NetFlix movies are horror movies that I put in the queue long ago, having finally percolated up to the top, so I was to watch one of them and get it out in the mail tonight.

Out of my stack, then, I randomly chose Beyond Re-Animator, yet another in the Re-Animator series of movies based very loosely on the Herbert West character from Lovecraft's literature.

I've come to the conclusion that I need to be a script consultant for horror movies. Beyond Re-Animator showed a lot of promise in places, but it devolved into goofiness in too many places to make it enjoyable. The plot picks up on Herbert West in prison for his crimes, where he is sought out by a young doctor, Howard Phillips (groan), who witnessed his sister killed by one of West's zombies when he was young. They form an uneasy alliance to continue the study of reanimation.

This much was working well. I've always really enjoyed watching Jeffrey Combs act as Herbert West, because he's got a great sense of macabre intensity for the part. His obsessed disconnectedness worked well as a counterpoint for Tommy Dean Musset's portrayal of the earnest young doctor. The best scenes in the movie are the ones in which these two are interacting with each other, and they successfully bring out a sense of subterfuge and drama. The tension is heightened by some of the best horror theme music around - the Re-Animator theme is very evocative and tense, and stays with you well after the movie is finished.

Unfortunately, there's just not much screen time devoted to the tense relationship between the two doctors. We get far more of the young hottie reporter, the reanimated religious psycho, the reanimated pet rat, and the sadistic warden. Bárbara Elorrieta, who plays the reporter, does a great job with her insane back-from-the-dead scenes, but it's not enough to sustain the groanworthy plot twists that follow.

In this installment of the series, Herbert West has figured out how to restore the sense of identity that is missing in his reanimated corpses. Typically, when he reanimates someone, they come back violent and insane, but he has figured out how to extract a type of energy that normalizes the cellular behavior. The young doctor refers to it as a soul.

What follows is a bit of soul-swapping that leads to predictable results. The warden gets reanimated with the soul of a rat, and starts making squeaking noises, grows buck teeth, and twitches his nose a lot. Lame. Only slightly more interesting is the warden's soul cohabitating with the soul of the reporter in her reanimated corpse - the result is a tiresome All of Me-like flip-flop between the young reporter and the evil warden. And of course, the inmates break out and start a prison riot at one point, so we get all that stuff.

But all of this would be bearable if not for some of the really stupid interludes that are neither scary nor relevant, such as when the camera keeps cutting back to the reanimated rat rolling the warden's penis (which gets severed at one point) around the air ducts, or a nurse gets her clothes conveniently ripped off (presumably for the titillation factor). Juvenile crap that could have been left on the editing room floor to make a much better movie.

And it's things like this last bit that really make me think that I should be a script consultant. Who thought that stuff was a good idea? They had a good vibe going, with some interesting themes and good acting in an interesting setting, with fantastic theme music. And then they ruin it with puerile crap that undermines everything genuinely spooky and compelling they had in place. With only small changes in the direction of the script, this could have been a genuinely creepy film, and that makes it really frustrating to watch. In the end, it's a thumbs down.

Oh, well. Maybe they'll get it right in the next Re-Animator movie, if they bother to reanimate the franchise again...

Republican Protectionism

Driving into work this morning, I heard an NPR story on municipal wireless efforts by cities like Philadelphia to bridge the digital divide for its citizens. They want to offer broadband wireless access to everyone for $20/month, instead of the going rate of $80/month, by building their own wireless infrastructure instead of relying on the monopolistic position of existing providers.

One of the points made in the article is that, as you might imagine, the Cable/DSL companies are fighting back, but not by dropping prices. Instead, they are dumping money into buying legislators, and it sounds like they are succeeding. Now, there is a Texas Republican sponsoring a bill to make it illegal for municipalities to offer wireless services to its citizenry. The Republican has ties to SBC, natch.

Is this the sort of government we have elected? One which basically takes bribes to make legislation that benefits corporations instead of citizens? What possible reason, beyond simple monopolistic protectionism, is there to make such a law?