Friday, September 30, 2005

Let the sparks begin to fly

The Journal of Religion and Society has released a paper called (bear with me) Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies which basically argues that the more religious a nation is, the worse its people behave.

The study compares the hyper-religious USA with its more secular western counterparts, and finds that there is a very strong correlation between religious belief and the societal ills it would supposedly correct, such as STD's, abortion, murder, etc. The rational, secular nations do a much better job, apparently, of keeping social problems in check than the faith-based Christian nations.
In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies

Thursday, September 29, 2005

We don't need no stinkin' Geneva Convention!

According to the Los Angeles Times, new allegations of torture in Iraq are prompting Senator McCain to introduce legislation that would require the US military to abide by the Geneva Convention.

I don't know what is sadder - that we apparently need a law to get the military to abide by the Geneva Convention, or that Bush would veto such legislation if it passed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Making a game console: $4 billion. Dominating the console market: priceless

Apparently, the Xbox has lost Microsoft $4 billion in four years. Any other company (read: any company that didn't have the overblown monopoly revenues of Windows pouring into their coffers) would have gone belly-up by now. But Microsoft can just buy their way into any market nowadays. Their products don't have to compete on their own merits.

But don't worry, Xbox owners. They'll get that four billion dollars out of your hide eventually. Plus interest. Lots and lots of interest. Micropayments, anyone?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Midnight Syndicate is making a movie

The spooky soundtrack band Midnight Syndicate, providers of great gothy ambiance for haunted attractions across the country (including our own Carnival of Souls), announced on their mailing list today that they are making a movie. The movie is called The Dead Matter, and is apparently a remake of an earlier labour of love by one of the members of the band. Midnight Syndicate will be doing the movie soundtrack, natch. Knowing the tastes of the band, I'm pretty sure I'm going to like the movie. Unfortunately, preproduction doesn't start until 2006, so it looks like we'll be waiting a while before we see their dark vision on the screen.

True Western

Apparently, Bill Kunkel, one of the early videogame journalists, taught a course on advanced game design at the University of Nevada. One of his students, the talented Justin Ficarrotta (who brought us the Freeverse hit Kill Monty), has placed his work for the class up on a web site for all to see. The work is a lot of design work for a theoretical game called True Western, including trailers, explanations of gameplay elements, design bibles, level designs, project requirements, etc. An interesting site to read for would-be game designers.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Bad idea

There are many bad ideas. Unprotected sex with drug-using strangers. Getting behind the wheel when drunk. Switching from Mac to Windows.

And then there's what I did this weekend. I've never had an allergy episode as bad as I've had for the past several days - this time, I'm having asthma-like symptoms of not being able to breathe in deeply and feeling light headed. I've also been running a fever off and on.

Also, our son is going through some monster teething pains, so he is perpetually on the edge of crying fits of pain. This makes him unable to sleep for very long, so he's cranky and tired on top of the pain.

So what do we do? We go up to Ruidoso, a little touristy village high up in the mountains, to spend the night in a mountain hotel, meet some people for dinner, and to go to a show. Bad idea. With the altitude change and the air becoming thinner, it suddenly became a lot harder for me to catch my breath. I get the super chills and weak-knees, and collapse on the bed in the hotel room, unable to go to dinner with my wife and son as they went to meet the others at the restaurant. Once she gets to the restaurant, my son starts crying inconsolably, and basically forces her to leave before she can even put in her order. She comes back and finds me with an even higher fever than I'd had before, and I'm swimming with nausea, clutching an ice bucket like a Titanic survivor gripping a life preserver. We decide to pack it up and go home before the show even starts. We bundle up and drive back that night, all three of us miserable or exhausted. Six hours of driving in one day with practically nothing to show for it.

But I'll tell you, nothing's better than your own bed when you're sick. I felt better as soon as I climbed under the covers. I just wish my wife hadn't had to give up seeing the show - we almost never get to go see stuff like that nowadays, and she had been looking forward to it for weeks. We'll go up again some other time - I just hope we all feel better next time.

More work on the Mausoleum

Well, despite still being under the weather, we managed to get together tonight and do the final computations on what materials we need to finish up the mausoleum construction. We went to Home Depot to pick up a sheet of MDF, some shelving brackets, and five more sheets of pink foam. (That's how big this thing is - it's going to take twelve 4'x8' sheets of foam to cover. That's 384 square feet of detail work we're looking at between now and All Hallow's Eve.) We moved it all across town to my place - it's now all sitting in my garage, except for the base and crypt wall, which Daniel's going to work on over the coming weeks while we get started detailing the front facade and interior left and right walls. We have a lot of work still ahead of us, but it's starting to get to the point where more people can work on it, so I hope the work will accelerate. How long is it until Halloween?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Out again

It truly never ends. After several weeks of being under the weather, sometimes to the point of incapacitation, I thought I was over it all last Sunday. Here it is, the following Friday, and I'm out again, this time with an allergy-based sinus infection that has moved down into my lungs, so that I have a hard time breathing. Couple that with a killer sinus headache that just started up, and I'm feeling pretty miserable. I've had so many antibiotics this month that I think I'm mummifying my internal organs.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Thwarting cheating in MMOG's with game world design

Adam Turk, developer of the MMOG backend engine JEROME, has an interesting blog entry that basically argues that smart game world rule design can help defend against player cheating. The example he gives is instantaneous travel - if player stamina is decremented by a factor of distance travelled over time, then the further the cheater moves, the more damage he will take.

This is a thought-provoking idea, but it seems to me that cheaters, by nature, will find ways around rules like this. For instance, what if they only move ten feet, but that point ten feet away would normally require a 1000' journey to get to because there's a wall, chasm, or difficult encounter in between? Or move other players?

I'd still want server-level cheat defenses, but it's interesting to think about security design at both the game world logic level and the server level.

More fun with CSS

Pete Freitag just blogged a whole list of CSS tips and tricks. Basically only a link list, but the linked-to documents contain a plethora of awesome tips.

There is some great discussion on some of the linked items, such as how floats work and a very well-explained article on creating Netflix-style star ratings using only CSS. Cool stuff.

NoiseCrime fixes the Polygon sorting bug in Shockwave3D

I've struggled with the alpha-channelled polygon sorting bug in Shockwave3D in the past. Basically, Shockwave3D doesn't sort transparent models correctly, so you end up with ugly artifacting and rendering errors, due to some esoterica of the engine's operations. NoiseCrime has come up with a workaround so that we can all use alpha-channelled polygons and have it look the way we intended (with some work). The error effect and the solution can be seen in NoiseCrime's polygon sorting test, and the source code, which he graciously released to everyone, can be downloaded here. Thanks, NoiseCrime! This is going to come in handy with some educational games we'll be writing for our games lab soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Nukestock is on!

Every year, my friend Kurt puts on a great Halloween party called Nukestock. In years past, it was a huge event drawing upwards of 100 people. Nowadays, it's a little more modest, now that most of the casual visitors (college acquaintences) have moved away, but the diehards still attend, even from places as far-flung as Denver, D.C., and even China one year (if I'm remembering the story right).

Anyway, I just got the invite to this year's gathering. Looks like it's going to be fun. It starts Thursday night before Halloween and continues through Sunday evening. (Yeah, you read that right - three solid days of party.) The theme this year is Cthulhu, in all his tentacular glory. On the agenda for this year are the ever-popular trivia game, open BBQ grill, a bonfire, games for kids and adults, plenty of live music, CRASH (Cthulhu Rally and Savenger Hunt, which, if previous years have been any indication, will be a hoot and a half), and of course, ritual sacrifice. Ia Ia Cthulhu Fthagn!

The only down side, of course, is that it runs directly against the last-minute rush to get Carnival of Souls ready in time for Halloween. Last year, I had to settle for only a few hours at Nukestock and giving Nukestock attendees the exclusive premiere for Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour. This year, I'm hoping to get things close enough to being done that I can enjoy more Nukestock time. We'll see!

Carnival of Souls featured on the Midnight Syndicate site

The awesome music-to-haunt-by band Midnight Syndicate has a new fan page, and Carnival of Souls is the first featured home haunt! Midnight Syndicate provides haunting tracks for both pro and amateur haunts across the country, and graciously allows Carnival of Souls to use their tracks for free to bring the local trick-or-treater's a professional spooky soundscape for our attractions. If you are a home haunter, or just like some creepy music sometimes, you can pick up one of their albums online or at local Halloween stores like Spirit Halloween.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Health care in the Bush era

The LA Times is reporting that the cost of health insurance now exceeds the annual before taxes salary of a minimum wage worker. The cost of premiums grew nine percent (!!!) this year, climbing to $10,880, while a minimum wage worker only earns $10,712 before taxes. The year before, they climbed eleven percent. That's just not sustainable.

Just for fun, do the math with my Health Care Computer that I just whipped up in Javascript, and figure out how many years until health care costs overtake your salary! Whee!

Grace in the face of adversity

Finally, my wife and I were feeling better after weeks of suffering from some unidentified bug that had us under the weather. We got a babysitter last night, and went to see The 40 Year Old Virgin to celebrate our return to the land of the living.

Then, at 6am this morning, we are awakened to the mellifluous tones of our baby puking his guts out all over his crib. So here we are, back to tag-teaming our way through another few days of the baby being sick. I spent the afternoon with him, and he was miserable. Normally inquisitive and rambunctuous, he just laid there splayed out on the bed like a biology class frog, only moving when he curled up to heave out a little yellow liquid, and then collapsing back into exactly the same pose. All he wanted to do was curl up in my arms and drowse, whispering little groans of misery between his brief bouts of sleep.

And to top it all off, the doctor today decided to give him an antibiotic shot because at the rate he was vomiting, he wouldn't be able to keep orally administered medicine down. The nurse came in and said, "Sorry, but this one hurts." I asked, "during or after?" "Both," she said, "and for quite a while after." I helped hold him down for the shot, which was a terrible feeling. I've never heard him scream like that in his entire life. The fact that he's already miserable, and doesn't understand why we're jabbing him in the leg with a needle as long as one of his fingers, is just heartbreaking.

He's a trooper, though. He only cried for a little while after that, and hasn't really cried since. I held him for a long time after that, and he'd drowse about, silently running his fingers over my arm when awake. That was all the play he could muster, exhausted as he was, but it was enough to keep him calm and relatively content. In fact, it kept us both calm and relatively content, because you can't help but worry and fret when your son is so miserable. He really is a great, great little boy.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Robertson and Katrina

So the Dateline Hollywood story about Pat Robertson blaming Ellen Degeneres for Katrina is making the rounds around the internet. It's satire, but only thinly, thinly veiled satire - in fact, so thinly veiled that many people are taking it as factual. Anyone familiar with Robertson's psychotic views knows that it is perfectly plausible for him to do something as nutty as blaming Ellen Degeneres for Katrina. After all, according to rumor debunker Snopes:
The satirical premise expressed in the original piece, that Mr. Robertson might make a connection between homosexuality and hurricanes, doesn't even require stretching the truth. During a 6 August 1998 broadcast of The 700 Club, Mr. Robertson addressed comments at participants of the Orlando, Florida, Gay Pride Festival, stating: "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you."
And Robertson apparently thinks that hurricanes are influenced by the actions of individuals, because he apparently believes that he personally has the power to stop hurricanes. According to quote collector ThinkExist, Robertson said:
"(Regarding his prayers to keep Hurricane Gloria away from Virginia Beach) It was 'extremely important because I felt that if I couldn't move a hurricane, I could hardly move a nation."
So is it any wonder that the Dateline Hollywood story slipped under people's baloney detectors? Not really - the guy's a nutjob, and is always saying nutjob things on his show. He didn't say this particular thing, but it's probably closer to paraphrasing his actual beliefs than it is to real satire.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Worse, not Better

Well, I am more sick now than before. Spent today working from home, rather than infecting my cow-orkers.

But just so I have something to show, there's a new clip from Corpse Bride available for viewing. I really want to watch it, and I really don't want to watch it...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another Magic Mirror

Thanks to Touch of Death, I've found Danny Marakowski's site, where he has posted some nice, hi-res photos of his own interpretation of our Magic Mirror digital puppet Halloween prop.
Marakowski's Mirror
This guy made an even larger facade than we did, made it out of plywood instead of foam, and built a chain-lined path up to the mirror, complete with a sign that indicates when the gates to his attraction opens. His facade even includes two windows for other creepy denizens to leer at visitors from. Very cool - I bet his trick-or-treater's loved it!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Catching up on the NetFlix

Well, one good thing about being sick all weekend is that I managed to knock back a couple of DVD's that had been sitting around unwatched. Here's my reviews:

The Breed is an attempt to turn the vampire cliché on its head, where the hero is a human trying to save the vampires. In this movie set in a Brazil-like near-retro-future, the community of vampires have come forward seeking integration into human society, but separatist vampire factions and distrustful government agencies threaten to turn the peaceable commingling into a bloodbath.

I'm not sure this movie achieves what it sets out to do. The cars from the 50's, rotary phones, and bulky tech aren't used consistently enough to have the effect that they had in Brazil, and they clash somewhat with the companion high-goth locations. But they don't play a huge role in the story like they do in Brazil, either, so it's more a way of differentiating the human world from the vampire world (and we spend way more time in the vampire world anyway).

Still, the story is engaging, and the actors do a pretty good job almost all the way through. A bit over-acted, but it works for this fantasy piece. It's certainly better than most recent vampire fare.

Next was Brides of Blood Island, an exploitation flick from the late sixties, wherein a team of social workers come to an island that sits just outside the radiation range of the early WWII atomic bomb tests to see if there has been any effect on the local flora and fauna. They discover that the native population has reverted to their ancient ways, holding lotteries to see which of their voluptuous young daughters gets tied up in the jungle and left for the jungle monster to ravage, and that the jungle foliage now has a life of its own, attacking anyone that passes near with animated branches and roots. When the chief's hottie daughter gets picked in the lottery (natch), the hero saves her (didn't care about the other girls), and gets the whole village after them. They take refuge with the well-spoken aristocrat that lives in an isolated plantation house elsewhere on the island. But he has a secret, too.

Considering the genre - crappy low-budget exploitation film shot in the Phillipines - it's actually pretty good. But that's not really saying all that much. Although the plot is passable and the photography fairly good quality for the genre, the monster is so dumb-looking that I'm kinda shocked to read that it actually scared people back in the day. Still, it's got that drive-in horror movie vibe to it that is so priceless - furtive natives with a primal secret they dare not disclose, dark forests with nasty creatures lurking, screaming maidens menaced by brutish radioactive monsters, and a scientist's wife named "Beverly Hills" (seriously). It's so campy that it ends up being fun even though it's so bad.

Finally, we have The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which I've been looking forward to watching for quite a while. Christopher Lee returns as the quintessential 70's Dracula, who is weary of his cursed existence and yearns for final peace. To achieve this, he plans to release a plague upon the Earth that kills every last human so that he will starve to death and finally rest. Standing against him is none other than a worthy descendant of Van Helsing, played by the fantastic Peter Cushing, who is always a pleasure to watch.

This movie did not disappoint, but it certainly wasn't what I expected. It's like a cross between a typical Hammer Horror movie and a James Bond movie. It starts out with MI-6 agents and Scotland Yard investigations into the activities of bureaucrats and Nobel Prize winners, and Dracula employs security cameras and motorcycle thugs instead of ravens and wolves against his foes.

But there are still some good traditional horror moments. When Van Helsing's daughter sneaks into Dracula's basement and awakens his vampire brides, there are some genuinely good scares. And the final showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula, with the obligatory lingering shots of Dracula's corpse dissolving into dust, is well done.

My only complaint about the movie would be that Dracula in this movie is severely underpowered as measured against his other incarnations. We never see Dracula cut loose on anyone, so he doesn't end up being very threatening. His plot and his cronies are more threatening than he ends up being. But this is a minor point, since Dracula's name recognition carries a lot of that back into the story - we all know what Dracula is capable of. And Peter Cushing is the star of the show anyway - he really is great to watch. Thumbs up.

Carnival of Souls progress

Angel of Death platformIs Daniel not the coolest guy around, or what? I've added two photos to the Carnival of Souls flickr set showing the work he did on the mausoleum over the weekend even though I was too sick to come help. Even took photos for the blog. The dark spirits of the Blackwood Mausoleum will surely reward the faithful.

Basically, he framed out the roof, complete with a platform for the angel of death to perch upon as it glowers down at hapless visitors. I think we're going to be starting to foam detailing next week.

Did I mention that Daniel is the coolest guy around?

Jailhouse Rock

Here are some observations from one of our fellow teammates on how well the Jail worked at our Relay for Life fundraiser:
Kids just loved the jail house we had many repeat visitors.

.25 cents to get in .50 to get out.

One little girl: Hey deputy, if I give you 25 cents will you go find my grandma and ask her for another 25 cents and go buy me a brownie? She didn't want to leave!

We had a mobile jail unit as it would walk away from time to time.

One little girl was jacking up the price of freedom from 50 cents to 1.00 she was getting the money and donated all of it. She left when she was tired.

One friend or sibling would put the other in jail and to get even the one in jail would put the one outside in jail. They would both be in jail without realizing they now didn't have enough money to get out. The bribery was quite comical. Things like, if you let me out now I will bring back a cupcake. If you let me out and keep him I will bring you food.

One sister was beating up her brother through the bars because he wouldn't pay to get her out. He was saving his money to buy something. Needless to say she won and then stuck him in jail with his money.

How long do we have to stay in here, was frequent question? Deputy K's response until you get me 50 cents. Ok, will you let me out so I can go get 50 cents.

They'd ask the deputy can we put you in? She'd respond, no because you won't let me out.

The bar broke and they starting yelling jail break! They really wanted the bar repaired though. They enjoyed pressing their face up against it, and wagering money for freedom.

Kids are quite comical. It was fun watching all of that take place.
I love the visual image of the jailhouse scurrying along with a bunch of kid's feets sticking out the bottom.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Relay for Life a success!

Joe shows us how it's doneI've just created a flickr set for our Relay for Life booth. It shows some (not all) the people who helped out and the stuff we built for the big night - the jailhouse, the shooting gallery, the plinko board, etc.

As I blogged earlier, I didn't actually get to attend, being sick and all, but I understand it was a great success - everyone had fun, and we made over $600 for the American Cancer Society. Congratulations, team True Grit!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sitting out Relay for Life

Well, instead of going to the Relay for Life, I'm lying here in bed, trying to eat some dinner between waves of nausea. This morning I felt fine, but by the time Relay hour came around, I was getting cold chills, hot flashes, headaches, muscle aches, etc. I watched my son for several hours, during this, and it felt like ages, like I was always on the brink of collapse.

So, needless to say, I'm not going. I did manage to get Plinko out the door, and it works fairly well now (Matt's idea of making heavier Plinko chips really helped, as well as Daniel's advice on making the surface slicker). But I won't get to enjoy watching the kids play it, which is the main reason all this work is worth it. Yeah, the real goal is to raise money for Cancer research, but we could have done that with far less effort by setting up a food booth like everyone else. We were trying to do something different and fun to raise the bar, and I'm just sad I'm not going to see the smiles on the kids' faces. My wife's going to snap some photos, but that's not really the same, is it?

Plinko Madness

Well, I spent most of the evening working on the Plinko board for Relay for Life, minus some quality time with my son. He's sick, so he spent most of the evening sleeping, leaving me more time than usual to work on the garage project.

Unfortunately, I still haven't got the damn Plinko board to work. No matter what I do, the stupid poker chips either stop partway down or launch off the board, even after two coats of floor sealer and two coats of buffed minwax. This is what I get thinking I could get away with plywood. If I had bought some hardboard instead, I wouldn't be having this problem.

Anyway, assuming I can get it reasonably working, I've made some foam core signage to go onto the board that (I hope) will make it look like more than a board with dowels stuck into it. Don't have much time, so whatever I do, it's going to be quick and dirty.

And now my wife is sick. This Relay for Life is her baby - she's the team captain - and now it's looking like she's going to spend the evening at home in bed. That means I'm going to have to go to the park and set up our area tomorrow instead of her. I hope we can pull this off without any fiascos!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bush puts on a good show, apparently

From Senator Landrieu, regarding Bush's press junket to New Orleans:
"But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government."
If you read around the blogosphere, you'll see many similar accounts of Bush's visits - when the photographers come, suddenly there's workers, support, and supplies. When the photographers leave, the workers, support, and supplies go with them. But these stories get a whole new level of credence when even senators start telling them. This sort of political stagecrafting in the wake of such a tragedy makes me feel ill.

Progress on Relay for Life

The last few days, we've been working on our booth for the local Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

Most people just show up and sell cookies, lemonade, or hot dogs. But that's boring, and not really our style here at ImaginEERIEing. Instead of just a booth to buy snacks at, we decided to have a Wild West town full of games, music, and fun. On a shoestring budget.

Yesterday, we finished putting the finishing touches on the jail, where people can get thrown in by their friends and have to talk someone into "posting bail" for them to get out. It's a walk-in jail complete with bars and details on the walls.

Today, we finished our standees which people can stand behind to get their picture taken. Characters for the standees include an outlaw, a prospector, and a saloon girl.

We also finished our shooting gallery, a facade that looks like a wild west bank that kids will be able to shoot ping pong balls at out of a burp gun. If we have time, we're going to put little bank robbers in the windows.

Other members of the team are working on other attractions, such as a poker tournament, some live music, a roping contest, and other scenery such as hay bales, cow skulls, and wagon wheels.

But the thing that's taken the most effort so far, for me anyway, was the stupid Plinko game I made. I just got in from drilling over a hundred little holes and filling them with dowels, and building a box around a sheet of plywood. The game board is pretty much finished, but it still needs painting and something to prop it up with.

I tested the Plinko game, and unfortunately, the poker chips sometimes just stop halfway down, balancing on a dowel, and also sometimes just fly off the board. I'm hoping another coat of paint and a coat of sealant - to make things less rough - will fix this. I'm down to the wire on this, though - the Relay for Life is Friday night, leaving me only one more night to work on the board! Yikes!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Day four of Carnival of Souls construction

Daniel poses with Angel of DeathToday, we celebrated Labor Day by working on our mausoleum for this year's Halloween celebration. This was the first time we got the thing assembled to get an idea of how big this thing is going to be.

This thing is going to be huge.

At its apex at the top of the Angel of Death figurine, it's going to be over 11 feet tall. I walk up to it, and it towers over me - I can only imagine how big it's going to feel to the trick-or-treater's half my size.

We now have the crypt wall complete, the wall attachments set, and the front panels prepared. We also worked out how to stabilize the mausoleum - I was worried that it was going to be flimsy, but this thing is strong. We both tested our strength against a corner and barely budged it, so it's a solid piece of work, thanks to Daniel's prodigious woodcrafting skills.

Overview shot of the mausoleumWhat's left? Well, we still didn't get to the roof, which will add even more stability, we're still not done dry-fitting the foam (lots of surfaces to cover on this project), and we still need to build the nine crypts that extend beyond the doors in the back of the mausoleum. But once we get those tasks done, the mausoleum will be ready to detail, and then we'll start seeing blacks and grays instead of pinks and browns.

I've added photos from today's construction to my Halloween 2005 flickr album.

Did I mention this thing is going to be HUGE? I can't wait to stand in this thing fully assembled.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Corpsification Party and Talking Skulls

Corpsification PartyYou know, most people would think that mixing gooey human corpses with a dinner party wouldn't make a very good combination, but tonight, we proved that wrong. Our first annual corpsification party was a lot of fun tonight - we ate some great food and got a lot of work done towards making a rack of bluckies look really gross.

A Blucky is a blown-plastic skeleton, about five feet long, that they sell at Big Lots, Oriental Trading Company, and other places. It looks like crap out of the bag, but with a little effort, they can look like a nasty dessicated corpse. For this year's mausoleum, we need nine corpses, one for each crypt, so we decided to have a pot luck dinner party to entice people to come over and corpsify bluckies with us.

We got a lot of work done. Unfortunately, the latex didn't dry fast enough for us to stain the bluckies yet, so they look white still, but our corpsing volunteers really made this operation fly, and people seemed to have fun doing it, so I'd say the party was a success.

I've added photos of the party to my Halloween 2005 flickr album.

Yours truly with an animatronic skullIn other news, I finally got a chance to sit down with my new Cowlacious Designs animatronic skulls. This year, we're going to have two skulls on pikes in our front lawn that tell morbid jokes and dreadful puns, and they're being driven by circuit boards from Cowlacious. All we need to do is feed them audio, and the jaws move and the eyes glow red. Kids are gonna love these guys.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Link between Iraq war and Katrina damage

The Editor and Publisher, a meta-news service about the news industry, is running a story about the Times-Picayune and its coverage of the build-up to a disaster. Apparently, the newspaper had been publishing articles since 2003 about how the Bush administration had been siphoning off money from the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) in order to pay for the war in Iraq and its federal tax cuts for the rich.

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

...with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the [Army Corp of Engineers] Corps' project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for. From the June 18, 2004 Times-Picayune: "The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead of the settlement," he said. "The problem that we have isn't that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't raise them."

...The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House. ... In its budget, the Bush administration proposed a significant reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana's chief hurricane protection project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they need."

Yesterday, NPR had a story that belied Bush's speech yesterday where he asserted that no one could have forseen that the levees would break. As evidence, NPR rolled out a series of people and organizations who had been doing disaster scenario preparations to figure out a plan for just such an emergency, and the scenario they played out assumed that the levees would be unable to hold back the water. Heck, even I - a guy living in the middle of the desert - had heard of the levee-breaking scenario. It was in an issue of Scientific American I read a few years ago about the eventual-disaster that New Orleans faced.

Two years ago, I would have been outraged, but now, I'm just weary.

What a week!

Wow, this has been a week.

For the last couple of days, a small team of us have been furiously working on getting the new web design for New Mexico State University done. We've been tweaking XHTML templates, shimmying with CSS, and scribbling out documentation, because the deadline for the release of the templates to our College webmasters was today.

I think we did a good job. Considering the diverse requirements that we had to accommodate, I think we have a very workable plan, a usable interface, and a crisp visual design. At first, we really struggled with incorporating the university's new branding look into the web site, but Phillip, one of our teammates, had a brainstorm and came up with something that works pretty well (even though we had to spend a few weeks tweaking on it after that).

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding. Next week, the campus webmasters will get their hands on the templates, and we'll see what they say. It may be a while before we see any web sites based on the templates, because now they have to figure out how to implement what we gave them. It's a good sign that they're clamoring for the templates rather than dreading them, but you never know how people will react until the thing is out there.

I just hope all the careful consideration and tossed-away designs end up being worth it. This is a great university, and it deserves a great web presence. None of us are Zeldman's or Cossette's (wink, Edward!), but maybe we've learned enough from the masters to at least have our university's web presence do the institution justice.

New issue of The Games Journal

Just released: the September issue of The Games Journal. Although it's always a short issue, it's usually fairly well-written articles of interest with little fluff.

One interesting article in this month's issue is one in which the author took a game that had fairly nice components but terrible gameplay and attempted to rework the rules, using the same components, to make it fun. An interesting idea for an exercise for a game design class, don't you think?