Sunday, October 30, 2005

Holy crap, the mausoleum looks awesome!

MausoleumWith only hours to go before the big night, we began erecting the mausoleum. We added a lot of the final touches as we worked, cutting foam to its final size, touching up paint, etc., and by the time it started getting dark, we had the mausoleum constructed. It can only be described as awesome. This mausoleum will be dark inside, which is a trick considering we have a bright street lamp right in front of our house. With a flickering flame light going, the interior of that mausoleum is creepy and dim.

There are corpses in the crypts now, along with individual LED-based lighting for each crypt. Some glow with a reddish hue, others green, others yellow. All are awesomely creepy when you open those doors. It is going to be a simple matter to scare people with this setup, because this thing is creepy in daylight.

We also got our black light puppet show stage built and the action blocked out. The new story is notably better than last year's, it's shorter, and has some great looking special effects that really add a lot to the show. This year, we get to witness an actual magical battle between Sarita and Marius, and the spell effects, simple as they are, just look great. And the two new characters are super-creepy.

Pumpkin glowFinally, we had our second annual Pumpkin Glow tonight, where we invite all the neighbors to bring their Jack-O-Lanterns and have local retirees judge them in various categories for prize giveaways. We had double the number of pumpkins this year, and we had some stunning work to enjoy. But the competition was secondary to the simple fact that these events seem to really get the neighbors to connect with each other. Everyone was laughing and talking - the neighbors all came out and seemed to have a really good time. It's really great to see the effect our work is having on bringing people together.

Speaking of people, I want to say again what a great set of volunteers we have this year. I couldn't ask for a more talented, dedicated, and generous crowd. About twenty people came out here and worked until they were exhausted, and then turned around and worked more. One has even volunteered to sleep in the mausoleum tonight to guard against vandals. What a great, great bunch.

I've uploaded a lot of photos of the mausoleum, mausoleum construction, and all the pumpkin glow entries to my Halloween flickr set.

Two days before Halloween

Brett and Scott at NukestockJust got home from some more Nukestock action. I missed the finale of the Road Rally, which was, to hear some people tell it, amusing, but I did manage to catch the annual trivia game. Our team came in second, I think - a distant second (but considering the game, it's a dubious prestige to be first). I also got a reprise of my friend Mike's impression of Christopher Walken doing an impression of my friend Scott, and a very funny (in retrospect) tale of when my friend Vic got struck by lightning. People have great stories to tell sometimes.

Costumes were pretty good tonight, too, although there were fewer to enjoy. There was an amazing witch costume walking around a werewolf on a chain, some good skull-face makeup, and an impressively faithful rendition of "Darkess," the demon that Tim Curry played in the movie Legend.

On the home front, we got a lot done today. The mausoleum doors are now complete, and we have some cool decorative skull statues that glower down over them from above. I ended up having to cut back the door plaques so that they fit on the door rather than over the door, but it was a good change that will be workable in the long run. Now all the crypts have name plates on them. The front facade is nearing completion, and the whole thing is ready to move out, I think.

Black light puppet show stage constructionThe puppet show is looking to be really good this year. Last year, we had planned to have the show on our back porch, but the Halloween-day winds completely blew our completed set apart only two hours before the first show would begin. During that final two hours, we tore down the broken set, moved it into the garage, and reconstructed it. We pulled it off, but it was rushed, and the fact that the visitors could see all our garage crap lying around somewhat diluted the illusion of this being a "spirit parlour."

Well, this year, we planned from the beginning to have the show in the garage. We're going to be able to accommodate more people, and the set will be better. We picked up some "scene setters," which are long lengths of printed plastic wall decorations, and ran them around the perimeter of the garage, and the effect was striking - much better than I thought it would be. Our garage now looks like a creepy, wood-paneled parlor.

And Dana has built our two new puppets this year - Jehosaphat and Bob - and they look awesome. These lightweight puppets are skull heads on PVC pipe with some Salvation Army cloth draped around them into a tattered hood and cloak. Cotton batting and coat hanger wire provides the form and bulk for the bodies, and some fluorescent paint gives their faces and fabric an eerie glow. Truly, they will be the creepiest things at the Carnival of Souls this year when they start flying around, gibbering after one of our heroines.

Can't wait.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Nukestock 2005

Rich and Mike play Rush songs at Nukestock 2005Managed to get some time to head out to Nukestock tonight. Saw a lot of friends I hadn't seen in a while, mostly friends from my days at college. Some I know really well (such as one of my college roommates), others I know only in passing, but they're all fun to talk to, and when we all do manage to get together, it sure doesn't seem like it's been as long as it has been since we talked last. Good friends and good people are like that, I guess.

The theme this year was Cthulhu, and more generally, things of an oceanic / aquatic nature. Unable to come up with an appropriate costume due to all the prep work for Carnival of Souls, I just appropriated a fish from my son's toy chest and wore that. Lame, yes, but better than showing up with nothing.

But other people were more creative. Probably the most impressive display were the six people who came in custom-made jellyfish costumes. They looked pretty awesome under the black light. Kurt's Cthulhu costume was pretty good, as was the aquatic-themed decor of his entire house (including the bathroom!). Other costumes avoided the sea life theme, such as Byron's excellent wizard costume, Joe's spot-on recreation of Paul Schaefer, and Scott's "Horse with no name" costume which Dana helped him build using her typical skill at instant crafting. There was even a stunningly hip and well-executed Flying Spaghetti Monster costume.

Overall, a fun party. I hope to get out there for the third night of partying tomorrow. (Nukestock spans several days of parties, and includes several distinct events such as road rallies, beer tastings, barbeques, brunches, etc.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

We made BoingBoing and Make

Wow, I officially have some geek cred now. My Crypt of the Phantasm made both BoingBoing and MAKE today. I feel so hip!

(Of course, if they think that's cool, wait 'til they see the mausoleum!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

2005 Show Script

Byron and I, and a few other people, have been working on the script for this year's Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour black light puppet show. After a fair amount of going back and forth, tonight we finally produced a final draft candidate of the show which we will be recording tomorrow so that Matt can get started animating and programming the show controller software.

Just to save time and sanity, it's pretty close to last year's show, but it's definitely a sequel. We re-tell the unpleasant story of Marius Blackwood and Sarah Beaumont, this time a little shorter and a little better, and then we get in some actual witch-on-warlock bust-a-magic-missile action, something we had hoped for last year, but didn't get around to doing.

The other thing we did tonight was block out the action and decide on how we're going to build the stage this year. We're going for a bigger and better stage with more decor, and the special effects we've got planned are going to require a bit of black light magic to pull off, but we didn't come up with anything that isn't eminently do-able. Especially since my wife has given me permission to put holes in the ceiling of the garage to hang stuff from, instead of the flimsy PVC frame we had last year. Of particular importance for this is the fact that there will be themeing around the visitors 360 degrees - the entire stage and seating area are going to be decorated with either the detailed stage contents from last year, the black plastic for the black light stage, or some scene setters to go around the rest of the area. It's going to look awesome.

We also painted more of the mausoleum facade tonight - mainly the crypt doors and some more interior painting.

Halloween is only a few days away, and there's a lot to do, but I'm starting to get excited about seeing it all come together.

Yet another problem with Windows and IE

Over on LeaLea, they've posted what appears to be yet another stupid problem with Windows IE. Apparently, if you have a widescreen monitor, and you set your monitor to a high resolution, IE decides that you didn't really want your text and images in the web browser to get small under that much screen real estate, and overrides all the design decisions and bumps up the size of everything. The only problem, though, is that it causes funny wrapping and crunchy, malformed images when it does it. The only way around this behavior is...get this...registry hacking.

More photos of mausoleum construction uploaded

Marius Blackwood's Crypt DoorI've added some more photos of the mausoleum construction to our Halloween 2005 flickr set.

These photos show how I made the crypt door facades out of foam and a Dremel-like tool with a router attachment. It also contains photos of the crypt shelves and some other fun Halloweenie bits.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Another fantastic Magic Mirror Implementation

Photo of Magic Mirror in castle facadeI just got an email from someone who has done another awesome implementation of our Magic Mirror effect.

The lighting design on the mirror facade is spectacular, and the facade itself is beautifully done to look like the front of a castle, complete with turrets.

He used the Magic Mirror last year and said that it was a huge hit with his visitors. That's great to hear - I'm loving the fact that the Magic Mirror is helping people all over the country provide fantastic, spooky experiences for their local trick-or-treater's. It's a really gratifying experience.

More web site feedback

How come the most entertaining feedback on our web site design is always the negative stuff? All the praise we're getting is rather boring compared to the criticism (if you can call it that):
your new website sucks. Its amaturish and simple, it screams, you don't know professional...

everyone at NMSU and the public hate UNIVERSITY of communications....

i don't know why you say you 'accept feed back' when everyone in your department is lame..
Maybe we should add a link to the NMSU English department off the main page for guys like this.

Attack of the Zombie Copy

Just in time for Halloween, A List Apart comes out with an article called Attack of the Zombie Copy, which describes how to hack to bloody gibs bad writing and restore uninfected human status to your copy. This article's a no-brainer.

Monday, October 24, 2005

You are 20% owned by corporations

According to a recent study, large corporations have patented about one-fifth of your genetic structure. That human DNA can be patented at all is ludicrous bordering on the offensive. If ever there was prior art...

What concerns me about this is that a DNA sequence is not an invention. It is not a creation or a process. It is merely the way things work in the human body. Apparently, whoever figures it out in sufficient detail first is granted a patent on the use of that knowledge from then on. Just because large corporations stand to make a lot of money by preventing competitors from using that knowledge to produce competing drugs or diagnostics, that doesn't lend the idea of allowing them to patent your DNA sequences merit. (Quite the opposite, in fact.)

What this patenting means is that even if you know exactly what your own personal entire genetic sequence was, and you knew exactly which genes were relevant to, say, determining your susceptibility to a certain cancer, you wouldn't be able to combine that information to determine your personal susceptibility to that cancer, because a corporation has claimed the right to examine your DNA sequence for that purpose. From now on. For you to access and understand your own genetic material, you will have to pay someone else for the right to do so, not because they own the technology to examine it, but because they own the DNA sequence itself.

Combine this trend with the increasingly draconian copyright lockdown and the alarming criminalization of fair use, and you can see there's an emergent trend in America towards granting corporate entities ownership and control over every bit of information that we use in society. Knowledge is becoming the closely-guarded and thinly-doled-out property of businesses, and they're increasingly building barriers to widespread and flexible use of information, in order to protect the profits for the CEO and shareholder of the moment. As that information ownership moves into our own bodies, the very genetic description of who each of us is as an individual, what are we becoming? How long until we are simply agents who own nothing of our own, renting, licensing, and subscribing our way through life, even through our own thoughts?

(Via BoingBoing.)

We got flamed!

Oh, yeah! I was starting to worry that we wouldn't get anyone hating the new web design, but Laura Walsh from the local student newspaper comes to the rescue:
Web Review, sorry no HTML to link to
Woo hoo! She rips on us pretty good, so we've gotten that visceral reaction we were hoping for. If everyone went "whatever," then we would have failed, I think. We must have done something right.

Still, I would have preferred a more informed critique with suggestions that we could actually take advantage of to make the site better. She apparently doesn't grok a few things about the NMSU site:
  • Yes, the main site has a lot of links, but we actually decreased the number of links from the old NMSU site. NMSU is a large, complex, and multifaceted organization. There's a practical and political limit to how much we can reduce the number of navigational links while still preserving some semblance of direct navigation and current information linkage on the main site so it doesn't appear static.
  • NMSU's role as a land grant institution is apparently lost to her. The NMSU site is not just about student recruitment - we have to represent the research and outreach aspects of NMSU as well as the academic aspects. Yes, the news story is not specifically aimed at incoming freshmen - it is designed to highlight the role that NMSU plays for all citizens of New Mexico. But who wants to go to school at an ivory tower that has no connection to the real world? She does, apparently, but I imagine there are many students who would like to go to a university which is strong in research and outreach, because it means opportunities for real-world learning from teachers with current, real-world experience.
  • Putting the news story on the main page is directly in line with President Martin's call to communicate the value and impact of NMSU as a world-class institution - we could either say that we're world class, or show that we're world class through examples of current research and outreach.
  • If she would prefer news stories relevant to incoming students on the main NMSU page, she's in a superb position to rectify the situation: she works at a student newspaper. She could write some news stories and submit them to University Communications for syndication on the main web site. If they're good enough, and compelling enough, her stories would be up there instead of pictures of "old men staring at pine trees."
  • There are more than five asian students going to NMSU. In fact, NMSU is distinguished by being an uncommonly racially and socially diverse university, with many different ethnic groups represented and a stronger-than-average participation by "nontraditional" students. We are even designated as a Hispanic-serving land grant institution. It's unfortunate that she's upset by there being non-white people in the photos, but diversity in those ambiance photos is not just about "political correctness." NMSU actually is a diverse university. Those are actual NMSU students and instructors in those photos.
  • Finally, despite the criticisms, I would have liked to see a bit of balanced reporting that highlights some of the improvements of the site, such as the inclusion of print style sheets and the fact that the new site is much more accessible to users using assistive devices like screen readers, and supports web standards for wider availability and future flexibility. If she knows about web design, surely she would have picked up on these important, but less "sexy," features, but for some reason chose not to mention them in her review.
Since Laura Walsh is such a great web designer, I thought I'd go over to the Round Up web site to pick up some web design tips...oh wait, there isn't a Round Up web site. The only thing remotely like a Round Up web site is this collegepublisher site which not only does the web design for them, but appears to have been abandoned since the news is more than six months out of date. Oh, well!

Still more construction

Tonight, we had a whole passel of people working on Carnival of Souls 2005: eleven people came over and helped in various capacities tonight.

We got the holes cut in the back wall foam to accommodate the crypt doors, and Matt's team did a good job working on the front facade - they're adding a lot of interesting little touches that are going to look great when it's done. Meanwhile, Byron and Holly worked on the lighting for the crypts in the mausoleum - we're going with small battery-operated ultrabright LED's of various colors to illuminate the crypts.

I'm constantly amazed at the level of dedication of our team of volunteers - there's no way we could have pulled this year's event off without the generous gift of time and effort being given from many people this year, both veterans of the Carnival of Souls and new recruits. This year's show is going to be amazing.

But it's getting down to the wire, and I'm a little apprehensive about the whole thing. There's a lot to do, and we're expecting record numbers of visitors - there's talk of multiple families in neighborhoods 30 minutes away planning on driving to our place for Halloween! Yikes! But the biggest thing I'm worried about is the kids having fun. Part of me knows they'll love it, but the other part of me is worried about the myriad things that can go wrong, from crowd control to thunderstorms. With less than a week until Halloween, I'm freaking out a little bit - I don't want to disappoint anyone after all the build-up. I guess I just need to put my fate in the hands of the Great Pumpkin and hope for the best.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

"Never pick up a duck in a dungeon..."

A buddy of mine runs a weekly gaming session, and the players all have pretty different and fluctuating schedules, which makes it pretty difficult to get everyone together at the same time.

Instead of waiting for a time when we can all get together, we often go ahead and play without one of the players. This, of course, raises the problem of what to do with the missing characters in-game. Rather than trying to contrive some reason why the druid keeps vanishing at certain points in the game, we simply adopted the humorous explanation that party members just randomly turn into kumquats, and be done with the charade of trying to justify the missing characters in-game. It adds a little bit of fun as we decide who will be carrying the "Kumquat of Druid Summoning."

The other problem playing without the whole party is that the absent player(s) will not know what happened since the last adventure, so you end up spending valuable game time rehashing what has already happened. (Or worse, you leave out some important detail that is critical later on, which is easy to do when it's been one or two weeks since you played last.) To solve this problem the DM just set up a blog called "Never pick up a duck in a dungeon..." which simply chronicles each night's adventures with all relevant details. Missing players can just read up on what happened before the next game session to get caught up, and it will serve as a fun adventure log to read later.

The blog only has one night's worth of play so far, so it's probably not a great read now, but the idea is something that I think would be a worthwhile addition to many game groups.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mausoleum painting

Last night, I finished getting all the mausoleum plaques routed out and a first layer of black paint on them.

Today, Byron and Holly came over to help me with painting the mausoleum pieces. We painted, and painted, and painted, and painted some more, and now all the faux stone foam flats are detailed, except for the front facade ones which Matt is going to be taking over. We also got the insides of the crypts, the crypt doors, one of the front facade support walls, and the mausoleum base painted. Lots of black and gray latex flowed today, and the stonework is finally starting to look good.

Unfortunately, I sat down this afternoon to type out all the things we have left to do. Just typing it all out took me about half an hour. Yikes. We've really got our work cut out for us for the next ten days.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

One of our news stories gets picked up by BoingBoing

When I checked my blog feeds this morning, I was surprised to see that one of our news stories made BoingBoing! The reporter who wrote the story works just down the hall from me, and the story sits on one of our servers.

Although I doubt it's as burdensome as being "slashdotted," I've always wondered how much server traffic you get from being "boingboinged". I guess I'll find out when we have a chance to check out our server logs...

Crypt plaques for the Mausoleum

Tonight, I worked on the crypt plaques for the Mausoleum. There are going to be nine in total, and they measure 20"x12" for the center column of crypts, and 19"x12" for the outer columns.

I discovered today that I don't have to transfer a design to the foam in order to rout it out - I had considerable success just printing the design out from my printer, taping it to the foam, and routing out the lines through the paper. The routing attachment for the Dremel tool is fantastic for detailing foam like this.

Part of the fun of this particular job was coming up with names for all the sinister Blackwood clan - an entire posse of villains! I already had Marius Blackwood, the evil ringmaster who features in Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour, but I needed eight more family members. Since these other family members may make appearances in future years, I wanted to get it right now, so I trolled through a lot of baby name sites and goth sites to find good names for the bad guys.

The other consideration, of course, was to try to find names that are unlikely to be the names of our younger visitors, just so they don't walk in and see their name on a crypt. Can't be sure we'll avoid that, but with only a few exceptions, I picked pretty esoteric and gothic names that are unlikely to be the names of visitors.

So here are the family members who are enshrounded in this spooky mausoleum:
  • Marius Blackwood - 1850-1888
  • Lucretia Blackwood - 1852-1911
  • Harmagin Blackwood - 1822-1873
  • Malachai Blackwood - 1847-1934
  • Rowan Blackwood - 1860-1915
  • Abigail Blackwood - 1873-1894
  • Gabriel Blackwood - 1847-1867
  • Mina Blackwood - 1881-1889
  • Damien Blackwood - 1890-1933
Tonight, I finished the crypt plaques for Marius, Rowan, and Mina. They look pretty good - I can't wait to see them detailed and attached to the crypt wall.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hot Jack-O-Lantern designs

Chile-decorated Jack-o-lanternJack-O-Lantern judging contests this year may be measured in scovilles. Our very own NMSU Chile Pepper Institute has a firey suggestion for your Halloween decorations this year: instead of carving your pumpkins, why not decorate them with chile? The huge variety of shapes and colors of chile makes them ideal for decorating your front porch pumpkin patch.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Starchaser Engine Failure

Starchaser engine failureLast Monday, I blogged about the X Prize Cup that we went to last weekend. What I didn't mention in the blog entry was the fact that a friend of my niece's caught the StarChaser rocket engine failure (basically, an explosion followed by a huge plume of black smoke) on video. (No one was hurt in the explosion, thankfully, as it was a demonstration of an unmanned rocket. This is why we do tests - to get it perfect before we try launching for real.) He's uploaded the MPG video of the explosion from where the public was viewing the demonstration for public download, and he has more photos on the X Prize Cup gathering on his X Prize Cup page.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Mausoleum test assembly

Interior Mausoleum ShotToday, we went over to Daniel's place to load the last of the mausoleum frame into his truck to bring it to my place. Once the final pieces made it to our house, we did a test assembly of the mausoleum to do a dry fitting of the foam, see how dark it's going to be inside, and get a feel for what we're going to be able to do.

This mausoleum is going to be awesome. Every time I look at it, I'm impressed at how big this thing is. It's the size of a large storage shed, only taller. Once we got the foam walls and foam ceiling onto the frame, it really started to have some character, even though the foam hasn't been detailed with gray paint yet, and we didn't even put foam on the back wall. Daniel, Byron, Jen, and managed to get the mausoleum up in under two hours.

The ceiling completely blocks light from the nearby streetlamp, leaving only a faint yellowish glow on the interior. A faux flame gives just the right amount of dim, flickering light to see by, but not enough to really pull out details of the surrounding walls, which is perfect. The front facade looks like it will be perfectly suited to the two skull sconces we're building to hold two more faux flame cauldrons.

A ten-year-old boy was with us today, and he watched all the setup and construction. He saw that it was all just wooden pieces and pink foam walls. Even though it is still far from its finished state, once it was up, he would not set foot in it. Until the three-year-old girl who was also there bravely waltzed right in and tried to climb into one of the crypts. Heh. I think we've got a good creep factor already.

The crypts in the back wall are going to work really well. We did a test run, and figured out a good way to hide things in the rear area. While I was back there, I made one of our corpsified bluckies shake when a fellow worker was opening a crypt door, and about four people jumped. I think the fact that people have to purposefully open a door, and peek in expecting the worst, intrinsically adds to the suspense, because this system really seems to work well already, even in its unfinished state. It's going to be a simple matter to creep people out and cause the older kids to jump.

We're also going to rig a giant spider in one of the far corners from the crypt wall to run up the wall when some people enter the crypt as an extra scare.

While we were doing all this, Matt was finalizing the design for the front facade, fabricating some foam columns to be added to either side of the entrance, helped out by Jenny and Kathryn. Byron, Jen, and Matt discussed the script for this year's black light puppet show. Some of my family came to help out, too, and by the time the evening was through, we had more than ten people helping out. I really have an awesome team of volunteers - I don't think I could pull this off without their unfailing dedication, their hard work, and their creativity. Every one of them is focused on providing a magical, memorable experience for the trick or treater's this Halloween that is beyond anything else available in this area, and I'm constantly impressed at their willingness to put so much personal time and thoughtful consideration into how to accomplish it. The local kids are in for a real treat this year.

I've uploaded photos from tonight's crypt-raising to my Halloween 2005 Flickr set, should you care to see more. (The photos really don't do the mausoleum justice - it looks so small and weakly lit in the photos - but any home haunter who has tried to take photos of his haunt can probably extrapolate in their mind's eye.)

Petals Around the Rose

Here's an interesting game of pattern-seeking that was presented on Slashdot earlier. It's called Petals Around the Rose, which prompts you to roll five dice and predict how many "Petals around the Rose" there are.

Anecdotal history apparently credits Bill Gates as having solved the riddle of the game back in the very early days of his career. After all his buddies had all figured it out, he was the sole person left baffled by the game. Rather than discerning the pattern, he only solved it by memorizing many sequences of dice, a brute-force, hamfisted method of cheating against the spirit of the game (something that would come to characterize his business practices in the future).

Maybe you can do better than Bill Gates - can you discern the pattern without resorting to memorization?

(Via BoingBoing.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Switch flipped!

We flipped the switch: the new NMSU College of Agriculture and Home Economics web site, using the branding initiative's templates, is now live. There are still some cosmetic tweaks here and there, but for the most part, it's working. And it is reasonably close to the branding design. Woot!

Smooth move, G.W.

Apparently, the crony that Bush nominated to the Supreme Court engages in a bit of fecal exhibitionism now and then. In a birthday note to her, he concluded with the words "P.S. no more public scatology."

What exactly this unpleasant reference refers to, and more disturbing, how Bush came to know of it, is apparently unknown, but it sure will be entertaining to watch Scott McClelland try to parlay this into another reason why she's perfectly suited for the Supreme Court, as they did with the fact that she has had no judicial experience.

Politically, this document lays to rest any pretense that George and Harriet are not "bestest buddies." I mean, what Bush was referring to there requires a level of intimacy I don't care to reach with even my closest friends. Ever.

It's also worth noting that apparently our president has the handwriting skills of a first grader. He is unable to write legibly or space his lines evenly, even when he's writing a birthday letter to a friend. Or when he's inappropriately writing about the excrement of a woman he knows from work. On official Texas government stationery that the taxpayers paid for. You'd think that when all your memos are being archived for later review, you'd put a little effort into your penmanship (and a little restraint into your correspondence), but Bush just isn't the smartest pope in the woods, I guess.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Safari Shockwave3D offset bug fixed!

Safari IconThe latest WebKit build from the WebKit Nightly Builds archive apparently has fixed the Safari issue where Shockwave3D content would be vertically offset by about 40 pixels. Finally, we'll be able to click on buttons in 3D applets instead of clicking 40 pixels above them. Yay! (via Nonoche)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I'm so proud

According to Morgan Quitno, a state ranking publisher, our fair New Mexico is the dumbest state in the nation. As a new dad, this news fills me with a sensation similar to heartburn.

The ranking was based on percent of kids proficient in different disciplines, but a lot of money-related things were taken into account, too, which hurts New Mexico because it is also one of the poorest states in the nation. Still, I imagine we wouldn't do well even if those factors were controlled out.

Is living in New Mexico putting my son at a disadvantage?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Say "Adios" to The Games Journal

All good things must come to an end. I'm sad to report the untimely demise of The Games Journal. I only stumbled upon it at the tail end of it's five-year run, but I enjoyed what I had read, and was considering submitting content myself after all the work on Halloween stuff wrapped up. Luckily, I think there will be another venue for my games writing in the not-too-distant future...

Flippin' the Switch

Tomorrow, our campus webmaster is going to flip the switch for the main NMSU web site and replace the "old and busted" with the "new hotness." We've been working on the site templates for several months now, and we finally have something that all sides can agree on, from all the stakeholders, to the branding people, to the web standards people, to the amateur-through-guru webheads who will be building sites off of our templates. I hope people like it.

My role in all of this consisted of writing the XHTML templates, consulting on accessibility and standards compliance, and providing some of the CSS tips and tricks I've picked up along the way (or researched). I can't take credit or blame for the basic visual layout, but some of the CSS details are my doing. Basically, though, it was a team effort - all of us gave feedback and worked on nearly every aspect of the new look and interaction design. We make a good team.

About two years ago, we started the process of converting our the massive web site for our college over to XHTML/CSS. It took about 14 months to manually slog through the thousands of malformed legacy HTML files and bring them up to standards compliance. Nearly all of them were 1990's markup style, with missing closing tags everywhere, visual markup everywhere, images-as-text, table-based layout, etc. We changed it all to clean, simple XHTML styled with CSS.

Just as we were finishing up, news of the new NMSU brand came along, and we realized we were going to have to redo our web site again to coincide with the new look for NMSU.

Luckily, when we converted our site, we separated the navigation content from the page content, bumped all visual information out to the CSS files, and changed everything to be pushed through a simple template. As a result, this time, instead of 14 months, it's going to take an afternoon to change the entire web site over to the new look. (We're going to try to do it tomorrow, in fact, to coincide with the NMSU changeover.) Even if we hadn't done that, it would have been a relatively simple matter to write an XSLT to transform the XHTML to a new format. It's amazing what a little foresight and adherence to standards can buy you in the web world.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dungeon Crawl Classics

It's been a long time since I've felt like buying an RPG scenario - I long ago turned to writing my own for my players - but browsing over to Goodman Games yielded what looks like a fantastic line of products: Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Modeled after the old TSR AD&D scenarios like Palace of the Silver Princess and The Secret of Bone Hill, these "modules" really appear to serve up a dose of old school AD&D action, but with the benefit of modern rules. Heck, they even got Erol Otis to do the cover of one:
The Mysterious Tower cover
Frankly, I never cared much for Erol Otis' grotesque, cartoony style, but I sure associate it with a lot of good times, so it's right on for the nostalgia value. Complete with player handouts, retro artwork, and a raw dungeon crawling aesthetic, these modules look like they might do a good job at sticking the dungeon crawl fun back into fantasy gaming.

X Prize Cup

Demonstration rocket at the X-Prize CupOne of the coolest things about living in New Mexico is that we've got the X Prize Cup, the civilian spaceflight competition. With wide blue skies, mild weather, high visibility, and wide open spaces, New Mexico is perfect for pioneering spacecraft, and as plans for the New Mexico Spaceport get underway, the talent, the industry, and the excitement of space travel are really starting to build.

Few things exemplify the scientific achievement, the teamwork, the vision, and the courage of humanity like the space program. The yearning to reach out and touch the stars has been the dream of people since the beginning of recorded history, but only recently have we managed to make space flight a reality. But look how far we have come in such a short time! We have put a rover on Mars that let us explore the red planet. We have sent a probe to the furthest planets to gather and send back spectacular photos and scientific data. We have built massive radio telescopes that can see so far that they can take pictures of the origin of our universe. We have walked on the moon.

America is hurting nowadays. We have suffered multiple disasters, our culture is increasingly divided, and we are disillusioned with our leaders. A pallor of mundanity and helplessness is settling over our country as our thoughts turn to economics, war, and tragedy.

And yet, there we were, out in the middle of the desert, thousands of people from all across the country, with rockets, cameras, and fingers pointed up into the blue sky to share the promise of space flight.

I stood on the pavement in the warm Las Cruces sun, holding my young son in my arms, and watched as a rocket-propelled aircraft took off only a few hundred yards from us. As I watched that plane roar by us and climb gracefully into the sky, I couldn't help but smile from all the butterflies. And as I pointed at the wheeling white dot in the sky, my son was pointing at it too.

It was breaking a world record that day, for it had flown before not two hours earlier. Until today, no one had been able to reuse a rocket that soon. Why is that important? Because if space travel is ever going to be more than the realm of the select few we choose to carry our dreams to the heavens for us, rockets need to be quickly reusable. Today's achievement was a step towards my son growing up in a world where space travel is an opportunity that is within reach.

I will never go into space, never feel the crush of acceleration to escape Earth's pull, never feel the buoyant high of zero gravity. But maybe my son will. Someday, maybe, my son will look out a window and see the round, glowing horizon of Earth floating below him and feel the exhilaration I will never feel.

To fly is a dream we all understand, even the youngest among us. That's why these efforts are worth supporting.

To see photos of the X Prize Cup, visit my flickr album.

Halloween Progress

Garage ShotWe've gotten a lot done over the last two days. Several people have come to help out, and we've got a lot of our foam flats routed and painted (the photo shows what my garage generally looks like right now). My buddy Matt, a talented illustrator and animator, designed the look of the frontage for the mausoleum, and we're busy getting everything detailed.

A crew of friends toiled over our small army of bluckies which will inhabit the mausoleum. They are now done being corpsified - they look nice and dessicated now.

A friend of ours from my wife's stand-up comedy days has joined our team and is going to work his stagecraft magic on our talking pirate skulls.

Byron, Jen, and I worked some more on the script for Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour, and boy, do we have some cool visuals for this year's show, to go along with the stronger script ideas that Byron and Jen brought to the table this year. The kids are in for a treat with this show!

And I got a message from Daniel that the mausoleum frame is now complete. The shelves behind the crypt doors are installed, and everything is ready to go. The only problem is that it is too heavy for him and his wife to move themselves, so we're going to get a crew over there to move the Blackwood Mausoleum over here.

I've added a few photos to our Halloween 2005 flickr album.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Jedi Outcast

My nephew, who gies by "fizznick" online, has long been a Star Wars fan, and has spent a lot of hours learning the art of 3D modeling and animation, visual storytelling, art, and music. Recently, he conscripted some fellow family members and friends and began work on his own Star Wars fan film. He has released the trailer for his film, and wow, does it kick a whole lot of ass.

The film he's working on is called The Jedi Outcast, and it looks like it's going to be pretty damn good. It shows a lot of sophistication for a fan film in several areas, from its action choreography, actor direction, visual effects, and even its raw sense of drama. I'm impressed. And I'm already waiting for the final film release. Be sure to check out the trailer.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Steve Ince on Interaction Density

Steve Ince, an adventure game development veteran who worked on the venerable games Broken Sword and Beneath a Steel Sky, has written an article on what he sees as the problem with modern video game design: the lack of Interaction Density.

Interaction Density is his term for measuring how much the player has an opportunity to do.

If we look back to the early 1990s, much of the size of a game was limited by the fact that they were published on floppy discs. This meant that every location or level in a game was made to work hard for its keep. For an adventure game, each of the labs, bars, shops, alleys, etc was filled with items to collect, characters to talk with and background objects to examine. Gaining access to a new location was always such fun in itself because the player would spend time simply interacting with the environment and everything within it. When this exploratory interaction was combined with the actual gameplay of working through the developing story, it meant there was always plenty the player could find to do at any given moment. Even when the player became stuck on a puzzle, they generally knew that the solution would be fairly close by because there were only a handful of locations you were likely able to visit.


The BBC is reporting that Bush is saying god told him to go to war. Yikes. Double yikes. Here we have a man running the country who thinks god speaks directly to him to go kill people, and then acts on it. I can't help but think that's not all that different from the guy who thinks Jesus is speaking to him through the neighbor's dog telling him to go kill his family. (Link via Boingboing.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Jolly Roger digital puppet

Jolly Roger screenshotToday I released a stripped-down version of a Jolly Roger digital puppet for Mac OS X. Unlike the Magic Mirror, though, this one doesn't contain any bells and whistles. No microphone input, no performance recording, no key customization, no PC support, etc.

I'm releasing it because I've gotten a lot of requests about it, and I want to make sure people at least have this baseline capability. If I can get a version with more features out, I will, but, well, Halloween's coming, and we've got a lot of things to do before the 31st. (Whaddya want? It's free!)

Monday, October 03, 2005

News Radio

What a great weekend - I discovered that the first two seasons of News Radio is finally out on DVD. I've been waiting for this for a few years now, checking the stores every couple of months, so when I saw it, I bought it on the spot. News Radio was easily one of the most underrated sitcoms of the 90's, and it's just as good as I remember it. Dave Foley is the best, and only gets better when backed up with the likes of Maura Tierney and Phil Hartman. Well worth the money, and I'm looking forward to picking up the other three seasons on DVD.

LASSIE Adventure Studio

A hobbyist developer has released a freeware Director and Flash based adventure game creator called LASSIE, for "Lingo Adventure Scripting System and Interactivity Engine. The demo seems pretty robust, but not immediately intuitive (read the directions at the bottom of the screen). Once you figure out the controls, however, it's quite straightforward and usable.

He also has taken the curious step to allow online versions of the game, but he has to compile them into .dcr files (for a fee). Not sure why he doesn't just write a loader for the Lassie files as a .dcr - he's going to be doing a lot of re-publishing for people as bugs are found in their online games.

But either way, it's nice to see a hobbyist give back to his community. For multimedia developers like me, I can roll my own and not be limited to the decisions he makes for his game engine, but there are a lot of hobbyists out there who could easily make their visions come true with a tool like this. Seems like a worthy effort.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

More work on the Mausoleum

Well, we had another meeting where we corpsified and detailed foam. We've got two wall panels marked out and routed, and all the corpses have now been hit with the latex and cotton batting. Matt sketched out a concept for the front of the mausoleum and started sketching it out, and we came up with a cool way to do the lights on the front of the structure. Earlier today, I got the rest of our garage cleaned out, so we now have a workable workshop area, which will allow me to get stuff done during the week. Things are starting to accelerate!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Long day

Spent eight hours today cleaning up our garage in preparation for tomorrow's mausoleum-detailing and corpsification party. I ended up building three sets of shelves, reorganizing practically all the storage in the garage, and set aside a place for the mausoleum flats to be stored year-round. Thanks to the new shelving units, we have more storage now than we have stuff to store, so maybe I'll take a trip to Spirit Halloween store tomorrow. Just kidding. It's getting to the point now where we build everything ourselves and don't buy things, which is a good feeling, but it's sure a lot harder.

I did have several neighbors walk by today asking what new things we're cooking up this year. I hope the mausoleum lives up to the expectations I have for it...