Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Interview with Jake Grandchamp on Gamasutra

There's an interview with Jake GrandChamp, the creator of the awesomely excellent Dodge That Anvil! game, up on Gamasutra.
Dodge That Anvil! screenshot
The core gameplay was inspired by a physics test program I had created. The app was a stress test wherein I added a new physical object to the environment once every two seconds. In order to direct the placement of new objects, I created them above the head of a controllable character. This resulted in the instantly amusing scenario of the player character fleeing from a constant rain of heavy objects! It begged to be made into a game, and I did not refuse.
If you haven't played this game, you owe it to yourself to go check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, January 30, 2006

That's my boy

While I was changing my son's diaper this morning, he was reading a little board book about Halloween (he picked it out to read, not me!). As I was going on about my business, I hear him start going "Arrr! Arrr!" He's been learning his letters at school, and so I assumed he had found a letter "R" in the book. Looking at the page he was on, I realized he was looking at a photo of a little boy dressed as a pirate!

Yeah, that's my boy. Loves the pirate talk. Now, along with "What does a cow say?" and "What does a snake say?", he can now tell us what a pirate says: "Arrr!"

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Shockwave market confusion

Yesterday, I sent Alice of Wonderland a tip that the inspirationally awesome Dodge That Anvil game had a demo out, and she added it to her gaming blog.

Now, Alice is a knowledgeable tech writer, well-steeped in the games industry and cognizant of both hardcore and casual gaming trends. And yet, she said that the game is "a 3D platformer built entirely in Flash." She also says, "Give it a few more years and we'll be seeing Windwaker in flash, I don't doubt."

This irks me somewhat because Dodge That Anvil was built in Director, not Flash. Even someone as clueful as Alice can't differentiate the two. This is no fault of hers, mind you - as always, I'm impressed that she dug a little deeper and thought about what it means for the future of gaming, the sort of stuff which makes her blog a joy to read.

My gripe is with Macrodobe. They have done a very poor job in differentiating the two products because they keep changing the names of the damn plugins. "Shockwave" started out as the Director playback engine. Then the golden-haired Flash came along, and the Flash plugin was named "Shockwave for Flash," and was largely referred to as "Shockwave," with "Shockwave for Director" used as the identifier when speaking of the Director plugin. Now that everyone is used to thinking "Flash equals Shockwave," they've gone and named the Flash plugin "Flash Player," and the Director plugin "Shockwave Player". To think that anyone but Flash and Director developers could keep this stuff straight is lunacy. The end result is that people misattribute great Director content to Flash.

Now, Director developers are already feeling a bit like second-class citizens compared to Flash developers, left in the dark with only sporadic updates, and these delivering mostly UI improvements, not the things we desperately need like an update to the 3D engine, OS controls, and nested movies like Flash has with their movieclips. In fact, the last major feature was adding Javascript support to Director as a concession to Flash developers.

Because Director has to compete directly with Flash for development dollars within the company, it's especially painful to see great Director content mistaken for Flash content. Not only does this not increase demand for Director content, thus not helping its position within the company, but it artificially inflates demand for Flash content, which actually hurts its relative value.

Macrodobe is in a position where they could corner the casual games development market. It's taken a while, but Shockwave3D is finally starting to demonstrate its real power as developers start coming out with their offerings - games like Dodge That Anvil! are superb examples of this. If the executives are smart, they'll capitalize on that, and not let the opportunity continue to languish. They need to start a marketing campaign aimed at casual game developers to show them what Director can do for them, and they need to dump development dollars into the product to bring it up to date. If they do it right, no one will be able to touch them. If they do it wrong, someone else will reap the benefits, and myself and a bunch of other Director developers will have to abandon our years of knowledge and start afresh somewhere else. I just hope they see the gold mine they're sitting on.

Bored programmer blues

I spent today in bed with a sore throat, and quickly tired of reading web pages and playing Sudoku. So I did what any programmer does when he's bored: tinker with code. Here's what I made today:
Screenshot of 3D walkaround engine
It's a walkaround engine in 3D, built from the ground up except for a few of the textures. It reads in a map file and the geometry pieces for making the terrain, and then lets you walk around in it with an avatar. No collision detection, scripting, or multiple maps yet, but it's a good start.

Remembering the Challenger

Twenty years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart soon after liftoff, and the seven crew members on board perished.

Thank you, Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Eliison S. Onizuka, Ronald E. McNair, Gregory B. Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe, for reminding a nihilistic teenager that there are stars up there worth reaching for.

Friday, January 27, 2006

InnerHTML issues

Warning: geeky HTML stuff ahead.

RuneLancer, a fellow RPG hobbyist/developer pointed out a quirk about DOM scripting that I didn't know before and is a good thing to know: setting the innerHTML property of an element can remove it from the DOM. I've been tinkering with AJAX a bit, and was starting to really like the idea of being able to set the innerHTML of elements. But this problem could really cause inscrutable errors down the road if you're not careful.

My question is: is this behavior of the innerHTML property a quirk of a particular browser, or is it universal behavior?

Dodge That Anvil!

Hooray! RabidLab has released a playable demo of their fantastic game Dodge That Anvil!
Screenshot of DTA
Not only does this game have superb graphics, smooth controls, and high production values, it's also just plain crazy fun.

In my book, it's up there with Shadow of the Colossus and Guitar Hero on the fun scale. Be absolutely sure to check this game out.

Taught some Lightwave today

Today, I did an informal teaching session on how to use LightWave to some of our staff in preparation for the Pirates-themed educational game we're on the cusp of building. I hope I did a good job.

One thing that struck me as I was showing people around the application was just how deep and feature-rich it is. I've been tinkering with it for quite some time, but as I was talking about it, I found myself sounding like an idiot because I didn't know what a lot of the controls and buttons did.

LightWave is like Photoshop. You can get a lot done knowing only a mere fraction of the app's functionality, and probably use it daily without plumbing its depths. Every time I use it, I gain a greater understanding and appreciation of what this software offers.

I just wish it had a nice Mac-like interface. Gawd, it's clunky. The app had its origins back on the Amiga, and it's been bolted onto since then, and it shows. The only Mac-style interfaces in the whole program are the Save/Load dialog and the color picker. Yeesh. Everything else uses these custom sliders, buttons, widgets, etc., which, while functional, don't have the same snap or ease-of-use that Mac platform controls have. Luckily, I've internalized it and don't mind it, but I remember it feeling like pulling teeth to use it when I first got started. Like using a Windows app. Yerg.

But I think we're about to start having some real fun with this. Everyone agreed to take LightWave for a spin and see what they could come up with for a tile-based game we're going to be building set in a spooky monkey temple. I can't wait to see what creative things they build for it!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

What's the deal with The Little Einsteins?

Okay, this is one of those "I'm a daddy" posts, so you people without kids can yawn and stop reading right now. Heh.

My wife and I were talking, and we're trying to figure out something about the children's television show called The Little Einsteins. The premise of the show is that there's a group of four kids who go on these adventures in music and art. One kid is a good dancer, one sings, one plays musical instruments, and the last one is a music conductor. They fly around in a little rocket ship in environments that are After Effects-like compositions using scans of famous paintings and other works of art. Each adventure revolves around a famous piece of classical music which is woven into the plot somehow.

Now, what we're trying to figure out is why they're called The Little Einsteins. I mean, I don't recall Einstein being particularly noted for his dancing or painting. So why Einsteins? I could see The Petite Picassos or The Bitty Bachs, but Einsteins? That just makes no sense.

The Game

Screenshot from The Game
Russian Flash animator Kol-Belov has made an awesomely gothic little game with a fun game mechanic where you hang up at the top of the screen and zip down to snatch little critters running along the ground like a spider. Great visual style plus fun gameplay equals a great creepy diversion!

UV wrapping like cloth

So, one analogy for UV mapping a model is to think of your texture as a piece of cloth that gets wrapped around the object in such a way that the points on the cloth are mapped exactly onto points on the model.

Well, it turns out that this analogy generates a really interest method for generating a UV map in LightWave. Basically, you turn your model into cloth, hang it up, and let the model form fall out into a flat panel.
Cloth UV unwrapping
That's the coolest thing I've seen all week.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Oh, well

So much for the "do no evil" thing. Sorta. Wired is reporting that Google is agreeing to censor web searches in China.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Obviously, China's policy of information suppression is bad and should be resisted. But if you were in Google's shoes, what would you do? Does it do any good to cede the field to the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo who are already in China and are wholeheartedly embracing China's information lockdown policies? Can Google do more (any?) good by staying out of China, or can it do more good by being inside, even if it means making compromises on the integrity of search engine result delivery?

I honestly don't know what I would do if I were Google. It seems to me that the surest route to change in China would be to make the convenience and power of the Internet so widespread that the culture gets addicted to information like we are in the US. It could gradually force open the pipes of information until the Chinese government finds that it would get better political results by removing censorship than by retaining it.

Of course, that only works if all the search engines are committed to change in China. It would be a tightrope walk - pushing just enough freedom through the pipes, but not so much you get booted out of the country. You would always have to keep your value to the people high enough that the Chinese government would get worse press by shutting you down. Because of this, if one search engine (ahem - Microsoft - ahem) is in China's pocket, there's always the danger they'll just boot everyone except the one that embraces the Chinese government's culture of secrecy.

And in the mean time, you'd be contributing to the Chinese government's censorship of its critics. At least here in America, we hear about it when the government goes after whistleblowers.

What would you do if you were Google? Go in or stay out?

The Mountain has Moved

There's a new 3D product from Adobe. And it's not Shockwave3D.

Tom Higgins, the Director product manager, thinks this is a good sign, but I'm not so optimistic. Yes, it means that Adobe is looking to move into the 3D market, but it also means that they'll have two different 3D solutions, and the one embedded in Acrobat is probably going to be the golden child.

On top of that, Adobe's past efforts in the 3D realm do not inspire a lot of confidence. Remember Adobe Atmosphere? No? Well, that's because it was only one step up from vaporware. It shipped, but it got discontinued so fast that most people don't even know it existed.

So, I'm skeptical that this will mean good things for Director. Personally, I think they'd be crazy not to embrace and promote Shockwave3D. It's got so much potential, and with a little investment to bring it up-to-date, they could easily corner the market, becoming the dominant web-based casual game development platform. And with all the buzz about the untapped revenue in casual gaming (some estimates think it could go higher than the top-shelf gaming titles), there's a lot of money to be made there if Adobe is smart enough to position the product quickly and effectively.

More likely, though, they'll allow the technology to languish in the same way that Macromedia did, and eventually, they'll lose their window of opportunity, ceding the field to some other company who will make those millions off of casual gaming.

I hope Tom is correct that this is the dawn of a new hope, but I think that this might just be another nail in the coffin.

Tooting your own horn

The deadline for the awards program for the professional organization I'm involved in (ACE - Association for Communications Excellence) is coming up fast, and I've been asked to submit an entry to the awards program.

I've got a project that I think is appropriate for the awards program, but I always feel awkward "tooting my own horn" for awards programs and similar events. It just feels arrogant to be explaining why you should get the prize when you don't even know what the other entrants did.

This feeling had its genesis in an RPG game I played as a kid, I think. I still remember playing Ultima IV, where you had to investigate different virtues to become the "Avatar." One of the most interesting parts of this was how "Pride" was treated somewhat like the other virtues in the game like Valor, Sacrifice, and Compassion. Like the other measures of humanity in the game, Pride had a town devoted to it ("Pride destroyed Magincia!"), there was a mantra for it, etc.

But the game made the point that "Pride is not a virtue." Indeed, Pride's opposite - Humility - was the virtue. It made a compelling argument by explicitly contrasting the two in the game world. For some reason, that's always stuck with me, and I think about it almost every time I see the word "pride" being used as if it were a good thing.

For instance, I see a lot of "Power of Pride" bumper stickers nowadays, with a billowy American flag behind the words. I imagine these are supposed to be expressions of optimistic patriotism, but for me, they're a sad commentary on what led us into debacles like the Iraq war. We are a proud nation, and that's not really a good thing. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. And perhaps more concerning, "Pride comes before a fall."

I wonder if they sell "Power of Humilty" bumper stickers.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I miss him already

Last night, my son had a rough night. Tossing, turning, and coughing all night with a fever, we were sure he was going to puke at any moment. I slept in his room with him on the bed. Or rather, I half-slept, as a parent does when his child is sick and coughing every few minutes, and you have to stay half-awake so that he doesn't roll off the bed or something. He had a particularly difficult time sleeping around 3:30am, and ended up completely waking up.

So around 4:00am, I'm sitting on the living room floor with him as he's playing with a little cart full of wooden blocks, and I'm so tired I can barely see straight. But even then, I'm watching him and thinking, dang, this kid is a joy.

It's a bittersweet feeling, though, because in the middle of the night, you're not distracted by daily chores and day-to-day concerns. There's just the gulf of time stretching out in front of you, and you unable to filter out that nagging thought that's always in the back of your mind - that not too long from now, he's going to be sleeping in his bed instead of his crib, then dressing himself, then wanting to be with his friends instead of his mommy and daddy, then dating. Yikes. And then, he'll be moving out of the house and embarking on his own separate life.

My son's not even two yet, and I miss him already. I sat there rocking him back to sleep, his eyes drowsing as he sucked down the Pedialyte out of the bottle. He likes stroking my arm with his fingers, and doing little baby-pinches to my neck and face, as he falls asleep. And even as I'm holding him, I'm already missing being able to hold him like that, because I know that all too soon, I won't be able to. He'll become a different person, older, able to get himself to sleep and eventually not wanting to spend much time with his daddy, and my little boo will be lost to me forever.

Gotta go. My son just coughed himself awake. Time to hold him.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Google does no evil

Wow, Google's corporate pledge to "do no evil" doesn't seem to just be a token expression. They really are conducting business with a conscience, and crazily, none of it seems to be at odds with the desire to turn a profit. Today, there were not one, but two stories of Google over at BoingBoing taking a stand for what's right.

The first was the revelation that the Bush administration asked major search engines to turn over the search queries of all their visitors over a one-week period. (Not the search queries of suspected terrorists or child pornographers - yours, mine, your neighbor's, your mother's. Average American citizens.) Out of the four search engines queried (that we know of), three search engines simply rolled over and handed them the searches their visitors made: Yahoo, AOL, and MSN. (This last one should not be too surprising, since Microsoft even cooperates with the Chinese government to "out" Chinese bloggers critical of police massacres.) Google, on the other hand, has gone so far as to refuse to comply with the subpoena. There are business-related reasons for doing so, such as the fact the results could be valuable for corporate espionage, but all in all, I'm impressed they'll go head-to-head with the Bush administration to maintain their users' privacy.

The second story is about Google flatly refusing to pay "protection" to BellSouth, who basically is trying to leverage its position as an Internet provider to extort money out of corparate sites by having them bid to ensure their site loads faster than the competition. Google refused to play along, and said "Do your worst!" Again, there are business reasons to do this - if they pay up, they'll find themselves being shaken down by every ISP in the nation. But again, it's the right thing to do morally, too - the only way BellSouth could ensure that Yahoo loads faster than Google would be to purposely interfere with Google's traffic by scanning packets as they come through their Internet backbone and slowing them down. If that's not illegal, it should be. It's certainly unethical.

So it's looking like Google is a lot like Ben and Jerry's in their synergy between what's right and what's profitable. Let's hope it keeps up, because while that synergy remains, we're all better off.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Have 1/20th of a sec?

(Via Pete Freitag:) Recent research shows that web users judge a web site's quality within the first 1/20th of a second of visiting the page. That "first impression" of a web page, apparently, affects the perceived value, accuracy, and relevance of the content that the user ends up reading there, and often determines the "stay or stray" response.

Unfortunately, the research didn't come to any conclusions about what qualities a web site should have in order to yield that good first impression. Because, you know, that would be useful. I'll hazard a guess and suggest that perhaps blinking 96-point fuscia text on a brilliant lime-green background should probably be avoided, but, well, I don't really have any research to back that up...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Go CC, it's your birthday!

Okay, well, it's not my birthday, really, but it felt like it today when I brought home a 1 GHz G4 Laptop. This is great, because my old Powerbook was on its last legs - the track pad had died long before, forcing me to use a mouse, and recently the battery stopped holding a charge, so I had to use it tethered to the wall. In short, it was more like a really awkward desktop model than a laptop. But now, I have a big bump in processor speed, graphic card buffness, and even screen real estate. And lots of hard drive space - I can finally install XCode! Woo hoo!

But don't get too excited for me. It's mainly to do work on. With the Pirates project coming up, ongoing web projects, and some 3D animation work on the horizon, it's not just for personal use.

But luckily, the boss is not anal about using your work machine for personal purposes (within reason, of course). And it makes sense; if you integrate your work computer into your life, you can't help but integrate your work into your life. You see the emails, you see the calendar entries, you hit the same web pages in your RSS reader, etc. And when you have a job you like, like I do, it's not onerous to burn off some work-related development when you're bored, or inspired, or having an epiphany.

So, yes, it will have Neverwinter Nights on it. And heck, even that I can justify since we're supposed to be game designers and all. (Hmm, maybe if I kill this last orc, I'll get some insight into better game design...)

Anyway, all this is to say I'm posting this from my new laptop!

Your Tax Dollars at Work

So it ain't all secret prisons and Internet wiretapping without warrants: the DHS is funding a project to beef up the security for various Open Source projects, including some that I use practically every day, such as Apache and MySQL. If only PHP were in the mix, it would be a home run.

Yay DHS on this one. This will improve the security on a LOT of systems out there, many of which are probably more critical (and open to attack) than we know - everyone's going to benefit from this initiative. And it's good to see that there are some smart, public-minded thinkers in the DHS that are willing to devote time and effort to non-movie-plot security issues.

By the way, this story comes via Bruce Schneier's blog, which he usually uses to promote, in my novice estimation at least, a pretty level-headed and rational approach to security. His posts are uniformly well-written, are always thought-provoking, and more often than not cover topics of interest to everyone (not just security professionals), so it's a good one to add to your subscription list.

Monday, January 16, 2006

First impressions of Neverwinter Nights

So I got a copy of the Mac version of Neverwinter Nights for Xmas this year, and I finally managed to sit down and play it last night.

Despite the fact the game's title reminds me of the TV Show Baywatch Nights - heh - I've always been interested in this title, if only to see how they would accomplish a literal translation of the pen-and-paper RPG to the videogame format and still remain faithful to the rules. The thing that has always struck me about the difference between pen-and-paper RPG's and computer RPG's has been the difference in depth and pace. When there's a human adjudicating, the plots that can be constructed, and the complexity of the player's response to them, is much higher. As a result, the game becomes more contemplative, and involves a lot more planning and strategy than the Diablo-style run-in-and-hack-em approach.

All in all, it's an impressive translation. Basically, it's an engine for managing the rules of 3rd edition D&D inside scenario pieces, and it works rather well. And it's a fairly faithful translation - it even tracks alignment shifts for character classes.

But I did encounter a real problem with the game at one point. For some reason, the "hot paladin of Tyr" who gives you your missions and heals you when you're wounded, at one point decided that I was evil, and when I went into the temple, everyone was attacking me for no apparent reason. This was halfway through the first mission, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't a plot element, because I reverted to a (painfully much earlier) previous saved game and played through the first mission again and didn't have the same trouble. Near as I can tell, I must have accidentally tried to attack someone in the temple or something, and they had flagged me as hostile. And unfortunately, the Neverwinter Nights engine is not sophisticated enough for you to explain that it's all a misunderstanding.

This is one problem with engine-level games. Yes, it's a fantastic implementation of the D&D rules, but the game isn't "smart" about the plot. Somewhere, an environment flag gets tripped wrong, and the whole scenario gets out of whack, something that doesn't happen in the plot-driven console RPG's. But the flexibility of Neverwinter Nights, I suspect will make up for that deficiency; as an engine, it allows the player to repurpose the game for new scenarios, and even running their own games, which is a compelling benefit. It just means you have to keep more saved games further back in time, I guess, in case something gets screwed up.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th. Boo scary.

In order to be prepared for the day, I decided to watch the fantastically odd Jason X which had been sitting in my pile of unwatched NetFlix movies for weeks now (mainly because whenever I am home, my son is also home, and I'd rather not expose him to such violent content just yet).

This is the tenth installment of the Friday the 13th slasher horror series starring a hockey-mask-wearing, machete-wielding, always-comes-back-from-the-dead camp counselor killer. As with most of these movies, you pretty much know what you're getting into when you pop in the DVD or slap down the bucks for a ticket. At some level, they're all the same: a bunch of hedonistic teens are so busy hitting on each other, they barely notice that a supernatural killer is taking them out alone or in pairs (depending on how promiscuous they are). Generally, the most virginal girl manages to escape, but not before running a gauntlet of the corpses of all her friends falling out of trees, cabinets, ice lockers, etc.

Jason X is no different, but it does manage to put an interesting spin on the tale by setting it in the future on a spaceship, like a cross between Friday the 13th and Alien. But the futuristic trappings are just that: trappings. Apparently, in the future, teens man starships instead of running summer camps, and run off to their sleeping quarters instead of log cabins. Rather than trying to get away in a canoe, they try to get away in an escape pod. And the same dumb lines work on the giggling girls.

Still, there were a few things that were good about the movie. One interesting part was the addition of an andriod that managed to kick Jason's worm-eaten behind in a low-rent version of a Matrix martial-arts-with-guns scene. That was pretty entertaining.

But the best part was when they tried slowing Jason down by projecting Star Trek: The Next Generation style holodeck imagery around him to keep him busy. The setting was Crystal Lake, natch, but the funny part was the people they populated it with: two oversexed camp counselor girls who did a very good job mocking the kind of goofy dialogue from the early movies in the series. And when Jason encounters them, even he seems to detect the satire, and reacts accordingly.

All in all, Jason X is a terrible movie, as are most of the movies in the series. But it's still enjoyable to watch for fans of the genre, because this one has all the slasher scares that you expect, plus some nice injections of an offbeat humor that gives the movie some charm. I wouldn't ever pay to own it, but it's worth catching on NetFlix.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Live and Let Die

So I've been out sick all day today, camped out in front of the widescreen TV in the living room with a blanket, a cup of hot tea, and a box of Kleenex. I turned on the television this morning, and, as is always true of cable television, I was able to find a channel that was running a James Bond movie marathon.

Now, I thought I had seen all the Bond movies, but the movies I saw today were not the Bond movies I remember. Not because of nostalgia or rose-tinted glasses or anything, but because I was hopped up on woozy-doozy antihistamines, and I watched them in a sort of half-awake stupor as I slipped in and out of consciousness.

It turns out Live and Let Die is not a good movie to watch in such a state. Lots of voodoo rituals with voodoo priests dancing and holding hissing, poisonous snakes out at hapless victims, spinny closeups of tarot cards showing "Death" and "The Lovers", and creepy voodoo heads glaring out at you from the jungle. And Jane Seymour as the tormented Solitaire, of course (against whom I remember having a giant crush when I saw the movie as a kid). And finally, the most surreal part, Sheriff J.W.Pepper - not a guy you want creeping into your semi-conscious nightmares. Trust me.

Needless to say, I hope I get well soon. I don't think I could take another day of surreal Bond mashups in my dreams. Of course, I realize that there are probably worse movies to watch in that state, such as The Cell, the Twin Peaks movie, or The Wizard of Oz (flying monkeys in bellhop uniforms - that's just wrong). What movies do you think would be bad to watch hopped up on cold medications?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Penny Arcade Switchers?

Wow, today's Penny Arcade strip is all about emergent stealth cool from Apple. Could it be that Apple mindshare is starting to turn a corner?

In Tycho's companion blog entry, he talks about possibly, finally, integrating the Mac into his lifestyle, and wonders if you can "love" your OS. Apparently the reasons for not switching are dwindling for him, as I suspect they are for many other people who now understand the benefits of the Mac approach to design, having held an iPod in their hands.

I've been using Macs exclusively for, what, a decade? I don't know if I "love" the Mac OS, but I do know that I feel like I'm drowning whenever I have to sit in front of a PC (say, to figure out why the fuck a standards-compliant web form works on every other browser on the planet except for IE/Windows). It's a distinctly unpleasant experience, always the low point of the day. Windows feels...gutteral, off-balance. Anti-zen.

The only thing I've ever had to marginalize by using a Mac is gaming. Ironically, Microsoft's moves to advance console gaming might wind up giving Apple a market share bump. After all, if you have a console for gaming, the relative lack of games on the Mac is irrelevant. Once that's out of the way, there's really no reason to continue using Windows, is there?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Apple's Back

We "watched" the Jobs keynote at MacWorld today, or rather, we sat looking at a text page that reloaded every 60 seconds, containing information being blogged from the MWSF floor as Jobs delivered his keynote.

The things I was looking for were there: blogging and podcasting.

There has not been good blogging support for .Mac accounts before now, and it sounds like Apple did it right, at least for the masses of people who don't want to tinker with XHTML and CSS (not me). Now people can add blogs to their .Mac web pages.

And iPod formatting from iMovie was a conspicuous hole in the iLife lineup that is now, thankfully, patched. I wonder if a similar update is coming for Final Cut Pro, which isn't as intuitive for delivering iPod podcasts as it could be.

I'm still a little skeptical of the Intel-based laptops, but I'm hoping that this ends up being a good thing. If it brings prices down, attracts developers, or makes it easier to port PC apps, then I think it will be a good thing, as long as it doesn't incur other problems along the way. I guess time will tell on that front.

Friday, January 06, 2006


So I got the happy news that I have been accepted as a beta tester for Newsvine, a new news web site that is in closed beta currently.

So far, I'm pretty impressed. The site organization and philosophy is pretty solid, and it has some great features that most news sites don't have, like the ability to discuss articles, write columns, and contribute stories from elsewhere.

I'm still learning my way around the site, but so far, it's looking like a great news source. From what I can tell, the site uses Associated Press stories as its primary wire, and then people can "seed" the content with other stuff as is relevant.

My only complaint about the site right now is that it doesn't really help me deal with the information overload that you can get when you're looking at hundreds of links to many different topics. But I guess that's a good problem for Newsvine to have - it's better to have too much content than not enough, because you can always go back and organize.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Karaoke Revolution

What is it with the gimmick controllers around here lately? First the Eye Toy, then dance mats, then Guitar Hero, and now a microphone for Karaoke Revolution. We played it yesterday, and near as I can tell, it's a game that is expressly designed to humiliate you in front of your friends.

Most of us typically only sing in the shower. I find myself singing more now than a few years ago, mainly for the benefit of my son (and my repertoire consists of chart-topper hits like The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round). But that sort of incidental song stylings really doesn't prepare you for the harsh reality of having a computer tell you how bad you suck.

But what was really shocking to me was how mortified you can be when you sing well. Karaoke Revolution has a "medley" mode, wherein they hit you with three different random songs as a medley instead of having you sing an entire song all the way through, a'la the Sweeney Sisters from SNL. When it was my turn to belt out some dulcet tones, I discovered that I sucked air on two of the three songs, which was embarassing enough, but the song that I did well on was Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? from Culture Club. "My god," I thought, "I'm Boy George." Or maybe the weird guy from The Wedding Singer.

Luckily, I played some more and regained some of the tattered shreds of my dignity by pulling off a platinum rating on a good old David Coverdale WhiteSnake song while Barb went and struck Tawny Kitaen poses on the hood of my Honda. Things looked up after that, but it still can't erase that lingering stain on my soul.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Using Amazon to Ferret Out Subversives

Check out this interesting and vaguely frightening article by a Mac head who used a small smattering of UNIX commands to perform a data-mining experiment on publicly-available Amazon wish lists to find "subversive" readers. (And it's only vaguely frightening because you've known it's possible, but it's another thing to watch over someone's shoulder as they actually do it.) All the instructions on how to replicate the experiment are in the article.

He downloaded the public wishlists (books people marked as interesting to them) from Amazon for a common first name, then mined the results for people who read dystopian, anti-war, or pro-liberty books. Combining this with other publicly available information, he was able to quickly zero in on specific individuals, finding their home address.

All this is in reference to the sorts of things that have come to light with Bush's evisceration of judicial oversight of law enforcement and agencies like the FBI. When you realize that these agencies have zero-oversight, no-reporting-responsibility access to the private data in these databases, you begin to get an idea of the level of detail of information that is being kept about you. Yes, you, not just terrorism suspects.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I'm back with a holiday report

Sorry for the extended silence over the last several days. The holidays, you know. I was up in Albuquerque with no convenient internet access, and it was nice to take a break from computers for a while. Anyway, here's the fun relevant bits from the hiatus:

(Edit: Earlier, I said we saw King Kong in Albuquerque at the good theaters. I misremembered. We saw The Producers in Albuquerque, and saw King Kong here in Cruces. Luckily, King Kong was good enough that it didn't matter. But I still wish Allen Theaters would spend some money upgrading their facilities, and start doing customer-friendly things like having "Mommy showings" where you can bring your young kids without worrying about annoying other viewers.)

Saw King Kong. Ah, the movie about the eighth wonder of the world. When I was a kid, I loved the classic horror and sci-fi movies, and King Kong was definitely one of my faves. I still have the little plastic model of the giant of Skull Island that I sloppily put together with glue as a child. I remember lying in bed at night afraid of its glow-in-the-dark head; never mind that it made entirely no sense that King Kong's head would glow, and even less sense why none of the rest of his body would glow - that enraged simian face with the big teeth was the stuff of nightmares.

Despite being afraid of Kong, I still grokked the whole tragedy of the story. And I'm glad to see that Peter Jackson managed to retain and magnify the depth of that aspect. The CG work on Kong was utterly fantastic and believable, with a stunning range of nuanced emotion which has raised the bar on CG character animation.

My wife didn't care for the show because of the drawn-out action sequences, and to be honest, yes, they were a little long and gratuitous. But that falls into the "something for everyone" category in my book, because I suspect there are many people who went to the movie and thought "enough with the talking, let's see the gorilla open a can of whoop-ass on some T-Rexi!" This is a testosterone movie with enough "chick flick" moments to be a truly satisfying date movie.

But of course, the best part of the movie was the crate in the ship's hold marked "Sumatran Rat Monkey." Heh.

Xmas booty. I picked up some good Xmas booty this year. I finally have Neverwinter Nights for Mac (now I just need a computer that will push it, since my long-in-the-tooth laptop ain't up to the task), and I scored a Dremel tool which will make short work of some new tombstones for Carnival of Souls 2006. My wife gave me Jason Surrell's fantastic book about the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, the companion to the similar book about the Haunted Mansion. And there are several other great presents I haven't really delved into yet, like some DVD's, some CD's (including two different Cthulhu-themed albums from two different friends), etc.

Guitar Hero. We took Guitar Hero up to Albuquerque with us, and I have to say that it's even more of a must-have game than Shadow of the Colossus was. The cool factor in this game is unprecedented; the more you play it, the more you appreciate the detail work in the game. We introduced this to my wife's mother, sister, sister-in-law, and nieces, and everyone seemed to enjoy it, despite it's corrupting influence. There's nothing cuter than a little blonde girl in curls, from a family that doesn't say the words "stupid" or "butt" no less, singing Black Sabbath songs, like a cute little version of Ozzy.

Even cooler, we did some research on the company that makes the guitar controllers, Red Octane, and discovered that they've partnered with Disney to tour some dance mat fitness games around the country, which is right in line with some of the stuff we're looking to do at the NMSU Game Lab. This is one cool company.

New Year's Eve. We had a New Year's Eve party at our place to ring in 2006, and it was quite fun. I spent all day making sushi rice, chopping sushi fixins, cleaning the kitchen, and only got done moments before the doorbell rang. We then rolled a lot of sushi, made miso soup, played games, and had fun. We even hooked up our party with one in Tucson that was being thrown by my buddy Rich via iSight cameras and iChat so that people in two states could wish each other "Happy New Years."

Other trivia. There were many other small fun points. We got to eat some Indian food, saw the "River of Lights" at the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens, saw "Sue" the T-Rex at the Albuquerque Natural History Museum, played with my son and his cousins, played some D&D with my old high school buds, hung out with a pair of friends who had recently moved to Albuquerque from the Grand Canyon, and generally had a great break.

Happy New Year, everyone!