Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Safari Tidy

I love it when my life gets easier. The Safari Tidy plugin automatically checks every web page you visit for XHTML compliance (with Tidy), shows a list of any errors or warnings found, and integrates the list with the "View Source" to show you exactly where the XHTML goes worng. My job at work just got a little easier. (Via TUAW.)

Monday, May 29, 2006

More progress on Yorick

Well, Yorick is starting to come along nicely. This interactive Halloween puppet is going to be much better than the original Magic Mirror:
  • Higher-polygon count than the original Magic Mirror
  • Easier configuration (see screenshot below) than the old edit-a-text-file approach used before
  • More lighting controls
  • Easier microphone input setup
  • Easier script recording and simpler playback options
  • ...and it's a skull, which is probably the most-requested new head type I've been asked for.
Here's a screenshot of the new configuration console:
Screenshot of the Yorick console
Now I'm trying to decide what (and if) to charge for it. I'd really like to have some way to offset the cost of presenting Carnival of Souls every year, since it's not exactly cheap, but I don't want to charge for the actual event - I'd hate to see some heartbroken kid who gets taken away by his parents because they felt whatever I was charging was too steep.

Since the home haunt community seems to be supportive of each others' work, and because I feel that these digital puppets would really pay for themselves in terms of the enjoyment, good will, and word-of-mouth they generate, I think it's okay to charge for Yorick. I'm still going to leave the original Magic Mirror as a free application, because I want to ensure that there's an alternative for the home haunter on a budget - my primary goal is to promote Halloween and get people building fun interactive haunts for kids in their area - but the requests I've gotten seem to indicate that there would be a market for a more advanced version.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Facial expressions on Yorick

Well, I only got three suggestions for the skull name, and two of them are already taken by two characters on the Carnival of Souls midway, so I decided to go with Yorick. It's got a good Shakespearean reference, and people will probably know what it is when they hear it. (Or, at least, moreso than some other name.)

Tonight, I got expressions working on the skull model. Check out Yorick's "angry face":
Yorick's Angry Face
You can see in the shot that Yorick's "eyebrows" have turned into a "V" shape, suggesting anger.

This shot also shows some really over-the-top lighting for the angry face. I'm thinking of having the lighting change when he gets mad; the red tinting and the glowing green in the skull would not normally be there, so that when he burns into angry mode, he looks really pissed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

That darn science!

So you're a minister who wants to prove that violent video games turn kids into killers. You hire some scientists to prove you right by doing a study. What do you do when the study finds that violent video games not only aren't bad for kids, but that they may actually help children "conquer fears and develop a sense of identity"? Whoops!

Virtual Talking Skull

As I mentioned earlier, I'm hoping to get a few new Magic Mirror-like digital puppets out there for people to use in the 2006 haunt season. Thanks to all the work I've been doing in 3D lately, I've been able to really raise the bar on the look of the digital puppets I can create. Here's what the talking skull is going to look like:
Talking Skull
I'm pretty happy with how he turned out. He looks pretty cool floating there, and his jaw moves nicely with the shift key - much smoother than the original Magic Mirror puppet.

Here's a question for people who read my blog. What should I name him?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Magic Mirror Mk 2

Due to some recent interest in my Magic Mirror Halloween prop, I've started working on something I've been wanting to do for a while now: making more versions of the Magic Mirror to accommodate all the fans who requested different "heads." I don't think I could ever make enough heads to satisfy everyone - I've gotten requests for everything from skulls with afro's to firefighters - but I think I can hit a couple of the most-often-requested ideas that would (hopefully) make it into several home haunts for the 2006 haunting season.

To wit, here's the start I got on the first one: a skull:
Geometry start for skull
(Note that this is just geometry - I haven't started texturing the skull yet.)

A skull is by far the most-requested new head, so I figured I'd start with it. The nice thing about skulls is that animating them is very easy, since there are no moving parts except the jaw, which is rigid. Even if I decide to make the bone material animateable for expressing emotion, it will still be pretty simple animation. And I can dress up the skull easily with accessories like burning eye sockets, vampire teeth, a gothic crown, demon horns, etc. without changing the base model.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Taking a step back from life

Well, the reason I haven't been blogging much lately is because I've been tending to my sick boy while my wife is out of town. Today was the first day I took him in to day care, and by 10am at work, I had a fever and felt woozy. I think I caught what he had, so now I'm burning leave for myself after several days of burning leave for him. *groan*

A side effect of this is that I have had little time to blog, of course, but also, staying home with him doesn't typically generate much blogworthy content for me to write about (at least, not anything that people besides doting grandparents and the like would care to read). I've felt pretty removed from "the real world" as I spent my days just interacting with my son, which was actually pretty nice. Tiring, yes, but nice.

It also gave me a chance to watch Finding Nemo every day, because he would point at the television and say "Nemo! Nemo! Nemo! Nemo!" Normally, that would be a drag, but it turns out that Pixar makes a movie that is entertaining every time you watch it, even if you just watched it yesterday and the day before. There's always something new to see, from the color design to the environment details to the reactions of characters in the background.

Personally, this got me thinking. As we move into new productions, I'd like to start bringing higher level of detail and planning to the attention we pay our characters, the visual design, and the "emotion design" of our products. I think we're finally to the point in our educational game production setup that we can start bringing that level of sophistication to educational gaming. Why shouldn't an educational game be as entertaining as any other game? Why shouldn't we tell great stories with great characters?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lower and lower

This administration keeps going lower and lower. Apparently, the government was wiretapping ABC News in an attempt to catch whistleblowers trying to shed light on their illegal activities.

My question about this is: was this a case of domestic wiretapping that was or was not overseen by judicial oversight? Clearly, this is not a case of "trying to catch the terrorists." This is a case of "trying not to get caught doing something illegal."

My guess is that this was not done with judicial oversight, which makes it yet another illegal wiretapping. And if it was done with judicial oversight, then clearly, the "secret court of review" isn't a very good system. This should not have been allowed.

These whistleblowers are risking a lot for our freedoms. The information that has been "leaked" has far more value to the American populace - i.e., knowing exactly what relationship you have with your government, and knowing that your constitutional freedoms and civil liberties are being shamefully eroded - than it would to hypothetical terrorists plotting on domestic soil (who, even if you assume the FBI can actually discover who they are, probably aren't dumb enough to just call each other up and talk about their plots).

To discover that American news agencies are being targeted by the administration for domestic spying is very bad, because this is a direct assault on the freedom of the press. They're not trying to make a case in court to have the judge order the reporters to reveal their source based on the merits of their legal position. They're simply using their special mantle as a secret organization with access to wiretapping technology to try to stop the information from coming to light.

This is not the "only international calls to suspected terrorists" the administration claimed their domestic spying was limited to before. This is not the "only domestic calls to suspects" they claimed later when it was discovered they were also wiretapping domestic calls without warrants. And this is not the "just analyzing traffic patterns" that they claimed last week when it was revealed they were tracking everyone's phone calls, including yours, not just those of suspects. This is wiretapping specific people who have no association to terrorists with the express purpose of trying to cover their asses. This is not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars, to say the least.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What do the Pirate's Code and the Constituion have in common?

What do the Pirate's Code from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean and the Constitution of the United States have in common? Simple.

The bad guy doesn't follow it because he thinks that it's more like a set of guidelines anyway.

The Boston Globe is reporting that Bush has decided that he's not just above the law, but above seven hundred and fifty laws. From the article:
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.
It wouldn't be so bad, except our spineless, Republican-led legislature don't have the balls (brains? either?) to do the right thing and kindly ask him to start obeying the law. We have no checks and balances right now. We have rubber stamps and yes-men.

This is on the heels of USA Today revealing that Bush has the NSA tracking everyone's phone calls, not just the ones suspected terrorists have been making, and not just international calls. Before Bush's illegal warrantless domestic wiretapping program was made public, he publicly claimed that all surveillance was being done with judicial oversight. We found out otherwise, and he said they're only watching international calls to suspected terrorists. Then we found out it wasn't just to suspected terrorists. Now we find out he's tracking everyone's calls. And he says that well, but we're not actually listening to the calls. Yeah, right.

After a seemingly endless stream of instances of the American people finding out that our president has been doing illegal stuff, and then he lies about the scope of what he did, only for us to find out he lied about the scope, too, why the hell should we believe him now? And what other things has he lied about that he's managed to keep secret?

I'm sorry, but I don't want to live in a surveillance society with an opaque, untrustable government just because the wussy neocons are afraid of terrorists. Show a little backbone - we're supposed to be Americans who value freedom and democracy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Push the button, get a fish head

The other day, I got a glimpse of some low tech that phone solicitors are using now. By "low" tech, here, I do not mean "low tech" in the luddite sense. I mean "low" as in, "Man, that's low."

We all know that anyone with a conscience could not work as a phone solicitor for long. Barging in on people's personal lives like a virtual Lenny and Squiggy, with the sole goal to verbally browbeat the elderly, the trusting, and the good-natured into handing over undeserved cash, is not the sort of thing a decent person does. There's a circle of hell reserved for them, sandwiched between child molesters and televangelists.

We also know that increasingly, phone drones are being told to stick to pre-written scripts handed to them when they crawl out of the sewers to earn their daily bucket of rotting fish heads. This is because the phone solicitor faces a dilemma: you don't want jerks talking to the customers, but only jerks would take the job, since these are the only people who could live with themselves for doing what they do. Thus, the script is a way to try to make jerks not sound like jerks when they're trying to make a sale.

But they must be really scraping the bottom of the humanity barrel now. I had a "conversation" with a phone solicitor drone that went something like this:
Me: "Hello?"

They: "Hi! My name is Lisa. I'm conducting a research survey for {some group}, and I was wondering if I could ask you some questions. Do you have at least one child under the age of sixteen in your household?"

Me: "Is this a sales call?"

They: (Pause) "This is not a solicitation. It is a survey we are conducting on behalf of {some group}." (Pause) "Do you have at least one child under the age of sixteen in your household?"

Me: "Can you process credit card donations for your client?"

They: (Long pause) "We can take your donation right now over the phone. If you like, I'd like to connect you to our donations department."

(At this point, I'm pretty sure this is not a real survey, but instead one of those "surveys" that are really a series of loaded questions meant to instill fear or rile you up so that you're willing to give a donation to the group sponsoring the "survey." Of course, since they're always calling from unlisted numbers, you have no way of knowing whether these yahoos who called you up have any connection at all to the sponsoring group - even if you were willing to give money to a group who harasses people at home.)

Me: "So this is a phone solicitation."

They: (Longer pause) "This is not a solicitation. It is a survey we are conducting on behalf of {some group}." (Pause) "Do you have at least one child under the age of sixteen in your household?"

Me: "You just said that. Am I speaking to a recording?"

They: (Pause) "My voice is recorded, but you have been speaking to a live person the entire time."

Me: (Annoyed) "You just said your name was Lisa. Am I speaking to Lisa?"

They: (Pause) "My voice is recorded, but you have been speaking to a live person the entire time."

Me: "I'll take that as a 'no.' In your very first sentence, you not only tried to trick me into thinking I was speaking to a live person, but you lied about who you were, and you lied about whether you were going to be asking me for money. Why should I trust you with my credit card number after that?"

They: (Pause) "This is not a solicitation. It is a survey we are conducting on behalf of {some group}." (Pause) "Do you have at least one child under the age of sixteen in your household?"

Me: "Bye, now."

Clearly, the phone solicitation industry has scraped so low to get their workers that they no longer trust their drones to even speak the lines handed to them. The gutteral gruntings, mispronounciations, and stumbling over two-syllable words just doesn't cut it with the customers, I guess. Now they just have a bunch of subhuman troglodytes chained to a wall in a dimly-lit condemned building somewhere with a bank of buttons in front of them which they punch like trained monkeys according to a flowchart. If they get someone to give up their credit card number, a little machine doles out a fish head.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

They're gonna get letters

Sometimes I'm impressed by people that work for the Vatican. A Vatican astronomer has said that Creationism and it's marketing arm Intelligent Design are a destructive myth that is basically a kind of paganism. Get that? Creationism is Paganism. They're gonna get letters. Heh.

The Astronomer also has a reassuringly responsible view of the role religion should play in society. In matters of truth and knowledge, he points out, Science does a much better job than religion, and so, he says, the role of Religion should be to provide the ethical touchstone to what we do with the technology and knowledge we gather. Indeed, he says that the very idea that Science and Religion are at odds is dangerous - they should naturally be in synergy, and only when fundamentalism pulls them apart from each other do problems happen.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The shoe has dropped

So Adobe has flipped the switch. If you try to go to www.macromedia.com, you get redirected to www.adobe.com.

This is not all that surprising or strange. After all, Adobe did buy Macromedia.

What's bad news is what you'll see when you get there. All of us Macromedia Director developers have been waiting with baited breath to see which of two scenarios plays out with the new owners:
  1. Adobe executives have clue - they realize what a market-cornering gold mine they have on their hands with Director's Shockwave3D technology, and position it to be the foremost application for the next battleground of the game developer's industry: casual gaming.
  2. Adobe executives lack clue - they fail to realize the gold mine they have on their hands, and marginalize or possibly even phase out Director.

Unfortunately, the new Adobe/Macromedia site seems to point toward the latter option. Director is not even listed on their main list of products off of the main page, but, more tellingly, the Shockwave Player is not listed on the main list of downloads, which means they must not care about maintaining one of the potentially most valuable properties they have: the Shockwave install base. The ubiquity of the Flash and Shockwave players is their number one advantage over lean, hungry startups that will try to overtake them. Even now, longtime Director developers are murmuring about defecting to Virtools or Torque, and the main argument the loyalists use to try to keep them in the fold is "Yeah, but where's the install base?"

I honestly don't know what the Adobe executives are thinking. They must either be idiots or totally unaware of the head of steam casual games have built up. The research firm IDC projects that casual games will account for $762 million in sales next year (source) - and Adobe has a (small) window of opportunity to really position themselves as owning the dominant development platform for them. If they were to update the Shockwave3D engine, it would be a powerhouse of 'net gaming, and they could expand the market considerably if they were to make it capable of publishing to Xbox Live (or the other casual game services coming for PS3 and the Wii). Instead, Adobe is stuffing their golden goose in the attic, unused.

I guess it's time to start learning the Torque engine.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Ah, finally someone has done it right. Ponyfish is an RSS Feed Builder for sites that don't have RSS feeds. And it's dead simple to create your new feed, and it's free - you don't even have to register.

Here's an example feed I created in about 20 seconds just to check the service out: Laff in the Dark Index of Articles. This is a site that I often check (manually) to see if there are new articles, but because articles come out of the site at a trickle, it's often a let-down. Now, I can be notified when an article appears.

(I think. If you don't have an account, then the RSS feed expires if the feed is not read in 7 days. Does that mean that it expires if no one pings the feed in 7 days - not a problem - or if there's nothing new to be read in seven days - which is a problem. I suspect it's the former, but I guess we'll see...)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Roving Mars

Looks like I'm going to have to take a trip to Albuquerque. This is a little late, but apparently, Walt Disney Pictures and Lockheed Martin have released an Imax-format documentary about the Mars Rovers called Roaming Mars, and it looks absolutely fantastic.
Shot from 'Roving Mars'
There's no Imax theater in my town, so I don't generally keep up with the Imax movies releases, but now that, apparently, the Apple trailer site is tracking Imax movies, I may start finding more Imax movies I have to travel to Albuquerque for. Considering the gas prices, the Apple trailer store might be costing me a lot of money here in the near future...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Apple - Get a Mac

Apple has launched another salvo against the Windoze world with a new set of humorous it's-so-funny-because-it's-true ads that lampoon the Microsoft mindset and offerings. The virus one has me thinking, "don't tempt fate, guys," but the rest are pretty innocuous.

But seriously, how'd you like to be the poor sap cast to play the PC? Ouch.