Friday, June 30, 2006

Watch out for that false positive

It looks like Microsoft has an upcoming "feature" that can kill your OS. They're going to require you to use the "Windows Genuine Advantage" software - some of the most laughably named software ever - which checks back with Redmond periodically so they can check your license and what applications you have installed to check for unregistered software. And if you don't install it within 30 days or prevent it from "checking in" with Redmond, Windows will activate a "kill switch" and cease to function completely. What's the "genuine advantage" for customers, exactly?

Considering Microsoft's inability to make software that works properly and securely, the chances of either (a) WGA failing to install properly and block the kill switch, or (b) a malicious worm or virus taking advantage of this "feature" seem rather high.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

40 ways to be a better (game) designer

Raph Koster (author of A Theory of Fun) made a blog entry that describes 40 ways to be a better (game) designer. It's a good read.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tomb of Horrors

This weekend, some buddies of mine came into town for a marathon game session of Tomb of Horrors, the original module-of-death by Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax. My buddy Byron had never played it, and so we set ourselves to the task of patching this hole in his RPG literacy.

It went rather well. These guys are expert players, and hardly missed a beat. They squeaked past dangers, risked only what they needed to in order to get what they needed (in most cases), and fought very effectively against the overbuffed foes I sent against them. I only managed to kill off two characters. One of those was in an encounter that I added with an undead Illithid that plane shifted him into oblivion somewhere. The other got disintegrated by the encounter with the lich at the end of the hall of spheres. Personally, I don't think these are the faults of the players, since they're pretty much cheap shots by the game universe, IMHO, because it takes a healthy, prepared character all the way to death with a single action that leaves everything to a single die roll - face enough of those, and eventually you go down, no matter how skilled a player you are.

Throughout the adventure, I didn't really pull any punches, although I admit that I decided to be generous in the final battle with Acererak. They won legitimately, but if I were a nasty DM, the outcome may not have been so rosy. Two of their number went down during the battle - the two fighters who were the ones who could do damage; the spellcasters really didn't have much that could damage the lich. They both made their consumption checks, though, and were returned to life at the battle's conclusion.

First, the paladin went down after rolling dismally on a saving throw to avoid getting his soul sucked. I suspect that this was in large part due to the fact that he succumbed to the urge to start trash-talking to Acererak (calling him "Ass-Crack") in the demilich's own tomb, which caused an irony distortion field to practically ensure he'd roll low. Still, it's pretty awesome to watch a paladin trash-talk a lich. It would have been cooler if he'd have lived.

Then, the bugbear fighter went down after dealing about 90% of the damage. He was really the hero of the fight because he shook off several soul suck attempts, and dealing mighty damage, before falling.

But in the end, it was the wizard who dealt the final blow by picking up a Shatter scroll off the floor (why the lich would leave this stuff lying around is anyone's guess), casting read magic, and blasting the demilich into chopsticks and craps. This was entirely satisfying to me, considering there had been much discussion leading up to the game about some decisions I had made about generating mages. Some people claimed that I had "nerfed" the wizard class, and there were dire predictions that such a character would die horribly and quickly. But instead, he was the one who dealt the final blow. I think he did okay.

I was also impressed by two other things. Byron was the only character who managed to survive from the very beginning until the ultimate defeat of Ass-Crack, and about a third of the way through the tomb, he was stripped of all his equipment (along with most of the party), and so was working with only his natural gifts and no item buffs. Not bad. I thought for sure that was a death sentence, but apparently not.

The other thing that impressed me was the fact that the ridiculous "oozemaster" class actually worked pretty damn well in a dungeon crawl. Kurt made one for this one-shot just to see how it worked, and I have to say that it's pretty handy to have a character that can ooze under a door to see what is beyond. Too bad it's mainly for spellcaster-types, because an oozemaster rogue would be a formidable combination.

In the end, the Tomb of Horrors was no match for this bunch. In order to kill off the party, I would have had to boost the DC checks for threats throughout the tomb by about 10, because people were exceeding their DC's by such large margins, they'd only fail at something on a natural 1. As it was, I made the dungeon more difficult, adding some nasty little suprises to the canonical tomb, but still, they knocked back challenges almost as fast as I could throw them.

Part of this was due to the fact that they were able to design their characters specifically to survive the Tomb of Horrors, though. It would be a huge difference to actually drop it into an existing campaign, where people have not been at liberty to pick and choose the item buffs they want. So DM beware - Tomb of Horrors is a deadly place, and it most likely will claim several lives, so use it with caution. But you might be surprised at the skill level of your players if you decide to give it a spin.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Holy crap, we made Rocketboom

Amanda Congdon of RocketboomThings are really starting to happen for us now. Looking through my server logs, I noticed that we were getting referrers from none other than Rocketboom! I feel so hip - Amanda Congdon saw what ImaginEERIEing was doing and found us worthy. Thanks, Amanda, for the mention, even though we are way late realizing it!

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

So the Bush administration is telling us that the secret surveillance of bank transactions that was recently discovered by reporters is limited only to international transactions by people suspected of having ties with terrorists. They're saying that it's all legal and on the up-and-up. They're saying it's a necessary tool in fighting terrorism. They're saying what a shame it is that the American people know about it, because not us not floating along in ignorance helps the terrorists.

Sound familiar? Not too long ago, they were telling us that their wiretapping was all done legally with judicial oversight, that it was limited only to international calls by people suspected of having ties with terrorists, and that it was a necessary tool in fighting terrorism.

But what happened after that? It turns out that the administration was lying. They didn't have judicial oversight. They didn't limit their investigations to international calls, but instead targeted domestic calls. They didn't limit their investigations to "persons of interest," but mined data on every American. They even attacked people who raised questions about its legality and its effect on civil liberties.

Are we supposed to believe, now, that they showed restraint when trying to data mine bank transactions when they clearly couldn't resist doing it with phone records? Are we supposed to believe that they are putting in proper safeguards for Americans' civil liberties?

Only a fool would believe that. True, there's a chance they're actually not lying about this, but it would be foolish, given their history on an extremely similar case that was ocurring on the same time frame, to just take their word for it.

This is the problem with telling lies when you're a politician. Once you're caught lying about stuff, your credibility is shot. Even if you happen to be telling the truth, people have no way of knowing whether you really are telling the truth, or whether you've just been more successful at keeping people of conscience from leaking abuses of power in this case. Once you've demonstrated you'll engage in shady closed-door shenanigans, we have to assume that you're willing to continue doing them.

Now if only we could get the Republican-led legislature to show some backbone and call the president to the carpet for his abuses of power...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Aerosol - Ruby Game Development

Looking to create games using the Ruby programming language? Check out Aerosol, a Ruby-based game framework for MacOSX 10.4+. It comes with example code and an Asteroids clone to learn from.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Ten Commandments

BoingBoing pointed to a video of Stephen Colbert and Congressman Westmoreland. Apparently, Westmoreland has co-sponsored a bill to require the display of the Ten Commandments in some public buildings, but when asked by Colbert to actually name the Ten Commandments, he can only come up with three: "Don't murder. Don't lie. Don't steal."

Setting aside for the moment whether the Ten Commandments say not to "murder" or not to "kill," which to me is a pretty important distinction, it seems to me that this is compelling evidence that this is all about religious/political pandering and judgementalism than it is about an honest respect for the original document.

I had a very similar experience several years ago. I was sitting in a room watching the news with someone who goes to a church that, to put it politely, doesn't see eye-to-eye with me on the value of the separation of church and state. At one point, she blurted out, "If people would just follow the Ten Commandments, this world would be a much better place."

Just as Colbert did recently, I asked her if she could name the Ten Commandments. To her credit, she got more than Congressman Westmoreland, but still fell far short of ten.

She was embarassed, but when you think about it, she shouldn't have been. Seven out of the Ten Commandments are not exactly the sort of things you should have to be told: Don't go around killing people. Don't diddle your neighbor's wife. Don't steal. Don't make up lies about other people. If you need to refer to the Ten Commandments to realize you shouldn't be doing these things, well, you need counseling, not a historical religious document. There's no reason to memorize these things if your moral compass isn't broken (unless you enjoy historical trivia).

And the other three Commandments are entirely dogmatic in nature, typically handled by convention and societal norms than by your own personal choice. Indeed, about the only place the Commandments really have a measurable effect nowadays is in whether or not you say "God, that hurt," or "Golly, that hurt."

What worries me about this renewed interest in turning to the Commandments document is only partially about keeping government separate from religion. My concern is that the Ten Commandments do not provide the reasons why you shouldn't be doing these listed things. It doesn't say why you have to take a breather on day seven even if day six would be more convenient for you; it just says "Don't do it!" In my view, a properly-developed moral compass cannot be built on a "because God said so" justification. Too many people have been killed (and continue to be killed) over stuff like that.

Morality is all about why. For responsible morality, you need to not only be able to elucidate the correct behavior for a given situation, but also why it is the correct behavior, because otherwise, you cannot apply your ethics to new and unforseen situations, nor can you be certain that you haven't got a bad interpretation of the divine rules. And if you are allowed to simply pass the buck to God, then you have no accountability for your own moral structure. (I have actually heard someone say that they are not responsible for their own unethical behavior, blaming God instead, because God did not give them the strength to resist temptation.)

Regardless of which documents are posted in public buildings, our moral compasses are our own to construct and follow. We can either defer to historical documents and hope that they cover all cases and legitimately apply to the challenges we face today, or we can educate ourselves about the state of the world and the human condition, and reflect on that knowledge with empathy and understanding, in order to form our own reasons for choosing our ethical structure. Only in the latter case do we take responsibility for our own morality. In the end, that is what will make the world a better place.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Making of "Shadow Of The Colossus"

A fascinating read came through the lists today. It's called The Making of "Shadow Of The Colossus". In the article, the developers of the excellent Shadow of the Colossus game describe the many technical innovations they built into the game in order to immerse the player in a stunningly naturalistic environment on aging hardware. They describe in detail how each effect was achieved.

This style of innovation, while not directly achievable in Shockwave3D, is the sort of clever manipulations that more and more developers are having to deal with as access to 3D programming becomes more and more accessible to hobbyist and small-shop developers without in-house teams of 3D programmers. It's a great read.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


A recent post on 43Folders turned me on to a savvy little MacOSX extension called AutoPairs. It watches as you type, and when you type a paired character, like a curly brace, paren, or less-than sign, it instantly also types its pair and a left arrow key as an assist in keeping your nesting correct. You can configure general behavior for all applications, and override this behavior for specific applications. Nice. This will save me time programming and doing HTML and CSS markup.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sucking bandwidth and Migrating Video to YouTube

The good news is that people are visiting my web site. The bad news is that people are visiting my web site.

Last month, I started getting warnings from Apple that I was using up nearly all my bandwidth limit for my web space. If it keeps up, you'll see my site shut down as the date nears the 15th and the end of the month each month as I spill over the alotted quota.

I suspect what's pushing it over is all the video I have on my site, so I'm in the process of shifting the video bits over to my YouTube account. There isn't much home-haunt video over there, so it's good to get some of that scene going there, too. Hopefully, my videos will pick up some votes and get some interest going in home haunting there.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Friends of ImaginEERIEing

Today, to coincide with a new version of our ImaginEERIEing main page, which was starting to get a little cluttered, I've added a new page so I can finally track and point people to the great things other home haunters have done using our howto's, guides, and ideas.

It's called Friends of ImaginEERIEing, and it will be the place I collect references to people's haunt work related to our digital puppets, Flying Crank Ghost crypts, and whatever other nasty and unpleasant things we come up with.

Unfortunately, I seem to have lost track of many of the people who had sent us things, so it's only got five people on there now. I'll add more if I can find them.

If you have built something off of our site, submit your haunt, and we'll showcase it!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Problems Upgrading to Web 2.0

From my recent frustrations at having a less-than-current web application foisted upon us recently, I've gone looking wistfully at technologies such as Ruby on Rails and Django.

This prompted a new Newsvine article called Problems Upgrading to Web 2.0. The out-of-date-ness of the foisted application was bad, but I'm coming to realize that my own web applications, though much more usable and productive, still pale in comparison to what some people are doing out there. I just don't have the time to keep up in the manner I'd like, and that's what the article is about. Eventually, I'll get there, but I have to drag along several dozen web applications written "old school" on my way, so it'll just take me a little longer.

NMSU's Concrete Canoe team takes 2nd in regionals

Missed it by that much. NMSU's Concrete Canoe team dominated almost across the board at the Concrete Canoe 2005-2006 regional competition in all concrete canoe categories except for one catastrophic sinking during the Swamp Test, which cost them the gold. Still, they put in a great show. Good work, team NMSU!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What does a vote against gay marriage mean?

I've written another article for Newsvine, this one about the whole gay marriage dustup going on, entitled What does a vote against gay marriage mean?.

I'd been tinkering with the beginnings of an article, but had backed off of it until I caught wind (via BoingBoing) of how Jon Stewart took on Bill Bennett, and got inspired to finish it up.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

1999 called; they want their web interface back

I'm in the middle of a three-day training workshop at work for a pricey new web application that our university bought. I was actually trained on it about 18 months ago, but it's taken them this long to get it installed and working and ready for deployment, so I'm being trained again. (To be fair, some of that time was intentional delay on our part to just wait until the next version is released.)

I am grandly disappointed in this product. After 18 months and a new version (which turned out to merely be a "maintenance update"), I expected far more progress towards the product being usable. I've been holding off on projects for the last year because it was always "just around the corner," and we've been getting our ducks in a row so that when the time came, we could start our migration quickly.

As of this writing, though, I am seriously considering turning my back on it altogether and rolling my own solution. Our users are used to a much more clean, simple, and task-focused web application than what we bought. I don't doubt it's good for some people - I don't know who - but I just can't see it working for us. (The fact that this means I'd have to develop and maintain the alternative, instead of washing my hands of the entire responsibility, should give you an idea of just how much I don't care for this product.)

There are many limitations to the product, but the one that really struck me while using the app is the inscrutable interface. With the current crop of emerging web interface design principles, it's really hard to look at web interfaces that feel like 1999. It's been a long time since I've worked with a web application that was so solidly presented from the point of view of the internal implementation - the "programmer's view" of the system - instead of being focused on helping the user get done what he needs to get done. It really is staggeringly hard to use.

The sad thing is that it should be much easier to use. It makes me want to write a letter to the CEO and say, "Please, fly me out to your headquarters for two weeks, give me the power to have your programmers change the web interface, pay me reasonably well for my time, and let me make your product better." I'm no Nielsen or Zeldman, granted, but I'm sure I have enough suggestions to keep 'em busy for a while.

I'm going back tomorrow for more training. Yay.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Ultima Online Resources System

Every once in a while, you stumble upon some real gems in your blog subscriptions. Recently, Raph Koster, author of "A Theory of Fun," finished blogging a series of articles that describe the process they used to create the resources system used in Ultima Online. Some interesting stuff in there from a virtual world design standpoint. Here are the three articles:

Part One is about the underlying data structures.

Part Two is about the application of those data structures to the virtual world.

Part Three is about the future directions they didn't get to pursue with UO, and an ample source of ideas for your own creations.

Those articles reminded me of a permeating magic discussion that was going on the RPGDX bulletin board a while back that generated some interesting ideas for a magic system for RPG's.

Children's Programming

I followed a link off of The Sneeze, which is a pretty goofy humor site, and found something pretty interesting and not funny and goofy at all. Apparently, back in '69, Nixon wanted to cut funds to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in half, but an impassioned speech by none other than Mister Rogers turned the tide. This is archival video at its coolest.

I work for a video studio, and there has been, more than once, serious talk amongst the faithful about wanting to do some children's programming. After all, we all work at a video studio, we all do animation and children's products, and there's a Public Broadcasting station on campus. We have the capability and the interest, and that clip makes me want to do it even more. Guys?

(In related news, BoingBoing pointed to a new children's show called Yo Gabba Gabba that is apparently trying to make it on spec. It will be interesting to see whether it flies or dies.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Practical CSS

This morning, I did a little seminar at the 2006 ACE conference in Quebec called Practical CSS. At the link, you can view a self-running slideshow with my comments for free, or download iPod or PDF versions of the presentation.

The interesting thing about the presentation is that I wasn't actually in Quebec to give it. I wrote the session, made the Keynote presentation, added audio to it, and gave it all to Barb to read and listen to, who in turn did the actual presentation in Quebec. I joined in via iChat to answer questions and have a presence. I'm sure at least one of the session feedback forms is going to make the joke that the presenter "just phoned it in."

The session itself is a little light on actual CSS. It's more about strategies for deployment of CSS, based on our experiences with the NMSU rebranding effort. ACE is a professional organization of communicators, but the propeller-heads like myself tend to be members of the sister organization, NETC, instead, so I didn't know how technical to make the session. In the end, I cheated, and tried to get something in for everyone by adding in a few actual CSS tips and tricks, and then giving a more general overview and strategy for the administrator-types in the audience who wouldn't actually be doing the markup themselves.

From what Barb said, the session seems to have gone over pretty well, so it sounds like I hit the right level of technical detail. We'll know for sure when the feedback forms come back.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ornamentation in Yorick

I got ornamentation working in Yorick tonight after much struggling with the model's bones. Here's a screenshot of the "horns" ornamentation:
Yorick with horns
There is also an iron crown you can plop on his head.

Yorick is getting pretty close to being release-able. Soon, the issues are going to be how much to charge, the web page to showcase it on, how to do the demo version, etc., rather than actually making the thing.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Why I Was (and Was Not) Disappointed in The DaVinci Code

I just uploaded a column to NewsVine called Why I Was (and Was Not) Disappointed in The DaVinci Code.

What I didn't mention in the article is that I was actually pretty disappointed that Ron Howard didn't spend the twenty seconds to explain how to compute the Fibonacci sequence, which plays a role in the plot of the movie. As a former Math teacher, I know the value of bringing Mathematics literacy into pop culture, so it irks me a bit when a prime opportunity (hyuk) like this is squandered. And it would have been beneficial for the movie makers, too - what better way to do long-term promotion of the movie than to have a few minutes of your movie played in thousands of Math classrooms in America once a year?

Hmm. Maybe there's a vast conspiracy to suppress Mathematics literacy...