Friday, September 29, 2006

Republican leadership hits a new low

Pedophile priests are low, but I always considered the Catholic administrators who covered up their existence lower. A pedophile clearly has something wrong with him - some brain imbalance or trauma or something causes him to be sexually attracted to children. But the administrators have no such excuse. Rather than allow the existence of pedophile priests to tarnish the image of the church, they paid off the families of molested children to keep quiet, and failed to remove the priests from contact with children. This is bad not only for the children, but also for the priest - you're not doing him any favors by hiding the issue rather than getting him counseling or medication, or allowing him to continue assaulting children until he does end up in jail. (And no, prayer is not a cure for pedophilia.)

Now we discover something very similar going on within the Republican leadership. Congressman Foley has resigned because it has come to light that he was propositioning the teenage pages via IM and email.

This is bad enough, of course, but you can't really extrapolate the behavior of one Republican to the group. His actions were the actions of an individual that could just as easily have been a Democrat. It says nothing about either party.

However, the Republican leadership learned that he was propositioning people's children and covered it up. They apparently didn't even take steps to separate him from the pages or make him go get some help, let alone bring it to the attention of the authorities. Check out this stunning quote:

Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who sponsored the page from his district, told reporters that he learned of the e-mails from a reporter some months ago and passed on the information to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Republican campaign organization.

Alexander said he did not pursue the matter further because "his parents said they didn't want me to do anything."

I'm sorry, but that's hardly an excuse for allowing a pedophile to continue to have access to children, or to excuse his behavior. What if the next set of parents don't want their kids propositioned? Or worse, what if the next time, the proposition doesn't stop at email and IM?

You know, I never really understood why the Catholic administrators who allowed pedophile priests to assault on in obscurity were never brought up on charges. They deserve to be in jail, doing hard time. Hell, they should at least have been excommunicated. But religion is a funny thing. People will excuse practically anything, apparently, for the sake of faith.

But when it happens in politics, too, the common denominator becomes crystal clear. It's not about protecting the faith. It's about holding on to the power. Both the Catholic administrators and the Republican leadership build their power on the (false) premise that they are a moral center. "Embarrassments" like this threaten that power, forcing them to choose between a potential loss of power or another child being sexually assaulted.

And they chose wrong. To my mind, that more surely strips them of any moral authority than the mere fact that there was a pedophile in their organization. A responsible man would have set aside his personal desire for power and taken steps to protect the children under his protection.

"Yeah, he's propositioning teenagers, but we might lose a Congressional seat! If we can just keep it quiet until after the election..."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bob Diven hits the big time!

The good news for today is that Bob Diven is currently being featured on NPR! Go Bob!

(Readers of this blog will remember Bob from his excellent role as "Dead Bob," barking for the Blackwood Mausoleum at our Carnival of Souls home haunt.)

If you like what you hear, and want to pick up his album, Play With Yourself, Live at the Black Box, there are some copies available through Amazon.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

NMSU is bleeding

Is it just me, or is NMSU bleeding good people?

Today, I went to a going-away party for two of my good friends who are moving away, and although it was fun, it really sucks to realize that I'm not going to see them much any more. This is on the heels of hearing the sad news that another one of my personal friends is moving his family away within the month, too.

All three of them are people I regularly hang out with socially, and all three of them work(ed) at NMSU, in three different departments, and are very good at what they do.

I don't know exactly what's causing it, and it may just be a freak coincidence because I happen to know them all, but it seems like this is getting to be something of a ritual around here - good people seem to be leaving NMSU in droves. Lots of people I know all over campus have headed off for greener pastures. It's one thing to watch your excellent professional colleagues vanish one by one by one by one by one. It's another thing to have to say goodbye to close personal friends. Yeah, the former makes your job more difficult and less pleasant, but ultimately, it doesn't go beyond the workday. But the latter drains away your quality of life. Las Cruces is going to feel a lot more empty next week.

Friday, September 22, 2006

HDR Rendering in Shockwave3D

Ben from RobotDuck has posted an explanation of how he achieved "high dynamic range" (HDR) rendering in Shockwave3D. You can see the effect in action here, but basically, it's a means of mimicing the eye's response to light by adjusting the exposure levels of the geometry depending on how long the camera has been in a dark or light area.

For instance, on a bright, sunny day, if you look into a shadowy building from the outside, it will look very dark because your eyes are adjusted to the light outside. But from the inside looking out, it will look brighter, because your eyes are adjusted to the darkness, but the outside will look very light.

The effect is achieved by multiplying and adding dynamically-generated light maps to produce an exposure effect. A good read.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Some Transworld video is up on YouTube

Someone has posted some great Transworld footage to YouTube. Transworld is a convention for the haunt industry, where all the vendors of skeletons, zombies, vampires, and, erm, zombie midget pets congregate to hawk their wares and share ideas. Be sure to check it out:

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Who's the letter writer?

Well, they've released the letters from the ransom demanders, and it sheds clues on who the perpetrator is. Check it out. Below is a comparison between the criminal's handwriting and the Iron Maiden logo:
Handwriting comparison
In particular, check out the triangle "O" and the angular "A". There are similarities to the logos for Def Leppard and Judas Priest as well.

The joke, of course, is that it's Eddie himself who is the extortionist. He's disgruntled because Iron Maiden jumped the shark after Powerslave.

Okay, with that out of the way, I wonder whether there really is something to this - the entire letter is written with that dumb Iron Maiden handwriting that every kid that listened to metal doodled on the covers of their notebooks with. I think chances are good that whoever did this had the same background. Judging by the typo's and third-grade writing style, he didn't do so well in school, either. Combined with the fact that this not-very-smart author tries to "trick" the Las Cruces Police into thinking he's from out of town, I'll bet they could get a lot of leads by asking local high school principals for lists of underperforming, metalhead troublemakers that have passed through the system over the years...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Halloween must be coming

Halloween must be drawing near, because my server logs are going crazy compared to their normal moderate selves. Here's my page load log graph (actual numbers removed) from the last ten weeks:
Server page load graph
As you can see, server traffic in the middle of November is five times the server traffic of July. I had to bump up my .Mac subscription to cover the bandwidth and shunt off all my high-traffic digital video offsite or you wouldn't be reading this right now. I hope my bandwidth holds out throughout the Halloween season!

Rumors abound

As I mentioned earlier, we have some waste of carbon in town demanding a ransom or he'll start shooting Las Crucens randomly. Or so he claims.

It didn't seem to register much - life in Las Cruces went on as usual as near as I could tell, despite major news networks saying things like "New Mexico town under siege!"

But the news came out on the weekend. I guess news didn't spread until the first workday, because today, we started hearing multiple scare-rumors floating around that "gunmen have opened fire at (insert random location here)." Near as I can tell, all of them were hoaxes / false alarms.

Unfortunately, one of those "random locations" was very close to where my son goes to day care, so I was basically unable to concentrate until I got further news that it was a false alarm, despite the fact that I knew the chance that he was in danger was practically nil. By contrast, when the rumor came that the gunmen were on the NMSU campus, I was fine.

I hope they catch the guy soon, because even if you keep your head through these things, the primordial brain that simmers under our consciousness can't ignore the "what if?" possibility. When I think of my son during the day, I want to remember the stunningly cute thing he did this morning, not dread a sorrow that I can't even begin to imagine. I think enough about how this country and world is going to crap - I don't need this on top of it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Man Stuff

So my wife is afraid of squishing bugs. You wouldn't guess it if you knew her, 'cause she's pretty level-headed and no-nonsense in a lot of ways, but the mere prospect of a little bug sends her into such a tizzy that it awakens the male "chase the girl with the bug" gene in me. (This gene is present in all males of the species, not just me, btw.)

She seems to think that it is somehow uncouth to hold a recently-deceased dead bug that she refused to kill out for her to see. My view is that if you're not going to kill it yourself and play the "that's the husband's job" trump card, you're asking for a little ribbing in exchange.

What she fails to realize, however, is that it could be a lot worse. I hold it out to her, follow her around with it a bit, and then it's over. But I am a home haunter, so I have the skills to do something much more...elaborate. For instance, I could do what SpookyBlue, another clever home haunter, does. Not only does SpookyBlue go to much greater lengths than I to evoke that squeamish reaction in his wife, he also hides hidden cameras so that he may not only watch her squee around over and over again at his leisure, but he also posts it on the internet to let you watch it, too.

Madame Sarita divines nasty things in store for Halloween 2006

Madame Sarita sat down tonight and entered a trance in an attempt to divine what the fates have in store for the Carnival of Souls in 2006. Sitting in her parlour, swaying in her spirit reverie, she scribbled out some nightmarish renderings of what is destined to come. Here is one:
Unquiet Grave
Others can be viewed here. The question is: is this destiny immutable? Or can Madame Sarita stop these new horrors from being unleashed upon the world? We shall only know on All Hallow's Eve, and the night is swiftly approaching...

Friday, September 15, 2006

They say bad things come in threes

Well, it turns out that my car was damaged by the "tornado hail" a few days back. Looking at it closely today in the sunlight, I noticed dozens of tiny little dents all over it, and a few scratches on the hood. (Still nothing like the Socorro thing, but annoying nonetheless.)

But as they say, bad things come in threes. New Mexico is one of the states being hit hard by the E. coli spinach outbreak.

And now there's some dillhole threatening to start shooting people at random if the City of Las Cruces doesn't pay him a ransom. I was in Virginia when John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo were going around shooting people. Few things piss me off more than idiots who, when they decide to go on a shooting spree, don't have the decency to start with themselves. Personally, I doubt this guy will make good on his threats, but you never know - tomorrow is Dieciséis de Septiembre, a big Aggies game, and some parades, plenty of venues to cause a ruckus.

I guess I'm hoping that the whole "bad things clustering in threes" thing is the case, because if you look at this as a "trend line" instead, we'd have aliens from outer space zapping people with death rays before long...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What's the hardest part of Bush's job?

This is good for a laugh if you enjoy black humor.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tornado Results

Okay, we survived the tornado, but skylights all over the city were taken out by the hailstorm. I imagine Lowes and Home Depot are going to be doing a brisk skylight business tomorrow. When I got home, I went up onto our roof, and luckily, ours survived, but one of our neighbors who is out of town had six of her skylights break, so I took a ladder and went and duct-taped black plastic over her skylights.

Not as interesting as competing against the black-clad evil meteorologists from Twister, but hey, I think I prefer this to flying cows.

Tell my son I love him

As I type this, we're under a big, dramatic tornado warning. Hail is raining down around us, and the doppler radar images show a giant mass of red and purple over the place where I work. So if this blog suddenly goes silent, you'll know why!

Luckily, our building is built like a bunker - concrete blocks and no windows, designed by a prison architect. It's probably the safest place in town right now. Unfortunately, the tornado's path went right through the area of town where our house is, and it is not built like a bunker. I guess we'll find out whether our house is a "mysterious tornado magnet" or not.

One humorous note is that the local weather service is telling everyone to stay away from windows. As a Mac user, I've been saying that for years. Hyuk.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Wow, Target executives must be dumb

So Target was sued by the National Federation of the Blind because Target's web site wasn't built with an eye towards accessibility. Rather than do the right thing and agree during the negotiations to just make the web site accessible, Target fought them in court and lost.

One wonders what the hell they were thinking. Let's look at the options here. They can either avoid a possibly huge judgement by increasing the number of people who can shop their online store, or they can keep their customer base smaller, get hit with a judgement, and get news releases written about them about how they don't care about the blind community. Yeah, it's a no-brainer.

If some Target executive doesn't lose his job over this, there is no intelligence at Target headquarters.

(Via Pete Freitag)

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Home Haunt Community is the Best!

So as you know, I recently put up Yorick for sale on our web site. I'm not charging much, just a bit to help take the sting out of the cost of running Carnival of Souls every year.

But what I didn't expect was for people to purchase Yorick when they don't even intend to use it. I've gotten multiple people send me messages saying that they bought Yorick simply because they appreciate the things we've done on our web site over the past several years. How cool is that? For all the tinkering with corpses, body parts, and monsters, home haunters are at heart a selfless, generous, and gracious group.

Of course, this should come as a surprise to no one. Every one of them puts a lot of planning, effort, time, and money for months at a time into making other people happy for just one night a year. Of course they are cool people - they're all about giving to others. (Giving scares is still giving, after all. Heh.) But sometimes, its surprising just how gracious people can be, and this is one of those times.

Man, I picked the right hobby!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Yorick purchase issues resolved

Well, it looks like the online purchasing issues have been resolved. You should now be able to purchase Yorick without issue. If you discover otherwise, of course, let me know, and I'll try to make it right.

In other news, we've made our first sale! CC does the happy dance! I am now officially part of the haunt industry, and a better, more creative, and more crowd-pleasing bunch one couldn't hope to be a part of. It feels really good to know that something we've put out there is not only of value, but that the people buying it are doing it to provide enjoyment for many other people.

And it's self-perpetuating happiness, too, since I plan on putting every cent we earn from Yorick back into our home haunt. Yorick sales will make our haunt better and take a bit of the sting out of the rising cost of running a free haunt that caters to almost 1,000 visitors. The candy budget alone was getting painful, but what are you going to do? Turn kids away?

Home haunting really is one of the best things I've ever done. Once a year, we bring a lot of magic and happiness to a lot of kids (and adults!), and it's so fulfilling that it sustains me the other 364 days of the year. Many of the kids in my area have never seen, and will never see, magical haunted attractions like The Haunted Mansion while they are in their wonder years. Or have magical experiences of any kind, for that matter. We live in one of the poorest states in the nation, and there aren't a lot of age-appropriate entertainment experiences available. And the ones that are available are beyond the means of some families. By keeping our haunt free and accessible to all, we reach kids with a sense of wonder that would normally not experience it. One visiting kid said, "This is the best time I've had in my entire life!" Whether that's hyperbole or not, that statement makes me sad and proud at the same time - sad that our amateur, low-budget yard haunt registers as the best time that kid has ever had, but also proud that we were really making a difference in this kid's life with foam skulls, plastic rats, and black lights.

I view starting sales of Yorick as another milestone in that process of bringing magic to the kids of the world, because it extends our capabilities to deliver beyond what we can stretch out of our own personal budget. Is $15 a lot of money? No. But it will help. And it's a statement that bringing a little spooky magic to others is worth something to people. In the end, that's what the haunt industry is all about.

And now I'm a part of it. Yay!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Yorick e-Commerce Woes

Well, last night, I went ahead and quietly opened the Yorick online store after having tested it a few times with different browsers and machines.

Unfortunately, near as I can tell, the only person who noticed and tried to purchase was unable to get through the payment screen from PayPal. (I've sent queries to both PayPal and PayLoadz, the digital download service I'm using for help. PayLoadz responded very quickly, but unhelpfully only said that it's a PayPal problem. PayPal, on the other hand, remains silent eight hours later.)

Now, what I don't know is whether he's the only person who has tried to buy Yorick, or whether lots of people are failing to purchase it, and only one person is letting me know that it's broken. I hope it's the former.

So, if you're planning on puchasing Yorick, and you feel like helping me out by being an e-commerce guinea pig, please consider trying your purchase now, and if you get blocked, posting here with details on where the process fails.


Friday, September 08, 2006

Yorick almost ready to fly

Tonight, I got through almost all the stuff I need to get through to get Yorick available for purchase. It's actually easier than I thought, and it's ready to go, but before I "flip the switch" to make it live, I want to try a few purchases myself to make sure everything is smooth.

If you feel gracious, you could download version 1.2, which has the registration code in it, and try it out. I'd especially like to hear reports about whether or not the dialog box that comes up prompting for a registration code works or not. If it's broken (which it shouldn't be), I'd like to know about it before I go live.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Exporting from Maya to Director

Mainly for my own reference here, but if you do Shockwave3D work, the Golden Xp Archive has a tutorial going over the steps to get models and animation from Maya to Shockwave3D.

Currently, we use Lightwave3D for our Shockwave3D development. As long as you don't try to add bones to anything it's very straightforward. Once you add bones, though, things get difficult, so it's good to see that the Maya process is pretty clean. We've got a copy of Maya, so if we start doing more bones-animated scenes, we may have to switch to Maya.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Yorick 1.1

I just uploaded the demo version of Yorick 1.1. New to this version:
  • Pirate Ornamentation
  • Custom backdrop support
  • Attempt to fix a font issue under Windows

Let me know if you find any problems with the new version. Enjoy!

Jim Ludtke, RIP

I just found out, two years after the fact, that Jim Ludtke died back in 2004. I often wondered what had become of him - his awesome work for the Residents pushed the capabilities of multimedia when CD-ROM's were in their infancy. He did desktop 3D when it was still hard, when you had to have a lot of patience because the CPU power just wasn't there. His fantastic, original, and distinctive designs combined with his obvious attention to detail and patience of Solomon earned him enough notoriety that there was even an "Absolut Ludtke" ad in Wired once.

I still consider Bad Day on the Midway to be one of the most engrossing and cool computer games ever created, and Ludtke's ingenious use of mapping video of real peoples' mouthes onto the 3D models made for a creepy and crisp look to the characters. To this day it gnaws at me that I never managed to find where Dixie's neo-nazi comatose (or is he?) husband hid the gold.

I'm really sad to hear of Ludtke's passing. I'd love to see what he would have come up with using the computing power of today's machines.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Yorick demo available

Okay, there's finally a demo available for Yorick, our new digital puppet for use in Halloween home haunting. It's available for both Mac and PC.

As I've mentioned before, this digital puppet is much nicer than the original Magic Mirror, because it has more features and now has a console which makes it much easier to set up:
Yorick Screenshot

I'm in the process of getting an online store set up so that you can get your hands on the full version. (The original Magic Mirror will remain free for those of you on tight budgets.)

I'd appreciate bug reports and other problems you encounter, especially on the Windows side, since I don't have a Windows box to test with. Or just whether you like it or not.

NOTE: If you're planning on using Yorick or the Magic Mirror for your Halloween home haunt this year, please test it out well in advance of the big night - last year, we had some eleventh-hour emergencies from people trying to get their Magic Mirrors working, and it was tough to get the time to respond to them. We're home haunters, too, so time gets a little short as All Hallow's Eve approaches.