Sunday, October 29, 2006

Article about our haunt in Las Cruces Sun-News

The Las Cruces Sun-News featured our home haunt today. The article was written by a journalism student who knows Tracy (our "Madame Sarita" this year) who is also going to be helping out at Carnival of Souls this year.

I haven't been doing much blogging much lately, because we're in Halloween crunch mode, but hopefully we'll have some great photos to share after the holiday. If I don't get to the blog before then, have a Happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Yet another reason why I use a Mac

The guys at 37signals just posted a comparison of software installation experiences on Mac and PC that would be humorous if it weren't so sad.

They took start-to-finish screen-capture video of the process for installing the Javascript debugger for Safari/WebKit from Apple and the Javascript debugger for IE from Microsoft. The download sizes alone almost tell the story themselves - the Apple move took 1MB, and the IE movie took 10MB - but the real kicker is how ridiculously often popup windows show up under Vista asking you the same thing over and over again.

Watching the PC video, I felt the same chill I feel when I realize I'm going to have to go use a PC somewhere. Using a Mac, you really do get spoiled by the clean and clutter-free work environment. Vista is attempting to steal from Mac OS X, but they still have a long way to go.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Michael J. Fox's campaign ad for Claire McCaskill

I just watched the political message Michael J. Fox recorded for Claire McCaskill about her efforts to support stem cell research.

It's good. I don't know what it is about Michael J. Fox - maybe it's just the great characters he's played so expertly over the years - but he has the rare ability to, even in a political ad of all places, appear that he is speaking genuinely and frankly, almost spontaneously, directly to you. Seeing how his Parkinson's has progressed was disheartening, but the man's sheer charisma overshadows it.

Sometimes, it's hard to connect with issues like this if you don't personally know someone with Parkinson's. I do, but she's not going to have much of a public voice on the matter; she simply can't make the plea to voters, even if she were given the opportunity. But this is about as good an ad as I can think of to make the message for her. I just hope it can get some air time.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Plussing" your Halloween Decor

Halloween decoration is on the rise, and the various general stores around town are more than happy to sell you Halloween décor that works as spooky trappings for your house out-of-the-box.

But, let's be honest, while the quality and creativity of these run-of-the-mill store-bought effects have improved over the last several years, they are still a far cry from being either realistic or being effective at evoking an entire scene. Throwing a lot of orange and black cutesy things around may be fun for a party, but they won't trick your visitors into thinking they are in an actual haunted home.

If you want to go that extra mile, though, you don't have to go so far as to build all your décor from scratch. There is a middle ground. You can cherry-pick the effects available at the general stores and then leverage the style and creativity they have into creating a more holistic scene for your visitors. Borrowing a term from Walt Disney, with a little work, you can "plus" the stuff you buy at the store to make it even spookier.

Here's an example. Target this year has some clever talking statue busts that are pretty cool. If you liked the singing busts from Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction (or, less likely, the movie of the same name), they do a reasonable job approximating that effect for a mere $25. But if you were to just place them on the floor or table, they would be novel, perhaps, but not exactly spooky. For them to become spooky, they need to be part of an environment.

That's where "plussing" comes in. You've got the core mechanical effect that would be difficult to recreate easily - light-up eyes, a mouth-motor that moves in sync with the sound, and a latex rubber head of a bust that surrounds it all. Now you just need to flesh out the effect. Here's what we came up with this year:
Plussed halloween decor
This is the presentation of one of these simple busts from Target - we've turned the bust from a small curiosity to a large attraction. When it's all lit up with creepy lights, it's going to be even better.

And it wasn't difficult, either. Anyone can do this stuff with a little creativity. What you're seeing here is a cardboard column mold from the local hardware store attached to a flat piece of wood on the ground with "L" braces. The top lintel was made out of two squares of pink foam gorilla-glued together with a circular piece of foam underneath to set the lintel snugly in place on the cylinder. Then, we painted it black, and used a paint sponge to add in the marble effect. We then surrounded the entire column with cheap iron fencing units from Lowe's.

Not shown here are the name plaques (made out of pink foam, natch) that will be affixed to the lintels, giving each bust both a name and a birth-and-death range, which adds personality and gives visitors something to read.

We're actually doing this for all three of the busts we bought, and each one will have a different fencing unit, one of which we are making very cheaply from scratch using PVC pipe and wood. Each bust will bring its own character to the scene, each will stand boldly on its own, and each will help set the mood for their intended purpose: to lead our visitors through the Blackwood Family Graveyard.

So plus it up with your own Halloween décor! You don't have to go to the extreme lengths that we went to here, but don't be satisfied with the way your props come out of the box at home. Plopping the prop on a table will not get you the biggest bang for your buck - spend a little time on the environment these store-bought props will live in, and they will end up looking a whole lot better.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bush Administration's recommendations on Avian Flu

So the White House, a while back, released its recommendations for how we should prepare for an Avian Flu pandemic. This was done as a web site called Most of us aren't in a position to set government planning policy, so the section on "Individual Planning" is of most relevance to most of us.

I started reading the recommendations, and among the recommendations for Individuals and Families was this little jewel of wisdom:

Prepare backup plans in case public gatherings, such as volunteer meetings and worship services, are canceled.

It seems to me that if your church services have been shut down because of a pandemic threat, the dumbest thing you can do is fall back on your "backup plan" for getting together. Not only does that completely dissolve any health protections gained by closing the church, it also makes it much more difficult for the CDC and other health professionals to contain and track the spread of infection.

To be fair, most of the content on the site looks reasonable, and matches up with the content on the CDC Avian Flu site. But one has to wonder, when the Bush Administration actively replaces science, research, and evidence with politics in other topics such as global warming, evidence for WMD, number of dead killed in Iraq, whether or not anyone foresaw the levees breaking, etc., whether this was a recommendation laid down by fiat, as opposed to a recommendation based on sound science.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Subscribing to Validation

Every once in a while, a sexy tool comes along that makes you go "Now why hasn't anyone thought of this before?" Ben Hammersley's XHTML Validator to RSS is one such example.

In a nutshell, it removes the tiresome job of validating your page with the W3C's XHTML Validator whenever you make a change. Instead, you subscribe to an RSS feed that points the web page you're working on at the validator, and then whenever you update the feed, it returns all the errors and warnings as RSS items. Nice idea.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Yorick update

I've posted a development build update to Yorick which attempts to address reports of the performance playback being sluggish.

If you're experiencing this issue, and you would like to try out the development build and let me know whether it works for you, you can download the development builds here: Mac Version / Windows Version.

(For you Lingo heads, the issue appears to be that the elapsedTime of a sound asset is apparently not reliable, and will return the same number several times in a row, even if the play head has obviously moved ahead. A better approach is to keep track of time using the milliseconds separately.)