Sunday, September 28, 2008

celtx - open source script writing tool

If you're interested in script writing, you might want to check out Celtx. It's a free, open source script writer that has some really cool features. You can write scripts in different formats (ie, stagescript, comic book, or film script), hook up storyboard art and actors/props to scenes, and schedule everything with a calendar.

Very cool stuff.

Friday, September 26, 2008

and speaking of spore

I like it.

While not every choice you make influences aspects of later gameplay, there are some major ones. Ie, spend more time killing your neighbors than negotiating with them, and you'll end up with an aggressive, warlike tech tree when you get to later stages in the game.

The tragedy is that I find it's much easier to just conquer my neighbors than impress them with dances or music performances. My little one celled organisms quickly grew up into goofy bipedal killing machines that gave up all pretense at diplomacy and rapidly established an authortarian empire on both continents of my homeworld. It only got worse once I attained spaceflight.

Will Wright games take me to a scary place. :(

Any rate, the game itself is pretty well crafted. Replay value is in the infinite (and I mean fscking infinite) variety of creatures and cultures you can create. There's some civilization micro-management in the later stages of the game, but it's nothing major and in the worst scenario where you ignore a planet and it drops back to a T0 barren rock... it only takes about 5 minutes work to resculpt it into a T3 paradise.

Only thing I'd ding the game for is that the explanation on how to terraform wasn't clear and it's not covered in the manual. But once I finally doped it out, it's hellah fun.

Main focus of the game is definitely the space stage... most of the other stuff was kind of just phases you had to go through, but I also suspect that there's some good replay value in there. Ie, see how far you can get by being a peaceful herbivore instead of just melting everyone's face.

It's also worth pointing out that during the creature phase, as you're gaining brain capacity the size of your "pack" grows. You can charm multiple creatures to help you out. I made it through most of this stage flying solo, but decided to pick up 3 of my own buddies to help take down the last nest I had to conquer. There was definitely a "goat leg drops onto the roof of the car" moment when you realize that one goofy, almost bashful looking creature is cute... but 4 of them racing through the forest on a dark errand appear to be perfectly tuned killing machines and intent on one terrible goal that might not be suited for children to watch.

Plus, they can spit venom. :o

Still not sure I'm down with the DRM thing, but overall I like the game. Not quite what I'd thought it'd be a year ago, but it's by no means a disappointment.

waaaagh not so much :(

Turns out that there's an issue with 8X00 nvidia cards and WAR. Turns out that this was discovered in beta, but quietly ignored. Turns out a week after launch, they still have no solution to the problem but are more than happy to crow about the 500K subscribers they've got (I thought there were 1.5 million pre-orders??)

tl;dr version: Fsck it, I'll just go finish dominating the galaxy in Spore.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

revisiting cuil

Almost 2 months ago, I mentioned cuil and how it offered up a different way to organize search results.

Since then, I've actually used to research a couple of topics... namely, Amazon Web Services tools, the Battle of Hastings, and how to generate UV light.

On the Battle of Hastings, it did a nice job since there was plenty of multimedia type stuff surrounding the topic. The left-right layout and page previews helped me zero in on some information, get a refresher on the topic, and then find a couple of places to dive in deeper.

On the technical stuff, though, it fell kind of flat. The UV light research turned up lots of links to what UV light is and how it works, but not so much on the "help, vampires are attacking and I need a weapon NOW!!" front. For the AWS tools, I basically got links back to Amazon's forums. Thanks a lot.

So. As things stand now, it's pretty much going into my webz toolbox as "the place to go instead of the library". Will be nice if it sticks around, but I can't say there'd be a huge impact if it didn't.

Monday, September 22, 2008

did you know..

That UV lights are really just flourescent lights with small amounts of mercury added to them? When energized, mercury emits UV photons.

Also works with a laser, too. Zap mercury gas with a laser, and you get a UV laser that can be seen when you put a piece of paper in front of it (the UV reacts with the blue fibers manufacturers add to paper to make it appear white instead of mashed-up-tree-goo-brown). But.. realistically.. who's got a portable lasers laying around?

Any rate.

If you're trapped in an Alaskan town when vampires attack, just find a mercury based thermometer, modify a flash light, and there ya go. Point the beam at a sheet of white paper and make sure there's a glowing blue dot before you go on offense, though.

Friday, September 19, 2008

other games

I also picked up Sins of a Solar Empire and Spore. Planning on giving those a test drive this weekend as go-me rewards for getting the S3sync project into a usable state and coming up with a plan to refactor the code.

first impressions of warhammer

So, got the beast installed (2 dvd's!!) and took it for a test run.

Overall, I'm not very impressed with the game. Let me give you a taste of the gameplay so far:

*) create your account with EA/Mythic (note the name.. it becomes important later on)
*) start up WAR, wait for 45 mins for the 255MB patch to download (seriously?)
*) finally get the patch downloaded, start the game, agree to the license and ToS
*) begin selecting your character and deciding which set of tusks best describes you as a hulking minion of the Armies of Destruction
*) frown as the game starts to lag during the character customization phase until it gets so bad you just give up and hit the "PLAY" button hoping it'll go away
*) enter the game and begin walking to the first quest giver only to be struck by crippling lag after taking 2 steps
*) spend 5 minutes fighting through the lag in an attempt to get the visual config menu opened up and turning everything down to lowest possible settings
*) give up when that doesn't do anything, and try restarting the game
*) agree to the ToS a second time
*) re-enter game, resume your walk to the first quest giver, and get hit with crippling lag inside of 5 steps this time
*) hunt for the in-game help feature to report the problem, and experience a complete lockup of the game and a tone that sounds ominously like a flatlining EKG machine for 10 seconds
*) wait for lag/death tone to subside, hit the help button, and begin filling out your report only to discover there's a hidden character limit on the input box labelled "be as descriptive as possible"
*) revise your bug report down into "terribad lag, bad tone + lockup, plzhlp" (all the while experiencing said terribad lag... we're talking IRC on a 2400 bps modem here, folks) and have the game completely crash before you can submit it
*) sigh, and decide to use the web form to report the bug... spend a while typing in your WAR account/pass and your EA Mythic website account/pass before noticing that in order to report a bug you have to have an account
* register with, wait a few mins for site to accept your new credentials, and submit bug report
* go whine about the whole experience on your blog that only 2 people read

It's not a very fun game, so far. :)

In seriousness, though, I did get a chance to kill a couple of dwarves and get to level 2 before things got too bad. It's got some major differences from WoW... the two big ones for me are that there's no autoattack (ie, you have to use an ability from your action bar for each swing of your weapon) which slows things down with what appears to be a 1.5s cooldown between swings. I'm thinking that it's going to be tricky to get into a button-mashing groove later on and such grooves will depend on your action bar layout as much as your talents. Hrm.

The other complaint is the orc quests are written in orc "flavor" language... which is some funky hybrid of Cockney, Sottish, and gangsta rap. It's kind of difficult to tell what the hell the plot is, and tempting just to read the list of stuff you need to go grab.

The interface is pretty well laid out, and it preserves a lot of controls and features from the WoW interface, so... at least that transition has been eased. I find the compass much easier to read, and there's a lot of stuff there natively that you had to rely on add-ons for in WoW.

Not too bad.

Other than the sever, crippling lag thing. And the byzantine maze you have to navigate to submit a bug report.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


So even though in the 10 days since I quit playing WoW I've ripped through 2 ora books, learned enough ActionScript to become dangerous, started the downward slope of a project I'm running solo on, gotten the hard logic of the S3sync tool knocked out, rehabbed my home network and got some big boy security in place.... I'm probably going to snag Warhammer: Age of Reckoning tonight.

The big diff seems to be that unlike WoW, WAR does not demand every freaking minute of your life. Also unlike WoW, WAR seems to be more realistically designed around the concept of "more is better" rather than requiring you to break up into small, specialized, and closed groups.

Got some pals (Titans of Soria) heading for Iron Rock, Destruction side (apparently the server's got a 3-1 Destruction:Order ratio.. for once, I'll be in the majority). I'm thinking I'm going to stick with my tanking tradition and go with a Black Orc.

Named Parkerlewis. \o/

Sunday, September 14, 2008

simplify, eh?

One of the things that used to amaze me in Calculus class was how you could take a fairly innocuous looking little function, apply a few theorems to it, and it would suddenly explode into this half page nightmare monster of fractions, lost negative signs, and how in the hell did a csc() get in there?!?

And yet, that was the right answer. You had "simplified" the equation by wasting a bunch of #2 lead and paper. It was as far as you could go towards getting a solvable answer with the tools at your disposal. In other cases, some small precondition wouldn't be met and you could just write down "DNE" for "does not exist" and move on to the next problem. In these cases, the correct answer was to simply give up and not worry about the problem anymore.

As I'm getting back into the swing of CLI development, I'm struck by how many situations that a programmer can be tempted to just write "DNE" and move on. In GUI development, you must constantly check for errors/exceptions, and you must handle them gracefully lest your user think that your software is a piece of crap and uninstalls it. Sometimes the error checking can be larger than the actual code to run the program (and about 7 times less fun to write). But at the command prompt... ah... we can easily punish the user for incorrect input by saying, "WRONG ANSWER! Go to the back of the line and start over!!" and escape from having to write the error checking code.

It's a seductive trap, and one I'm finding I have to stay vigilant against falling into. Today's mantra is "DNE is not an acceptable answer".

why is jill greenberg surprising?

I've gotten a bunch of emails from friends and family trying to make me aware of the Jill Greenberg controversy, and I'm left wondering: Why is it a big deal?

By way of background, Greenberg is a photographer who was hired by some rag called The Atlantic to shoot some pics of John McCain for a story they were doing. She basically didn't retouch the photos that the mag used, and so McCain ends up with red eyes and "bad looking skin" on the cover shot. She also apparently used the shoot as an opportunity to sneak in some strobe light pics that makes McCain look like he's casting an ominous shadow or something. The laundry list of complaints is here, and her response has been a sophomoric "not my fault" using the reasoning that The Atlantic knew she was anti-Bush, so it's they're fault for hiring her.

And it's impossible for me to give less of a crap. I don't read The Atlantic... didn't even know it existed until today. But even if I did, I would probably assume that the editors of the mag were just like the editors of other magazines, who are just like the editors of newspapers, who are just like producers of TV news, and who are just like the lone freaks creating the blogs I read:

Freaking biased and not above lying by omission or resorting to cheap images or loaded language to further their own agenda.

Let's face it. The ideal of objective journalism is gone, people, and it's the editors who strangled it. I give as much credence to CNN and the NYT as I do slashdot... maybe even less as at least the latter allows a forum for its consumers to debate the slant of the article.

Everyone knows this already. How can you be surprised when they do what you know they're going to do?

s3 for backups

So I'm reading up on Amazon Web Services; S3 is the current target.

What's been tripping me up with S3 is that I keep wanting to treat it like a remote filesystem... I was having trouble finding a good "model" to use for backups, but I think I've settled on using something like rsync as the answer. Put stuff you want to backup into a folder, specify a bucket, and run a program that will periodically check the stats on all files in the dir and upload anything new or that has changed up to S3.

Gonna check to see if anyone's already put something together for it yet, but if not will probably whip up a utility based on the Right Scale AWS ruby libs.

EC2 next.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

now that I've gotten to know it better...

ActionScript has replaced javascript as the #1 Thing I Would Hate to Be Stuck Doing for All Eternity When I Go to Hell.

All these kidlets rushing out to embrace AJAX and doing some hellaciously complex stuff in js for the past 3 years suddenly makes a hell of a lot more sense.

I'm also seeing a lot of parallels between Adobe's AS and MS's AFX^H^H^HMFC stuff. I wonder if Adobe knows that this evolutionary branch is a doomed one, and whether or not they've started thinking about how they're going to handle their very own version of the VB6 developer .Net revolt that's looming in the far off future.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

mysql replication

Found a decent howto on MySQL DB replication. Looks straightforward enough... thinking about using it for a friend's server that had to be taken offline for Gustav and that I was hosting a backup for.

Gonna need to do some checking on MySQL security, though... opening the database up to the network on a public just strikes me as asking to get hit. :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008


So. I decided not to re-up my sub for WoW. Ever. Not even for the expansion.

I'm hoping to return to more mainstream hobbies now.

Like hacking on AWS or creating specialized appliance-style Linux distros. Or maybe watching every single episode of Airwolf on hulu.

Hmm? What's that? Spore's out, eh? Hrm...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

here's some rock and some roller

Andy Freeland - We Want Your Soul

And, yes. I'm aware that I'm posting a link to a video about the dehumanization of people through mass marketing being E-ville(tm) on a free blog hosted by a company whose primary source of revenue is automated, wholesale mass marketing. I just wanted to see how high we could get the irony meter to go.

And I like the hook for some reason.