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First Person Shooters (Games)

Journal: Marshie Attacks - Halloween Project 3

Journal by John Harrison
If you came to my house for Halloween this year the first thing you noticed was 18 inch tall green vampire marshmallows moving around on a 8 foot tall screen hung from the garage door. The next thing you noticed was that a laser assault rifle was placed into your hands and you were commanded to kill Marshie for candy. Ok, by laser assault rifle I mean a laser pointer put into a bunch of PVC, but it looked pretty cool. When a dot appeared on the screen it was detected by my iSight camera and Marshie exploded. If you're interested there are more details including a movie posted here.
Democrats

Journal: Pete Ashdown, geek candidate, needs your help

Journal by John Harrison
Senator Barbara Boxer is giving away free money to candidates that are challenging incumbents. The catch is that you have to vote for who you want the money to go to. Pete Ashdown is not only running to unseat Senator Hatch (enemy of geeks everywhere) but is tech savvy himself, given that he is the founder of Utah's oldest ISP. His positions on tech issues should be of interest to many a slashdotter. So if you have a moment, click on the link below and vote for him to get some free money.

Vote for Pete Ashdown.

Censorship

Journal: CleanFlicks should be championed by /. 5

Journal by John Harrison
User Journal

Journal: WalMart and the illusion of low prices 7

Journal by John Harrison

I have now entered WalMart three times in my life.

Before I go on I should mention that I really don't have time to be shopping today. I am moving today and tomorrow. I have other things to do.

Yet I was a WalMart today at 4:10 am. The prospect of a $378 laptop was too much to resist. There were about a hundred people in line in front of me. Assuming that they didn't all want a laptop I figured that I would be ok.

Wrong.

First, the line got mysteriously thicker as time went on. There were easily 300 people in front of me when the doors opened at 5:00 am. This does not include the people that stood in the parking lot and simply sprinted at the door when it opened. What kind of jerk do you have to be to do that?

Second, they put the laptops in the grocery area. At least this is what I was told. I never saw a laptop box. I went to the electronics area which was a mob scene but lacked laptops for some reason. According to a helpful WalMart employee, the laptops were gone from the grocery area before I got into the store anyhow.

Now if you claim to be selling a sub-$400 laptop but can't/won't sell anywhere near as many as people want then you really aren't selling such laptops. You are simply claiming to. Maybe if they offered rainchecks I would believe them, but they don't and thus I am convinced that it is a scam. Classic bait and switch.

I walked out of WalMart at 5:10 am vowing to never return. Unless they will give me a raincheck, which isn't going to happen.

Music

Journal: iTunes Vizualiztion - First Draft - Mac Only! 2

Journal by John Harrison
So I found the Apple iTunes developer stuff. Contrary to what I remembered it is free to download the API for iTunes. While they give you working code, it is pretty ugly as far as being a visualization. I have hacked it a bit to get a feel for it and have re-implemented the effect that I created way back when by rewiring an Apple // monitor and running my the wires to my stereo speakers through the coils.

So if you have a Mac you can see it. This similar to the WinAmp viz I posted before, but this version is much better. It scales properly and is green on black. Grab it here:
http//www.angelfire.com/games4/anirak/iTunesX_Visualizer.bundle.zip

As usual, unzip the file and place it in the user/Library/iTunes/iTunes Plug-ins/ directory.

If the direct link doesn't work, there is a link in the "links" section towards the bottom of this page

As I put more effort into this I will probably make a page for it, maybe on a .mac account. We'll see what happens.

Edit: corrected second link. It is probably the one to use.

Desktops (Apple)

Journal: Mac mini first impressions 5

Journal by John Harrison
After much hassle with FedEx the Mac mini showed up yesterday. The box it comes in is smaller than any desktop I've seen other than the Cappuchino that I never use.

I plugged everything in and it worked as expected. I began to see the beach ball quite a bit though when multi-tasking, so I decided to go ahead and buy a gig of ram for it.

Luckily, MicroCenter is about a 10 minute walk and a 4 minute drive away. I grabbed the ad at the door and saw that they had a gig of PC3200 for $139. This was a steal. When I finally found it though I was upset. It was a "kit", which wasn't mentioned in the ad. This means that it was actually two 512MB sticks. Only one slot in the mini, so I got a gig stick of PC3200 for $199. The mini takes PC2700, but I've seen rumours that it doesn't take all PC2700. Plus, the PC3200 was cheaper.

I then went to the hardware store since I don't have any puddy knives. They had one type that was thinner and a second type that was thicker but had a sharpened edge. I bought two of the thinner ones, since my experiements with a razor knife had shown me that it wasn't easy to get anything in the edge. Maybe the sharpened ones would have worked better, but they were pretty thick. Anyhow it is not easy to open the thing. It took me over 15 minutes, and I can't say that I didn't leave some little marks. I don't think anyone would notice, but I did. Having two knives made it easier, but once you get one in one side it is hard to get anything in the other side.

I finally got it open and popped the memory and put the new stick in. It works fine.

My first project is going to be writing an OpenGL based music visualization program with a twist. It will actually make a movie out of the visualization that can be written to a DVD. Also, it won't suck the way many visualization programs do. It will actaully react to the music rather than spraying color on the screen for no apparent reason.

Oh, I forgot to mention. No iWork. For some reason I thought it was included, but it has AppleWorks instead. Too bad. I was looking forward to trying out Keynote.

Editorial

Journal: Must vent about FedEx... 9

Journal by John Harrison
This has been mentioned by others. It has happened to me before. Yet I will complain anew!

FedEx was supposed to drop off my Mac mini today. Instead they left a note on the door. No ringing of the doorbell mind you, just a note on the door. I was home, waiting for it. Why can't they ring the bell? Is it that hard? I called less than ten minutes after the note was left and asked them to come back. They said they would. They never did.

There is now a big note on the door with an arrow pointing at the doorbell.

OS X

Journal: Back to the Mac 18

Journal by John Harrison
I have only bought two computers myself. I certainly didn't have the cash to buy the Commodore 64 that my dad brought home when I was in 3rd grade. This is a bit strange, given that I am one of the bigger "computer nerds" that I know. I have a CS degree and I work for big blue. Anyhow, back to the story.

I bought an Apple Performa 614 in college. This was because I was sick of going to the CS lab to do assignments. I wanted to program in my dorm room. Of course it took about 45 minutes to compile anything with only 8 megs of RAM, so I went to Fry's and bought a 16 MB stick, to bring me up to a total of 24 MB. No more thrashing, compiles took mere moments. That computer stayed with me through college and then I gave it to my brother so that he could use it in college, since it already had the software he needed. Even though the Performa line is looked upon now as the dark days of the Mac, I look back on it fondly. They might have been coasting on inertia then, but the foundation of quality that had been laid before carried through, at least in my mind.

I then defected from the Mac camp and bought parts to build my own Celeron 300, which I occasionally overclocked to a magnificent 500 MHz. Why did I defect? Well, mostly because I could cheaply put together a machine that had a 3D card. This would make it easier to improve my 3D asteroids game.

That computer is still running, but doesn't see much use. I get a new laptop from work every few years which has killed my need to buy a fancy machine of my own. Of course I occasionally have wanted to go back to the Mac camp, at least for personal use, but I never had a good excuse, and I while I've had the money to buy one if I wanted, I was never quite able to justify it.

Why am I writing this? Because I just ordered my third computer, a mini Mac. The price is too good to ignore, and I admit that the design impresses me. They lowered the price to the level of impulse buy and they hooked me. Now I just have to find a cheap 1 gig stick of RAM somewhere...

User Journal

Journal: Does jamie mod his own posts? 8

Journal by John Harrison
In this journal entry pudge and jamie trade barbs as usual. I don't agree with much of what pudge says, but I think his positions are well thought out and well explained. He also is actually willing to point out when Republicans lie! Shocking I know.

I modded two of jamie's posts in this journal entry. I hit this one with a troll mod and this one with a flamebait mod. You tell me if the mods were fair. I did them mostly because I don't think jamie is able to present a point in a civil manner.

I look at the discussion tonight and suddenly those two posts, and only those two posts are modded as informative and insightful. Tell me if either of those mods are fair. Interestingly only three of the 54 posts under that journal have been modded at all. Those that I (and jamie?) modded and one other. How likely is it that jamie modded his own posts back up?

Classic Games (Games)

Journal: How hard can Pacman with one ghost be? 7

Journal by John Harrison
After a long pause I have updated my Java Applet Pacman game. There are several improvements, the most notable of which is that the Ghost is much smarter. Also the graphics shouldn't flicker on slow systems. Now I ask you, dear reader, to give it a whirl and tell me what you think. Are there bugs? Odd behavior? Have a suggestion? Please let me know!

Newest version of the game is here.

Finally, I am thinking of moving all my pages off of Angelfire. Does anyone have any free homepage suggestions?

Classic Games (Games)

Journal: Pacman game 14

Journal by John Harrison
Nobody will read this, and even if someone does, they won't post!

That said, I have a new version of my Pacman-inspired game up. It is improved over the version that has been linked to in my sig for a while now.

If anyone has any suggestions for power-ups or other interesting features (make sure to play through three levels first), please post below. There is a good chance your suggestion will make it into the game.

Also if it doesn't work for you, let me know, so I can fix it.

Games

Journal: New Game - Advice Needed - Plus Post 1k - New Arrival

Journal by John Harrison
I have grown a bit bored programming wise and I am going to commence writing a new 3d game. It will probably be a space combat game, since those don't involve animating models, which I don't have the patience for.

I will use OpenGL and SDL, so it should be very portable. In my last 3d game I didn't use models for the ships. Instead I got out the graph paper and drew them, put it on a coordinate system and then programmed the model in. Some of it I was just plotting points, other parts I generated with loops and trig funcitions. The asteroid were 3d fractals of my own creation. This wasn't too bad until I decided to add textures, which look ok, but not great.

Can anyone out there suggest a free or cheap 3d modelling program? All I want is to make ships and texture them and then be able to display them in the game using OpenGL. I haven't messed with stuff in a while so I am a bit out of the loop.

Also, once the program/file format are decided on, I will be accepting contributions for ships as well as scenarios.

Another limitation of my earlier game involves the controls. While I find them to be great (I made it work in a way that I like), most people think they suck. The joystick controls are especially bad, keyboard is okay. Unfortunately the controls are very limited from an architecture point of view, and fixing them would require a quite a bit of rewrite. I will be posting notices demos and betas here for people to try out and give feedback.

On to another topic. My next post will be my 1,000th /. post. Think of all the time wasted. I am trying to save it for an especially good or bad comment. It should hit either -1 or +5.

Finally, I purposely don't post much personal stuff in my journal, unlike some /.ers. Actually, I don't write much here at all. However this will be an exception. Our first child should be arriving in the next few weeks. It is a boy, but we don't have a name yet. We are so excited. I am sure that our lives will change forever, for the better. Hopefully we can keep up with all the changes and new responsibilities as well as get enough sleep.

The Matrix

Journal: Matrix Reloaded Notes - Spoliers

Journal by John Harrison
Just got back from a Wednesday night showing of The Matrix Reloaded. I am at a conference and Schlumberger was kind enough to be handing out tickets at their booth. I am helping to staff the booth across from them and they gave me a ticket. Can't complain much about free tickets to a movie a day before it comes out. To top it off, we got the best seats in the house, five rows up (stadium seating), right in the middle of the row.

I didn't like it as much as the first one, probably because the first one seemed rather fresh and new. This one is of course bigger and badder, but maybe not as novel. There isn't the sense of discovery, or even much doubt that things will turn out alright, since you know that Neo is now all-powerful. Just the same he expresses his own doubts throughout, probably to convince the audience that there is real drama here.

The movie opens with a view of the workings of the matrix, which zooms outward fractally to finally reveal a clock. A timecard clock to be exact, leading to the question of are the people punching in machines themselves or part of a machine. I just wanted to hear, "We don't need no education!"

Ok, the rest of this might contain major spoilers, so beware. Don't read it if you haven't seen it yet. Of course who am I kidding, nobody reads this thing....

The movie features a constant discoure on determinism. Are we automatons, or do we have free will? The word "choice" comes up so often that you will get sick of it. I thought that the philosophy in the first movie was much more subtle. This one is pounding you over the head with it. Lots of symbolism too, I probably missed lots of stuff, but here is some of what I noticed.

The movie begins with Neo having a vision of the future, and like Minority Report, though he knows the future there isn't much he can do to stop it. In fact knowing this will cause him to take actions that will lead to the occurance event he is trying to prevent. Ohhh, what a paradox. One of the bad guys will be put in a similar situation, causing the very thing he is trying to prevent by his betrayl of his digital girlfriend who get revenge by seeking some lip time with Neo. The movie thrives on paradox by the way. Lots of stuff for theoretical CS people and math people to chew on with their philosophy buddies.

Speaking of choice, Agent Smith has become a virus and a "free agent", no longer taking orders from above. Interesting that the machine has free will but the humans keep wondering if they do. He is able to infect a human, though much of this subplot is left to be resolved in the next movie. Smith is certainly a fun character to watch, but he didn't strike me as being as fearsome or as hate-worthy as he was in the first movie.

The doors of the dwellings in Zion are all painted blood red. Wonder what that could mean... duh. Neo is treated by many as a saviour, though we don't get to see how he reacts to all this adulation other than a bit of him sneaking off for an overly long and explicit roll in the hay with Trinity. The scene is strikes me as somebody went to Rio for Carnaval and decided to include an homage to Orfeu Negro, just as Orson Wells got way to caught up in the drama of carnaval, this one goes on too long and is probably the main reason for the R rating, other than a bunch of F words in a particularly funny scene.

The fight scene with Smith is exciting, but the real show stopper was the highway chase scene. IT even looked like 101, though I know that they built their highway on the other side of the bay.

Several movie references were made. To name a few: Return of the Jedi when volunteers are asked for to go on a mission. Very similar to Han Solo & Co. volunteering for the Endor mission. Rumble in the Bronx where Jackie Chan takes the swipe at the hovercraft with the big sword. Superman is a really obvious one. If only Neo had flown around the matrix really fast to make matrix time go backwards... Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (and others) with the room full of weapons. More Minority Report (and Pushing Tin?) when we see the UIs that the Zion flight controllers use. Maybe some Battlestar Galactica with a council of old people (were there 12? I didn't count) controlling things. Also, we are promised some Robotech/Heavy Gear action with human piloted giant robots slinging big guns. I know I have seen corridors full of doors before, but I can't remember where. Similar to the ponds in The Magician's Nephew. The tagalong kid will probably be featured more in the next movie and seems like a plot element borrowed from about a million movies.

The movie makes another giant nod to gnosticism with the character of the keymaster. If only Rick Moranis (sp?) had played the part... "I am the keymaster, are you the gatekeeper?" Secret knowledge can open important doors.

Of course the movie comes back to the subject of CHOICE, with the Oracle's boyfriend (why do these machines/programs take on human geneders... that reminds me, lots of TRON references...) admitting that he has set up a system that embraces paradox and choice in order to survive. Godel anyone? The matrix is based on choice. This scene also makes reference to the idea of a parallel universive being created for each choice each of us makes, with all possibilities being explored in them. This concept is nicely illustrated with the TV monitors from the first movie. Speaking of the first movie, lots of references to the red pill/blue pill. The Oracle gives Neo a candy resembling a red pill. Neo is given a choice between two doors. Now in addition to green showing up in the trickling green code representation of the matrix there are blue characters as well.

I am looking forward to the next one, I enjoyed this one, but it wasn't The Empire Strikes Back to the original's Star Wars. More of Back to the Future 2 as compared to Back to the Future. Hopefully Revloutions won't be Return of the Jedi. I can just see little fuzzy "bugs in the matrix" coming to Neo's aid.

Well, it is late, and this is the end of my convuluted and poorly edited review.

Quickies

Journal: Random Stories 2

Journal by John Harrison
Here are three interesting things that have happened lately.

Horatio Sanz
Last Friday was the last day of a conference I was attending in Miami Beach. As I walked to the lobby of the hotel with my luggage one of the bell boys asked if I wanted a taxi. I said, "Yes." and he told me it would be coming soon. Less than a minute later I notice a familiar face entering the lobby. I was Horatio Sanz from Saturday Night Live. He walked out front with a friend of his. About that time the bell boy tells me that my cab has arrived. I walk out and it is pulling into the driveway. As I head towards it Horatio Sanz and his friend see it and head towards it as well. Unencumbered by luggage they beat me to it by ten feet. I yell out, "Horatio Sanz is stealing my taxi!" and he looks over at me smiles, waves and hops into it. I then waited for the next taxi.

Larry Lessig
That night I came home and was speaking with my landlords. We live in the third floor of their house so we see them all the time. I noticed the book "Code" by Lawrence Lessig on the bookshelf. The woman is a lawyer so I ask her what she thinks of Lessig. Her husband replies and says, "We like him a lot, how do you know him?" I thought this was a strange answer and explain that he is a bit of a geek celebrity and that I probably pay more attention to him than I otherwise would because he is at Stanford now. He replies that his wife performed "Larry's" marriage ceremony and that they often run into lawyers that have heard of him but never anyone who knew of him as a celebrity. His wife then explains that they are good friends and he comes by the house several times a year. Next time he comes by they are going to introduce me.

Cidade de Deus
Finally, I went and saw "City of God" last night. I have wanted to go for a long time since I have an above normal level of interest in Brazil. The plan was to go with two other guys, one of which is a film student. Unfortunately he canceled during the day. So the two of us that remained went to a local Brazilian restuarant for dinner and then headed to the movie. When we got there it was exceptionally crowed for an "art film" on a Wednesday night. It turned out that the co-director was there and some group from Harvard was hosting her. The movie itself was amazing. I have never seen such natural acting. The kids were especially impressive. I kept wondering where they had gotten these kids. The camera work was impressive as well, giving the favelas a bit of a dizzy feeling which struck me as true to life, having spent some time in the favelas. The movie was very violent, with a pretty huge body count, which seems true to life. I personally knew someone who was killed by the police in Brazil about two years ago. While I was living there I also saw the police shooting at a fleeing suspect and a man running off after killing his father with a butter knife over who got to eat the last of the beans. So the violence in the film is struck me as very real and not overdone. Afterwards Katia Lund, the co-director, opened it up for questions. It turns out that there was an acting project in Rio that involved about 2,000 kids from the favelas. They worked with them for two years on improvisation and acting without telling them that they were going to film a movie. Then towards the end they started giving them specific situations from the film to act out without telling them why. Then they went on location in the favelas to film. They had to ask the police to not enter the favela when they were filming in order for the people working on the movie to be safe. The film is amazing. Too bad my film school friend missed it.

Slashdot.org

Journal: Strangely Enough, I Have Moderator Points 1

Journal by John Harrison
After modding up the Post Of Doom (and one of the responses to it) I lost the ability to moderate. I guess that one or two bad moderations was enough to get you banned. It seems that everyone that modded the post up got placed by hand on the blacklist, which kept you from moderating or even meta-moderating.

Since the introduction of the Zoo system I have been able to meta-moderate, but until today I have still not had normal moderator points. This led me to think that there was still some secret list of "bad people" and that I was still on it. Now I am simply confused.

What I am not confused about is how I will use these points. I will use them as I see fit, not as Taco would. If I find a post to be more Informative than Off-Topic I will mod it as Informative. If I find it funny, I will mod it as such. If I do a good enough job perhaps I will again be hand picked (as opposed to being picked through meta-moderation) to not moderate again.

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