What I'm Reading (Library Version)

Since I spent so much time raving about the Carnegie Library recently, it’s only fair that I indicate what I’ve actually been reading. What follows is a laundry list with some brief comments on each item. The hyperlinks in each item will take you to Amazon, in case your local library isn’t as good as mine. Books I, Fatty by Jerry Stahl. Stahl’s fictionalized autobiography of the celebrated and then later villified Fatty Arbuckle is gripping. Read On →

Arrested Development

Comic books are for kids I was at the Carnegie Library last night, trying to track down volume 2 of Alan Moore’s Promethea. A very nice librarian was helping me, and we got to talking, and she said “So, are you really into…” There was a long pause. “…graphic novels?” Now, I’m sure she was just making conversation, but there was a very large part of me that was sure that the real question being asked was “Why are you reading comic books? Read On →

Film and Digital in 2004

I have a book by the late great Galen Rowell called Mountain Light. The book is filled with breathtaking landscape photographs from all over the world and the stories of how the photographs were created. Rowell worked with a series of 35mm color slide films during his career: Kodachrome, Velvia, and so on. At the end of the forward, he talks about how a friend of his had periodically told him that in the next few years, a digital camera would come out that would put his film to shame and be easier to use besides, and that he had been hearing this story for the last decade or two. Read On →

> TAKE LAMP

Reminder: the 10th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition has begun. Anyone and everyone is welcome to play and judge the games. We used to call them “text adventures” instead of “interactive fiction,” but you know these crazy kids with their loud rock and roll music and their hamburger sandwiches and their french fried potatoes.

Libraries

On Sunday, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – one of the greatest libraries I know of, outside of the New York Public Library – opened for the first time after completing their extensive renovations. It was a magnificent celebration. There were tours, there were children listening to stories and singing songs, there was free pizza. There were books, and music, videos, and people everywhere. The place was completely packed. In a strange way, that was the best part of the opening. Read On →

I Giochi Inesistenti

A typical Star Trek game Last night I dragged one of my Apple IIs up from the basement and set it up, and searched through every disk I own, searching for a game that only I remember. It was a version of the old text-based Star Trek games that randomly printed out page-long quotes from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I didn’t find it. Unfortunately, I only have about half of the disks I had from that era – I don’t know what happened to my “main” box of disks. Read On →

I am the Mirror of Your Emotions

I admit it: I didn’t watch the candidate’s debate tonight. I had two reasons: (1) My mind is already made up. (2) Contemplating the sick feeling I will get in the pit of my stomach when I wake up the day after Election Day and read about who won makes me break out in hives. I get enough existential dread when I think about being forced to program in Tcl without adding politics to the mix. Read On →

Bug Triage

The number of people that know how to effectively debug and triage problems in a complex software product is upsettingly small. I don’t know why this is. Debugging has always seemed to me a very simple, straightforward task. Start at the top: figure out if the problem is reliably reproducible. If it is, start eliminating codepaths. It’s basically the Holmes Principle applied – when you’ve eliminated every other explanation as impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is the explanation. Read On →

Loans and Lattes

What time is it? Coffee Time is a Toronto coffee and donuts chain, roughly equivalent to what Dunkin’ Donuts used to be in the US, before they made the conscious corporate decision to make all their donuts suck. They also have the best brewed coffee of any chain in Toronto (which, as I’ve alluded to before, isn’t really saying much), and better donuts than Tim Horton’s. They seem to be a thoroughly urban phenomenon – as soon as you get on the highway, they disappear, and you are left and bereft, Coffeetimeless. Read On →

Retsina

I’ve heard about Retsina for years, but it was not until recently, at a Greek restaurant on Danforth in Toronto, that I actually got to taste it. It tastes like rosemary wine. That’s not a bad thing. Rosemary, of course, is a member of the pine family, and Retsina is treated with pine tree resin; hence the taste. It’s a light white wine, similar in body to a Frascati or a Pino Grigio. Read On →

Bonjour Brioche

Bonjour Brioche is a breakfast place in Toronto. It’s inconveniently situated on Queen Street East about midway between downtown and the Beaches, at the corner of Queen and Broadview. It’s small, cluttered, and there’s usually a wait to get in. The hours are annoying and too short. And it has some of the best bread you’ll ever have. The croissant is superb. The baguette transcends belief. The coffee is good. Amusingly, the brioche they are named for is only just sort of OK – if you’re in the mood for a pastry, skip it and get the croissant instead. Read On →

How to stir fry beef

Don’t be fooled. This is easy. You just have to follow a few simple rules and you too can make a beef stir fry that will show up the dishes at P.F. Chang’s as the chewey carboard crap that they are. First, the typical chinese stir fry starts with flank steak. I don’t know why, but it’s what my mom did, and she’s generally right. Second, cut the meat as thin as you can across the grain. Read On →

Elementary

Everett Kaser had one great idea for a game. He’s taken that one idea, and leveraged it into many, many games. Which of them you play is a matter of taste. But if you don’t own at least one Kaser game, you’re missing out on the most addictive puzzlers since Sokoban. Rewind to 1990: my friend Nerak hands me a floppy with a DOS shareware version of Kaser’s great idea: the game Sherlock. Read On →

Coming Attractions

Back from Toronto, with new tales to tell. This week, expect to see some or all of the following items: The best baguette on Queen Street Why is coffee in Toronto so uniformly bad? A proposal for Canadian banking reform. Retsina: the other white wine …and, when they’re done, book reviews of Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, In the Shadow of No Towers, and the most recent of Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” books, Something Rotten.

The Nikon D100 and D70

In an earlier article, I outlined my general thoughts on digital cameras. In that article, I noted that digital cameras fall into two basic categories: point and shoot cameras, and digital SLRs. At the time, my main camera had been a Nikon D100. So I thought now I’d write a more specific piece about that body and its more recent cousin, the D70. The D100 The Nikon D100 handles and shoots basically like a high quality mid-end Nikon film body, except that it captures digital files instead of slides or negatives. Read On →

Aerodelugia

I’m still in my office, rather than on my way to Toronto, because Pittsburgh – inland though it is – has had its own close, personal, and somewhat intimate encounter with Hurricane Ivan. To call what has happened here “flooding” is somewhat of an understatement. 17 September 2004, is officially the rainiest day in Pittsburgh’s recorded history, with 5.08 inches falling in a single day. Small Japanese sedans are floating through the streets. Read On →

Sims 2 Early Reactions

For those of you who might want to play Sims 2, you could do worse than to read Tilt’s mini-review of his first exposure to it.

The Sims: Perspectives

I’ve never liked The Sims, despite trying to play it at least three times a year for the past few years. I think a big part of this is the mise en scene. I can read books, cook, take out the garbage, go to work and shower all by myself; the idea of playing a game where I shepherd a little avatar through these activities feels just a little too meta. Read On →

Last Call: The Sims

The article on The Sims, and why we love (or, in my case, hate) it goes live tomorrow. If you want to get your $0.02 in, it’s now or never. Send your submissions to sims-article@tleaves.com. So far, most of the submissions are from Sims addicts aficionados. Surely, I can’t be the only person out there who just Doesn’t Get It? Send me your take on it.

Mario and the Jedi

In addition to an orgy of Madden Football, I’ve been playing a lot of RPG titles lately. I’m still in the early stages of both Knights of the Old Republic and Mario and Luigi, the latter of which I’ve already written about. These two games seem completely different. Mario is a sort of platformer/RPG hybrid, while KOTOR is described as an epic story with complex character development. These characterizations may be true, but I think if you look past surface elements like presentation, graphics and combat engines, you find that they are really the same game. Read On →

"Genesis" Probe Yields New Science

Genesis Space Probe In a press conference today, NASA Director Sean O’Keefe announced the preliminary findings of the Genesis space probe. Genesis, which succesfully engaged on a 3-year mission to explore the solar winds before crashing to Earth when a parachute failed to open, was salvaged from the Utah desert and moved to the clean room facilities of the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. “Thanks to the hard work of the recovery team,” said O’Keefe, “we have completed the processing and analysis of approximately 98% of the samples, and can now announce our preliminary results: the ‘solar wind’ that is blowing from our Sun is composed primarily of dirt.” “The majority of the solar wind is silicon dioxide, comprised of particles ranging in size from 0.063 to 2 mm, but a variety of other compounds and substances are present in trace amounts, including alumina, ions of potassium and magnesium, and nitrogen. Read On →

Never Send a Human To Do a Robot's Job

In my article Software Development Considered Harmful, I talked about a number of mistakes that are often made by developers who should know better. I’d like to expand on one of them here. Never send a human to do a robot’s job. A lot of the code we have to write to make programs run on modern platforms is code that can be more effectively generated by programs than by a human. Read On →

Call for Participation: The Sims

I want to like The Sims. A large number of people whose opinions I respect adore the game. The graphic sensibility in it is bouncy and fun. The sound design and music are top-notch. The game has a sense of whimsy and humor. The ideas are clever, and the amount of customization you can do to your characters and their surroundings is practically unlimited. And it bores me. It bores me to tears. Read On →

A Clean, Well-Lit Space

applestore-done.jpg”>Inside the Apple Store The Pittsburgh Apple store is open. Welcome to the neighborhood. The kids section is fun, everything is hands on, and the staff is (as should be expected) friendly and knowledgable. Three cheers for genius (and CMU grad) Meredyth for giving me the tour. Plenty of Birkenstocks were in evidence, as was lots of brand new, shiny merchandise. I don’t even need a new Mac and I found myself glad that I left my wallet in the car. Read On →

Suck - Squeeze - Bang - Blow

“The power output of an engine [equals] the size of the bangs, times the number of bangs per minute that you can manage to get.” Keith Duckworth – Cosworth Engineering The Chariot Makers Former Benetton mechanic Steve Matchett has written a new book, The Chariot Makers: Assembling the Perfect Formula 1 Car. True to his usual style, it is a breezy, informal, and very readable book. While perhaps too light on detail to satisfy the most hardcore mechanic, it’s aimed at those of us who merely appreciate the engineering that goes into race cars, rather than understand it. Read On →

Cafe Anatolia

Cafe Anatolia I spent Monday in downtown Pittsburgh, taking a class. I only had about a half-hour for lunch, which left me with not quite enough time to head to Buon Giorno Cafe, my usual haunt. From the corner of my eye as I walked up Fifth Avenue I saw a marquee on the Warner Centre with the intriguing name “Cafe Anatolia.” Having always liked Turkish food, I decided to check it out. Read On →

Bargain Bin

One of the advantages to owning a nearly-obsolete PC is that you know off the bat that the latest and greatest games won’t run on it. So rather than spend $49.99 on the latest releases, which, let’s be frank, are usually not that good, you can hit the bargain shelf and find games for $10 or less. You’ve heard me talk about this before, as the “kielbasa sandwich in Chiodo’s” effect: it may not be a great sandwich, but it was only $2, so who cares? Read On →

Gamers' Bill of Rights

Every so often, I forget that many PC games are bug-riddled sacks of garbage. When this happens, I go out and buy a couple, until I remember why I was driven to transfer most of my gaming to dedicated consoles. This is sad, since PC games do have a rich and storied history, and address a market that is not adequately served by consoles (that market being “people willing to spend way too much money on games.“) Many of you style yourselves “game developers” and write computer programs that you call “games.” From this point forward, all games that you develop must conform to the following requirements. Read On →

Pittsburgh Apple Store Photos

Signs As promised, here are some photos of the soon-to-open Pittsburgh (Shadyside) Apple Store. I concur with the opinion that it doesn’t look anywhere near close to done, but then my experience in constructing anything other than computer programs is severely limited. Perhaps Steve will visit. We could have coffee at the relaxing and sociable cafe, Jitterz, across the street, and down one block. Here’s the exterior (click to enlarge) which still has quite a ways to go: Exterior The interior looks mostly finished, though. Read On →

Pittsburgh Apple Store Update

According to Apple’s web site the Pittsburgh (Shadyside) store should go live the weekend of September 4th. Quoth people who have walked by and looked in the window: “Hmm. the store didn’t look like it was 2 weeks away from completion when I went by yesterday. Must look more carefully.” I’ll try to post some photos tomorrow evening; check this space then. Update: The photos are here.

Pharaoh Speaks

Andrew Tepper Continuing our focus on A Tale in the Desert, here is an interview with the Pharaoh of this particular Egypt, Andrew (“Teppy”) Tepper, the game’s designer and President of eGenesis, its publisher. Typically, interviews like this focus on the gameplay design or community development. I’m less interested in that (in part because I think you can often explore those aspects by simply playing the game). Instead, my aim for this interview was to focus specifically on the actual technical development challenges in creating a complex online game with a small team, something that few of us have done. Read On →

Reviews of Games You've Already Played

I don’t buy too many games the day they come out, so by the time I’m done with one it’s been around a while. Here are some thoughts on a couple of games that have been around for a while. DEUS EX: Invisible War This game has been derided for being a shallow, cheap, and generally lame followup to DEUS EX. Having not played the first game, I can only give impressions of the second on its own terms. Read On →

A Tale in the Desert

The gamer’s complaint of “we want innovative games!” is one that the industry has learned, through experience, to ignore. Some gamers want innovative games. Most gamers say they want innovative games, but really the marketplace proves that – as a group – they want derivative games that carry the illusion of being innovative. This is doubly true in the tired and pretty much creatively dead genre of multiplayer online role-playing games, which combine the kludgy game mechanics of any mediocre game that is five years out of date with the social culture of IRC and the lousy user interface of a MUD. Read On →

Foreshadowing

I have cancelled my City of Heroes account. It was fun while it lasted, but eventually I realized that my main motivation was to see cool super powers and beat up computer controlled bad guys. City of Heroes did that very effectively, but so does Diablo II, and that doesn’t charge me $15 a month for the privilege. However, I have once again gotten entangled in the intriguing game A Tale in the Desert, this time as part of the beta test for the next version. Read On →

OfflineRT Woes

I have a problem that I can replicate reliably. If I capture in OfflineRT mode in Final Cut Pro I can generally only capture about 30 seconds of video before I drop a frame. This has led to me spending hours debugging my camera, film, and every element in my chain other than my computer before reaching the sad conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with my equipment per se. The 867 Mhz Powerbook G4 with 640 Mb of memory is just too slow to capture more than about 30 seconds of OfflineRT video (30 seconds, incidentally, sounding suspiciously like “the amount of time it takes some internal buffer to fill up before it has to page to disk.“) My working theory is it’s not a problem during the ‘true’ capture – after all, I’m able to capture full rate DV just fine – but the extra CPU time spent compressing the frames into photo JPEG is just a tiny bit slower than needed, resulting in hosage. Read On →

Favorite Words

Tooku (far away, Japanese) Chiacchiarare (to chit-chat, to gossip, Italian) Batcheat (chit-chat, Hindi) Decimate (kill every tenth soldier,_ Latin_) Hamartia (sin, human frailty, Greek) Quay (wharf, Canadian) Zdorovie (health, Russian) Decimation, in Latin, does not actually refer to senseless violence, but to a very specific – and rare – military punishment that could be imposed on a legion (or a subunit thereof, such as a cohort) for extreme cowardice. The soldiers were divided into groups of 10. Read On →

Olympics Without NBC

Minoan Boxers If you’re in the USA, and want to see how Olympics coverage should be done, consider grabbing this video of the BBC’s coverage of the opening ceremonies in three parts. You’ll need a Bittorrent client like Azureus to download these, and probably also the DivX video codec. The movie files are quite large – about 700 Mb per part – but worth it. Typically, I hate spectacles like this – they’re usually full of noise and bombast, but signify nothing other than spending. Read On →

Blueberry Pie

Where I grew up in Amherst, MA, there is a farm market called Atkins Fruit Bowl that has been around forever. They started out as just an apple orchard, but quickly grew into almost a whole supermarket. In particular, at some point they started baking pies and donuts and other things in the store. And oh, what pies they are. They have a perfect crust, which is incredible in a semi- mass produced product. Read On →

Olympics Rant

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Bjork is singing, but I can’t hear the song if you are **talking during it, ** you idiots. Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up. I hate you. Is there anyone, anywhere, who has thought that NBC’s Olympics coverage for the past 20 years has been anything less than uniformly terrible? Who are these people? Why haven’t they been fired yet? What can I do to hasten the process? Read On →

Bonaguil 0.2

Bonaguil 0.2 (click to play) Bonaguil 0.2 is out, with support for pluggable AI modules. Give it a try. The UI still sucks, because, well – I’m not very good at user interfaces. “Know thyself,” said the Oracle, and I know that I’ve never been one of the graphics people. Fortunately, in addition to making the AI easily customizable, I tried to keep all the GUI callouts separated in their own little ghetto. Read On →

Simple Pleasures (summer)

mmmmmmm Nevat, a Spanish goats’ milk cheese that has the body of a brie but the lightness of a chevre. Cabrales, the best blue cheese in the world after true Roquefort. No bread, no crackers. Just a fork. A glass of white port. And, last but not least, two ripe, fresh green figs. Sometimes, life is good.

Eclipse

Last night I downloaded the Eclipse Java IDE to try to make a little progress on Bonaguil. Wow. Suffice it to say that I was bitter that I had to go in to work today and work in an environment without it. It is the best IDE I’ve ever used, and I’ve tried quite a few. It’s like music, love, and cookies all rolled up into one convenient package and available for free download. Read On →

Madness and the Minotaur

“cloadm” Slot machines, so the theory goes, are addictive precisely because of the randomness of the payoff. It’s not simply the possibility of winning that draws players, but the hypnotic, chaotic patternlessness of winning and losing that sucks them in. Videogames work this way too, sometimes. D.B. Weiss’s otherwise undistinguished book Lucky Wander Boy does have the germ of an idea in exploring the (fictional), eponymous arcade game, which was both exceedingly difficult and surrealist. Read On →

Persepolis

According to amazon.com, the English version of the second part of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis comes out at the end of this month. I may not be able to wait. Additional Resources The preorder page at Amazon is making me salivate. If you haven’t read the first part of Persepolis, just stop what you’re doing right now and go buy it. Really. It’s that good.

Software Development Considered Harmful

Those of us who develop software are familiar with all sorts of bonehead mistakes. I use “bonehead” in this context as a term of endearment – we all do stupid things like forget to initialize some value or forget to close a brace now and then. And there are plenty of discussions, in books and elsewhere, about the sorts of mistakes that new programmers make. That’s not what I’m going to talk about today. Read On →

Chateau-Fort de Bonaguil

Chateau-Fort de Bonaguil In the latter years of the 15th century, after losing a lawsuit brought against him by his vassals, the Baron Berenger de Roqueteuil is reported to have said: By Lord Jesus and all the saints of his glorious Paradise, I will raise a manor house that neither my unpleasant subjects will be able to take, nor English if they have the audacity to return there, nor even the powerful soldiers of King of France. Read On →

What I've Played.

It’s been about a year since I bought that xbox. Here’s what I’ve learned. This started out as a simple list of pithy generalizations. But, after looking around and noticing that many of my points had been made by others, I decided to focus on a few issues in the context of specific games that I have played. Wage slave games Project Gotham Racing 2 and Madden Football are nearly perfect games for the wage slave, with Gotham having the slight advantage. Read On →

Bonaguil 0.1

Because I’m kinda thickheaded, I spent my weekend vacation programming a game. That’s my idea of relaxation. I’m funny that way. Bonaguil (click to play) This is a bare-bones reimplementation of the SSI-published Apple ][ strategy game Fortress, (“A game of strategic development and fortification”) which combines elements of Go and Chess, although it is much less sophisticated than either of those games. I don’t know if this was based on some actual board game; I suspect not, since the scoring is irritating enough that I can’t imagine doing it without a machine’s help. Read On →

Tour de France Primer, part 2

With the race over, this is obviously a good time to write the second part of my little stage racing primer. This part focuses primarily on tactics and strategy. Each rider and team goes into the Tour with different goals and expectations. Most teams are there to try and win a couple of stages and get into breakaways so their sponsor logos are on TV for a while. A few teams with strong sprinters will try and win the Green jersey. Read On →

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, Part 1

APB APB (“All Points Bulletin”) was an Atari arcade game designed by Dave Theurer, who also made the classic games Missile Command, _Tempest _-- the best arcade game ever made, for my money – and I, Robot. It was the forebear of the original, overhead view Grand Theft Auto games. It was primarily a driving game; you were a police officer, and had a certain amount of time to arrest a certain number of miscreants (hitchhikers, litterers, speeders, etc.) while avoiding getting demerits. Read On →