Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Favorites of 2004

This is my year end wrap up of my favorites things of 2004. The things weren't necessarily new in 2004, they didn't even have to be new to me in 2004. This is just the stuff that had the most resonance with me this year.



Music

I don't think I've ever blogged about my musical tastes before. I know I've gone on about how much I like my iPod but never anything on music in general. This isn't because music isn't an important part of my life, but rather because I find writing about it so hard. Anyway, here goes, my first music review.

I've been a Neil Young fan since the mid 70s. I don't like everything this eclectic artist produces but when he produces something good I generally think it's pretty phenomenal. Neil's album Greendale is just that.
Greendale isn't a typical collection of random songs, instead the songs tell the intertwined stories of the Green family and the small town they live in. While that may sound like standard rock opera fair, it's really quite different. In Greendale the lyrics are very verbose and the cadence in which it is sung or spoken lends more to the narrative than the music. At times Neil speaks/sings phrases that are almost jarring but somehow they still end up working. The result is a very unique listening experience. Even though it's still rather new, I have to rank it as one of my favorite albums of all time.



Movies

This year wasn't great year for me and movies. I can't even draw a good line between the movies of 2003 and 2004. I really enjoyed seeing the finales to The Lord of the Rings and Kill Bill but few movies struck a chord. I know I waxed on about Man on Fire in a previous post and I still think it's a very good movie but I'm hesitant to elevate it to being called a favorite. I guess if I had to pick one film that stuck with me more than any other it would have to be Lost in Translation. I know that film put a lot of people to sleep but I liked it a lot.



Books

I didn't read as many novels as I usually do this year. I plowed through some sci-fi that was pretty good and I enjoyed the Dan Brown romps through Europe but my favorite was probably Life of Pi. Not only was it a good read it provided much food for thought.
In non-fiction I usually read even more and this year I read next to nothing. I still have three or four software books that I purchased just sitting on my shelf unread with little ambition to do so. Even though I didn't read as much as usual I did run across one older book in the early part of the year that I thought was great: Component Development for the Java Platform. I blogged about it back in February.



Where are all the dead animals?

With the death toll of the Tsunami now expected to reach 100,000 this article from Reuters raises an interesting question. Why were not more animals caught up in this event? According to Sri Lankan wildlife officials they can't find any dead animals. Perhaps they are just being overlooked given all the dead humans around. I doubt they have a 'sixth sense' as the article mentions but they certainly pay attention to their surroundings more and have a more active fight or flight mechanism.

Half-Life 2 review

I've been playing the game Half-Life 2 over the past week and it is as good or better than I expected. The mechanics are standard first-person shooter but rather than playing some assassin or commando you play Gordon Freeman a physicist turned freedom fighter. The game features a violent story line strewn with engaging puzzles to solve all rendered with state of the art graphics and sound.


My home system isn't cutting edge so I'm not getting the best from the game but even so the it's great. What has impressed me the most about the graphics is the real quality of the lighting effects. When you move into sun light from a room with artificial light the hues change, things get a richer tone. It's a very immersive effect. The quality of the faces has also improved greatly. They still have a ways to go to be truly realistic but Valve has made great strides in their overall quality.


As with the original game, this is just as much about solving puzzles as it is about blasting bad guys. The puzzle aren't abstract but rather environmental in nature. One of my favorites so far has been a ramp that isn't high enough for you to use to jump your vehicle over an obstacle. If you examine the ramp closely you will see that its front supports are on a submerged raft. The solution to the puzzle then is to gather buoyant objects and place them under the raft so the that ramp rises. It's not rocket science but it's a lot of fun.


To help you solve a lot of these environmental puzzles Valve has supplied the player with a fun tool called the Gravity Gun. The Gravity Gun let's you manipulate objects that would normally be too heavy to move. There are some objects in the game that inexplicably are not influenced by the gun but for the most part everything you see can be grabbed or prodded with its help. Given that Half-Life 2 is so violent and not appropriate for everyone it would be cool if Valve released a game that just featured the puzzles and the gravity gun for a younger audience. I think they would really enjoy it.


I don't play this sort of game for the story lines, and I don't think anyone else does either, but Valve has done a nice job of stringing the puzzles and fighting together in a coherent fashion. Rather than use cut scenes to hammer the plot line in, they've incorporated everything into the natural flow of the game. You never loose the first person perspective of Gordon Freeman. The end effect is of really being a character in the drama that's playing out.


There are a few negatives about the game but not many. My biggest complaint is that the game appears to have been padded with some rather repetitive content just to give it a longer playing time. There were a few times when I found myself doing something very similar to what I had just done before. I would rather have skipped that and just moved onto the next level. I've also witnessed a couple of hangs but nothing that a reboot didn't solve.


Labels are never fair and labeling Half-Life 2 as just a game isn't descriptive enough. Calling it an interactive action movie or first person animated novel would be equally valid. The combination of immersive graphics and engaging story create a unique entertainment experience and something that I imagine will serve as a milestone for this form of media in the future. I know I'm really looking forward to Half-Life 3.






Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The bear of my memory

When I was a kid my parents had a vacation house in North Conway New Hampshire. Every weekend in the winter my parents would load up the station wagon and take us kids skiing. Because I was the youngest (this was before seat belts or car seats) I often had to sit in the way back with the luggage. The trip took a little over three hours so I was always happy when it was almost over. My signal that we were nearing the end was a gas stations we drove past in Conway that had a small yellow bear sign out front. I looked forward to seeing the bear on all our trips as it meant we had almost reached our ski house.



Many years later when I discovered the music of the Grateful Dead and the culture of the Dead Heads I was struck my the similarity between the Grateful Dead's dancing bear symbols and the little bear sign I remembered seeing as kid. When most of my Dead Head friends chose the more traditional skulls and skeleton symbols for their Dead garb I instead gravitated to the little bears that reminded me of my fun family skiing trips.



The little happy garage bear has haunted my subconscious for years, but I know so little about it. If I ever knew what that beer was selling it's long forgotten.



When I ran across the Grateful Dead's dancing bears again the other day and it once again triggered this old memory I decided to see if I could find out more about the bear. It took a bit of Googling but I believe I've found the sign. The problem is these signs are from southern California and I don't know if the Bolles company sold product in the north east. Perhaps they are just the models for the Grateful Dead's bears and are not related to mine.


If you recall this sign or others like it please let me know. I'd love to give this bear a name.





Monday, December 27, 2004

Tsunami

I awoke this morning to read the death toll from the weekend Tsunami in the south Pacific had reached 22,000. That's a lot of people; more than I can really wrap my brain around. It's like a giant wave hit Fenway Park and took half the people.


I grew up by the ocean and have a lot of respect for and fascination with the dangers it holds. Luckily however I have nothing in my experience on a scale that approaches this tragedy. If you watch Discovery Channel you have to realize we on the east coast of the US are not immune to this sort of event. Granted, the poor people living in the the low-lying areas of south east Asia do seem to be particularity susceptible to water level issues but even so a similar surge of water would kill a lot of U.S. citizens too.


It's with that haunting thought 'it could happen here too' that I read this short account of some U.S. Honeymooners who survived the Tsunami on Phi Phi island off the coast of Thailand. I hope we hear more on this, it's a fascinating thing to have lived through.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

No one wants a skinny Santa

Ever wonder what Santa does with the reindeer that don't make the sled team? Reindeer recipes

Jellied Moose Noses

While researching Jellied Moose Noses I found this loop.




I don't know which is funnier.

Castanea being cooked with flame

People have been circulating lists of obfuscated carol titles around the holidays for as long as I can recall. I don't know how this started but I always enjoy deciphering them. Here are a few lists I found on the web.




1. Move hitherward the entire assembly of those who are loyal in their belief

2. Listen, the celestial messengers produce harmonious sounds.

3. Nocturnal time span of unbroken quietness.

4. An emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good given to the terrestrial sphere.

5. Embellish the interior passageways.

6. Exalted heavenly beings to whom harkened.

7. Twelve o'clock on a clement night witnessed its arrival.

8. The Christmas preceding all others.

9. Small municipality in Judea southeast of Jerusalem.

10. Diminutive masculine master of skin-covered percussionistic cylinders.

11. Omnipotent supreme being who elicits respite to ecstatic distinguished males.

12. Tranquillity upon the terrestrial sphere.

13. Obese personification fabricated of compressed mounds of minute crystals.

14. Expectation of arrival to populated area by mythical, masculine perennial gift giver.

15. Natal celebration devoid of color, rather albino, as a hallucinatory phenomenon for me.

16. In awe of the nocturnal time span characterized by religiosity.

17. Geographic state of fantasy during the season of mother nature's dormancy.

18. The first person nominative plural of triumvirate of far eastern heads of state.

19. Tintinnabulation of vacillating pendulums in inverted, metallic, resonant cups.

20. In a distant location the existence of an improvised unit of newborn children's slumber furniture.

21. Proceed forth declaring upon a specific geological alpine formation.

22. Jovial Yuletide desired for the second person singular or plural by us.


Credit for this list and aswers can be found here.


From the folks at PBS Car Talk is another list with many of the same songs but different obfuscation.



1. Approach Everyone Who Is Steadfast

2. Ecstasy Toward The Orb

3. Hush, The Foretelling Spirits Harmonize

4. Hey, Minuscule Urban Area Southwest Of Jerusalem

5. Quiescent Nocturnal Period

6. The Autocratic Troika Originating Near the Accent of Apollo

7. The Primary Carol

8. During the Time Ovine Caretakers Supervised Their Charges Past Twilight

9. Celestial Messengers From Splendid Empires

10. The Thing Manifest Itself at the Onset of a Transparent Day

11. The Tatterdemalion Ebony Atmosphere

12. What Offspring Abides Thus?

13. Removed in a Bovine Feeding Trough

14. Creator Cool It Ya Kooky Cats

15. Seraphim We Aurally Detect in the Stratosphere

16. The Slight Percussionist Lad

17. The Event Occurred At One Minute After 11:59 PM—Visibility Unlimited

18. During the Dark Hours When Herdsman Attended Their Charges

19. A Meteorological Melody Is Manifest

20. Are You Experiencing Parallel Auditory Input?



You can find the answers here.


Monday, December 20, 2004

Beer Drinkers Against the Mistreatment of Beer


I'm probably falling into their trap, but here goes. While reading some sports headlines on Yahoo I noticed this prominent add for Beer Drinkers Against the Mistreatment of Beer. While I'm all for supporting beer its a pretty strange add for a major web portal like Yahoo. To make things even odder, when you follow the link all your get it a banner with a 'Coming Soon' notice. My guess is it will be a Miller add campaign targeting Anheuser Busch or something like that. Who else but a major company could afford such a weird add.


Update
The Legal Information page on the site indicates the company behind this is Unibev LTD. From what I can tell, Unibev is the maker of Killians. They were once a subsidiary of Coors but they appear to have been divested.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Man Without a Past

I stumbled across the Finnish film Mies vailla menneisyyttä (The Man Without a Past) on cable this week. It's a very nice film and unlike anything your going to see from an American director. Set on the working waterfront of Helsinki, it tells the story of a man with amnesia who builds a new life with the help of fellow poor and down trodden. What really differentiated and made the film for me wasn't the story however, it was the Finnish personalities and lifestyles. This movie looks like it could have been set 50 years ago but it's contemporary Finland. It's a fascinating look at a place I know very little about. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Ski Foils

I never plan to use a Ski Foil but they are pretty cool to watch. I've had enough hard wipeouts while doing simple water skiing to be in total awe of these crazy folk.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Worlds Highest Bridge

The worlds highest bridge Le Viaduc de Millau was inaugurated today.
Conceived by British architect Norman Foster, the slender white viaduct in the picturesque Tarn Valley will provide a new motorway link between Paris and the Spanish border, easing congestion in the Rhone valley during the busy summer months.


I would hate to be stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of that thing. Yikes.


This short film shows some workers raising one of the suspension towers. It gives a good view of the scale of the bridge.

Search and Destroy v 0.3

I've made some progress over the last few weeks getting Search and Destroy's game mechanics working. Lots of the basic move and exploration commands are now functioning well. Unfortunately the computer player's AI still needs work so it's not available to play against. Currently you can create all the unit types. Units that carry other units can be loaded and unloaded. Combat resolution is functioning well as is damage repair.


Probably the biggest feature of recent days has been the addition of Unit Paths. A Unit Path is a pre programmed destinations for units that enter or are created in a city. Unit Paths can apply for ground units, sea units, air units or any combination of those types. A Unit Paths must start in a city but can end in any reachable hex. Unit Paths are a great feature for managing the automatic movement of your resources. Unit Paths can be created from the menu or by shift-dragging from a city.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Rattlesnakes, endangered worm and other stuff

I just read a report of a Massachusetts man being bitten by a Timber Rattlesnake. While out jogging a couple of years ago I found a dead and squashed rattler on the side of the road. Most people I've told that to have been pretty skeptical. Maybe now more people will believe me.


While looking for more information on timber Rattlers I found this comprehensive list of plants and animals offered protection by the state of Massachusetts. I was a bit stunned by the number of invertebrates on the list. I'd never heard of the Sunderland Spring Planarian, the Tidewater Mucket nor the Persius Duskywing.

Programming Fonts

I've pretty much standardized on Lucidia Console as my programming font of choice. But after having read this article on fixed width fonts over on Kuro5hin I may give some others a try.



Ironically, this link to Kuro5hin came from the Rusty Spigot.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Hand Gesture




Indian gesture language for Merry Christmas, and is to be read "Sun shine in the heart a baby boy, Great Mystery, born on this day."


While looking for something on a completely different topic I ran across this page of hand gesture signals. Some of the pictures are quaint, others plain silly, but I found it interesting none the less.


Of course this got me interested in what documentation I might find on more modern gestures. This page offers quite an interesting take on some familiar gestures.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Non static inner classes

It’s funny how you can know about a language feature for a long while before you really get it. That’s the way I feel about non static inner classes. I’ve generally avoided them until now for a couple of reasons.



First, you often see non static inner classes used in Swing code samples in their anonymous form like:




setButton.addActionListener(new ActionListener() {
public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent e) {
// do something…
}
});



I’m not a fan of this style of coding for more than the most trivial declarations. I just don’t like how the code reads.



Second, there’s some overhead associated with non static inner classes that can be avoided if you make them static so I’ve also avoided them on principle.



So this begs the questions, why the change of heart.



I was working on some old code I wrote yesterday that was really irking me. The main class in question had a bunch of public methods. Some of the public methods formed the true API of the class, while others were only public because they implemented an interface the class used to plug itself into another class to listen to events. In this case some of the methods had similar names so it was hard to tell which one the user of the class should call without reading the doc.



As I pondered this mess it dawned on me that this is exactly the sort of problem a non static inner class would be a great solution for. By simply making a non static inner class that implements the adapting interface I would be able to move the interface methods out of the API and I wouldn’t need to implement any delegation code to pass state between different objects. Doh!



This may be painfully obvious to you all, but it was a mini epiphany for me.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ships in Storms

I love pictures of ships in storms. While looking for images to use in my game I came across this picture of the Aegis Cruiser U.S.S. Lake Champlain (CG-57) handling some rough seas.


via Atlantic Fleet Sales

 
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