Thursday, November 29, 2007
I wonder if one way to combat this problem is by having procedurally-generated terrain models. From a distance, the mountain I'm standing on in the screenshot could look as it does today. Closer up, some code could kick in to start generating details. From a medium distance, the game needs to render more than just a silhouette of the mountain, but it doesn't need individual rocks and juts yet. Up close, it would be nice for it to look like an actual cliff, with rocks, jagged edges, and the like—all of the things that would kill performance if they were rendered when you were a mile away. Nobody really has the time or budget to add that level of detail to the game manually, but if they could be procedurally generated, so that the game could just "fill in" missing detail, it wouldn't take much longer to design areas of games than it does today.
Of course, the question is: how do you ensure visual quality and design consistency? Does someone still need to go through every square meter of the world to make sure that the code is generating terrain details that are aesthetically pleasing? In most cases, you'd want this to be a repeatable process, so the next time you visited the same mountain cliff you'd see the same rocks and terrain features, instead of new ones picked at random. How do you make that work? I'm sure that there are solutions here... I don't know if they're the right ones. It just seems that, at some level, we're going to get to a point where the computer is capable of rendering incredible detail, but no design team has the time to create that level of detail. Today we use shortcuts like reducing polygons or reusing textures to save time. How much of that can be improved by letting computers do tedious detail work for us?
Tonight, after returning to work with my coworkers and a bag from Qdoba, a Mexican fast food restaurant, I went to the restroom to wash my hands, and since I was there, you know, pee. On my way there, I thought that if anyone looked at me funny or asked why I was taking a bag of food into the bathroom, I was going to respond "Well, it's Mexican food, so I figure it's safer to be in here already when I start eating it."
That would have been funny... to me, at least. Too bad I didn't get a chance to use it. At least these things keep me mildly amused.
There are other things you can do to distinguish yourself. Actually, I like WoW's system much better than achivement points, because most of the things you can achieve in WoW have in-game consequences, either visual, functional, or both. Season 2 of the gladiatorial arena championship just ended on Tuesday, and the members of the top team in each bracket get the title "Merciless Gladiator" prepended to their name, and the top few teams get special dragons to ride. People who have played a long time and have earned the trust of various in-game factions are sometimes given new mounts as rewards, such as my netherdrake, or even small pets to follow you around, like my sporebat. People who have found a guild of very dedicated people to practice for months to be able to defeat Illidan (remember him from Warcraft 3?) can wield his legendary and immediately recognizable weapons.
Some of these things (none of the things that I've achieved) are rare enough that you can go weeks or months without ever seeing someone who has done them.... maybe one person in tens of thousands of players. I've, for example, never seen someone with one of Illidan's weapons. But, even if you can't be one of those people, you can at least get some of the easier achievements like a sporebat pet of your own. Occasionally I'll be walking around in the game and people will stop me and ask about my things, because they've never seen them before. And that's kind of fun.
So really, I am in no way above or immune to in-game achievements like I'd originally hoped. I'm just as hopelessly addicted as the rest of the world. My achievements just come in a different form.
Often, the more powerful you are, the sexier you become.
Monday, November 26, 2007
I started off in my middle school. I was my current age, so I must have been visiting. It was the end of the day and I began looking for a bathroom. The closest one that I could see was a homemade sign above a classroom, so I headed that way. As I walked in, I saw that there was a closet in the back with a "men's restroom" sign on it that had been X'ed out with red marker. I continued walking, pretending not to see the class in session or the red X over the sign. Outraged, the teacher (who was my social studies teacher from my freshman year of high school) yelled "Spomer! What are you doing here? You'd better not be thinking that just because it's opposites day you can pee in my closet!" Found out, I quickly shifted to plan B. I started walking more methodically and made robot noises. Then I turned sharply and erratically a few times and walked out, as if I were just a poor lost and confused robot who happened to stumble in. I think she bought it.
After that, I was in a car with my mom, heading to my house. As she approached the house she just continued full speed toward the fence at the end of the road that doesn't exist in real life. I reached my foot over and started breaking as I said "pay attention, Mom!" She angrily looked at me, now completely ignoring the road and the fence, declaring that she WAS paying attention, and that I was being rude. She said "I'm driving. Let me drive." So, I let go of the brakes, and then she accelerated right into the fence, into the garbage heap behind it. (Seeing a garbage heap there seemed to even surprise me in the dream; I seemed to know that there wasn't supposed to be one there.) As soon as we hit the garbage heap, parts started to fall of the car, until it was just a skeleton there in a pile of other car parts. Then she just looked at me and said "oh."
After pulling myself and my mom out of the garbage heap, the next thing that happened in the dream was that I found myself playing a real-time strategy game. (Mmmm, it's been a while; that sounds good right about now.) I won't go into the details of this game as I can only remember a few and they aren't very interesting. The game didn't end before the dream shifted to something else entirely.
In the next scene, I was watching a car be chased on the highway by a bunch of extremely large semi trucks that took up two lanes apiece. They were several stories tall and very imposing. The car sharply took a turn and went into a tunnel, and I watched (in slow-motion, no less) as the trucks impacted with the tunnel and sent a massive clichéd fireball toward the car in the tunnel, which narrowly escaped being burned.
After that, I was in the lobby of what seemed to be a museum. I watched as a sexy female assassin in purplish-black leather caused a distraction to get the woman at the front desk to leave her post, allowing the assassin to run up to the desk and disable the security cameras. But, the other woman returned sooner than was expected, and started looking for the assassin in the lobby area. Right as the woman was about to find the assassin, the assassin stood up, picked up a heavy vase, and threw it at the woman's head to knock her out. She screamed in pain, but was still conscious. No matter what she threw or swung at the woman's head, she simply would not be knocked out, in a scene stolen almost directly from Red Dwarf.
Then the scene shifted and I saw a professor in front of the museum auditorium giving a presentation, but he was wearing gym shorts and a dickie (or, specifically, whatever you call the dickies that football players wear) instead of a suit, so the visitors were just laughing at him. He was very embarrassed, until one of the visitors stood up—it was the sexy assassin. He darted for the door. Back in the lobby, I saw the professor running for his life from the assassin, yelling for the security guard to shoot her. The guard aimed a semiautomatic shotgun at the assassin and fired several shells directly at her chest, which didn't stop her. The security guard looked very pleased as someone turned to him and yelled, "you idiot! You're firing blanks!" to which he matter-of-factly replied, "of course I am! I'm in a museum!" They started chasing after the assassin, and when they caught up to her, the unarmed security guard grabbed a knife from the armed guard and threw it directly into the assassin's neck, killing her and saving the professor from whoever was trying to murder him.
And that's where the dream ended.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
It amazes me to some degree how Netflix is profitable, at least for people who choose the $5 a month plan. They must do some serious evaluation of their expenses to be able to profit from a $5 service. I assume that they get DVDs for very low cost since they don't ship the cover artwork or anything else besides the disc, and that each disc lasts for a hundred customers. I guess that they also probably do so much business in bulk that they can get good rates for their shipping. Their packaging is very lightweight and efficient, and the same package is used for the initial trip to you and the return trip to their processing center. So, maybe each movie costs them 10¢ worth of DVD, and twice 40¢ worth of postage, or a little under a buck. So, my $5 service costs them a couple bucks, minus the costs of maintaining the website, the costs of hiring people and maintaining machinery to select and fulfill orders, and other miscellaneous overhead. So, I guess that they could, in theory, operate on roughly $2.50 or $3.00 so, using wild-guess figures pulled directly from my ass. I guess that's pretty good, and with a lot of people subscribing, they could be profitable on that.
I'd assume that they make more money from customers who choose more expensive plans and don't take full advantage of them, and also on fees for people who lose movies, and for the used DVDs that they sell for six bucks. By offering the cheaper plans, they make their service appeal to even cheapskates like me who are averse to renting yet don't want to pay much money, hoping to sucker me into a more full-featured subscription sometime down the line. I'd bet that they were initially quite unprofitable, but now that they operate in bulk, they can probably do pretty well for themselves.
Thinking about these sorts of things is what interests me (slightly) about business: sort of passively musing about profitability of different ventures without actually putting much thought or effort into it. I wouldn't have really thought that online DVD rentals would really be a good way to make money, but it seems that someone put a lot of effort into designing a streamlined operation, cost-efficient packaging, and the right amount of marketing to make it all work.
Either that, or Netflix is losing money.
(I cheated and looked things up. Even a year and a half ago, Netflix was quite profitable, and their margin was 37.1%, up considerably from a quarter before. So, my imaginary and nearly-baseless figures of ~50% cost are possibly actually reasonably accurate.)
Friday, November 23, 2007
Making those rolls and muffins took many hours, including cleanup and the like. It's amusing to bake every once in a while (it'd been many, many months since the last time), but I don't really feel like I get the value of my time when I do, so it doesn't happen too often.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
(Side note: if you decide to join Netflix, join through your favorite airline's website. United gave me a bunch of miles to do something I was going to do anyway.)
It is perhaps somewhat ironic that I know that the dream was longer than that, but I forgot the rest of it.
I guess "burned down" is somewhat misleading since it's still standing for the most part, but reportedly the fire department says it's unsalvageable. The actual cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
Vanessa Carlton—Heroes and Thieves: 8/10
I've been listening to the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows. I have limited experience with Radiohead, but I didn't really like the earlier stuff I'd heard all that much. But, it's hard to pass up a free "honor system" CD from a well-known band, so I downloaded it at radiohead.com and checked it out. It's not so bad; I'd probably buy it if I could get it in CD form for a non-insane price. [Hey idiot, "sane" is a word. —ed.] Really, the background music is pretty decent. It's just that the vocalist's voice really grates on me. I have other CDs by people with obnoxious voices and singing habits, though, and I can live with it and call it quirky if the rest of the album is good enough. As it stands, I'd say that In Rainbows is decent. It's above the point where I'd be upset if I paid for it. But it's not good enough that I'm going to go back to their website and pay them for compressed MP3 versions of it. I haven't paid for any compressed music, and this is not the album to make me start. I like uncompressed music and printed album art... call me old-fashioned. Anyway, my favorite tracks on here are 15 Step, All I Need, and Reckoner. Download the album yourself and check them out.
Upon a recommendation by someone who knows I like Fiona Apple, I checked out Happenstance by Rachael Yamagata too. And yes, it does sound a bit like Fiona. Actually, I'd say it's right between Apple and KT Tunstall. Honestly, if Rachael's song I'll Find a Way were on a Fiona Apple album, I'm not sure if I'd notice that it wasn't Fiona unless I was really paying close attention. If Worn Me Down were on KT Tunstall's latest album I'd notice that the voice was wrong (KT Tunstall has a higher voice), but it would still fit in. I think if you like either, you'd probably enjoy this CD at least a bit... also check out I Want You, another nice track. Overall, another decent CD, but not particularly standout.
Finally, I picked up the latest Vanessa Carlton CD, Heroes and Thieves. It's, well, pretty much just like her previous two albums. That's not a bad thing, and the music isn't terribly repetitive; it's just that she was pretty talented for a young girl to begin with, and is slowly getting better, but the music doesn't sound dramatically different—the biggest change to me is that her piano has been pushed to the back for several songs. It's mostly the same basic sound, though, and I'm fine with that. Check out Nolita Fairytale, the titular Heroes and Thieves, and More than This. If you like those, you'll like this CD, and especially if you liked the piano, you'll like her other two CDs too.
Next up is the first album by The Bird and the Bee (featuring the delightfully catchy song Fucking Boyfriend, which I heard for the first time Sunday night), and an older CD by Muse, Absolution. I'm also assembling a playlist of great music to play when I have other people over, so I've been listening a lot to a lot of my old stuff these days. My big playlist of favorite songs "Extended Play" is well over a week and a half of non-stop music, but I've trimmed "Sexy Party" down to 58 hours, in case I need to have a party that starts Friday night and lasts through the wee hours of Monday morning.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Sure, us tall people can reach things on high shelves. We're more sexually appealing in aggregate. We make more money. But we also are subject to significant back pain when we have to lean down to get to things that are at a natural height for normal people. We hit our heads on things. We're uncomfortable in most cars. And, our crotches are at just the right level to be moistened by stray puddles of water at bathroom sinks. It's not all it's cracked up to be.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
This week has been one of those weeks where I just can't seem to get anything done. Granted, Mondays are pretty much a lost cause anyway, but as much as I tried to be productive today, it just didn't happen. I didn't even have meetings preventing me from accomplishing things today like I usually do. I just couldn't get in the zone.
Whenever I get in a mood like this I tend to remember one of the better essays I've ever read, titled Fire and Motion, by Joel Spolsky. It contains some of the best advice that you can give a developer or anyone else whose job performance depends on creative output.
"But it's not the days when I 'only' get two hours of work done that worry me. It's the days when I can't do anything. [...] You have to have time on your side, and you have to move forward every day. Sooner or later you will win."
You can't completely control when you're productive and when you're not. As long as you're always making progress, things will even out, and the good days will have to make up for the bad ones.
When I worked at Burger King, it didn't matter if I was having a good day or not. I could easily pretend to be having one, and ultimately my productivity was not really affected all that much. Same with being a grocery cashier. Same with working in the deli. A better day's always better than a worse day (um, by definition, really), but the impact on your performance is far, far lower. And, even if one day was bad, it wouldn't cause the next day's stress level to be notably higher or my morale to be notably lower. Now it does matter. I just have to remember that it's unavoidable, that I'll make up for it when I'm having a better day, and that ultimately I'm going to build something that kicks ass and it's not going to matter that pretty much nothing got done on November 13, 2007.
Monday, November 12, 2007
You never called about hardcore XXX pinochle action
You never called for UNIVERSITY DIPLOMAS, FAST LIKE NOW -abcfh
You never called and told me that "Duchovny" is Russian for "Syphillis"
You never called about crack spreads
You never called about Enya remixes
Also, we concluded most messages with a nonstandard salutation:
Until then, I wish you a mirthful Thursday (for yesterday) and a very, very focund Friday.
Anyway, have a lesbiantastic Tuesday!
Piss off... and have a gleeful Tuesday :P
Effervescent Sunday to you...
Have a thunderous, thrifty Thursday.
Actually, reading through these things, some of them are kind of like the random crap I'd have posted on a blog if anyone knew what a blog was in 2001. Looking through these emails is like going back in time: bitching about how much of a downright shame the awful TV game show based on the game You Don't Know Jack is, talking about how cool this 8 MB portable flash drive that fits on your keychain (!) is (I carry 2 GB with me now), that brand new music video Clint Eastwood from the brand new band Gorillaz, and how I wondered if there would ever be a subset of .NET that runs on a Mac. I can only hope that this blog will prove to be an interesting look at my life half a decade from now.
Update: Razor was amusing. While Battlestar Galactica is a good show, this is really no different than a "regular" two-episode story arc like the original episode Pegasus was. So, it was good, but not really unusually good. One nice thing is that there are no spoilers if you haven't seen season 3 yet, other than that they eventually leave the planet they're stuck on at the end of season 2, which was so obvious that I didn't even realize it was spoiled until after it was over. They don't, for example, show any of the "new" Cylons revealed in season 3 that I don't know about yet.
A woman there confirmed the rumor that I had heard recently, that season 3 isn't coming out on DVD until April 2008 now, which is the new start date for the final season 4. That's obnoxious. I guess I won't be watching Battlestar Galactica during my end-of-year vacation expiration blowout bonanza.
I think that if you enjoyed Diablo II, you're going to like Hellgate: London. That's the bottom line. The basics are the same; you kill a ton of things, and then you loot bodies and then you kill more things. Actually, I think it's even a little faster-paced than Diablo, and I'm definitely preferring the first-person and close-third-person perspective to the isometric Diablo look.
But really, I don't think that the game is ready yet. Maybe wait another month or two. Get Gears of War and Unreal Tournament 3 and Crysis and any number of other cool-looking games coming out around now. Then, check out Hellgate later. It's beta-quality. It's not ready for release. It crashes, leaks memory, causes video driver failures, and has pretty terrible performance. The core gameplay is great, but the whole package isn't there yet. The story is pretty dumb and the characters are annoying and totally forgettable, but those things are pretty acceptable for an RPG/FPS hybrid. They have lots of plans for long-term subscription content, and I'm pretty confident that the game will be much more stable and enjoyable in a few months. World of Warcraft today is FAR, FAR better than it was when it launched, after all. I've already started Hellgate, and I don't really plan to stop right now, but I think after one play through I'll be taking a hiatus.
If you liked Diablo, you have to check out Hellgate. But I don't think you really need to now.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Friday, November 9, 2007
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Luckily, I now have free.napster.com to protect me from CDs that aren't nearly as good as their singles.
For example: Jape—Floating is good, and the CD it is from is not.
Update: Since this blog educates as it entertains, I feel compelled to inform you that the parental advisory sticker is indeed self-selected; there is no group who decides what it goes on as there is for movie ratings.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Oh well. We'll see what happens. I skipped two of my bushes because they're still blooming, so if I screwed up the rest of them, I guess I've got a couple backups.
Friday, November 2, 2007
So, in the beginning of this dream, it became known that a coworker of mine, his girlfriend, and another coworker of mine decided that they were going to steal a bunch of expensive stuff from two other friends of mine, the Steve and one of the Matthews who comments here. (I think this marks the first time that any of these five people have showed up in a dream, but you know how great my memory is.) Matt and Steve weren't in on the plan per se, but they were aware of it. They were quite against the whole thing, actually, not particularly wanting to have to replace all of those things or pay the deductible. So, things start out with the two potential theft targets and I walking along with the other three, trying to convince them not to steal everything valuable that Matt and Steve owned. I watched Matt break his own leg to distract the others from what they were talking about. It was kind of disgusting to watch.
We weren't successful. After taking Matt to the hospital, the others decided that they were going to go through with it, and insisted that we really had very little say in the matter. That storyline kind of ended abruptly and things switched over entirely to scenes in this weird Asian village that only appeared for a few seconds at a time during the first part of the dream. The people in this village had an innovative system of crime deterrence: every night, the people would vote, and whoever the people in the village thought was the worst criminal would be executed by fire. There were no trials and little in the way of laws, because if you did something really bad, you were very likely to be burned that night, and people avoided doing things that were even sort of bad, because they didn't want to be caught doing them on nights where nobody really did anything particularly terrible that day, since the rules said that someone had to burn every night.
This system ended up being too effective. Soon, people stopped committing what we would consider crimes altogether for fear of being burned. Eventually they got to a point where the infractions that were resulting in peoples' untimely deaths were things as minor as burning a casserole. At one point in the dream, I saw a few teenagers sitting in front of a computer Googling for the names of their village mates so they could find some dirt on someone else to be presented at the tribal council that evening, in order to spare themselves. (I thought it rather incongruous to see people using the internet in a dream that appeared to otherwise take place long in the past, but whatever.)
This dream actually kind of had an ending, which seems to be unusual for me. It ended with someone I cared about—I don't actually know who—being burned in the center of town that night for something incredibly minor and arbitrary. I was crying. It was the mandated death of this completely good and innocent person that brought the town's elders to their senses, and the daily burning policy was put to an end that very night. This, of course, was of very little comfort to her and myself, though, since she was already dead.
One of my more interesting dreams in a while. The whole Asian village plot could probably work well as a Twilight Zone / Stargate / Sliders episode.
For some reason my first thought was not "holy crap someone just destroyed Seattle," but rather "I bet a lot of places are going to close; I should get lunch now." So, I walked over to the Starbucks and ordered a big hunk of bread and some sort of mixed juice drink that was called an "apple tumbler" or something. The guy behind the counter and I were the only people I saw left alive.
When I got home (not sure how I managed that), I checked on Live Search Maps, which had impressively already been updated after the attack. From there I could see the extent of the damage, as well as see aerial satellite photos.
The dream kind of ended there. But congratulations, Internal Microsoft Advertising: now Microsoft online properties are even showing up in my dreams.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
There's still a loooooooong way to go, absolutely. And, I'm making up the milestones as I go along. But, I'm motivated by change, not goals... goals are depressing—yes, stressful—yes, but motivating—no. This is not much by any stretch of the imagination, but it's more than nothing, and at the very least proves that physical torment does have some positive effect, so at least now I can justify it. Buying equipment for home use was a worthwhile purchase: it's a thousand times easier to be motivated to work out at home than at the gym.
(Now, if only I could get myself to work out and sleep, so I'd have something healthy and pleasant to counteract the healthy and unpleasant.)
Anyway, as far as I've been able to find out, there's no such loophole, barring of course situations where the stealer and the stealee are in cahoots. But that got me thinking too: what kind of a person steals from a friend? Theft is bad enough when it's from a stranger, but stealing something from a friend adds a whole new element of broken trust. It seems that it would require an exceptionally despicable person. The next thought, naturally, was wondering what kind of person misjudges someone so badly that they become friends with someone capable of stealing from them and establishing that trust? Probably just about everyone, actually. Are we all that bad at judging people and understanding what they're capable of? As paranoid and distrusting and hermetic as I can be sometimes, I can't see myself being immune to this kind of mistake.
Currently listening: Rachael Yamagata—Be Be Your Love