Friday, July 31, 2009

Who is the Sausage King of Chicago?

Yahoo mail won't let me log in unless I give them two security questions and answers which they can use if I lose my password. This is part of how Twitter was hacked, google it yourself for details. But boiling it down, somebody who is trying to hack your account could very well know the name of all your aunt's and just has to enter them all to find 'your favorite aunt.' Granted I can enter my own question and corresponding answer. The problem with that is I get too creative and don't remember what the hell I was thinking of 5 years later when I actually do need to retrieve my password.

In the meantime I have found a way around having to come up with these questions and answers until I figure out something. I log into yahoo messenger which prompts me if I have yahoo mail. I tell it to open yahoo mail and it does so bypassing their page that requires that I come up with those questions.

In the meantime, please don't hack me. Not that there is anything in my yahoo mail account that you'd find the least bit interesting. And not that I use that password on any other sites.

The title was one thing I thought of as a possible security question, but I think we all know that the Sausage King of Chicago is Abe Froman. Now go away or I will be forced to get 'snooty.'

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Our Princess is in Another Castle

Alright, now I have to figure out what I did to turn on the feature that publishes my blog on my Facebook page. I think there is a way to just get it to post a notification that I have published a new blog entry, without it posting the whole blog entry. The reason is that I have noticed a drop in the numbers of people visiting the blog which is probably because a good number of my readers are also my friends on Facebook. Also people are commenting on the Facebook posting instead of the blog itself which can mean two different comment chains.

On a related note, I saw the Google Wave presentation video and can't wait for that to come out. I've been trying to tell people about it, but nobody seems interested enough to watch the video.

I know I have said it before, but I should also get around to moving the blog over to the new blogger templates. Can they even be called the "new" templates anymore? It has been awhile since they upgraded the system. Lots of new features though and I am sure that the Google Wave thing will require the new stuff to work on the blog.

I have also been wondering if I publish negative things and complain too much on my blog. I do rave about some of the things I like, but I don't think I do it often enough. I am going to make more of an effort to do so.

Actually, what I really need to do is start seriously playing games again. I took a forced break when I moved from Australia and I had to wait till my stuff arrived. But even then I didn't really start playing anything. I think it is a matter of this not being my house, I don't have my gaming computer set up and the TV here is pretty old and wouldn't handle the PS3 very well. Been playing some browser games, but nothing overly exciting. I am getting pretty itching to raid something, fight off a hoard of zombies, or save a princess. Jones'ing to actually get back to making games as well, two promising irons in the fire at the moment, keep your fingers crossed.

Borders Bookstores Continuing the Beatings Until Sales Improve

Let me start off by coming clean. I am NOT one of those people who spends their day shouting from the rooftops about the evils of big business and large chains. I actually like having large, well-kept strip mall nearby full of, what I believe some people call, “shoe box stores.” I eat at mid-level food establishments like Chili’s, Applebee’s, and the like. I get a Venti, Coffiee Frappuccino ™ with vanilla syrup at Starbucks a few times a week. For my book shopping needs I go to Borders and Barnes & Noble.

I take the criticism and cries of “economic imperialism” with a large grain of salt. I understand that people are in business to make money.

However… that being said…

I am reading all sorts of crap about Borders. The company, in an effort to rescue itself from declining profits, is apparently attempting to piss everybody off and have them shop elsewhere. Employees have started venting about cuts and elimination of perks. You can read their comments in reply to various posts over on Used Book Blog. The comments were from a post questioning if rival, Barnes & Noble, was planning on buying them out and are summed up in the next post title “Borders Books Employees Are Angry.”

After looking into all this I found the story about the Border’s “Make Book” program where they have decided to mimic the tradition of independent bookshops that “Hand Sell” books by local or favored authors. A few titles get prominent placement and recommendations from the store employees. Granted these aren’t local authors but rather titles picked by Border’s national sales office, but that is okay. Deserving titles that are under appreciated get a little boost. Except that we are hearing reports from Border’s employees of the pressure they are being put under to sell these books. Tales of being forced to hound customers, even if they clearly aren’t interested and if the quotas aren’t met employees can lose their job. The May 5th, 2009 story about this on Yahoo news seems to have expired even though it isn’t even 3 months old.

There are stories about Borders getting rid of managers and supervisors, quick return of unsold product to vendors to get back credit at the expense of empty bookshelves, repairs not being completed, elimination of the employee of the month program, and firing of long time employees.

In response to all this negative news and information that is OBVIOUSLY being leaked out by employees, Borders has leapt into action by pressuring employees to sign non-blogging contracts. Seems like quite the admission of guilt. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to motivate your employees into being proud of where they work and have them saying nice things about you on the internets? This really seems like a, “The beatings will continue until moral improves” measure.

As a game designer, I know that rewarding players for positive behavior works much better than punishing them for doing things I don't want them to do. Granted, that doesn't work in the extreme; if a player is hacking and cheating in my MMO, I am going to ban him from the game. If your employee is embezzling funds, fire him. However, I think that rewarding the employee or store that sells the most copies of the title you are pushing that month would work better than dire threats and the like. Follow me on this:
Nobody wants to work someplace where they are constantly being threatened with being fired.

Nobody who doesn't like where they are working is going to do that great a job.

Nobody enjoys shopping someplace where the staff isn't doing a good job.

Thinking about it, whenever I talk to somebody I know that works at Starbucks, they have nothing but nice things to say about working there. When my nephew was 2 and my brother would take him to Starbucks they doted on him. They even put up pictures of him next to the register. There is a newspaper article clipped to the bulletin board of the Starbucks about how the employee’s there made a Starbucks apron for the little dog of one of their customers. Cheesy I know, but it is the employee’s generating positive press for your company.

Dear Borders, give it a shot. In the meantime I'll be over at Barnes & Noble.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rambling About Television Shows Again

Can Network Television just not handle cutting edge TV programming? Did “Kings” fail because it was on Network Television as opposed to Showtime or HBO? I just watched the second to last episode and got to thinking about it. Looking back, I see that that overall plot was pretty good; it was just that the rest of the production didn’t live up to that. I just deleted a large section where I nit-picked what I didn’t like; because, that isn’t really what I wanted to write about. I am really interested as to why this show failed.

There was a bit in “The Long Lead Story,” episode 5 of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” where the president of Entertainment Programming for the fictional NBS, Jorden McDeere (played by Amanda Peet), wants to buy the pilot of a show called “Nations” about the behind the scenes workings of the United Nations. The debate in the show is about how HBO wants the show and that it doesn’t belong on Network TV. When she first comes out and asks for Danny’s help in convincing the writer to let them buy it, he says, “No.” When asked why he says, “Because HBO is better.” At another point in the show she says, “I don’t think that the people who write TV are smarter than the people who watch TV.”

But when I see “Kings” and wonder what happened that made the show into the mess that got it canceled to nobody’s surprise, when I see a show as unbelievably good as “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” get canceled due to low ratings, and when I see the high ratings of all the reality TV shows; I wonder if the statement above is true… at least for Network TV. Over on the high end pay channels like HBO and Showtime we have shows like “Deadwood,” “Rome,” “Dexter,” “Californification,” “Weeds,” “The Tutors,” “Entourage,” “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” and “Trueblood” to name more than a few. Even basic cable has great stuff like “Rescue Me,” “The Shield,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Mad Men.” To be fair there have been some good shows on cable that got the axe before their time such as “Dead Like Me” and “Farscape” to name two.

There is a lot of well written TV out there across all genres, but it appears to only flourish on cable. Could these shows not survive on regular Network TV? If not, why? Is it the audience? I hesitate to blindly place blame with the network executives. I know they want their shows to succeed even if they sometimes appear to be working hard against that. I don’t really think it was entirely their fault for canceling “Terminator, the Sarah Conner Chronicles.” I think the writers have to take some of that blame as well; because, they appeared to be dragging out too much of the personal character issues at the expense of the action we would expect in a TV show about time traveling killer robots from the future. But for all I know that could have been the network guy’s fault too. Something obviously went wrong and now the show is gone. Dollhouse was moving along just as slow until the last two episodes, but thankfully that survived the axe and hopefully Josh and the gang will pick up the pace a bit next season.

I loved Westwing but even it suffered from low ratings in its later years. I was never that impressed by 24. If you haven’t seen the YouTube clip of David Cross’ reaction to “Arrested Development” being canceled, you really should. What else? I haven’t watched “Lost” since season two, thanks to the even worse Australian Network TV (whole other rant) but I hear people complaining about it all the time. In the beginning the show was going too slow and dragging everything out and now they are complaining that it is going too fast and confusing everybody. Speaking of Joss Whedon, there was “Angel” that I still don't understand while another network didn't pick up and of course “Firefly.” I am trying to think of a other shows... there was the one about the American Embassy years ago that I think I liked, that one where Gena Davis was President which I thought was horrible, and a few others that have already slipped my mind.

Back to the audience issue, is network TV just for those people who want some instant satisfaction entertainment without all the baggage of having to concentrate too deeply on the show or its ongoing back story? Shows like CSI and Law and Order seem to fit that bill, “done in one” as they say in the comic book industry. Sure it’s an on-going show, but the whole story is pretty much done in one episode and you don’t lose anything if you miss any shows in-between. That is pretty much true for most sit-coms as well. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this. But is it the fate of Network TV to be saddled with nothing but that type of show while the harder stuff is confined to cable?

Anyway... sorry was just rambling there. I always have this fear that I am going to be trying to get a job as a writer at sometime in the future and somebody is going to read my blog, see these rambling posts, and not hire me. Dear Mr. Editor from the Future, If I was writing this for you I would have structured and paced it a whole lot better, not to mention actually proof read it. Okay, that should solve that problem. Now I am just going to go toss a penny into the fountain and make a wise that Aaron Sorkin will come back and do another TV show.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Little of this, little of that

I was showing my blog to some people today via Internet Explorer 8 on a giant TV screen in some ungodly resolution, and the layout was broken. The right-hand sidebar was wrapped under the posts. It may have been because somebody had increased the text size, but it was still pretty embarrassing. I think everybody realized that this was a Blogger thing and not something I really have control over. I am a bit worried that I am still not using the new blogger templates, though at this point 'new' is a relative term.

If you didn't know I am in Scotland at the moment. I count myself lucky that after five years in Australia, I at least know which way to look when I cross the street. It is a lot like Australia in that they roll the sidewalks up pretty early, not counting the pubs and the lone Kebab shop.

It has been quite the two weeks though. Took my dad down to the VA hospital for his eye operation. That all appeared to have turned out quite well.

AJ Disneyland 2009Then a few days in Disneyland with the Niece, Nephew and other assorted relatives. Kids are still pretty young and hyper while my elders are starting to get up there. Being caught in-between that was almost an event unto itself. I did get away the first night because Eric#3 and Kristina had wagon-trained up with us. She had an appointment in LA the next morning. The upshot of that is that I got to have a grown up dinner with them in Downtown Disney the night before, fireworks included.

Emily Disneyland 2009I did get my Monte Cristo sandwich (don't look at the picture on that wiki link, it is horrible and very unappetizing) but I missed riding Space Mountain while I was making reservations for the Blue Bayou restaurant in the morning. Alex went back to get us a fastpass for it later on, but they closed it for a few hours to fix something. When we went back by it, the Fastpass time had a return of much later that night and we had dinner reservations at the Pirate's Dinner Adventure. I thought there was too much singing and a tad too much slapstick, but the kids really liked it. Next time I think I'll go back to the old tradition of Medieval Times which is next door.

Now I'm in Scotland and managed to chip my other front tooth veneer. I got in at 12:00 local time and took a small nap. When I got up I was spying around the local area on Google Earth when I kinda nodded off again. I awoke with start for no reason I can remember, bit down too hard and off comes a big chip. I had to have the Lovely Kristina call my dentist back in Vegas to extend my Wednesday appointment to get the actual new veneer on the previous one installed (I'm wearing a temporary on that one that I've been afraid would pop off during this trip) to now include starting the process to fix the next one. Anybody got a spare $1300 dollars lying around?

Unicorn Software WindowSpeaking of the adventures of me and my dentist; when I chipped the first tooth, I had tried to get a hold of Dr. Phelps who was pretty much Westwood's dentist back in the day. He was related to one of the programmers and played Everquest with us. I found out that he had moved away and somebody else had taken over his practice. They then in-turn moved to the other side of town. When I was tracking down their address, driving down Flamingo, when I had a big scare that they would be the dentist that had taken over the old Unicorn Software office. As it turns out they are in phase two of the office complex that Unicorn was in. It was being built during my time at Unicorn back in the late 80's. I went over there and the nice ladies at the accounting office that is now there, let me take a picture of the stained glass Unicorn window from the inside. I do think that had this new dentist been in the old Unicorn office that I would have had to find someplace else to fix my tooth.

I have been desperately trying to follow the Tour de France, but am not having much luck. I got to watch the first stage via the Australian SBS website, but they blocked out of the country viewing the next day. Since they I either haven't been around or able to find a site that lets me view the videos live from where I am. I have just been settling on reading about each stage, watching the standings and following a few of the team on Twitter. Even the TV here in my hotel room doesn't appear to be working.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Half a Day and A Cramped Hand Later...

Okay, the new left hand sidebar background graphic is done, uploaded and appears to be working. If you are viewing the blog in a resolution thinner than 1024 you are just out of luck, sorry. It sure took longer than I expected. But what else do I have to do while sitting here in this hotel room? Let me just say that using Photoshop on a laptop, without a mouse, is a royal pain in the ass... or more exactly, the hand.

One of the things that made it take so long was that I just couldn't take the cover of Dune II looking so bad. It wasn't the first Real Time Strategy game, but it was the one that created and defined the RTS genre as we know it. Such an esteemed title deserves a little respect, and all the box scans that I found online were horrible. The reason being that the title text and frame around the picture on the front of the box were done in raised gold foil which doesn't scan in very well.

After a little searching I found a copy online that was uploaded pretty large. Unfortunately, it was scanned and saved in 256 colors even though it was a jpeg. Somebody needs to do their file format compression homework. It was still pretty good for what I needed. I spent about an hour cleaning it up and bringing out the title text. Once shrunken down, you can't even tell. Here is the old box cover I had and the new cleaned up one. I also left the new one a little larger.
Dune II before and afterMines of TitanYou can also see this problem with "Mines of Titan" box cover. Notice how the giant title text doesn't stand out very well against the background. It was also done with foil text, silver this time. Looks great on the store shelf, but doesn't scan in very well. I probably should have cleaned it up a bit too, even just a little brightness & contrast adjustment to bring out the red background. Though I know how I am, if I don't make a stand and stop now at 11:00, I'll be up all night touching up every single box cover. Even now I just had to go back into Photoshop and add the drop shadow. But those drop shadow settings where the ones I used for the boxes on the top layer of the side bar montage. It doesn't quite look right, by itself, on the white background... No no no! I'm not doing any more work on it! It's just my stupid blog that is only read by half a dozen people! I'll save my anal attention to detail for work that people will actually see.

As another famous Westwood saying goes, this one from Brett Sperry directly to me over something I was working on, "It's done, quit pixel fucking it!" It is a quote that has served me well over the years.

"That's a lot of boxes!"

If you are an old Westwood employee you may recognize that saying. If you are a current Petroglyph employee, you should go up to Mike Legg and ask him; because, although it was something said by Marco, it was Mike's imitation of Macro saying it that made it one of the famous "Westwood Quotes."

Other quotes in the Mike imitating Marco series include, "You should shave, you look like Pancho Villa." and "I'm nobody's flunky."

But the purpose of this post, is to point out that I know you can't read the blog if you resolution is 1024 pixels wide. I am sitting in a hotel room in Redlands California as we speak, slaving away in Photoshop, fixing the boxes on the left.

If you are reading this blog at some point after a few hours from now, in a browser window 1024 pixels wide or smaller, and don't see what the problem is; nevermind because I have obviously already fixed it.

If; however, you are reading this at some point after... yadda yadda yadda, and the text still overlaps the boxes on the left... Sorry but I guess one of the following things happened:
• I never got back to it after going to lunch.

• Hotel's internet went out and I wasn't able to upload the new graphic.

• I couldn't figure out what I did last time to link to the new graphic in a manner which the site wasn't scaling it down to fit on screen.

• An attractive woman expressed at least some passing interest in my romantically and I am off wooing her and could care less if you could read this or not.

• My plans for world domination have been moved forward and I am busy trying to take Australia, which as we know from Risk, is strategically important.

• I am still thinking of things to add to this list instead of working on the graphic... DOH!.

04:05:06 07/08/09

There has been a piece of email bouncing around the internets the last week or so.
Just in case you had nothing more serious to think about today...

At five minutes and six seconds after 4 on the 8th of July this year, the time and date will be:

04:05:06 07/08/09.

This exact sequence will never happen again in our lifetimes
I love how it includes the tag line "This exact sequence will never happen again in our lifetimes."

First this isn't true, because after it happens in the AM, it happens again 12 hours later in the PM. Unless you are using military time.

You could fly to someplace like Australia, that does DD/MM/YYYY instead of MM/DD/YYYY, next month and it will happen again on the 7th of June. Unless you are already there in which case it isn't happening today; because, today was yesterday (Australia is 15 to 17 hours ahead of the U.S.) which doesn't matter because it was 08/07/09 for them anyway.

Who ever wrote this email also didn't consider my impending plans for world domination. One of my immediate action points after taking control, will be to start the calendar over again in my name. So about nine and a half years after I get that done, it will indeed happen again. It will also be more accurate than; because, the year really will be 0009 instead of 2009.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sci-Fi = SyFy = Equal Still Don't Care

The Sci-Fi channel is about to change its name to SyFy sometime around now. Yeah, when I first heard the name I thought it was stupid too. I read the reasoning and understood it, but still didn’t like the new name.

At the end of the day though, I don’t really care. But I am reading forum after forum where people are just going off, ranting and raving about how they are never going to watch the channel again. Granted there was animosity generated when Tim Brooks who was part of the channel's launch, said the following in a TV Week interview:
"The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,"
SCI FI president Dave Howe responded to this quote in a recent interview:
We didn't say this! This was a quote by a TV historian named Tim Brooks, speaking to TV Week, which has been mistakenly attributed to us by some people. That is not our view, and we wholeheartedly disagree with what Brooks had to say. He does not work for the network, and he hasn't for more than 10 years.
But again, I don't care. A rose by another name and all that. If I was dating Megan Fox and she suddenly changed her name to Myrtle Pussboil, she would still look great running in slow motion!

The reason I give the channel a cold shoulder is that I'm just not impressed with their content. For every good series on their channel there are half a dozen crappy filler shows. They canceled Farscape and other a number of other award winning shows. They have been completely silent when fans have begged them to pick up shows canceled on other networks. In the end I have not a shred of loyalty to a channel brand, just the individual shows. You want to impress me SyFy? Pick up Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Yeah I know its way too late for that to happen, but that's why it would impress me.


I just watched Virtuality, which was supposed to be a new TV series on Fox. Instead the two part pilot was aired as a movie last month. It doesn’t look like Fox is going to pick it up as a series. You can watch it over on Hulu for free, legally.

I liked it for what it was and would watch it as a series. But there are a number of things about it that bother me and since I like to rattle on and complain about such things, I will.

First of all these people aren’t the type of people you’d send off on a long range space mission. The people who you’d find on this type of mission would be the super a-type personalities, the do or die achievers, the people with the right stuff. They are the kind of people who continue on toward their goal no matter what. The goal is their whole purpose in life. The people on the show, however, are a bunch of mental loons. Everybody has a personality problems and half of them are more irritable than I am when trying to explain why I don’t like baby-doll waistlines on women’s dresses.

The show throws in my two least favorite and ultra tired plot devices. The evil giant mega-corporation that is operating with shadowy, deceitful methods to achieve unknown goals that basically boils down to money and power. And, the whole global warming is going to kill us tomorrow thing. Note that is “kill us tomorrow” not “eventually make the planet unlivable at some distant point in the future.” Though to be fair there is a suggestion that the evil giant mega-corporation may be making up the whole global catastrophe thing to influence the crew.

Another tired thing is the over simplifying of technology in the form of some “Ghost in the Machine” figure who keeps popping up in everybody’s virtual reality program and doing bad things like killing or raping them. The crew keeps referring to it as a “glitch” and that just annoys the hell out of me. That is like playing Chess on your computer and suddenly because a computer programmer messed up, the program bugs out causing you to have to play a game of Tic-Tac-Toe every time you want to capture a pawn. Well actually in this case a Tic-Tac-Toe program that shoots you. Glitches don’t do that. A stack overflow error doesn’t create a whole other game inside the program, especially one that has its own motives. These characters wouldn’t call it a glitch, they would know it was something more purposeful.

And since the whole show was just a pilot, it doesn’t really end which sucks if you just sat through the whole thing.

New Sidebar Art

As you can see the new sidebar art is up with all the box covers from the various games I have worked on. Actually, I have only "Futuria" out of the Unicorn Software titles. I started to look for "Animal Kingdom" (later renamed "Wonders of the Animal Kingdom" because they didn't want to fight a lawsuit from Animal Kingdom magazine) but couldn't find it. The Commodore 64 version was the first professional game that I worked on.

I had actually wanted to do something like this for awhile, I just never felt like digging through the web to find all the box covers. It was a lot easier this time than it was back in 2003 when I last tried to find them all.

Anyway, I am not quite happy with the art and will make some adjustments later. I just spent an hour trying to get it working; because, Picasa Web Albums, which Blogger uses to host pictures you upload to the blog, wouldn't let me get at the actual, un-scaled down jpeg file to link to in the template. Finally got it working, but it is 4:30 AM already.

UPDATE: FYI. There are two things I am going to fix. First the boxes come over too far and you can't read the site in 1024x768. And second I need to rearrange some of the top level boxes.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Art and the Art of the User Interface

You might have noticed a few graphics on the blog, namely the title and the blue background sidebar thing, have gone missing. Those things were still being hosted at my old URL which is now gone. The back up of all the stuff that was hosted there is on my "Elements" portable hard drives which is sitting over at Eric#3's house with a broken power adapter. It just happens to have some proprietary power cord that you can't buy anywhere.

Doesn't matter as I've decided that it was about time to give the site a make over anyway. I fired up Photoshop and have been spending the last hour or so messing around, but haven't really created anything I like yet.

Right in the middle of this, I started randomly browsing Deviant Art for some inspiration. Just poking around to see if anything gave me any ideas. Eventually I hit something (nudity) that required me to log-in and I wanted to share something about that process.

First go to Deviant Art, pop down a few directories, then use the log-in in fields at the top of the page to log into the site. Notice how it resets the site and suddenly you are back at the very top of the directory tree. Hope you remember which sub-category of which category you were browsing in.

Now go to Hulu and start browsing down through their stuff. When ever you feel sufficiently immersed in their content, use the log-in fields at the top of the page to log into the site. Note that it did NOT change anything else on the page. You are still exactly where you were before you logged in.

Bravo to the Hulu guys, well done. Apparently the Deviant Art guys were too cool for school and need a few more lessons in usability.

Teh Learning Curve: Episode 3

Just a quick post to say that the guys in Perth have finally gotten episode 3 of "The Learning Curve" up. Jeremy, Dan and Liza try out Fallout 3.