The Space Toast Page has become the Space Toast Pages, a “journal of journals” on Rasmussen’s various obsessions and experiments. The weekly issue format has been discarded in favor of a categorized, feed-friendly, commentable series of blogs and sub-blogs running on the free and open source Blosxom content management system. Thank you as always for reading, and welcome back!
For older Space Toast Pages (weekly “Issues”), please go to www.spacetoast.net/stp/previousindex.html. I’m working on bringing these into the new STP system, starting with the most popular and my personal favorites, and eventually running back to issue 112, but it may take some time.
178, for the week of 10/15/2006.
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This image is released without copyright:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Public Domain License.
177, for the week of 8/27/2006.
Toast Note: Happy birthday to my sister Becky, who is celebrating in India. Wow. That is way cooler than a Cuisinart.
Boring Preface: Massachusetts state law requires a bike to have a forward light while riding at night. Commuting home on the city’s lit streets, I’m less worried about seeing the road than about other people seeing me. The cheapest bike lights seem to run about $20, so I’ll make that the maximum budget for this project. The light needs to be easy to attach and remove, durable enough to throw into a shoulder bag, and easy to turn on and off. I’d also like it to double as a flashlight the next time a transformer blows up in Central Square.
Theory: The front reflector seems to be the most logical place to attach the light to the bike, though I don’t want to obscure the reflector itself. It should be possible to build a bike light inside an old audiocassette case using two AA batteries, a pack of magnets, and a bright white LED upgrade for a mini Maglite. The light would clip around the bike’s front reflector. This project should cost less than $20.
- An audio tape case
- A three-LED upgrade kit for a mini Maglite
- Eight (8) round 3/4″ ceramic magnets
- Two (2) AA batteries
- Some thin insulated wire
- A few scraps of aluminum foil
- Electrical tape
- A small tube of super glue
- A pair of needle-nosed pliers
- A utility knife
- A ruler or measuring tape
- Space to work
Make sure that the cassette case isn’t one of the newer “slim” cases, but the regular kind. The mini Maglite upgrade kits consist of a replacement reflector housing three bright white LEDs wired into a resistor correctly sized for two AA batteries. They retail for about $11. You could certainly use your own LEDs (I read that Christmas lights are a cheap way to get them) but I don’t know nearly enough of a damn about electricity to figure out what size resistor to use — just that I need one to keep from blowing the LEDs out. Three-quarter inch ceramic (black) magnets usually come in packs of eight at the hardware or hobby store, and go for about $1.25. They’re fun to play with. If you don’t have a little spool of insulated wire lying around the house, I guarantee you have a broken stereo in the basement you can pillage. Utility knives seem to have been renamed “box cutters” since I was a kid, but I refuse to let the terrorists win.
Step A: Measure the width of your front reflector. These instructions are written for a reflector about 2 and 1/8 inches wide. From what I can tell from a cursory look around Porter Square, this kind is fairly common. Some of the newer bikes have smaller reflectors (why?), which should work fine for our project. A larger reflector would require a larger case — maybe a VHS-C tape case. Everything jams in pretty snugly with this design as is, so if your reflector is a different size you’ll have to play jazz a bit.
Step 1: Take the tape and label out of your audiocassette case and throw them away. Your crappy Sony deck hasn’t worked for most of a decade now anyway.
Step 2: Cut/snap the two prongs out of the tape case.
Step 3: Measure the width of the bracket on the back of your reflector — the part that connects it to the bike. Mine is 3/4 of an inch wide. The metal piece will probably be a little bit narrower than the part it screws into. If it is, just take the wider of the two measurements. Like I said, mine seems to be a pretty standard part, so if your reflector is the same size as mine it’s also probably 3/4 of an inch wide at the bracket too.
Step 4: Cut a notch, using that measurement, in the back of the tape case. The reflector and bracket together are too thick for the case to snap shut around, so we’ll need the bracket to hang out the back. Be careful to center your cut. Cut from the bottom of the case up to about even with the overhang. Mark your cut lightly with a straight edge or ruler, then go over it repeatedly until you cut all the way through. A little bit of splintering around the cut is normal, just don’t be so impatient that you crack the case. Did I mention it might be a good idea to put a new blade in your knife for this project? It might be a good idea to put a new blade in your knife for this project. Before now.
Step 5: Wrap electrical tape around all three sides of the cut. This will cover up the shattery bits, keep any cracks from spreading, and give it a nice rubberized mounting around the bike reflector bracket. Cut away the excess.
Step 6: Grab two of the ceramic magnets. We’re going to be gluing them on either side of the cut, about even with the overhang. These will be to rest against the back of the reflector, hopefully keeping it from moving too much. One by one — and with the other magnets clear — put a good bead of super glue on one of the two magnets, press it into place and hold it there for about a minute.
Step 7: Stick a piece of electrical tape along the entire length of the bottom of the case, folded over lengthwise. Half of it should be stuck to the outside of the case, and half to the inside, with the tape stuck to itself where it crosses the notch we cut. This will keep the bottom from wobbling by holding it tightly against the metal bracket. The electrical tape is a little bit stretchy, which is good. Anyone going for extra credit here might try sticking a rubber elastic inside the tape for extra holding power.
Step 8: Open the LED upgrade kit. You’ll find a little black cup with the LEDs inside and two wires sticking straight out the back, surrounded by a silver reflector.
Step 9: Remove the reflector; the LEDs are bright and directional enough without it, and it’s too thick to fit inside our tape case.
Step 10: Bend the two wires on the back to either side, being careful not to rush and snap them. I don’t really know how much abuse they’ll take, and I don’t want to find out.
Step 11: Cut four pieces of wire: three long ones (maybe 4-5 inches apiece?) and one short one (1-2 inches long).
Step 12: Strip each of the wires half an inch in from both ends. If you’ve never stripped wires with pliers before, it’s easy: Go around the wire worrying the plastic insulation with your pliers’ cutters. Don’t squeeze hard enough to actually cut the wire. The plastic cuts more easily than the metal inside. Begin pulling the wire as you continue weakening the insulation. Look for strong places, and keep pulling the wire and worrying at the insulation. Eventually, the plastic will begin to slide off the wire. Yank it off, and give the wire a twist or two.
Step 13: Take two of your longer pieces of wire. Make a little loop in the stripped portion on one side. Slide this loop around one of the wires on the back of the LED cup. Twist it a few more times, and squish it all together to get a good electrical connection. Repeat, looping the second wire to the cup’s other connection. If you want now, you can solder the wires permanently together — but I hate soldering, and I don’t want to pretend this project requires it. Either way, finish by sticking a square of electrical tape on the back of the cup.
Step 14: Slide the LED cup up under the lip of the cassette case, facing outward. Feel free to glue it in place, but it’s a pretty tight fit — I say don’t bother.
Step 15: Since LEDs only allow current to flow through them in one direction, we’ll need to figure out which side is + and which is -. Hold the wires against either end of one of the AA batteries. If it lights up (cool!) make a note of which side is which. If not, reverse and retry. (If nothing lights up, redo those connections.)
Step 16: Tear off two pieces of electrical tape, each about twice the length of a battery. Lay each strip of tape face up on the table and center the batteries on them. We’re going to be taping the wires directly to the batteries. It’s easy to do, and with the LEDs we won’t have to change the batteries much anyway.
Step 17: Tear off two small scraps of aluminum foil. Stick the wire from one end of the LED cup to the electrical tape beneath the battery contact, and then put a scrap of foil on top of it. Wrap the tape around the battery contact. Repeat for the other wire and the other battery. Wrap the tape around the battery contact. The aluminum foil is here to give us a larger electrical contact. Aluminum foil is conductive.
Step 18: Tear off two more scraps of aluminum foil. Using the same procedure as the last step, stick the short wire to the other end of one of the batteries. Grab a ceramic magnet and the other scrap of aluminum foil. Tape the loose end of the short wire to the top of the magnet, with part of the foil sticking out. Fold the foil over the top of the magnet.
Step 19: Tear off a larger scrap of aluminum foil and wrap it completely around one of the remaining magnets. This will be our “switch.”
Step 20: As in step 18, tape the remaining long wire to another of the magnets, with a piece of foil folded over to make an electrical contact. Let it stick itself to the “switch” magnet.
Step 21: Just like in step 17, connect the loose end of the wire to the remaining battery contact. The LED should light up. If it doesn’t, troubleshoot: We should have a circuit going from the LEDs to the first battery, through the bottom magnet, through the foil on the “switch,” through the second battery, back into the LEDs. Make sure your +’s and -‘s are all going in the right direction. Redo the foil/wire connections with more foil. If it did work, great job.
Step 22: Notice something. When you pull the “switch” magnet out of the stack and replace it with a bare magnet, the LEDs don’t light up. Ceramic magnets aren’t conductive. When the “switch” is in place, the circuit is on. When there’s a bare magnet there instead, it’s off. Leave the bare magnet in the stack between the two wired magnets. Stack the “switch” and the two remaining magnets with the “switch” in between. We should have two stacks of three magnets, which you’ll notice are about the same depth as the tape case.
Step 23: Push the two batteries tightly into the top right and left hand corners of the tape case so that they’re square with the edge.
Step 24: Place the stacks of magnets at the lower inside corners of the batteries. Experiment with closing the tape case. Find the position where the stacks are as close to the lower right and left hand corners of the case as possible, but the case can still close without hitting the magnet stacks or the batteries. We want everything to fit snugly.
Step 25: Once you’ve found the ideal positions, put a generous bead of super glue on top of each magnet stack and close the case. Hold the case shut as tightly as possible for about a minute, to make sure the super glue sets up properly with the top of the case.
Step 26: Flip the case over and repeat step 25, gluing the bottom of the magnet stacks to the bottom of the case.
Step 27: Once you’ve given the super glue some time to set up, flip the case back over and reopen it. Since we had to cut that notch in the back of the case, the back is the weak point: pull evenly on both sides to reopen.
Step 28: The trouble with ceramic magnets is that they don’t like sticking to anything more than they like sticking to themselves. To add strength, encircle each of the glued magnets with another bead of super glue. Let it set up, and cut away the excess if it gets on anything else.
Step 29: Tape the loose wires out of the way. You’re done. Swap the “switch” with the other loose magnet (storing the loose magnet on the other stack) place it around your bike reflector and let it snap shut. You’ve got a light on your bike — a bright one at that, which doesn’t strobe, pops on and off easily, and won’t chew through batteries every couple weeks.
Criticisms: Despite being built in a plastic case, the light is far from waterproof. I wouldn’t even call it terribly splashproof. Silly as it would look, a sandwich bag over the top might not be the worst idea on a rainy day. Opening the light takes some learning, as you figure out how to evenly pull on both sides of the case’s back. The biggest problem I’ve encountered, though, is the one mentioned in step 28: ceramic magnets just don’t like to glue down. Step 28 was an afterthought, after I had to reglue one of the stacks. It’s certainly stronger with an additional bead running around the base of the magnets, but I’m starting to think a gel epoxy (nasty as that stuff is) might eventually be needed.
Final Thoughts: It works, weirdly enough. Assuming you already have things like pliers, electrical tape and a set of batteries, you should have no trouble beating the $20 budget. (If not, they’re good things to own.) Please enjoy your antiluxury good. Build one? Send me a picture.
If you liked this project, you may also dig the previous Build Notes: Junk Mail Blinds.
174, for the week of 7/9/2006.
173, for the week of 7/2/2006.
Toast Note: What with the site redesign (now complete), three concurrent jobs, and a bad summer cold, the Space Toast Page has been a bit neglected lately. Still, I have a treat for you this week. Thanks for waiting.
(If the above opens as plain text, save it to the desktop and drag the file onto your browser.)
To date, the game has only been tested in FireFox 1.5 for Mac and Safari 2.0.4. It is buggy, but runs in FireFox. Safari will draw the initial game state, but does not loop.
As near as I can tell, this is the most advanced SVG game anyone has written to date — which is sad, but telling. Owing to uneven support, sluggish speed and lack of an integrated development environment, I can’t see SVG supplanting Flash any time soon. Still, SVG is not without potential. Enjoy the game.
SVG Tricks – Details some of the biggest gotchas of SVG manipulation. Required reading.
SVG Authoring Guidelines – Good advice on the gotchas you’ll come across later on, from one of the members of the Mozilla SVG Project.
3D Math for Beginners – The clearest introduction to radians and coordinate manipulation I’ve come across. My advice is never to try to use the Wikipedia to learn mathematical concepts: even simple topics there appear to be written by mathematicians for mathematicians.
Mozilla SVG Resources – A bit sparse, but a link to a good Tetris clone, and a couple other tidbits.
Zvon SVG Reference – Element Path – Path tag examples, a few other bits.
W3C: Paths – SVG 1.1 – W3C’s official descriptions of the path element. About as readable as anything W3C publishes, but it may still be useful.
Mozilla SVG Project – Official page of the team behind FireFox’s SVG implementation.
170, for the week of 4/30/2006.
QuickTime Pro wouldn’t have pissed me off if they hadn’t taken features out of the player to make a paid version. Add some good stuff, charge me extra for it and keep the basics free — fine — but cripple the software and charge me extortion money, and I’m not inclined to pay. I’ve been using Macintosh computers for a long time; I remember when it was exciting that a clip could actually maintain synch! I remember QuickTime 1, QuickTime 2, and the Waterloo that was QuickTime 3. Release three was when Apple gave us some nice codecs and tried to dance around the fact that they’d started charging for cut, copy and paste. It was also when they began nagging us to upgrade to Pro, but that, fortunately, has taken a more subdued tone lately.
Never mind that you can’t cut, copy and paste anymore.
So what are our options? Let’s say, theoretically, that you’re working on an animation for a local science museum. Theoretically, they’re going to be running a QuickTime movie to a video projector from within a PowerPoint presentation. Imagine that it’s about Ben Franklin, and it’s going to be fantastic. This is all theoretical, mind you. Now lets imagine that, because it’s going to a video projector, you’re working at above DV resolution. You nursed Premier along for far too long, and when Apple did a trade-over promotion with Final Cut DV you jumped at it. Here’s the problem: Any editing, even splicing clips together or adding a sound track, will cause Final Cut Express (another creatively crippled program) to first scale down to DV resolution (720×480) and then scale back up when you export — resulting in a noticeable loss of image quality, especially on the kite strings. (Don’t forget how theoretical this all is.) All you really need is the 21st century equivalent of a Steinbeck, but QuickTime paywalled clip splicing in 1998.
The solution is to go back before 1998. QuickTime 2.5 was the final pre-3.0 release and, being freeware, installers can still be found all over the internet. Download a QuickTime 2.5 installer, choose Custom Install, and install only the MoviePlayer application. At the risk of talking out of my ass, at 164k, the MoviePlayer application seems to be little more than a pass-through for features wired into QuickTime, which means that MoviePlayer can now do more than it could when it came out. For instance, it can play .dv clips, or .mov clips compressed with the DV codec, even though digital camcorder support wasn’t added to QuickTime until 3.0.
MoviePlayer can’t do everything though. H.264 (one of what appear to be three different implementations of MPEG-4 video currently in QuickTime) runs only under Mac OS-X, and opening one of its clips in MoviePlayer will return an error — thought, impressively, not a crash. “Present Movie” will crash Classic however; don’t use it. As a Classic application, MoviePlayer is limited to QuickTime Classic’s codecs: Animation, BMP, Cinepak, Component Video, DV NTSC, DV PAL, DVC Pro PAL, Graphics, H.261, H.263, Intel Indeo Video 5, Motion JPEG-A, Motion JPEG-B, MPEG-4 Video, none, Photo – JPEG, Planar RGB, PNG, Sorenson Video, Sorenson Video 3, TGA, TIFF, and Video.
MoviePlayer has the old-fashioned design philosophy of a product without a marketing strategy. It’s remarkably intuitive by today’s standards. Drag on the timeline with the shift key to select part or all of a clip; a black bar appears to indicate how much you’ve selected. You can cut, copy, paste, delete, or drag and drop to your heart’s content. (Large clips sometimes return low memory errors with cut, copy and paste — dragging and dropping seems to avoid this problem entirely.) “Extract Tracks…”, in the Edit menu, creates a new clip with either the audio or video track. Tracks may be deleted individually, or temporarily turned off and on in the Edit menu as well. Choosing “Get Info” under the Movie menu and selecting “Time” from the “Files” popup menu will allow you to view timecodes.
To get back to that theoretical Ben Franklin animation, pretend that you have spliced together a final cut of the animation and need to replace the scratch track of the live actor’s lines with a sound effects track mixed in Audacity or Final Cut Express. Open the sound clip you’ve exported from either program, select it all and copy it. Go back to the animation clip, choose “Delete Tracks…”, delete the current sound track, and click on the first frame of the clip. Hold down option and go up to the Edit menu. The “Paste” menu item has become “Add,” which will allow you to paste the sound track under the video. Selecting “Paste” without holding down the option key will perform the default insert operation, moving all the video out of the way and inserting black video for the length of the audio clip. It’s weird, but it makes a kind of dumb sense.
We have successfully edited a QuickTime clip, and we have two options with which to save it.
The File menu’s familiar “Save As…” includes two choices of its own. “Save normally (allowing dependancies)” will display a much smaller file size than “Make movie self-contained.” Chances are the latter is your best bet though. “Make movie self-contained” will copy all of the track data you’ve added to the clip into one file, rather than looking up all of the individual files you spliced together to make the clip. When you select “Make movie self-contained” a new option will ungrey: “Playable on non-Apple computers.” Select this. QuickTime used to default to saving movie data into a “MooV” resource alongside the data fork, rather than into the data fork itself; non-Apple systems never used the split resource/data fork file structure, and see only an empty or corrupt movie file. Use the “Playable on non-Apple computers” option to avoid this problem. The advantage of “Save As…” with “Make movie self-contained” and “Playable on non-Apple computers” is that the resultant movie will be exactly the data that you fed into it. Nothing is recompressed. There is no digital generation loss (and yes, there is such a thing).
What if you need to recompress the movie though? Suppose you need a 320×240 version compressed for the web. What if the computer playing the animation has too slow a hard drive to keep up with the Photo-JPEG codec at maximum quality? Beneath “Save As…” is an “Export…” option. This brings up the standard QuickTime export dialogue, from which you can export to non-QuickTime formats, as well as change the frame size, frame rate, sound and video codecs, and streaming optimizations.
As usual, I’ve gone on for far too long with a very simple idea, and one week’s Space Toast Page has become another’s. If you can run Classic, get MoviePlayer. It’s a pawn shop Swiss army knife with a rusty corkscrew and the initials P.B.R. carved into the handle, but it still basically works. If you want a Big Message, which I’m sure you don’t, onward is not always upward, and Neil Young can kick it out better in nine days than John Melencamp could in his entire wasted career. Thank you for reading.
167, for the week of 3/5/2006.
“Copley Square at Night” 1415 x 2559 pixels. 890KB jpeg.
The picture above was stitched together from 108 smaller images using Hugin, a set of open source panorama creation tools. Each slice was captured to tape on a consumer digital camcorder by slowly moving the camera back and forth across the scene from top to bottom at full optical zoom. Once imported and converted to a series of tiffs, the autopano-sift module was run to automatically match neighboring images. Matching points were input by hand in places where the software could not do so. The combined image was exported at full resolution with the edge-smoothing “enblend” module enabled. Cropping and sky completion were performed in Photoshop, and the image shrunk by 50% to eliminate jaggies left over from the camera’s original compression.
166, for the week of 2/26/2006.
Here is a funny request:
I'm launching my new Feudalism inspired game next week, and I need a TON of english
sounding region names. Like Woodstown, or Clapshire.
I can TRY to think of them all myself (I'll need anywhere from 45-50), but the
prospect baffles my widdle mind. SO if you have time and inspiration, and feel like
inventing 4-5 of them FOR me, I'd really appreciate it.
Thanks (in advance)
165, for the week of 2/19/2006.
Literally three steps in, I’m defeated by a low gate. I’m looking down at it. I could step over it. Still I’m trapped.
I have chosen to begin this essay with a digression.
You know those programs that change the screen resolution when they go to full-screen, and then tell the other applications that they’ve done it? It’s a kind of a slapdash Mac port thing. You quit, and every window on the screen has been squished down to an absurdly wee size and moved to the top left corner of the screen. Myst V is like that.
Ultimately, that’s not the point of this essay, though.
As with Myst [I], the exploded box of which hangs on my wall for inspiration and which I can still play under Classic, the default navigation system of Myst V becomes bothersome after a few minutes. You’re rarely quite looking where you want to be, and yet with the Obsidian/Burn:Cycle-style smoothly eased tracking shots between nodes replacing Myst’s hard cuts and simple transitions, you often find yourself looking at the interesting object during movement, only to have your camera jerked away from it as the move completes. Nodes that would appear to give access to nearby areas are often a few feet from the ones that actually do. Myst V, of course, adds two additional movement styles, a free movement mode that doesn’t appear to support game pads, and a “Classic Plus” which slaves the view rotation to the mouse cursor — something not to be attempted without a truly boss frame rate and/or a love of vertigo.
Still, we haven’t reached our ultimate point.
The engine underlying Myst V is unique to the in-storyline Myst franchise. Instead of prerendered stills (Myst, Riven) or prerendered VR panoramas (Myst III, Myst IV), the game is rendered in realtime 3D. The appeal of this method for the developers is obvious. Rather than setting up shots, rendering, tweaking, rerendering, overlaying animations, and then having to move to a wholly separate software system to construct the game play, development goes straight from modeling to game engine in one step, assisted by a glut of available off the shelf software. Besides that, it just feels more modern — an unremarked upon motivation among middle-aged tech developers like the Miller brothers.
The trouble is, it’s not better. Compare the following screen shots:
Even with the best video card, which you don’t have, and all the light baking and optimization tricks in the book, the graphical quality of a frame rendered in one 30th of a second is never going to achieve the richness of a frame rendered over half an hour. The underlying models and textures must be smaller. The lighting system must be simpler. Even with a compressed color palette and knife-sharp shadows (not entirely undesirable for direct sunlight), not to mention eight years between them, the Riven screenshot is more realistic than that of Myst V. The objects are more complex and more numerous, the textures are high enough quality to be invisible, and everything that should cast a shadow does.
Of course, the quality of a still image isn’t the end of realism, which is where we uncover one of the most compelling reasons for the move to realtime 3D: Myst V moves. Look at the water in the game’s reversed wood between the worlds starting point, and even on low texture quality you’ll see ripples. Moving ripples. No more strange, frozen glass oceans. Stand still when you arrive on the beach. The clouds move slowly through the sky. The waves roll in and fall away. Birds flit through the sky (though most seem to be part of the static landscape). The sense of immersion is heightened, until, of course, you start wishing your video card could smooth those jaggies without the frame rate tanking, you notice that the smoothness of objects’ faces becomes angular at their edges, and you’re just plain stopped while floating along like Professor Xavier by a tumble of small, ordinarily fun to climb rocks.
It’s still not our point, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s best to make an insurmountable obstacle insurmountable. Personally, I can also climb a ladder with one hand, wade, and swim — not that it matters.
We do in fact have a point, and we’re getting dangerously close to it.
Myst V, while perhaps as good a puzzle game as its predecessors, has abandoned its roots. This, in itself, would not be a bad thing if the result were actually worth the change.
Let’s review what Myst V has gained:
- Unlimited panning. Can also be achieved in prerendered graphics using VR panoramas, as with Obsidian, Myst III, Myst IV.
- Animated tracking shots between nodes. Unnecessary. Our brains understand a “cut” — it’s that blink we do every time we look from one object to another. The novelty wears off quickly, as game play is slowed by it.
- Free movement. Draws attention to the character’s limitations. Movement is still on a rail, we’re simply allowed to deviate slightly from it. Not essential to this genre.
- Dynamic lighting effects. Underutilized. Aside from the hard shadows cast by moving objects, most of Myst V’s lighting appears to be painted on.
- Hardware acceleration. Modern video cards can do a lot.
Now let’s review what Myst V has lost:
- Prerendered graphics. Visually superior to realtime 3D graphics in richness and complexity.
- Video. Those motion-captured 3D people with actors’ faces look pretty creepy, and the cloth keeps intersecting the legs.
Myst V is the last Myst game, but it need not be the death knell of the genre. There is room to move forward with the graphical adventure, while learning from the mistakes of Myst V. Realtime 3D graphics simply aren’t good enough. Is there a better way? I would suggest that there is.
First, though, review this QuickTime VR panorama of a node in Myst V. The panning doesn’t quite feel right. I suspect that there are two reasons for this, one trivial and the other quite complex.
Regarding the simpler problem, real life lenses are rarely perfectly round. They tend to flatten in the middle, creating lower distortion near the center of the image and higher distortion toward the edges. We’ve come to expect this. VR panoramas, which typically distort and display a portion of a single 360 degree image, are, I suspect, correcting for an idealized lens. Distortion is lowest at the center and increases toward the edges at a rate that is mathematically “right,” but less complex than that of a typical lens. If I’m right, this should be easy enough to overcome by tweaking the lens correction algorithms.
The second problem is more complex, and it has to do with the way cameras are actually manipulated. Photographing panoramas requires the purchase or construction of a custom camera mount which places the lens directly in the center of rotation. This is unusual. Usually, the camera is mounted at its base, placing the lens above and in front of its center of rotation. Panning thus introduces a small movement to the camera’s view position in addition to its orientation. Your eyes are likewise mounted above and in front of their center of rotation. The effect is most noticeable when objects are close-up. Close one eye and hold a pen up in front of you. Turn your head left and right. You can see different things behind the pen based on where your head is turned. You expect to. It’s part of your sense of depth, and it’s something that VR panoramas completely fail to reproduce.
Here we have arrived at our point.
I propose that a slightly novel game engine can overcome the limitations of both VR panoramas and realtime 3D in the graphical adventure genre. We can regain the detail of prerendered scenery and filmed actors without sacrificing the ability to animate portions or all of a given scene. If we accept the primacy of the node to the genre, discarding arguably unnecessary tracking shot transitions and “free” movement modes, we can consider a new style of node construction I unceremoniously dub the Dented Ball.
The Dented Ball is a real ball, or rather a very close approximation made up of several hundred triangles. Inside it lies a virtual camera, slightly above and forward of center. On the inside of the ball is mapped a high resolution image of a prerendered scene. Looking outward, the virtual camera records a portion of the scene, corrects for lens effects, and sends the resultant view to the player. This ball is our basic game node.
The scenery images, not to mention the tiny amount of data needed to construct this particular ball’s geometry, are loaded from the game DVD while the player is at a nearby node. Priority is given to the nodes directly connected to the previously occupied node, with priority further given to those portions of the landscape that the player would see first upon stepping into a given node from the previous. Nodes far behind are discarded, and reloaded only when the player nears them again. The goal is to minimize or eliminate waiting time between nodes.
Animation such as waves, birds, and even people may be added to the scene by mapping movie clips, rather than still images, to a portion or all of the inside of the Dented Ball. Modern video compression algorithms nearly half the amount of data that must be pulled off the game DVD to equal the image quality of a standard movie DVD, and modern computer DVD drives are capable of reading data much faster than is necessary to play movies compressed the old fashioned way. By feeding movie clips into the priority system above, waiting time between nodes can still be kept to a minimum. In addition, a standardized set of tools for fading, overlaying and cutting between still images should be integrated to allow for such simple effects as lightning flashes and the slow dimming of the sun as it goes behind a cloud, without requiring a large and unwieldy video clip.
In an ideal scene, there are no objects near the camera. (This is of course unlikely.) The edges of the ball on which the scene is painted are too far away from the viewer for the slight position offset of the camera to be noticeable. This would be a scene of the player floating high in the air — on the whole not very useful.
Nearby objects are the reason we call this the Dented Ball. Imagine that the player is standing near the corner of a wall. Panning right, more of the right side of the wall becomes visible, panning left, the opposite. In order to simulate this effect, the ball itself has been dented inward, toward the camera, so that its edge matches up with the wall’s corner in the prerendered scene. From the outside, the ball would appear to have a large dent in it, hence our name for it. Because the camera offset is most noticeable when objects are close, gradually falling off to imperceptibility as objects move farther away, the actual dent of a perfectly right-angled wall in the ball would not have straight edges, but would in fact taper out at an increasingly gentle angle before plunging smoothly back into the outside surface of the ball.
Despite our name though, dents aren’t the only method we’ll need to produce proper foreground/background separation while panning. (We should just go ahead and call this separation “parallax effects.”) Reference the pen with one eye closed again. It, like a blade of grass, glasses on a nearby table, and any number of other real world objects exhibit a complete separation from their background. In such cases we’ll need to slice the ball into concentric layers, like an onion, and map a series of cutout portions of the scene onto each. There will be times when we’ll need to combine slices with dents. Depth maps, grayscale images representing simply how far any point in a given image is from the camera, can be rendered from any 3D animation package, and can be used to assist an automated workflow for making these dent and layering decisions.
The Dented Ball allows us to create a richer visual experience, both static and in motion, than any previously conceived graphic adventure engine. By repurposing modern video cards to draw concentric near-3D nodes, we find a new way to leverage the technologies users and game developers already possess. We unify the rich legacy of graphic adventure games like Myst V while discarding our detrimental modern preoccupations. In doing so, we glimpse a third path though the complexities of contemporary game design and begin once again simply to explore.
Issue 160, for the week of 12/4/2005.
Boring Preface: There’s this idea of “junk chic” floating around that I’m vaguely attracted to. Most of it, however, seems to be concerned with buying old crap at antiques stores and putting a new coat of paint on it. What I’m interested in is more finding uses for the reasonably well-made things we’re expected to throw away. Somehow I’m not sure if making things yourself will ever come back into the mainstream; there’s just too much money to be made selling us everything. Maybe that’s the point. Free software, free instructions, free knowledge… There’s a growing, silent acknowledgment that there needs to be a non-commercial sphere to life, distinct from religion and opposition, and this nebulous idea of “family” our politicians keep pounding us with. Not everything is about money. The irony is that the people who sent me the raw material for this project did so in the hope of making money from me. And they can screw.
Theory: By affixing strips of junk mail to an existing set of venetian blinds, one can drastically reduce the amount of light allowed through without losing the ability to raise and lower the blinds.
Get: In my case, about three months’ worth of junk mail, but your mileage will vary. Your trusty roll of duct tape (color to suit). Two rolls of scotch tape. A ruler. A spool of uninsulated wire. A pair of needle-nosed pliers. A thumbtack. Space to work.
Step i: Measure the width of your window. The real width. Don’t leave a full inch on either side like those goddamn blinds we’re covering over. Leave maybe a couple of millimeters. (Dark! We must have dark!)
Step ii: Tape off on your workspace a piece of real estate (in my case, floor) measuring the same width as your window and six inches tall. (Or three floorboards, if they’re each two inches tall.) This will serve as a template for building the sections.
Step iii: Next we’ll need to figure out where to affix the hangers that will connect the junk mail blinds to the existing ones. We will eventually be bending wire into a set of three connector pieces, one for each of the three strings running down through the original blinds. For now, grab your ruler and measure the distance between the edge of the window and the nearest of these strings. On your template, go in the measured distance from either side and make tape marks. Also, find the center of the template and mark it with tape as well. I think we’re ready to start building a section.
Step 1: Find a nice piece of junk mail (you’ll start talking like this) — maybe a credit card letter with your name misspelled, or a useless “newsletter” from your predatory health insurance company. Lane Bryant sure likes sending me fliers now that they’ve decided I’m female. Whatever you have handy.
Step 4: Fold the top of your sheet of junk mail down so that it fits within your six-inch template. Chances are it doesn’t have another crease already made at the six inch mark, so use your ruler to make the fold yourself.
Step 5: Tape that bad boy down.
Annoying Tip: Kinda thin? Not sure it’s going to block enough light? I’m sure you’ve got a lot of little pieces of junk mail floating around. Why not tape one of them inside the fold before taping it down? Envelopes work great for this — they’re two-ply. You can even stick smaller annoying things like fake credit cards inside the envelopes before taping them down.
Step 13: Flip the section over. You’ll notice that all the taping has been done on the reverse, keeping it out of sight. Just because we’re making things out of junk mail doesn’t mean we can’t pay attention to aesthetics.
Step 14: Grab your duct tape. We’ll be using the duct tape to add strength where the new blinds connect to the old ones. It’ll also impose some kind of order on the appearance of the blinds, which is probably just as well.
Step 20: Grab your thumbtack. On each of the strips of duct tape, make two holes about a quarter of an inch apart and one inch from the top of the section. I recommend cutting out a template, to save you from having to measure the position of the holes every time. Make sure the holes go all the way through, and are wide enough to get a piece of wire through. Don’t stab yourself.
Step 29: Repeat step 28 for the other two pieces of wire.
Step 37: Repeat all numbered steps until the blinds are complete.
Criticisms: I’ve noticed two things, since completing the blinds, which deserve attention. First, the mechanism in the blinds, not being designed to hold this much weight, has begun to squeak a bit. A dab of electric shaver oil or graphite would probably take care of the problem, but I haven’t bothered to try yet. The second concern is a tendency I’ve noticed for the lowermost sections to catch momentarily while nearing the bottom. Why this should be an issue near the bottom but not the top I still don’t know. I’ve found that the problem can be reduced by bending the wire hangers outward on the bottom-most sections, so that the blind section sits farther out from the original slats.
Final Thoughts: It took me about twenty minutes to do a section, once I got all of the experimenting out of the way. I did one or two sections a night, which made for some relaxing non-computer work before bed. (It was kinda nice.) I’m still not totally satisfied with the hanging scheme (bent wire) but I haven’t come up with anything better or easier. All things considered, I’m pretty happy.
Issue 159, for the week of
Toast Note: Failing to produce a real Space Toast Page tonight, I got playing with junk mail a little after midnight (it’s now close to 3AM). The medium represents an inexhaustible resource, and I’ve been endeavoring to come up with uses for it lately. The following pieces are assembled out of what junk mail I’ve accumulated since the blinds project. (More on that later.)
The Marboxian. It had to be done.
Finally, Berkley Breathed’s Opus, who in my world needs neither introduction nor invitation.
Issue 158, for the week of
Toast Note: Presenting “Human Resources” comic strips 26-41. (Click here for Strips 1-11, in issue 145. Click here for Strips 12-25, in issue 149.) Medium: Blue ballpoint pen (museum issue) and red magic marker (museum issue) on recycled note pad paper (museum issue), improvised straight edges (museum/personal issue). Dedicated once again to the wage slaves of America: “vagrants amidst the plenty.“
[Fade in on the intercom. ]
THE PRINCIPLE’S VOICE: …should not have happened. And finally, on this class day, our congratulations go out to Mr. Goomba’s automotive class, who successfully took apart Financial Administrator Johnson’s Ford pickup yesterday and reassembled it on the roof. The administrators then responded by car-bombing Mr. Pickford’s new Pontiac outside of his science class, in turn causing the front office to be mail-bombed by the teachers, resulting in a slew of gunshots fired into the teachers’ office, which set events in motion which resulted in the bombing of my house, to be responded to with a strong letter. Also, the chess team will be meeting after school, and Mr. Horovitz reports that the nuclear reactor in the science lab is almost operational. That is all.
[By he doors to the main entrance of the school, the lone figure of PARKS stands. He has a pack on his back, and prefferably a pith helmet. ]
ANNOUNCER: [The voice of adventure, rather stuffy, perhaps British. ] …And so our hero, Sir Walter Parks Raleigh, 11th grader and captain of the chess team, sets out on an arduous journey. He must, at all costs, find the man who raped his hamster, Fluffy, and return before third period. [Quick cut to the hamster in question. ] Fluffy is said to be recovering nicely, though he hasn’t touched his food for most of the day. [Back to PARKS. ] With this in mind, our intrepid hero leaves behind the sweet confines of civilization, and goes off into destiny.
[As he walks off down the hallway, a paper airplane flys past the back of his head. A brief montage of innovative shots, many dramatic and slow-motion, of PARKS walking follows, overscored by dramatic music. At the end, PARKS stops and looks up. A shot, similar or identical to one of the first shots follows, revealing that he has travelled all of ten feet. ]
ANNOUNCER: Our hero realizes that this journey may become even more arduous than he at first assumed, and heads off for snacks. [PARKS turns and goes into the cafeteria. ]
[At the vending machines in the cafeteria. Parks enters, trying to crumple a bill into machine-usable condition. Three or four students appear from between or behind the machines, or off-camera, and waylay him. Some have spears and shorts, others guns, dark shades, and white tee-shirts. They carry him offscreen. The announcer’s voice continues underneath. ]
ANNOUNCER: He is then waylaid by giant Pigmies and 1950’s Cuban Communist revolutionaries.
[PARKS is dragged by a Cuban revolutionary and a pygmy, fighting unsuccessfully, deeper into the cafeteria. He stops, and his eyes bug out. ]
[Reversal to the Cuban Communist revolutionary leader in a heavy khaki shirt and dark shades sitting, fingers crossed, at a folding table, flanked by his men. His men are in similar dress, and are all quite a lot bigger than he. ]
LEADER: So, we meet again. [Evil laugh. His men catch on after he is done that they should have been evil-laughing too and do so, but quickly stop. ]
[Back to PARKS, etc. ]
PARKS: But… but you’re the hall monitors-! What is this-? Why are you doing this-?! Where did these pygmies come from?!?
[Several characters, in turn, in close-up say: “Pygmies?” The pygmies then look at each other, scream, and run away. ]
ANNOUNCER: The pygmies are terrified of themselves, scream, and run away.
LEADER: Now then, getting down to business… You have been charged with trespassing on the lands of the independant state of Ezbulistan, founded at around 8:30 this morning, and extending from approximately over there, to about where ever else we want it. These charges being true, you must be executed. But first, [Addressing the seated spectators. ] any old business? No? Any new business? Very well. Comments from the public?
AN OLD MAN: Yes, I’d like a sewage system.
[Random requests from all over the school, such as… ]
MAN WITH A TOWEL AND SHOWER CAP STANDING OUTSIDE THE BOYS’ BATHROOM: I want a sauna.
JOCK STUFFING A FRESHMAN INTO A LOCKER: I want bigger lockers.
GIRL: I want a man.
BOY: I want a man.
TWO INTERPRETIVE DANCERS: We want… love! [At which point they are trampled by the giant pygmies in their desperate attempt to flee. ]
BOY: I want powdered wigs to come back.
BOY DRESSED IN A GIRLS’ CHEERLEADING OUTFIT: [Becoming suddenly self-conscious. ] …no, I’m fine.
LEADER: Very well, we shall begin the trial. Do I think you’re guilty?
LEADER: Then you are. Guilty as charged!
[All the previous “request” people gasp in sequence, including the interpretive dancers who the pygmies then trample again, coming the other way. ]
LEADER: [Laughs his evil laugh. ]
[The head of the Ezbulistan Department of Tourism then interrupts. He is wearing a sport coat and carries a hand microphone. He has his own light. He seems out of breath throughout, as if trying to keep up with the camera. In every cut, he has to get back into the shot. Nevertheless, he tries to put the best spin on things. ]
TOURISM: But, before we head over to the execution, I wonder if we might – take a moment to examine the many natural and artifical wonders – that greet you on a wonderous Ezbulistan vacation…
[A “Wet Floor” sign, by a puddle of water. TOURISM enters quickly. ]
TOURISM: See – the many rivers and streams of Ezbulistan’s national waterways.
[By a potted plant. ]
TOURISM: – Thrill to our National Forest.
[Two people play at a pingpong table. ]
TOURISM: For the sports enthusiast, Ezbulistan features a multitude of recreational outlets – and sporting clubs.
[A single saxophonist butchers a few notes to a radio playing softly behind him. ]
TOURISM: Enjoy an evening with our national band.
[A shot that shows most of the cafeteria. ]
TOURISM: [walking ] Yes, Ezbulistan; truly a vacational treasure. [Some smiling people join him from behind. ] And now, back to the exciting execution of the first foreigner to enter our country.
[Low angle shot. Inside the auxilary gym. A bit of wind ruffles PARKS’s hair, accompanied by a more substantial sound effect. He stands proudly, arms tied behind his back, awaiting the inevitable. Shot widens to show his executioners – armed revolutionaries, ceremonially preparing to push him off the precipice. Wider shot for a moment, revealing that the drop off the bleachers is none-too-far, and cushioned at the bottom. ]
EZBULISTANIAN 1: You are charged with crimes against things.
EZBULISTANIAN 2: Yeah.
PARKS: So be it.
[The desk with the LEADER and high officials of Ezbulistan. ]
Announcer: Meanwhile, a coup d’etat is underway in the state of Ezbulistan.
[A rubber chicken flops onto the desk before the LEADER and his high officials. They regard it with curiousity. Suddenly, it explodes (digitally). Afterward, the table is empty, the pygmies run on, cheering, and assume power by sitting down. ]
[Back to the execution. ]
EZBULISTANIAN 1: Have you any last words?
[PARKS looks on nobly, and then looks startled, camera fast zooming-in on his face. ]
[Fast zoom on a lone, evil figure in the corner. The EVIL MAN chuckles. ]
PARKS: Wait! [But he is pushed off. The drop takes an excessive amount of time, the sound track, in fact, seeming to be paused while the men watch him fall. And they watch him. And they watch him. Just at the last possible funny moment, we hear him hit the mat (far) below. ]
[A grainy, slow digital zoom on the rodent. A new, stuffy, but tension-filled announcer quickly voices-over. ]
ANNOUNCER 2: This is the story of one rodent’s courageous battle against the confining confines of society. Of what one hamster can be forced to do when no-one else is in its corner. A story beyond boundaries! A story of high drama! A story of sin and more sin, of love/hate/joy/lust/perversity, and above all, a devout lack of pygmies.
[An on-the-floor, wide angle shot looking up, somewhere in the hallway. The EVIL MAN enters, and looks down at a spot on the floor just in front of the camera. ]
EVIL MAN: [sneering ] So… it’s you. Back again, are you..? What’s that behind you? [A standard revolver rises into the shot, just in front of the camera. ] Oh I see… You haven’t got the guts, though. You… a simple hamster, you haven’t got the guts!
[The gun fires. EVIL MAN falls out of the shot, dead. The gun looks suddenly to the right. ]
SCIENCE TEACHER’S VOICE: No no, not yet!!!
[A nuclear blast rips across the frame from right. Cut, briefly, to a shot of a nuclear mushroom cloud. ]
[Somewhere in the school. ]
TOURISM: And so ends – our exciting story. Brought to you by the Ezbulistan Department of Tourism. Who would like to remind old friends and new that –
[A rubber chicken flops onto the floor in front of him. He looks at it. Quick cut to an exterior explosion shot, such as the federal building in the X-Files movie. ]
[PARKS lying motionless, face down on the mat. He remains there, motionless, all through the excesively long credits. Finally, after the last title has scrolled off the screen, he raises a hand. ]
PARKS: [muffled ] I’m fine.
Issue 149, for the week of
Toast Note: Presenting “Human Resources” comic strips 12-25. (Click here for Strips 1-11, in issue 145.) Medium: Blue ballpoint pen (museum issue) and red magic marker (museum issue) on recycled note pad paper (museum issue), improvised straight edges (museum/personal issue). Dedicated to the wage slaves of America, and the founder of the feast, Curious George.
Issue 147, for the week of
From the Boston Metro Weekend Edition, Oct. 22-24, 2004, page 29:
“NEW PAD ON NEWBURY”
WHEN CHRISTINA Capone moved from her digs in New York she had a bit of anxiety about abandoning the hustle and bustle of “the city.” She was ready to head back to her hometown of Boston, but didn’t want to trade off on her urban lifestyle. “I was nervous when I looked at places in Beacon Hill because there was nobody on the streets,” said Capone, 26, who works in the media department at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. The solution — a modern, two-bedroom, door-man building on Newbury Street. Needless to say, she hasn’t missed a beat. “The constant motion is so important to me,” said Capone, while gazing down from her third-floor apartment at the consistent flow of shoppers passing Niketown and the oh-so-cosmopolitan diners heading into Armani Cafe. The floor-to-ceiling windows in her spacious abode help to absorb the energy of the city’s most fashionable street. The glass coffee table, khaki-colored couch peppered with primary-colored pillows and modern art on the walls pulsate urban sophistication. “The inside reflects the outside and the energy of the city,” she said. Although a posh place on Newbury can be a bit of a drain on your wallet, the convenience makes up for all the cash you’d be dumping into a car, said Capone. “My mentality is that there is no reason to drive. Everything should be in walking distance,” said Capone. Whether it’s a fresh salad from Scuzzi a block away, or a pasta dish from Piattini Wine Cafe across the street, everything is right at your fingertips. And, although Capone admits she does have a weakness for the trendiest purses at Luna, which she stores nicely in her walk-in closet, the rest of the swanky shops don’t tempt her. “I’m lucky that I don’t have a shopping problem,” said Capone.
FACTS: Name: Christina Capone – Age: 26 – Occupation: Media relations at Hill, Holiday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. – Rent/Own: Rent – Size: Two-bedroom – Where: Newbury Street
– CHRISTINA WALLACE
Sent to the Boston Metro October 24, 2004:
Thank you for this weekend’s Home section profile of Christina Capone’s “New Pad on Newbury.” Might I, however, submit a somewhat different profile?
After five months of post-college job seeking, animator Matthew Rasmussen, 24, settled into an hourly-wage position selling tickets at a local museum. He now rents (not owns) a room in a four bedroom Inman Square apartment, which features a living room, a porch with peeling paint, and a mostly-functional kitchen. Rasmussen’s bedroom is tastefully appointed with a desk of his own construction, an oak futon, and a prefab bookshelf. A geranium by the window, perched jauntily atop a milkcrate, quietly pulsates urban sophistication when it needs to be watered.
Reader Lindsay LeClair adds:
Lindsay B. LeClair lives in an apartment with floors so uneven that even the
shelves are falling over, but it’s otherwise cozy and sunny, with a kitchen to
beat the band. She is cohabiting with her boyfriend of nearly five years,
which is terribly convenient — she would not be able to afford living in
Boston if she didn’t share a bedroom. It’s too bad, really, that this
convenient apartment is nowhere near a grocery store. The young couple was
really counting on Lindsay’s beater car to make up for that. All jokes aside,
the apartment is beautiful, convenient to the T barring, if convenience
includes strolling through an industrial, lifeless bioengineering square where
you’re pretty sure they’re actually TRYING to make the undead… or at least
that’s what it smells like. In spite of all that, Lindsay is very happy in
their new apartment.
Issue 145, for the week of
Toast Note: Presenting “Human Resources” comic strips 1-11. Medium: Blue ballpoint pen (museum issue) and red magic marker (museum issue) on 4.25″x7″ recycled note pad paper (museum issue), improvised straight edges (museum/personal issue), clipboard (museum issue). Dedicated to the wage slaves of America.