Older blog entries for AlanHorkan (starting at number 269)

20 Sep 2005 (updated 22 Sep 2005 at 20:32 UTC) »
Like a kind of Drug Fix

Bought some computer games this weekend including Lemmings Revolution which I had been meaning to buy for a while and used the offer three games for €15 as my excuse. Played it for a while, eventually forcing myself to stop. Lemmings Revolution takes the original Lemmings concept and wraps the levels around a Cylinder. At first I wasn't hugely impressed as it is not a radical change from the original. Maybe it was the fast repetitive hypnotic music, the challenge of a good puzzle or nostalgia for when I played the original but when I did finally stop playing it felt like a massive comedown, I was momentarily stunned. Without noticing I had been totally drawn in by the game and was left with the feeling of having been in a very stressful situation but without the usual negative feelings of anger. Talk about computer games being addictive, that was quite a hit. Very very strange. Lemmings is a phenomonal game though, a true classic.

As someone who spends a lot of time using and trying to encourage Free and Open Source software, buying computer games gave me pause for thought. Closed source proprietary software has its downsides (being forced to keep the disc in the drivet to use the game for one thing) and of course I'd prefer if most software was Open Source but I was happy enough to rationalize the purchase as entertainment, not much different from a visit to the cinema. How far could you seriously take a belief in the need for Free Software? Would you allow yourself to use a proprietary BIOS on your computer? What excuse would you make for having a mobile phone loaded full of proprietary software? Could you bring yourself to use a Cash Machine or collect cinema tickets from machines which run Microsoft Windows?

The three games I bought were: Lemmings Revolution by Pygnosis; Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Island from Xplosiv; and Galaxy of Games, a collection of 350 games from Green Street Games.
Pingus is an Open Source game similar to Lemmings which has been in development for many years. Pingus features Tux the penguin instead of Lemmings and has a few other subtle differences from the original game. No Revolution though.
Super Methane Bros is very much like Bubble Bobble. The concept and graphics are not brilliant and last time I played it the controls didn't feel quite right but it isn't half bad.
Galaxy of games was mix of all kinds of games all of which I expect are available online in various forms, and annoyingly the games inlcude advertising encouraging you to buy futher advanced versions with even more variations. I needed a third game and figured I might at least get some inspiration for improvements or additions to Gnome Games.

Recommend any good Open Source games?

Grammar tools

Wrote some stuff about stuff ... :P

Abiword: Math is hard

Martin Sevior reports the release of Abiword 2.3.6 and the developers went with my suggested release name of Math is Hard. In the Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman writes about Learned Helplessness, suggesting the way mathematics is taught students are quickly lost and unable to catch up. Once they start to fail they continue to fail because they expect to fail. You cannot build a castle on a base of sand. The point is it is socially acceptable to be bad at mathematics but being bad at things like sports is considered very odd indeed.
There is an old joke that goes "Do Americans call it math because they only know one of them?". Abiword developer Dom Lachowicz was quick to decry the horrible dumbing down of society and anti-intellectualism represented by the phrase Math is Hard. I fully agree with him but it is intended as a catchy release name and in this case it was intended as a tribute to all the work which had gone into getting Mathematics support in Abiword particularly the recent work to get it working on Mac OS and Windows in addition to the Linux. Hopefully the example of Abiword will inspire other applications to use the now very portable GtkMathView, which as a result of all the portability work might be better called simply MathView.

Maybe some future release will be called Blogging is easy or who knows what. There is certianly no shortage of ideas for anyone interested in adding a little something of their own to Abiword.

4 Sep 2005 (updated 4 Sep 2005 at 16:07 UTC) »

"We would be fools if we were not familiar with other office software,
we are intimately aware of the flaws of Abi but love it nonetheless."

The same feelings of real ownership of software is something I think most people directly invovled with free software can relate to. A small argument interuppted the usually idyllic AbiLand and chatting on IRC I got all prosiac about it. The upset this caused only goes to show how friendly and easygoing they abiword developers usually are. Developement can be frustrating at times and arguements are occasionally necessary (unfortunately some project believe everything shoudl be an arguement) but I'm confident things will be worked out and back to normal soon enough.


All KDE developers everywhere are at Akademy, their big annual conference. Many are writing about it in their journals on Planet KDE. One talk in particular grabbed my attention and that was the KDE Marketing Talk <lj-cut> by Aaron Seigo and Waldo Bastian. From the moment I saw a photo of their presentation and caught a glimpse of the words "The Name Matters" I knew I had to see this presentation and see what ideas they were trying to teach developers for KDE 4.

There is a Transcript of the marketing presentation available, it is not too long and worth reading if you have any interest in promoting Open Source or Free Software. Also available were photos, videos and the marketing presentation in KPresenter format but the transcript is really all you need see.


Without screenshots, your software doesn't exist. -- Waldo Bastien
If you see something cool, talk about it, write articles, blog about it. ... and have fun doing it. -- Waldo and Aaron respectively (not a direct quote, lightly edited).

Coincidentally today I asked the Developers of KOffice to consider setting up their own Planet News aggregation site. A Planet could help improve the marketing of Koffice. Of course I have the ulterior motive and want it to be easier to get to the information I'm interested in without reading all of without having to read all the other KDE developers. Even if only a few developers decide to do write occasionally about KOffice I think Planet Koffice is a worthwhile idea and journals can help make the Internet a lot less impersonal.

They make an interesting point in the presentation about Microsoft allowing employees to keep online journals. Microsoft got hit by a cluetrain and they understand the importance of Word of Mouth advertising. Not so sure if they understand the part about speaking with an honest human voice yet. The doctrine strenuously denies Channel9 is about marketing and perhaps it was intended to discouge formal language but informal marketing is exactly what it is and precisely the point of behind the whole exercise. The guidelines for employees writing on Channel9 make it pretty clear and they are rules which should be followed by anyone using a journal or blog for marketing purposes and in fact apply to almost all journals. Typically the rules are given scary religious or authoritarian overtones by calling them the Channel9 Doctrine but they are none the less well thought out and worth learing from.

It is probably worth writing a whole lot more about but that's all for now. (Comments...)

25 Aug 2005 (updated 5 Sep 2005 at 14:51 UTC) »

Watched America's Sweethearts and Volcano. Finally gave in and started watching Lost.
America's Sweethearts had some very clever lines and an excellent cast including the legendary Chistopher Walken, but in the end wasn't all that funny and the romance wasn't particularly interesting. The self-referential movie within a movie and cynical look at how Hollywood was amusing but I'm really very tired of this kind of self indulgent navel-gazing story about actors pretending to be actors. One of the few memorable movie within a movie stories was Living in Oblivion starring Steve Buscemi, but I think it will be a while before I enjoy another movie of this ilk. America's Sweethearts is a whole lot more interesting in last half hour when Christopher Walken starts stirring things up but it cannot compensate for the slow uninspired and largely predictable first half. Harmless enough and worth watching on television on a slow night but I wouldn't miss an episode of Lost to watch it.
Volcano is a fairly obvious and straightforward disaster movie, and Tommy Lee Jones does an adequate job with his Action Hero role but the relationships in the film particularly with his daughter seem terribly forced. Ann Heche is cute, for a crazy lady. The film doesn't waste much time setting things up and seeing Los Angeles turned into a firey hell on earth is surprisingly entertaining and definately the real star of the film although in places it is fairly obvious stock footage has been used. Disaster movies aren't exactly known for their subtlety and nuance and I think Volcano did a pretty effective job of providing what was expected.

Lost is definately the one to watch at the moment and I only recently started watching it. Thankfully the series can be watched terribly out of order and still make a lot of sense and in a rare moment of brilliance RTE is showing two episodes at a time (and with very few interruptions for advertising). It is interesting to see the premise of Survivor turned back around and made into fiction with far more reality than Reality TV. If Survivor is anything to go by the characters should already be badly sunburnt and half starved already but in return for a good story I am willing to suspend my disbelief.
Locke is by far my favourite character as he represents an ordinary man who lived a very ordinary life and was in search of adventure and becomes great because he is able to rise to the challenges presented to him. I will be interested to see if the character Hugo survives as he says in his own words "This is going to end with you and me running through the jungle screaming crying. He catches me first because I'm heavy and I get cramps." Evangeline Lilly is certainly beautiful and in great shape but it is interesting how quickly an actress can go from attractive unknown to gorgeous megastar off the back of one television show, see also Eva Longoria.
The mystery of the story makes it very interesting, the flashbacks give viewers more information but the characters are kept in the dark. Lost has been compared to Twin Peaks but hopefully Lost will survive a little better and remain interesting even after the secrets have been revealed and not get too bizarre. With season one already over I am worried if it can last. I could do without another series dragging itself out to irrelavance or ending abruptly without any kind of resolution. In the meantime I'll be watching closely.

Innovation and Patent Reform
Evil Orrin Hatch has again been doing the bidding of his paymasters under the guise of Patent Reform and Cringley has some interesting things to say about it (and links to further reading on this latest misguided attempt at patent reform.
"innovation," a term that -- at least when used in the computer and software industries -- generally means "creative theft of ideas by big companies.
Certainly patent reform is needed but the devil is in the details and the proposed changes could quite easily make things worse. Remember patents protect the profits of manufacturers not necessarily the inventors.
Why do I even care about patent reform in the USA? Well politicians have a nasty habit of using harmonisation as an excuse to change laws to the advantage of big business. You can be damned sure large American and multinational companies will want to have the same legal advantages extended to them worldwide and try incrementally claw additional benefits under the guise of harmonising with more favourable business conditions elsewhere. Also the international nature of Open Source software means that American software patents are already discouraging developers from providing solutions which might accidentally infringe on patents because even the threat of legal action is an expense most developers cannot afford.
Computer Arts: Issue 113 features a Group Test of Open Source Apps. Inkscape is nowhere to be seen but the applications reviewed were Paint.net (3/5), Blender (4/5), Jahshaka (3.5/5), Nvu (3.5/5), the GIMP (4/5).
The reviews were pretty short so I don't have much to say but I'm tempted to try Jahshaka again and do a quick review of my own. Reviewers were unhappy with the two step install process for the GIMP. Inkscape keeps it simple and bundles everything needed. Inkscape does have plans to allow Inkscape to optionally use the shared GTK but it is good to have reviews vindicate the more straight-forward approach taken by Inkscape. Ideally though having GTK installed would be less of an issue.
The GIMP presents no real competition to the power of Photoshop CS2
Pretty harsh considering the GIMP did come out on top of the reviewed applications but they did go on to say as a free alternative it was highly recommended which is a pretty backhanded compliment. I'd be interested to see how Inkscape would fair in their reviews. I guess I'd better write to them and suggest it to them (again).
Sequential Art

The painted cover artwork of Justice Issue 1 grabbed my attention immediately but I had been fooled too many times by comics with cover art completely different from the rest of the book. Opening the cover I was pleased to see the work of Alex Ross continued within. Sequential Art is a highfalutin way of saying comic books but it is entirely appropriate in the case of the fully painted work of Alex Ross. Alex Ross is the artist behind Kingdom Come and Marvels, two epic series and not only is his artwork stunny but the writing is of appropriate high quality to match.
Justice is a twelve part series featuring the Justice Leage of America (JLA) a team of all the greatest heroes from DC Comics, including characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash. The writer asks the question have we become too dependant on heroes and as a result failed to meet our own potential? The story begins with a nuclear holocaust which Superman and his fellow heroes are powerless to prevent and can only stand by and watch as all around them is destroyed. The desctruction is only a premonition, a terrible shared dream which has not yet come to pass. Eleven more issues to go, I look forward to seeing how this turns out and I think it may well be another classic.

Issue one of a comic might be of value some day or at least that is what I told myself when I bought two other new releases. In reality it is rare to make any money on comic books and you cannot have your cake and eat it too. They say you shouldn't judge a book by the cover but I bought a comic primarily because stylish cover art by Michael Turner formerly the artist for Witchblade and Fathom. (The comic in question was terribly frivolous and cheesey so I will not tell you what exactly it was but it shouldn't be too hard for a comic book geek to figure it out from what I've already told you).
On the recommendation of Rob (owner of Sub City my local comic book store) and to offset my slight embarrassment at buying the other silly comic book I picked up issue one of Winter Men. Comic books may be quintessentially American but Winter Men is a gritty story set in modern Russia. The former Soviet secret police and spies are thrown together with the modern Russian mafia and our protognist is a "man between season" not quite managing to make his way in this brave new world. The artwork doesn't do anything for me but the story is interesting enough and I plan to pick up the next few issues and see where it goes.

Searching the back of the couch for pennies

This morning I watched the first single "Do You Want To" from the second album from Franz Ferdinand which is due out in October. Improving on their debut album and making something new while keeping what people liked is a big challenge. If the first single is anything to go by I expect the new album will not be a radical departure. The album is titled You could have it so much better a warning against smug satisfaction, very appropriate for a second album. I listened to the first album hundreds of times and if the new album is even half as good I'll be happy to buy it so I'd better start scraping together those pennies.

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