Older blog entries for dto (starting at number 78)

Moved in, settled in, met the folks, started classes. I'm now living in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. Things are going really well, but I can't write so much at the moment cause I've got things to do! But I can't wait to sink my teeth into this fall's academic subjects... should be cool.

More info soon

29 Aug 2001 (updated 29 Aug 2001 at 21:35 UTC) »

Current music: Basement Jaxx. What a strange summer it's been.

I'm just a few days away from moving to Lowell and becoming a teaching assistant and graduate student at University of Massachusetts---there I expect the resources and focus will enable me to complete my music-systems project OCTAL (among a billion other new things.) The next issue I plan to explore in depth is notations for GUI's, like the icon-based event representation seen in editors like Scriva.

I know this is going to be a much more productive environment than my current situation, that sort of limbo in between undergrad and grad school where you don't want to do ANYTHING cause you know you're not having another summer like it until the master's degree is finished :-) Which of course panicked one or two folks on the mailing list who thought the project was dying. I really need to notify people when I go on vacation and/or space out.

UML even has an anime/manga club--I think I will be right at home. So many resources! I walked into a library and found journals covering music systems, digital signal processing, and even a big thing all about the user interfaces of various sequencers. The systems lab is full of audio hardware, and my supervisor loves the idea that I'm working on a GNU project... I'm pretty excited about the future.

I'll be rooming with someone named Shan Jiang, however I wasn't able to get his phone or email (perhaps an international student?) so I guess I will just have to meet him when I move in.

Quick update:

  1. I'm going to live at school in the fall. I have already visited the city of Lowell and the University, and it is looking quite nice, I'll have a lot to do.
  2. I've been working a lot on Octal, stayed up three or four nights just this week to make my "ship date" of end-of-summer...
  3. I am still not finished with Jet Grind Radio! What a fun game...

I learned to read + write five more kana bringing me up to a grand total of ten. I also learned about twenty words: things like memory, pond, red, blue, family and the like. This kana thing is really fun. It's like the fun I always had learning Spanish, but with multiple foreign writing systems to boot! What a challenge.

Next on the list: an actual audio tape or CD-ROM of Japanese instruction material, as well as something to make flash cards. Plus, I need to get a working unicode editor (I've seen VIM editing kana, perhaps...?)

I just heard that voltron has got a summer internship at Ximian! Congratulations anthony on your newfound 3l334 status...

Other things on the list:

  • Skimo/Igloo website work
  • Finishing OCTAL
  • Biking
  • Hooking up the Dreamcast to the network so I can do VMU games

I picked up this Japanese Kana learning book at Borders today, and in the evening I began practicing some of the characters: I learned to read and write the five basic vowels in Hiragana.

It's pretty entertaining. When I finish this section it'll have some vocabulary writing practice to cement the learning of the characters.

I love deciphering alien scripts this way :-)

31 May 2001 (updated 31 May 2001 at 03:35 UTC) »

Some reviews of dreamcast stuff.

Hais VGA Box. This little grey device allows you to connect your Dreamcast to your stereo and a VGA Monitor. I got mine for $15, and it works like a charm.

There is a slight bit of weirdness with the monitor. It seems best to start up the DC first, and then plug the VGA cable in; the other way around seems to confuse the monitor. The manual actually recommends doing this, although the translation made it difficult to figure out. This is only a minor issue and detracts only minimally from the experience (you just have to remember what order will make the box happy.)

So how does it look? Marvelous. The colors are brighter and more saturated, and the lines and edges are much sharper. Dreamcast games look great on VGA. Overall, a great experience for single and perhaps double-player. For multiplayer games nothing will beat a large digital TV set (you can use the Hais box's S-video output on most of them.)

There are minor polygon jaggies issues---but they are much less noticeable on a VGA monitor than on the coarse TV screen, so this is actually an improvement. Textures don't seem to be affected. The only other problem I'm aware of is the lack of a monitor pass-thru, which means you have to either switch the cable manually or buy an A/B box. But for the cheap price I'm not going to complain---last I saw, the pass-thru model was much more expensive.

Note: This is the second VGA box I've bought. The first one was the cooler-looking Naki brand, but the connection was way too tight and I never got it to display any games correctly. It was tested on several monitors, none with any results. I don't know if it's a general problem with the brand or just the particular unit I bought, but I have read about others having the same problem with the Naki. At the local Electronics Boutique both were $15.

"Jet Grind Radio"

An original, addicting, but ultimately frustrating game. In a nutshell, you control a ragtag gang of Neo-Tokyo roller-skate graffiti punks who compete with other gangs for territory. The bulk of the game involves running around areas of the city and painting over rival gangs' markings with your own. Your magnetic skates will attach and slide along almost any railing, cable, air duct, or beam in the game, and there are half-pipes, wall jumps, ramps, rooftops, and various flipping and spinning moves to explore. You get extra points for neat tricks, and especially cool moves will merit an instant replay from a better angle.

The concept is unique and the play mechanics are a blast. Successfully completing a difficult sequence of moves is a real thrill, and the game is so full of things to slide along, jump from, and bounce on that you'll probably play it until 2 AM like I did the night I picked it up.

The main stages are broken up by periodic "showdowns", in which a rival skater will challenge you to reproduce his or her daring moves. Some of these are trivial, and the earlier challenges are designed to teach you how to use the controls. But some of the others are very difficult (and in more than one spot, frustrating.) After completing a showdown, the new character will join your gang, and their strengths will be usable for future missions.

The art direction, character design, music, and choreography are excellent. The diverse GG's (your team) have great character designs, each with his own signature dance style and "catchphrases", whereas the other gangs wear uniforms and participate in goofy group-dance-video cutscenes. The music selections run from scratched-up rap with old-movie vocal samples, to j-punk with bizarre lyrics, to groovy synthesizer-disco. (The game is blessedly free of "Playstation Thrash Metal," and jungle makes only a momentary appearance.) The tunes are great---if you have big speakers hooked up to your VGA-box, turn it up!

Shortly after you begin spraying up a level, the police will arrive, and then eventually a SWAT team or helicopters. You must complete the level while avoiding their bullets, gas grenades, and guided rockets.

This leads to what is essentially the game's glaring flaw: the extreme frustration level caused by the police. All you can do is run away from them. The crazy sheriff moves as fast as you do despite his not having skates, and his aim is very good. The only way to escape him is to jump on a railing or get on top of a building where he can't go---it's almost impossible to simply outrun him on open ground. Furthermore the "homing projectiles" on most levels (rockets, grenades, swat soldiers) come continously while you are outdoors, meaning that if you do not paint the larger murals early on, you won't be able to finish the level because you'll get killed if you try to paint while the helicopters are around. (The construction site is the worst example of this. Do the large murals first.)

In one of the later levels, you come to a circular arena where sliding along a horizontal beam is the only way to escape to the train tracks. If there are any paratroopers or tanks in the area (which happens about ninety seconds from the start) you will be unable to escape, since they will simply knock you off the beam every time you try to slide along it to the exit.

It could be said that this provides a surprising strategy element, since the player is forced to choose very carefully the order in which targets are painted. But you need to attempt each level several times before it's clear how to survive, i.e. it's "strategy by savegame."

Combine this with the already difficult-to-reach spray targets, the strict time limit, sensitive analog controls, and the camera problems common in third-person games, and you are in for at least a few hair-pulling sessions. If you're in a narrow spot the camera will often do a disorienting 180-degree flip, and the hundredth time this made me run straight back into the police chief, I wanted to fling my Dreamcast out the window.

Overall: get it. This is a unique and memorable game whose solid gameplay, beautiful graphics, inventive levels, perky characters, funky music, and groovy dance moves more than compensate for its brevity and difficulty.

Possible things to do with my life:

  • Continue composing music, and begin doing it for video games
  • Continue writing game reviews, and try to get a job doing same
  • Remix "warlords 2600" for dreamcast
  • Try to get a job in game design
  • Write science fiction
  • Get Master's Degree and become a professor
  • Develop the band and become mega international superstars

I realized, My God, it's been a month since I updated my advodiary!

In the interim, I...

  • Graduated from college with a B.S.C.S.
  • Bought a Sega Dreamcast, the eminently-hackable, network-connectable, and ultra-cheap console with the nice game library (Shenmue!)
  • Went to New York City, performed a great show along with Ariane, met some cool British folks, and spent $200 trying to get my car back from the people who towed it. Beware if you go to NYC---the only reason they let people pass through there is that they WILL get money out of you some way, whether it's a $10 sandwich at some Vegan place or placing a very tiny sign at the far end of a block that says exactly what time they start towing people.

This summer's plans are:

  • Play with, and hack, my Dreamcast
  • Ride my bike around
  • Learn Japanese
  • Finish Octal
Ximian Gnome 1.4

Nice release! New Doorman program, new file dialogs, new programs. Nice nice nice. Looks fantastic.

However: lots of things are broken. XMMS stopped working. Web Page view in Nautilus stopped working. RC is broken (though I hear this is temporary.) Oh well, I guess that's progress.

I got invited back to NYC for a May gig. Should be pretty cool, Ariane will come along and do vocals.

Richard Stallman is speaking at Holy Cross on Wednesday. I think I'll bring michal or voltron along to see.

I have an extra day off tomorrow because Aparna cancelled class. So I will use it as a "death march" to finish all the stuff I need to finish if I'm going to see RMS speak on Wednesday, tutor comp. theory on Thursday, visit New York City in 2 weeks, and graduate in a month :-).

69 older entries...

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!