Older blog entries for dto (starting at number 81)

My birthday was uneventful. Picked up some new CD's: Saint Etienne, Daft Punk, Boards of Canada, Stereolab, and finally got a copy of Brian Eno's Music for Airports.

I started myself a personal Wiki, to collect and organize all my notes, articles, essays, designs, ideas, and to-do lists. It's actually working quite well.

I've started back some work on Octal, though I still dither over whether to start including Objectove-C components. I feel that it would help speed up development as I spend a lot of time writing and debugging the kind of silly boilerplate that one needs when doing anything object-oriented in C.

Mostly, things are fine. I'm doing better in all my classes, feeling confident. I bet everyone gets off to a rough start in their first month at grad school.

The Sega Dreamcast is finally dead with the cancellation of what was to be its last game: Shenmue II. How awful. The system that was going out with a bang goes out, instead, with the sound of an old lady loosely flatulating into her Craftmatic adjustable bed.


I've adjusted to life in Lowell. I think I'm going to be quite happy here.

I get more homesick than I thought. When Ari moved to Boston and told me how she felt, I never thought I'd get the same way. Well, I do :-).

I'm setting up a Wiki to organize myself, I have been dealing with 800 little text files for too long. . . the front page can have an immediate to-do list, then I can have Projects, Investigations, etc.

I realized this is my first post since the terrorist attacks. Ouch. I got back from breakfast after the second plane had hit---I was almost in the elevator when Grant (a suite-mate who has since left school due to activation by the Armed Forces) grabbed me and brought me into the big-screen TV room to see what was happening. I was absolutely floored, watching the smoke pour out of the tops of the buildings, wondering how the people above those points were going to escape, how long it would take to put out the fire, wondering why it had happened in the first place.

Over the next few minutes, that TV room filled up with students. We were confused when we saw "something" happen to one of the towers---the live coverage of the first collapse was at a funny angle, and it didn't really look like the whole thing had fallen. They said that it looked like part of the building, or the facade, had broken.

There was no confusion about the second one: the top of the building sank into a cloud of smoke and fire, and then everyone in the room gasped as we saw the tower blow itself apart floor by floor. The cloud of smoke traveled downward spreading over the streets, like watching a nuclear explosion in reverse.

At some point everyone had taken a break, and I was the only one in the room. They rapidly cut away from Manhattan covered in smoke, to another unidentifiable scene of devastation. It was the Pentagon on fire.

You know that funny camera trick they use at certain moments in a film, where the person in the foreground seems to move toward the camera but the "depth" of the scene seems to grow, so that the background is moving away at the same time? It's often used to give the effect of reality distorting, disintegrating, twisting into something malevolent, like the scene in the movie Poltergeist when the woman is trying to run down a hall that seems to get longer the more she runs.

That was what it seemed like. Nobody knew how far it would go, how many crashes there would be, what awful disaster was going to happen next.

Several times over the last few years I'd stayed with a friend just 2 blocks away from the World Trade Center, and shopped in that mall underneath the complex. I'd been in Brooklyn in late August, when we had to cancel a show because of equipment problems, and had hours left over to shop in Manhattan or see the sights again---previous trips had almost always been rushed because of the show schedule. But we didn't take advantage of the time, and simply went home. Now I wish I had taken a tour and seen the city from the top of the towers. Ari and I were in Boston together recently, and decided to go to the observation deck of the Hancock tower---she'd done it, but I hadn't, and I wasn't in the mood last time we'd been downtown in the summer. We found out the deck was closed indefinitely.

I have to confess---before Sept. 11, I barely knew anything about the World Trade Center other than it had been bombed when I was a freshman in High School. I drove into NYC several times a year since 1999 without really recognizing specific buildings from the highway. Absurdly, I'd walked right by them and underneath them without having looked up and known they were the tallest in the city.

George Will has written something to the effect that these attacks brought to a close a remarkable decade in which Americans were not preoccupied with foreign affairs. I don't know whether to be happy or sad that the Clinton/O.J./Bobbitt/Tonya Harding/Joey Buttafuoco/Lewinsky/Hanging Chad years are over.

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

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