Kids, Pointy things, and Sugar

So this Flickr photo (and comments) shows an interesting little treat. Mini Cupcake Kebobs. It’s a neat idea and the person who posted the Flickr photo admitted they in turn got the idea elsewhere, but decided to share the idea, and the photo.

The fun part is where they offered this as a treat for their son’s class picnic.

Yeah, nothing beats mixing kids, sugar, the room to run and gallop, and sharp pointy sticks.


Apples and Perls

So I upgraded to OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard, which my fingers still refuse to type correctly the first try) recently. As advertised it doesn’t look much different, with most of the updates and upgrades occurring under the hood. Sadly, I’ve run into a problem that has existed for awhile but recently bit me.

Perl is a programming language. CPAN is, among other things, a repository for Perl modules. Perl modules are discrete units of Perl code designed to do specific tasks. So if you need to do a task in Perl and a module exists to do it, install the module and you can use it to do the task. There is even a CPAN module which allows you to install other modules. Neat!

Perl has versions. The version installed with OS X 10.6 is Perl 5.10. Previous versions of OS X have had Perl 5.9, 5.8, etc. From what I can tell, starting with the bundling of Perl 5.9, the Perl installations have not been complete, or at least not complete enough for CPAN to function properly. It looks for certain files in the ‘/System/Library/Perl/<version>/darwin-thread-multi-2level/CORE/’ folder, particularly the config.h file. And if CPAN doesn’t find this, it errors out.

For now, word on the ‘net is that you should copy an existing config.h file from an older version of Perl that you might have installed, assuming you upgraded from older versions of Perl. 10.6, however, seems to have cleaned out older versions of Perl. In my case I had Time Machine, so I was able to go back and pick up a stored copy of the files in that folder. Copying ‘config.h’ into place did the trick for me.

More fun though. What if that’s not an option? Well, I had installed the iPhone development environment, which includes XCode, but apparently does not include everything that the full XCode environment includes. I’ll try that at some point as well. From what I can gather, the problem is that the Perl install without development options does not include the ‘config.h’ file by default.

Still… yay fun times!


Write makes Right

So I’ve been writing lately, and not just here. There’s other stuff… elsewhere… just go with it okay? Anyway, I’ve been blessed with several friends who are willing to read what I write and even more blessed because they seem to be willing to say when something’s not working. Overall though I’ve gotten positive feedback and general encouragement. It makes me happy.

In one of those meandering trains of thought that seems to have no start but sometimes has an abrupt and revealing ending, it occurred to me that I don’t like to read what I’ve written. Keep in mind I like to read. I like to read the same genres that I write in. So the type of material isn’t the problem. It also isn’t that I necessarily dislike my own writing style. Certainly I don’t re-read my authorial creations for the pleasure of it, even though I have been known to revisit books by others from time to time. But for some reason my own fiction fails to entertain me.

And yet I enjoy creating it. When I’m in the mood, I find myself going over the next chapter, trying different ideas on, thinking about what will be more interesting for the reader, what will flow better and what will reveal things properly. Some of the guidelines of writing will pop into my head and I’ll work at applying them, seeing how it alters what I am considering writing. Then I’ll write. Usually I start getting a feel for what went right and what went wrong and I’ll spend time trying to think of how to fix it, or if it even is fixable. I’ll start rethinking what I was trying to convey, making sure that what was delivered was what was intended. If you’ve written you’ll know what I mean.

I find that creative process appealing. I have the usual doubts, wondering if people are praising me because they like me not because they like the prose. Or how long I would go on writing if I wasn’t receiving such encouragement, and so on.

For now I’m enjoying things. I want to finish what I’ve started, I like where it’s going and I hope to entertain anyone who happens to read it along the way. I doubt I’ll ever make a single penny off of it, but that’s not what it’s about. Nor is it about making something I want to read personally. I think it’s being able to exercise an ability which others seem to appreciate. And in the end I think that makes it right.

reviews tech

Review of Mobigames’ game: Edge

So as I’ve mentioned, I’m a Macophile. I loves me some Apple goodness. I am also a gadget lover and more than anything I like the notion of digital convergence, having one device that does everything. Some day I hope to have a simple wrist watch looking device with a direct neural link that will provide communication, computing, entertainment and any other digital desires I may want. Ahhhhh…

Um… where was I… oh yeah, Mobigames’ Edge for the iPhone and iPod Touch. First off, as the name implies, it is for the iPhone and iPod Touch. If you don’t have one of these marvelous devices, words don’t do justice to the pity I feel for you. If you follow the link I provided, you will see a gameplay video with some of the in game music. You control a cube that can roll along all cube like, thumpety-thump, as well as climb small walls (taller walls can’t be climbed), cling to surfaces and you have to traverse various maze like structures to complete what is called the Edge Challenge. Along the way there are smaller colored cubes you can collect. You are judged based on how quickly you complete the level, whether you collected all of the colored cubes and how many times you died. You die by falling off of the platforms. At the end of each completion, you are awarded a grade (S, A, B, C, D, in decreasing performance). To unlock the final three levels you have to have completed the first 43 levels and collected all of the colored cubes.

To make things interesting, there are various techniques you have to learn along the way. There are ‘?’ marked tiles which when you rest on them, a ghostly image of your cube self appears and shows you how to get around the difficult part you are at. This is how some of the new techniques are introduced. Later levels assume you can figure out how to apply these techniques to get around such obstacles. In addition, your point of view does not change. You cannot rotate the screen to look at the map from a different perspective nor is there an overall map you can examine in order to figure out which way to go. There is no way to scroll the view elsewhere. You are always locked onto your cube at a specific angle and no way to control the zoom level. As a result, there are visual illusions that the map makers created to trick you and which you must use the minimap in the top left hand corner of the screen to recognize and avoid. Finally, if you are trying to complete the challenge, you have to be imaginative and look for non-obvious points to “jump off the tracks” so to speak, in order to find some of the harder to find colored cubes. Otherwise you won’t ever complete the challenge.

I finally completed the challenge this morning, finishing the final map with more than a few difficulties. The reply value is now in improving my times/grades. While that doesn’t normally hold my interest in a game (once completed, it’s done), I understand it can be a nice draw for many folks to continue to play it. That said, I don’t plan to remove it because honestly it’s still fun to play, the music is cool, and it’s easy to jump into and put down again, great for when you are standing in line or somewhere out and about waiting because you got there too early, that sort of thing.

The downsides… not much. One thing I didn’t like were the controls. You can control the movement of your cube either by using the motion sensor of the iDevice to tilt and thus roll your cube that way, you can use strokes on the device surface, or you can elect to have four virtual buttons overlayed on the screen and use those to move your cube. I found the motion sensor too unwieldy, especially if I happened to be playing at a weird angle (don’t ask). The stroke option required too much effort to make work correctly so in the end I opted for the virtual button overlay. The main drawback there is that it is an overlay on top of the screen. For the most part it wasn’t a problem but every now and again, my thumb would conceal the tile I was on, which meant I wasn’t aware of the type of tile it was. That can be bad.

The other drawback is… it is not currently available. I happened to see a recommendation for the game on a website I frequent, purchased it and have been playing it since. In that time, another company has sued Mobigames over the use of the term ‘Edge’ in the name of their game. And they wanted an obscene percentage of the royalties as compensation. There is a link on the Mobigames website. In any case as a result of the kerfuffle, they have removed the game from the iTunes App Store until such time as the issue is resolved. Which is a pity. It’s an excellent game and one I highly recommend. Just too bad the recommendation is coming so late.

gripes tech

Out with the new, In with the old

So I’ve been using the beta version of Yahoo and I have to say I’m not happy. I’ve presented my feedback and of course gotten no responses (it’s intended to be anonymous and you shouldn’t expect a response). Yet they also haven’t addressed the issues.

The single biggest gripe that I have is the usage of mouseover effects to popup frames. For example, if you visit the site you will see a ‘My Favorites’ section on the left and if you hover your mouse over one of the items in that list, even for a brief moment, a new frame will appear with a bit of content pertaining to that item. The problem is that these frames will cover up other areas of the page that I may be attempting to either read or actually interact with. This means I have to move the mouse away to a “clear” area, wait for the frame to register this and close itself, then move the mouse to the area I’m interested in, trying to either make sure I’m quick enough to not trigger the popups or that I move it through a virtual maze to avoid any of the popup sensitive areas.

The other gripe that I have centers around the main news area in the center column just below the page headers. This consists of a main content area and below that a strip of four items which one can, once again, hover over to change the main content area. In addition there are two very small navigation icons below and to the right of this strip of four items which are used to navigate to the next or previous set of four items. Hovering over one of the four items changes the content area, showing a different photo, a larger headline, a snippet of text and possibly additional related links. Again we have the same mouseover behavior that causes problems. If I hover over the fourth item to make it show up in the content area and then move my mouse to the newly displayed headline to read the full article, I have a very good chance of mousing over the third item and causing it to take up the content area before I get there. Now I have to go back and mouse over the fourth item again, then move up and then left, running the virtual maze to avoid undesired mouseovers.

It gets better though. Let’s suppose I’m just wanting to flip through the various strips to find headlines I might be curious about. So I rest my mouse over one of the tiny navigational icons and start clicking. Then a headline comes along which is three lines tall instead of two lines, containing enough space to force the lines to span an extra vertical area. Now the navigation icons have moved. I adjust my mouse, click again, and find all the headlines are back to two lines and now the navigation icons have moved once more, going up now.

The original Yahoo interface was very click based. You had to click to interact with almost everything, the one exception being the area on the right where you selected one of the content icons and that content (or a subset of it) revealed itself for you to work with. Because this content revealed itself within the same area that the content icons were located within, it felt less frustrating. I knew that was a “danger zone” and could accommodate it accordingly. It wasn’t perfect but it limited the oddities to a small portion of the screen. The new page is mouse position based. Where your mouse is determines what you see. It’s as if they’re trying to do away with clicking as much as possible. I suggest that either they readopt the old method of mouse position popups only affecting the areas where the mouse moved to so as not to interrupt other areas or to revert back to a click based environment, fetching the popups only when you actually click on the item which is currently a mouseover sensor. As for the navigation icons, you can’t avoid possibly having a headline take too much space up. The navigation icons should be a little thicker and span the vertical height that the four element strips take up and should be on each side. The strips will lose some horizontal space as a result, but the user need never move their mouse when navigating the strips and won’t accidentally click left when they meant right.

Unfortunately what I think has happened is that someone got ahold of a new toy, started revamping the web page and forgot the point of it all… making it easier for the user, not more fun for the developer.


Bird splat!

This took place some time ago and has existed on my website since then. With the redesign I really didn’t want it to get lost, so I’m posting it here for posterity.

So I’m driving to my parents’ house and alongside the road is a power line, to my 2 o’clock is a pickup truck. Many birds are sitting on said power line and they suddenly swoop off the line, as birds are wont to do, and down in front of the pickup and myself.

Figuring they have a healthy dose of self preservation, neither I nor the truck appeared to slow down. Suddenly I heard a *THUMP* from my right side and in a split second I imagined something fell off of the truck and hit my car, envisioning a trip to the body shop or worse the mechanic and cursing my luck.

Then I see in the rearview mirror the image of a bird’s corpse rolling to a stop on the pavement behind me and realize a bird must have hit me, and so hard that he broke his neck or something.

I pulled in at my parents’ house and exited the vehicle, walking to the rear to go check the passenger side quarter panel. I see a line that at first I took for a crack, and figured the bird really knocked the hell out of my car to make a crack that size, but then realized it was just a dirt line. My car hasn’t been washed in awhile. So then I step toward the front of the car, checking out the rear door and again see nothing.

Figuring the bird hadn’t done anything serious I then turn to go into the house and notice what appears to be a huge white smudge on the front passenger side door. Examining it in more detail, I was shocked and amazed, and took the pictures below.

It is for real. This is not made up. The grainy quality of the picture belies the incredible detail that is actually on my door at this moment.*

* – Okay, not ‘at this moment’. This happened a year ago or so almost and while I don’t wash my car that often, it has been washed at least once since then.