July 11, 2008

I fell in love with Twitter a few months ago. Before I did, when I heard people talking about Twitter’s downtime, I thought “no big deal, just do something else for a while until it comes back up.” Post Twitter addiction, the downtime hurt pretty badly. This week I’ve kept an eye on Twitter at work and there was something I hadn’t experienced before: a good amount of uptime. Yes, Twitter is actually improving their uptime right now. In fact, they are so confident about their uptime right now that the API limit is back up to 100 requests per hour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it at 100 before. This means that I can get new tweets in Twhirl every 3 minutes and have requests left to spare! Twitter is becoming awesome again!



July 9, 2008

I’ve never been a good blogger. I always get distracted and end up not having the time to write posts. I get distracted a lot.

I got a job about a month ago. I answer the telephone for various limo companies from all around the country (and one in Canada!). The problem is that you never know if the calls will come in slow or fast. Right now, I’ve only had a few calls, and I’m an hour and a half into my shift. Not that that’s too bad. I’d rather have slow than ridiculously busy. With the relatively large amount of downtime I have at work, I realized that I now have time to blog on a daily basis. I’ll even try to blog during the two days a week I have off!

Now on to the main topic of the post. Yesterday, Google announced Lively. It’s basically an embeddable 3D chat room. You can get a bunch of stuff to decorate the room, allow (or disallow) visitors to change your room. Right now, there’s a small, but fairly diverse number of objects you can put in your room.

Unfortunately, right now Lively is very much a beta. It only works with IE and Firefox on Windows. It also has a bad habit of not working. Every time I tried, Lively crashed Firefox 3 on my Windows Vista computer. It worked (mostly) fine in Internet Explorer. Also, there are some mild problems with object collision that can get you a bit stuck if you aren’t careful. It can also be hard to walk around the rooms. You can get anywhere by double-clicking on the spot you want to go to, but it would feel like a more natural world if it were easier to just walk around. To do that right now, you have to click and drag your avatar’s shadow. Too bad the shadow doesn’t show up all the time (again, object collision problems I think).

The main problem with Lively right now is customization. There just isn’t a whole lot of it. Individuals can’t create their own objects for their room. You are limited to a small number of room shapes. The objects you can use aren’t customizable, and, particularly bad, the rooms can’t be re-colorized or anything like that. This makes for a bunch of fairly generic rooms. Until you can get your own stuff into Lively, it will simply languish and not really be good for anything.

Hopefully Google will catch on to the problems with their new service and allow us to make things. We already have the 3D tools needed in SketchUp, all we need now is a way to upload (and script objects.)

Indiana Jones

May 22, 2008

Man, this is hard. I really want to say good things about the new Indiana Jones movie, and I will. There’s just a few things that tarnish my view of this pretty good movie.

I am writing this having just gotten back from a midnight showing of the new movie. Overall, it was a pretty fun time (except the dullness in my mind from it being midnight and all). The movie has some great throwbacks to the previous ones (including a glimpse at the Ark) and some great action. Just like we expect from Indiana Jones. It does, for the most part, feel like a brand new Indiana Jones film.

(More after the break, including SPOILERS [Ark doesn’t count as a spoiler, it’s not a plot point], so be warned!)

Read the rest of this entry »

Farewell CrunchGear

January 27, 2008

I suppose I should have blogged about this when I first saw it so now I’m behind the curve. Oh well. Better late than never.

As part of their CES coverage, CrunchGear, an offshoot blog of TechCrunch, had an interview with Penn, of the famous duo Penn and Teller. Unfortunately, Penn seems to be a very crude, insensitive, and all-around not friendly person.

In particular, he talked about Mormons and their “magic underwear.” As a Mormon, I took offense at that. I don’t make fun of you for you (lack of) beliefs, Penn. Why make fun of mine? If you are going to be a public figure, you should at least try to not be ignorant.

Then there is the whole deal with CrunchGear. First, I don’t even see why they had the interview. Maybe if they hadn’t been interviewing people who don’t have anything to do with the tech industry, they could have seen more stuff at CES. Then they decided to run the interview. That makes them equally as guilty in insulting a religion.

In response to the CrunchGear interview, several people have called to boycott the entire TechCrunch network. This charge is led particularly by Jesse Stay in an article located here. The word is primarily being spread through two Facebook applications: LDS Life, and The LDS App, which Stay recently sold to The More Good Foundation, a distinctly LDS related organization. There is even a Facebook group for the boycotting effort (though it only has 24 members).

The thing is, I don’t agree with those boycotting efforts. [From here on out is similar to the comment I made on Jesse Stay’s post.] I am boycotting CrunchGear, but I’m not going to boycott everything “Crunch.” From what I’ve seen of how the TechCrunch network appears to work, CrunchGear is something of an oddity. It doesn’t really mesh as well with all of the other Crunch sites. It also appears to be completely under its own control. TechCrunch is really pretty good. They report news, and when they inject opinion it seems to be sensitive, relevant, and well-thought-out. CrunchGear, on the other hand, seems to be pretty casual. Casual to the point of being unprofessional. I would say that they are more of a personal team blog about gadgets by people who just happen to have connections.

In the end, I’d have to say that people shouldn’t boycott TechCrunch (it’s the same kind of reason as those disclaimers about DVD commentaries) but they should boycott CrunchGear. There are better sites to get gadget news from anyway. Also, TechCrunch should watch CrunchGear a little more closely or drop them entirely, before they become a serious liability.

[You may have noticed that I didn’t link to the original CrunchGear post that sparked this whole thing. That’s because I’m boycotting them. If you want to see the original article, Google it or use the link on Stay’s article which is linked above. Also, the interview hated on Engadget, which is one reason I linked to them (plus, I like them). So Engadget gets 2 extra cookies. I mean links.]


[Immediately-after-posting edit: Whoops! Accidentally copied and pasted two of the links wrong, so I fixed them.]

This year I completed National Novel Writing Month for the 3rd year in a row, out of 4 years of participation. Writing 50,000 words of fiction over the course of a single month is a daunting and life changing experience. This post is somewhat a response to the withdrawal from writing that I, and many other NaNoWriMoers, feel immediately after the month of November ends.

This month I wrote a novel somewhat based off of my experiences so far at Brigham Young University – Idaho. Initially I was afraid that it might be too close to my actual life. I was right. At first, I found myself trying to not tell a lie. I eventually came around and decided that my character was his own person and that anything could happen.

I started out with the novel being a little mundane. It talked of the everyday life and occurrences in the dorm. Then it shifted. I found myself focusing more and more on the romantic life of the main character (probably because I don’t have one right now).

This year was a bit of a struggle for me. I didn’t get off to a good start. I got further and further behind on my word counts until Thanksgiving break. Once I got home for Thanksgiving break I found that I didn’t really have anything to do at home, so I would write 1667-3200 words a night. Unfortunately, that was not enough to catch up.

On November 25th, I found myself with 20,000 words left to write by the end of Friday night. It was then that I kicked it into high gear. For Monday and Tuesday I was making great strides. Then, on Wednesday, I had to go to the invited dress rehearsal of BYU-I’s production of Taming of the Shrew (by the way, it’s really good!). Then I had to work all night to finish a project for one of my English classes. I didn’t write anything that night.

This left me with a great burden. I had to write about 12-14,000 words between Thursday and Friday. So I did. On Thursday I wrote about 8,000 words. On Friday, I worked from a little after classes until about 10 at night to finish the final 6,000 or so, with only breaks for dinner and resting my hands.

There are several things that I need to say about my experience this year. It was at, like, 8 (or sometime like that) on Friday night that I finally knew how my book was going to end. It is a completely euphoric feeling. I had an indescribable amount of joy being able to picture the powerful final scene of my book. And I’d have to say that my final 600 words are some of the best I’ve ever written. I think a major part of that is that they are dialogue driven, when I used dialogue for probably 1-2% of the book.

This year I made a very deliberate effort to finish the story. (Thanks to Chris Baty’s No Plot, No Problem! for teaching me to finish the story.) Out of the two other years that I have successfully completed NaNoWriMo, I never actually finished the storyline of the book. I had (rough guesstimate) 20-30% of the story left on each one. I never went back and finished those stories. I didn’t want to end up with another incomplete tale, so I accelerated the plot line at the end to get the story done. I had too much “filler” at the beginning, and no room for filler at the end.

This year was the first year that I typed my novel. In the past, I have written them in spiral bound notebooks, by hand. I counted the words by hand too. (By the way, don’t count words in the middle of writing for the day. Just learn about how many pages it needs to be.) This year, I have a laptop of my own, so I would just take it over to my bed and write while sitting in bed, leaning against the wall. Writing with a laptop without Internet access is a very liberating experience. It is like writing in a notebook, so the ideas just flowed to me. I could have my music playing from the laptop while I was writing, so I didn’t need to have a separate MP3 player or anything (though I ended up mainly using the playlist of all the songs I transferred to my MP3 player).

The main advantage of a laptop though was speed. When writing by hand, I would top out at about 1000 words an hour. (Yeah, I was booking it!) It would take 1 1/2 to 2 hours of my time every night to do the novel. This year, I would max out at about 2000 words an hour, and unless I was really tired or distracted, I would at least hit the 1667 for a day in about 1 hour. Using a laptop saved me so much time, plus I don’t have to type it up later. (I’ve never typed up all of my hand written novels.) One more advantage of a laptop: I know for sure that I hit 50,000 words. In the past, I’ve counted words by hand and validated by just using a public domain book of approximately the same number of words that I though I had, but I can’t ever be sure that I actually hit the 50k mark. This year, I know for sure that I got 50,055 words. (My NaNo profile says 50,056. Word 2007 says 50,055, NaNo validator says 50,056. Whatever.)

Another lesson of novel writing I learned this past month is that word count marathons are just extremely fun. The last two days were probably two of the best days of the month. For one, I didn’t have to feel guilty about not writing my novel, because that’s just about all I was doing. For another, it becomes easy to lose yourself in the story. And that’s OK. It’s also nice to keep momentum up. It’s hard to continue writing when you skipped a day. It takes more time to get back into the flow of things.

About my final scene: I really like it. I think with a little editing, I would easily classify it as the best piece of writing I’ve ever done. I think I’ll need to make it a little shorter. I found myself putting in filler to make it reach the 600 more words I needed to win NaNoWriMo. If I could cut it in about half, it would be so much more powerful. In my final scene’s case, less is more.

I think the final thing that I want to talk about is the 2nd half of my book vs. the first. Particularly the final 20,000 words. I found it easier to write once I got back to college after Thanksgiving break. It was then that I really switched the gears of the book from being about a bunch of crazy dorm guys to being a story of courtship between my main character and a young lady. It was then that I found myself actually being interested in my story and wanting to see things work out completely well. Before that I had my main character in spots of trouble regarding women. Once I had him focus on just one girl, everything just fell into place and things worked out so great between them. Particularly the final scene.

One reason why I’m not giving more firm of numbers in the plot points is that I have set a personal moratorium on looking at the novel. I am not going to look at my novel until Friday, one week after the final day of NaNoWriMo. The only exception was to post the novel to a WordPress blog as a backup. (Don’t bother looking for it. The URL is easy if you look at my novel’s title on my author profile, but I have the entire thing set to private so you have to log in as me to view it. Ha ha ha.)

A few final notes regarding life post NaNoWriMo this year. I hear isn’t doing the free copy of your manuscript thing again this year. I must admit that I am a little disappointed to hear that. I guess I will have to go to the university copy center and have them print it on 8 1/2 X 11 sheets and bind it. (By the way, the total running length of the novel is 86 pages, letter size.) That’ll set me back $10-$15, but it will be completely worth it.

One final piece of advice. If you do NaNoWriMo, make sure to tell anyone and everyone. Because I told many people, I had people asking me on a regular basis about how things were coming along. This forced me to finish so that I wouldn’t have to face their ridicule. This tactic really works. Again, thanks to No Plot for that piece of advice. Special thanks to my special guilt monkey this year: Carlton and Bro. Cameron. Carlton’s proddings especially made me feel guilty.

I have done NaNoWriMo for 4 years straight now and it just seems to get better and better. Over the last 4 years I have written approximately 180,000 words of fiction because of it. I feel terrific because I do the impossible on an annual basis and it’s exciting every single time. If I do NaNo again next year, I will have participated for a full half of its entire history. That will be a proud day for me. I just hope that I can continue going for many years to come.

(One final final note. I promise. If you participated in NaNoWriMo and haven’t donated, please do. You owe it to them for showing you that the impossible is possible. This is doubly true if you won. I donated $10 tonight simply because I feel I owe it to them for all that they’ve given me, indirectly, over the past 4 years.)

And now this post is officially longer than the 1667 daily word count that needs to be achieved to win NaNoWriMo. This took me, all told, probably a little over an hour. It would have taken me less, but this I had to think about because it isn’t straight off the top of my head.


July 14, 2007

So, I’m really into free games. I don’t like buying games, but I do like games, so I find free games to play. Sometimes, they are really, really good. Like the one I’m going to talk about today.

OpenArena is a FPS game based on the Quake 3 engine that was open-sourced a year or two ago. Since that time, the developers have been working hard to create a really great game. Right now, it’s showing. The last version (December 2006) introduced bots, allowing the game to have a great single and multi-player experience. With the new version that came out just this month, they have added even more characters and a good number of new maps.

They also upped the ante on the single player mode with their creation of a 5 tier single player game. There’s no story, but you have to play through one map to unlock the next. Sure, you could just create a regular old skirmish and use any of the maps, but it’s kind of fun to play through them all.

The game does have multi-player, but I’ve never tried it, so I don’t know how good it is.

Basically, it’s just a fun, free FPS that has some great potential. They are still actively developing the game and so I expect that we’ll see some more great releases from them. Maybe even a full single player campaign. It’s worth the download.

Edit: Did I mention that because the graphics are a bit dated it will run on almost all computers? And that it’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux? No. Well now I have.

OpenArena OpenArena (2)

Balloon Stampede

May 6, 2007

Because the Balloon Stampede is this week, I will try to get that tutorial on how I made the Niteglow logo out the door really soon. Seriously. I will.

In other news, this last week’s episode of Heroes was the best yet. In fact, it was one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in a long time.

In other other news, I will probably participate in the first ever Script Frenzy. I’m scared.