Wednesday, March 31

I’m Totally Into My Blog Again

There are a few clichés about blogs. One is that they all have “musings,” “ramblings,” or “random thoughts” in the title or description. (Have more confidence, people!) Another is that the very last post on any blog will be the author’s resolution to start blogging some more.

I’m here to put a spin on that last one: this blog will continue because I have been blogging more.

I think I can trace this renewed — shall we say — fervor to a few recent events:

  • The Blogger template designer shipped, which freed up my available nights and weekend significantly, both to blog and to do a few things that are perhaps worth blogging about.
  • I got into a bit of social gaming after SXSW, which got me a bit into Facebook, and that, coupled with increased Google Buzz adoption among my contacts has made me want to blog and comment on my friends’ blogs and get comments in return.
  • Health care reform passed, so the polictical blogs are getting a bit dull. Rather than scrape around for stuff to read, I might as well be constructive and write something of my own.
  • It’s March Madness, so board gaming with Cait is more limited, as is using the TV for console games. I haven’t built up the resolve to go back into Ferelden, so, apart Alpha Centauri and reading, I’m looking for entertainment.
  • The Blogger template designer shipped, so I could play around with this blog’s template in a bunch of fun ways. What does my writing have to do with washing machines? The answer is irrelevant. I like the colors. And I’m happy to be able to chuck the labels and archives bits down into a multi-column footer, leaving maximum exposure for my blogroll and gaming badges. For the good of the product, I hope that other folks have similar experiences: happiness with the template leads to happiness with the blog leads to moar posting.
Somewhat ironically, my rekindled interest in blogging comes just as I’m leaving the Blogger team after a total of five years working on it, which have been by definition the best, worst, and only five years of my professional career. Perhaps being A User will give me perspective on the service, or maybe being A Former Engineer will just make me tolerant of its quirks. (Regardless, I’m not entirely done with it yet. I have a templates to finish documenting and a community to try and support.)

I’m curious about how “social media” ties into and supports personal blogging. I assume that most of my direct traffic will continue to come from search engines, as my posts are not frequent or consistent enough in topic to build up a following of anyone who would check back regularly. But the thought that people who actually know me will be presented with these posts in a convenient place is motivating.

If you are reading this post on Buzz or Facebook (not FriendFeed, though; I deleted that account after it tacodumped my entire Netflix queue into my FB news feed), click through to the post and check out the template. It has washing machines.

Then go start a blog, cuz you can’t make your Facebook or Gmail inbox this laundromat-o-licious. You can always link that blog so that it posts back to Buzz and Facebook. Gotta follow the readers, after all.

New iPhone to Blog Workflow Using Picasa Web Albums

Picking a photo out of the “Drop Box” album
While writing my last post about tactical card games I wanted to include my own photos of the cards to illustrate things. My iPhone was the handiest camera, but finding a cable and plugging it in and waiting for the sync and using Image Capture and then uploading via the web would be a bit annoying. But, since Blogger in Draft now has Picasa Web Albums integration, I was able to use a simpler flow:
  1. Take photo with iPhone
  2. E-mail it to my Picasa Web Albums address (learn more)
  3. Open the image picker on Blogger in Draft
  4. Pick the photo out of the “Drop Box” album
Surprisingly quick, easy (after setting up the address, which I suppose was also easy), and 100% wireless.

Tuesday, March 30

Two Tactical Card Games: Battleground: Fantasy Warfare and Summoner Wars

Good times at PAX East this weekend. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of board gaming that went on there, since I was expecting things to be pretty exclusively about video games. Other than the lack of adequate table space (even given the eight or so available rooms), things were good.

I got a chance to get demos of two very similar games at publisher booths: Battleground: Fantasy Warfare (from FLGS Your Move Games) and Summoner Wars (from friendly but not local — and AFAIK not a games store — Plaid Hat Games). Given their common mechanics, distribution, and that I demoed both last weekend, I thought I’d write them up as a comparison.

Both games are tactical card games. Players control cards that represent units, and they move them around on the playing field, fighting nearby cards by rolling dice. Each player also draws from a deck into a hand of cards that can help them out in battle.

The representatives from Your Move Games and Plaid Hat Games were each very careful to note that their games were not collectable card games. Each game has a set of armies, made available in pre-constructed decks. Battleground also has pre-constructed reinforcement packs for their armies to add options for deck-construction. The longer-term business model of each game is to make you want to buy expansion armies for new variety. This model is reminiscent of Blue Moon — though, except for the Buka Invasion, that game was limited to the eight races that were designed together before any were released, a limitation that I don’t think either of these games intends to replicate — which is appealing for its convenience and value.

So, what are these games, and how do they compare?

Putting captioned images side-by-side in Blogger

Dealing with multiple images side-by-side is a long-standing and hopefully-someday-will-be-resolved feature request for Blogger, but you can do it pretty easily right now with Blogger in Draft and a tiny bit of playing with Edit HTML.

Here’s the result we’re going for:

Old design: Footer full of badgesNew design: Footer full of blog stuff

Playing Alpha Centauri on Mac OS X 10.6

As I mentioned a few days ago, forces have conspired to get me interested in the Civilization series again, and those forces compounded over the past weekend as Tracy brought her Civ Rev love up for PAX and 2K teased us with posters for (but not an adequate supply of) Civilization V.

All of this made me pine for the Civ game I have the fondest memories for, Alpha Centauri. But could I still play it?

Aspyr released Alpha Centauri for the Mac ten years ago. It was never officially released for Mac OS X, so, since Classic doesn’t run on Intel machines such as my MacBook, my hopes were slim. Nevertheless, with a bit of luck, Internet-searching with Google, Inc.’s titular search engine, and a beta release hosted on what I can only deduce is a former developer’s home machine, I was able to get things to run on Snow Leopard.

Monday, March 29

Jonathan Coulton and Paul & Storm play TMBG’s Flood

I saw Paul & Storm (very good) and Jonathan Coulton (very very good, especially in “Coultron” form with Paul & Storm and Metroid Metal’s rhythm section) play at PAX East this past weekend.

Little did I know that, with a little Internet digging, I could uncover videos of them playing They Might Be Giants’ album Flood, in its entirety, at a show in Chicago last year. I made a playlist so you can watch it all back-to-back:

Many many many thanks to uploader MrSctw.

I always thought of TMBG as just this weird (though awesome) niche band that I and some of my friends were in to, so it’s very odd (though obvious in retrospect, given their trail-blazing position) to see them as a point of reference for other musicians.

More Paul & Storm / They Might Be Giants stuff: It Might Be X-Mas, a Christmas album written in the style of TMBG. I recommend at least listening to “Christmas Eve Eve.”

Thursday, March 25

The Circle: Episode 1

I’m counting down the weeks until the premiere of episodes 4 and 5 of The Circle, a five-episode TV series that my friend Blackheart (née Daniel Byers) and pals made out of pirates, Tech House, and various other good bits of Brown University.

It’s a modern fantasy, fae-and-gas masks sort of story. Well done, and remarkably well done considering the resources they had to make it.

I’ll post the second episode next week and the third after that, though you can just go to and watch them now if you like. The 4th and 5th episodes premiere on April 16th as part of Brown’s prefrosh weekend.

Some Gaming Updates

PAX East is coming up this weekend! I’m looking forward to the premiere of Get Lamp and seeing Jonathan Coulton. I’m somewhat worried about overwhelming demand for the shinier panels and events, but we’ll see how it goes.

In the spirit of all of this, some short films about my recent gaming:

I had a whole lot of fun with Dragon Age: Origins, both in the gameplay and — surprising to me — the roleplaying. This is the first time I’ve ever played a game where I made up my own backstory for a character and tried to stay true to it. (My character’s primary motivation in becoming a mage was to learn how to turn into a bear to get back at the kids who used to pick on her.) I haven’t yet finished it (stuff got in the way) but I’m in the end game and am eager to finish it and then start over with a new character, a dwarven noble I’m basing on Mr. Bingley from Pride and Prejudice. I’m also eager to play the expansion. And eager to play Mass Effect 2. Might need to delegate some of this.

Uncharted 2 was amazing, a masterpiece by masters at the top of their form. Rick likes it, too. I’m going back through for treasures (might be able to platinum this one), and also playing co-op with friends (well, so far “friend”) whenever I can. Want to do more of that. Please seek me out on PSN (I’m OldMainstream) if you’re interested.

I had fun with Heavy Rain. Pretty good story and surprisingly immersive gameplay. They were incredibly successful at conveying both effort and action though the button prompts. Holding down buttons in an awkward order is actually very effective at making you feel the difficulty of, say, opening a glovebox when injured and upside-down. Getting the timing right during fights really gets the heart racing as well. My first playthrough gave me a nearly–mega happy ending, with enough that went wrong to make me feel like it was a real story. I’m going through again for trophies. It kind of breaks the magic of the branching narrative, but, hey: trophies.

Wednesday, March 24

Boys and Girls Singing Together

Five songs with alternating or overlapping male/female lead vocal parts:

Let me know what you think!

Honorable mention that Lala doesn’t have rights to: “Under Your Spell / Standing (Reprise)” from Once More… With Feeling.

Monday, March 22

Verizon Hates Trees

Not too long ago I noticed that I was getting a lot of junk mail from Verizon. I don’t check the mailbox more than once a week or so, but I felt like they were sending something at least once a month. Turns out it’s much more often than that.

So, to start a grassroots, groundswell, hopey-changey movement, I present: Verizon Hates Trees, my new blog (and Twittering at VerizonH8sTrees).

I’ll be posting a pic of every piece of junk mail I get from Verizon. I already have everything I’ve gotten since the beginning of February.

Hint: it’s kind of an alarming amount.

Saturday, March 20

Subtle Template Designer Feature: “overflow: hidden”

One thing that always annoyed me about Blogger’s old templates was the way that backgrounds and borders could look broken during page load:

Waiting for a sidebar widget to load…

Only now are the background and border complete.

This situation can arise when you have a widget that uses a <script> tag to pull in third-party data, especially if the site the JavaScript loads from is not particularly peppy. (Note that to make the above screenshots I inserted a blocking <script> tag from Steve Souders; I’m not blaming SocialVibe or calling it slow. It just happened to be the next thing in that blog’s sidebar.)

For the templates in the new Blogger template designer, we wanted everything to feel as fast as possible, even as the page loads. So, we fixed the problem. See how the border and background are in the right place even though the sidebar is incomplete:

The page background is consistent even as the sidebar loads.

This makes the page feel faster, since it looks more “finished” earlier in the load process. How did we do it? Boring technical explanation after the jump…