Monday, March 31, 2008

I'm a useful teacher

Did this as a 15 minute demo in my Digital Media Foundation class today. "Kids, you need to have skills to compete in today's world--skills like these."

Wow. Now that is mastery.

Monday is Manday

And it slices like a fuckin' hammer. . .
That's just the way it is.
I wish I could teach like Paul Anka.

That clip makes me smile every time. An oldie, but a goodie. Give it a listen and let the day wash over you.

"I'm on that kind of an integrity kick."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Return to Meat Space

Had a grand night on the town last night. Went to Alex's to hear ol' High School chum Mike Quimby play the geetar along with his fabulously talented sisters and pops. Good to see other AHS alums drinking and carrying on. I'll have to remember to leave my cave more often. Now, back in the cave, I'm learning about vectors, drawing upon subliminal recollections of trigonometry. . . Math is cool. Stay in school. Image is from Sam's latest game design. Gush.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Leave it to Hedges

To get one to thinking. After coffee with Warren Thursday, many new ideas spinning and spawning. Check out his take on the 70's proto-video game Sea Wolf as well as his reading of Richard Lanham's, The Economics of Attention. Hmmmm. Ruminating. Ruminating.

I've been working back through Tanklin, my goofy video game, and thinking lots about game play.

Warren pointed out that the appeal of Tanklin was similar to Sea Wolf; it's a slow, methodical experience based not on twitch, but on foresight. This creates a different kind of tension that seems to use and affect a different part of the brain.

As I reworked Tanklin to implement some of the changes I'd discussed with my son, Sam, I found the nature of the game was changing and not necessarily for better or worse. It was just becoming. . . different.

The first change I made was to simply boost the score value of the orange "probe" ship. Originally all of the targets were worth 10 points. This gave the game a pleasingly primitive and pointless feel. Ooh, one of the ships looks different. . . and it doesn't matter. Har har. 10 points. I didn't change the behaviour of the probe yet, because that would violate the cardinal rule of programming (especially for a quasi-programmer like me): do only one thing at a time. So, the probe still acted the same as all the other ships, but it was now worth more points.

In terms of gameplay, however, everything changed. I found myself obsessively focusing on the probe and just avoiding the blue cars. My score went up faster--a lot faster. But independently of the score, the game now felt easier to me because I now had a strategy: shoot the orange ship, avoid the blue ships. Before, I was always in conflict between the need to survive and the desire to score. That tension, Survival vs. Scoring, is fundamental to most games of the arcade era. (Consider the saucer from Space Invaders, or the fruit in Pac Man.)

In the arcade era, I'll argue you were better off tending towards survival, because in the arcade era, the economics of games was based entirely on, well, economics. The investment one made in the game was strikingly literal. You were paying a set sum of money (a dime or a quarter--a hefty sum back then) for an unknown quantity of entertainment. This drove depression era and depression-era influenced people crazy. It didn't make any sense. If you had a cruddy 20 second Sea Wolf experience, or had 5 bad bounces in a pinball game, you had, essentially, been ripped-off. If you went to the moving picture show, by contrast, the quality of the entertainment might be dire, but at least you got to sit in a dark room and see photons dance for 2 hours. It would be rare to extract a similar quantity of entertainment from your dollar by playing arcade games.

Nowadays, online games are FREE in terms of actual coin. We are paying with our attention. Well, gee, I guess I'd better read that book.

Anyhow, I just had a stupid idea regarding Tanklin, Art, and the attention economy. More on that later as it develops.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Click on the image at left to play my first Flash game. It's retro and kind of difficult. Try to break 500.

Consider it an ode to the Atari 2600, the obscure Roosevelt Franklin from Sesame Street, his grandson "Franklin" from Arrested Development, and Vladimir Tatlin, Russian Constructivist. Actually, it's just a crappy third-rate beginner's video game, but I do like to prattle on.

I'll post the code and fla file later.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wow. I can't believe it.

I've attained a peak geek experience. This is hard to believe, but I just wrote an original piece of ActionScript code that worked. IT WORKED, DO YOU HEAR ME? It worked. I'm stunned. I'm absolutely flabbergasted. This is the same feeling I had the first time I drew someone's face and it kind of sort of looked like them. OMFG. I don't even know what to say. Actually, I did prepare a little speech. Never good to be caught off guard for a big moment like this.

"I'd like to thank the Academy, and all the people that helped me along the way. Thank you Scott, thank you Christian Andy, thank you Nick and Galen with your logical ways. Thank you Math teachers of 25 years ago. Thank you India. Thank you Indians. Thank you Alanis."

Well, guess I'll keep going. Ride that wave.

p.s. It's a piece of code that randomizes direction of a computer-controlled sprite by generating a random number between 1 & 72 12 times per second. If the number is a 1 it changes direction 45 deg. to the right, if it's a 2 it changes 45 deg. to the left. By my calculation, the sprite has a 33% per second chance of changing direction one way or the other. I even troubleshot it to check for out of range direction values. Condescending pat on the head, please, real programmers.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Good Times

If you're feeling down, overly cynical, or just plain hopeless about the cruel and arbitrary machinations of an indifferent universe, be sure to pick up Thomas Hardy's uproarious Jude the Obscure. If reading isn't your "thing" then check out the zany movie adaptation ("Jude") with Kate Winslet (Titanic!) and Christopher Eccleston (t.v.'s Dr. Who!). It's a screwball romantic comedy adaptation directed by Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo! When Harry Met Sally!)

Here's the Wikipedia summary of the hijinx!
"The novel has an elaborately structured plot, in which subtle details and accidents lead to the characters' ruin. It also develops many different themes. These include how human loneliness and sexuality can stop a person from trying to fulfill his dreams, how, when free from the trap of marriage, one's dreams will not be fulfilled, how the educated classes are often more like sophists than intellectuals, how living a libertine life full of integrity and passion will be condemned as scandalous in traditional society, and how religion is nothing but a mistaken sense that the tragedies that wear down an individual are the result of having sinned against a higher being."

Stop me before I bust a gut!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Elfin Days

I like ZBrush, because everything I make in it looks like a potential chia pet.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not that interesting

but whatever. . . an article in the New York Times--The Professor as Open Book-- on professors' increased personal presence on the internet, and their subsequent demystification. I don't think most students think enough about their profs to demystify them anyway. . . Sob. Sniff. . . excuse me, I think I've got something in my eye.

Anyway, for those of you who are interested, the picture above is a candid shot of me down at the Kat Wok for yet another debauched night on the town. Damn kids and their cell phone cameras.


I'm writing Pong, and goddamnit, I'm exhilarated. 

As I mentioned, Scott Raedeke gave me some secret teachings on Flash programming and hipped me to the ol' Beginning Flash Game Programming for Dummies book by Andy Harris. It's a very good book. Props to you, Christian Andy. 

Anyhow, I'm slowly coming to understand the following very very complicated equation.

games = animation. . . but. . . controlled by computer code.

This creates an experience different from traditional animation for both the viewer and the animator. No duh. But this is the kind of thing that educational institutions are slow to understand. Partly because people like me who work for them are slow to understand the obvious.

Maybe more on the exhilaration later. Maybe not. You never know with me.

Oh, yeah. Reading a "for Dummies" book made me have a long dream about meeting John Muir the guy who wrote the original How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive for the Compleat Idiot book. 

Now that I've mentioned one of my dreams in a blog I assume that means I'm going to hell. Andrew's dream is much better.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Disappeared there in a haze of finals week. Still mucking around in ActionScript. Had some issues with variables that I thought were going to be numbers but actually weren't. I'm fine now, thank you. It's time for a break. After all, I'm no "machine man."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Preachin' the Gospel

I'm showing someone how to blog. Guess I'm a real blogger now.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Un Dimanche Matin a l'Isle de la Grande Beanery

Had a good Flash session with the 8-bit master, Scott Raedeke last night. I'm inspired to get up to speed with ActionScript so's as to teach it in some form next year. I like the way games give one a very different way of thinking about animation than the old straight-forward narrative film approach. Games feels more true to the "ha ha, these pictures look like they're moving" spirit that I think is the fundamental appeal of animation. Was that something a half-assed Clement Greenberg would say if he were an animator and kept a half-assed blog? If only I had some kind of Quantum Computer, I could arrive at an answer to this question through an elaborate computational model.

Anyhow, here are some good links to "classic" game animation sprite maps that Scott turned me on to. Handy to the game or animation student/enthusiast. If you ever have "animator's block" these could well pry you loose to shake what your mother gave you. Mark them well, my children. Mark them well.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

In "The Office" on a Saturday

Getting to work on the web site illustrating (stupidly and unnecessarily) a "Making of Arms and Ether" section. It's sure to impress. Let's see, regrets about being bad at drawing, minor annoying ear ache, heavy mental fog . . . Now would be a good time to go play soccer or basketball. I'm missing that glorious forgetting that comes with all out sportin' fun. Perhaps a xiao bike ride would be good. Dawdle. Glurck. Before I go, I'm going to finish drafting out the 11 drawings for that Arms and Ether section. See, I'm disciplined. Har har.

Tonight will be good to hook up with the 8-bit Ghost hisself--Scott Raedeke. He'll be doling out the ActionScript preachings, and I'll be witnessing. Revelatin.'

Friday, March 14, 2008

What Ben Franklin

. . .may have looked like, nude and from behind; such is the price of my return to daily drawings.

Just had coffee with Warren Hedges down at the Beanery. Always inspiring to talk to the Ashland Elk of the Year. One of our main characters in The Happiness Hole is loosely based on him. Real Warren has a network-like brain able to take difficult ideas, distill them and make them comprehensible to the layman. Our fake Warren is a Warren gone off the deep end, driven mad by:
1) The cruel stupidity of the world.
2) A sense of the interconnection of all knowledge now made disturbingly literal by the invention of a quantum super computer.
3) A painful love affair with a dakini destined for bigger things.

Real-life Warren knows how to swim and tread water, so the deep end doesn't bother him.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Twas on a Holy Thursday

Their innocent faces clean.
Just finished up our 3D modeling critique. Some good stuff going on. Apparently Julie ordered a pizza, so I'll be heading home for some carbo-loading. Good for my rigorous training regimen. Yes.

And quickly (need food). New ideas for Happiness Hole as a show/installation. Drawings. Lots of drawings. And big prints. Yes. And sculpture too. And animation. Yes. And naked walk/run cycles and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Where did he go?

I'm back after a bout with not being fully sick, just being really tired, run down and kind of sick. For the record, on Saturday, Sam and I started working on a video game, inspired by Scott Raedeke who teaches cool Flash stuff at South Medford. Julie got the stomach flu. Sam and Henry and I watched some Rugby and Lacrosse outside--a beautiful day. On Sunday, I bonked heads with Max playing basketball (saw a flash of light! all was revealed!) and read papers for my USEM class. Sam and I also created custom players for "The Men of Candy," our Pro Evolution Soccer Team (one unexpected favorite is the tall, skinny red-headed guy, whose face we lifted from a Francisco Goya self-portrait). Monday I taught all freaking day. Ugnaught. Tuesday, same thing. It's dead week, so I'm trying to help "the kids" be all that they can be. I'm a servant of the people. Har har.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Farewell, Dungeon Masters. . .

Argh. Early adolescence took two to the chest this year with the recent deaths of Steve Gerber and Gary Gygax. Gerber created Howard the Duck (the comic book, not that @#$ing worthless piece of @!#$@ movie), and Gygax, as every WoW player should have emblazoned on his elite mount, was one of the founding fathers of Dungeons and Dragons. Hommage 21st century! Hommage!

@#$%, just found out that Dave Sutherland died in 2005. His D&D Basic Set cover, not to mention his Monster Manual, Player's Handbook, and Dungeon Master's Guide work launched so many thousands of ships.

#$%^ing mortality. . . Goddamnit, don't take Tom Wham too!

The 70's and 80's were not kind. These guys did it for love--Peace be with you, spiritual fathers.

p.s. Transmutation and uplift! Just came across a really cool-looking site called WE'RE ROLLIN' THEY'RE HATIN'. Kind of gives me hope for the future. . . In their own words:

We're Rollin',They're Hatin', is a large-scale contemporary art show that examines the role of Dungeons and Dragons, Escapism and Fantasy in contemporary art and culture. The exhibition is an art show and interactive platform to explore how artists are influenced by fantasy and roll playing

For He Has Not Rhythm

So tired my pores hurt. Fatigue = lameness. Drawing, like handwriting, pulls me into a solipsistic dialogue with how I was taught to draw. Bleh. Feel miles away from doing anything useful, original, exciting, or interesting. Score! Taking Sam to the dentist at 10:00. May not be useful, but at least it's original, exciting, and interesting. 3 out of 4 is not bad at'all.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


It's lunch time. Prep for class. Ponder meaninglessness of existence. Regret various aspects of the past. So forth.

Monday, March 3, 2008

No Child Left Behind

What I'm learning from ye blog so far:
1) I work a fair amount. Yay.
2) I work on a lot of different things--art-teachin', USEM-teachin' (bless thee, Thucydides), script-writin', 3D modelin' and animatin', 2D animatin' & drawin', web-site-makin', art-makin', school admin crap, prepping for teaching, 'mersh projects, water heaters and the like. Not to mention being a deadbeat dad and feckless husband. I'm not complaining. It's good livin'.
3) I'm bad at estimating how long it takes to get something done. Hence, the website's not done, the Happiness Hole's languishing, the water heater took 5 days to install, etc.
4) Life feels short--it's rushing by, happening now, and I feel completely clueless about it. Balls.
5) I'm thinking of taking the summer off from teaching for the first time in 10 years. I'd like to catch up on some solitude, some friends, and have fun with Sam.
6) I need to get the Corvair running. This weather is too beautiful.

Glenn Hughes Society

In our 1988 college yearbook, I claimed to be a 4-year member of the Glenn Hughes Society. Here's a picture of Glenn Hughes, the leather enthusiast of the Village People, who unfortunately, died in 2001. The man brought it. What else can you say?

In 1988, I bore no resemblance to Wooly Willy; now, I'm pretty much a dead-ringer (see graphic provided in previous post). Oddly enough, I found this rather Glenn Hughes-like manifestation of Willy whilst performing a search on the "world-wide-web." Would to God that all the Lord's people were Prophets.

Spent 'bout 3 hours diddling with the web site today, so good on me. Kind of lost momentum for a bit there, but back in the saddle. Even got the DMF tests graded. Huzzah.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday Lovin' Had Me a Blast

A beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon. Played some basketball in the ol' Bellview gym with a good combo of guys over 40 and kids under 15. Then ran into bearded art stars Matthew Furber and Andrew Farris at the Beanery. Jolly times. Talked video games, comics and Tom of Finland. Now, what to do? Lots of tests to grade, curriculum to develop, web site to make, happiness hole to create/fill, walls to stare at, etc.

Domestic Front: I finally got the water heater installed yesterday with lots of support from Scott, Nick and Galen. Good to have friends that are smarter than you. Nice to do something non school/art related. Also, Julie and I went out to dinner with Scott and Christy on Saturday. Twas much fun. Eatin', drinkin', and talking #$@#!. Get some carbohydrates in me and I'll start prattling on about just about anything I know absolutely nothing about.

Now, I think I'll work on the site. . . though I should be grading tests .

"Dick the Dude" and "Pete the Pirate" are two of Wooly Willy's "magnetic personalities." If you Google "Dick the Dude" you won't find images of Wooly Willy, however.