Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Public Transport

I'm on the bus to meet my mom and sister Mary in Manhattan. One of the things I hate about winter is that I have to bundle up against the freezing cold, but then the bus is like an Easy-Bake oven. Do you know it's only recently I found out that those things worked by using a high-watt light bulb? (My sisters never had one.) When I was a kid I set fire to my socks once because I tried to warm them on a lightbulb. Or how about when I wanted to try hand-drawn animation in high school, and I used this tracing table we had since we were kids, but the low-watt bulb burned out and I replaced it with a regular one, and it melted the opaque plastic? Or how about when I used my father's super-8 camera at night and it had a halogen light (without a protective glass I may add) and I tried masking it for a shadow effect by duct-taping two wooden rulers in front of it- and within seconds they exploded into flames? In my defense, my father was with me and didn't expect that to happen either. In short, I have a bad history with lightbulbs, which is kind of funny since I'm an electrician and playing with lightbulbs is sometimes the entire job.

Did I mention that the lightbulbs in my room have been burnt out for almost a week now, and I keep forgetting to buy more? I've been using my anti-depression lamp. I don't know if it actually does anything for my mood, but obviously it's no help with memory or procrastination.

Now I'm on the subway, listening to "Wish You Were Here." I'm standing and holding onto a pole. I'm impressed I can hold this in my hand and swype with my thumb.

On the subway home, at least I have a seat this time. Had a wonderful day despite being anointed with pigeon poop. At least it was just on my coat...

I'm listening to Tom Lehrer. The woman next to me is engrossed in a book and I can't help wishing it was one of mine. I'm going to make that a goal, to write a book that people will want to take on subways. I'm a little tired and at Queens Plaza. I'm going to take a little nap. Be right back.

On the bus now after my little nap. Once again I feel like stripping down to my boxers to avoid feeling like a light-bulb-baked cupcake. Are boxers indecent exposure? What if I was wearing denim shorts? Or denim boxers for that matter. Hmmm that would chafe the goods me thinks. I'll resist the urge somehow.

Almost everyone on this bus has some sort of device, all of us with our phones, texts and mp3s, all of us in our own little worlds trying to blot out this one, even though it can be quite beautiful at times. Could that be one of there wishes- to find the world so interesting I don't need distraction?


Friday, December 10, 2010

Adventures in Apps Pt 2: Making Android App Inventor My Bitch

Using the procedure I mentioned in a previous post, I found a way to make multiple screens for the adventure game app I'm developing for Android. Each room is a separate table screen-arrangement, with lots of true/false if/than 1/0 clauses to decide which and when each room is visible. I have to break each image up into tiles. Each tile then becomes a separate picture or button. I've found the awesome freeware paint program GIMP to be best for this, because it easily lets me enter the quantities for size and position of the box select tool. The easiest way for me right now is to list the starting coordinates and sizes of each column and row for each room before I start:

I then had a dilemma. I want to have text notifications across the bottom of the screen, but when I make a table, each item in a column has to be the same size as the others (the same with rows.) I decided to make another table, this one with a text window and a button to look at the inventory or show what current (if any) item is picked. Again, this requires a plethora of variables and clauses to make sure if and when something is showing. Also, I had to use a timer to make the text disappear after a few seconds. This wasn't anywhere near as simple as it should be, but I have it figured out.

Yes, this was my bedroom. I've tried to turn back the clock to the way my parents' house was back in the 70's and 80s.

I have two worries right now. First of all, I don't know what happens when I run out of room in the block editor. I've just started and it's already pretty full. Second of all, there are a lot of functions for each room. I'm trying to keep a list of what procedures I have to do for every new room or line of text, but I can see that debugging is going to be annoying.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cleopatra: Queen of...

Civilization V is a crappy game that does not live up to the hype or expectations. What's worse, it actually has less features than previous Civ games (No "Hotseat" multiplayer, no religion, a "streamilned" (read "less than before") technology tree, no animated scenes for wonders or victories...) basically, it's the same exact game it has been for twenty years, but with a prettier engine, and with less actual gameplay quality than before.

Whoever runs Civ V's facebook fan-page has been triumphantly announcing award nomination after award nomination for the past month. Each one winds up getting about a hundred jeering, smart-ass comments from pissed-off players, along with a few words of support - yet they cheerfully keep pumping out announcement after announcement. They have every right to self-promote, but after a point I have to wonder if they're just living in denial, or if the PR department is making bets on how many complaints they can receive.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Adventures in Apps, part 1.

A few years ago I bought a wonderful program called Adventure Maker. It's great for making 90's style multimedia adventure games for the PC. The only problem is... no one buys multimedia adventure games anymore. I've been working on a game on and off for years as a hobby. After becoming an Android fanatic, I decided to look into how to make an Android version of my game. I've been trying to teach myself Java (or the Android version of Java, which is frustratingly different) and... it's been very slow going.

Enter Google with its new program, The Android App inventor. It seemed like the answer to all of my prayers, but the process has become very very frustrating. Before I start kvetching, let me make a few things clear. 1) The program is free. 2) It is still in it's beta testing phase. 3) There are many helpful programmers who answer questions and give advice in the forums, even if only to say "We're working on it." To sum it up, it's a wonderful program if you want to make apps that have text and buttons but limited graphics.

OK, let's get to work.

I followed the instructions, but I can't link my phone to work in real time with the program. Annoying, but no big deal, I'll just upload my apps to my phone and test them that way.**

**Addendum: 12/8/2010, they have updated block editor and this issue is fixed.

Next step, let's look at the empty designer screen window in the app inventor. Oh wow, it's drag and drop, that's so simple... oh dear. The screen seems to be for the old G1 Android. The low-res screen isn't the end of the world, but it has a different aspect ratio than my WVGA Samsung Captivate. Alrighty. Can I change the screen size?


Hmm... this puts me in a bit of a pickle, because now the buttons I put on my screen won't line up with the background images. It's just spreading the buttons out along the length of the screen. Sigh... I'll figure out a work around, maybe some forums will help me. But it's not too bad. Once I figure it out, it's just a matter of going from screen to screen, kind of like a web page. OK, I have a basic test pattern for screen-1. Now how do I make screen-2.

I can't. There's only one screen.

Well according to the forums, there is a workaround someone has figured out... I guess I'll have to Google it and research that too... Well... let me make a test app, it will be nice just to see a program I make work on my phone. Let's install it and...

And it wants phone contact and full network internet access permissions.

Why does the program I wrote need those things? I didn't put anything like that in there. Lots of Android users - myself included - are wary of apps that need internet and phone access for no reason, because of data usage and privacy concerns. Is there any way to change that? Is there even any sort of explanation for that?


(Inner Homer: Urge to kill... rising....)


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Surroudned by Idiots, Outnumbered by Boobs...

Sarah Palin is a blithering idiot, but I agree with her that Obama has also made a string of gaffes that everyone but FOX news ignores. Can't we just pass a law banning idiots from politics, or would there be nobody left?


The Slope is a Might Slippery...

Please try and answer the following quiz:

Today, Homeland Security seized a group of dot-coms they suspected of:
a) supporting terrorism
b) drug trafficking
c) child pornography
d) copyright violation.

And of course, the correct answer is…


Read that again.

Homeland Security- the part of our government that is funded to fight terrorism, is now seizing web sites - not serving them notice- seizing them - based on the accusation of copyright violation.

Oh yes, and for selling knock-off handbags.

Look, everyone feels differently about copyright violation on the internet, but this action is a dangerous foot in the door. If this happened during W’s presidency, everyone would be screaming “Nazis!” at the top of their lungs. No, I don’t care about protecting the rights of copyright violators. What I do care about is the frightening precedent this is setting. What sort of sites will Homeland Security be shutting down five years from now? Ten years from now? With what cause?

There are young adults who have never lived in a world without the internet. They don’t realize that before they were born, only the government and the major broadcasters controlled all the communication and information across the world. When I was in high school it was inconceivable that someone could write an editorial or make a video or draw a picture in his living room, and anyone in the world who wanted to could read or watch or see it immediately - or, that you could read or see or hear any information that someone across the globe made available. That’s a freedom that is new and amazing and wonderful. The ability to be seen, to have your voice heard, or to hear the voices of others anywhere instantly is a new right that should be protected at all costs, and this, my friends is the proverbial slippery slope your mother warned you about. Totalitarian changes don't happen overnight, they happen inch by inch.

OK, you say, but I care about copyright. I don’t want my own work stolen. I agree – I don’t either. People’s work shouldn’t be stolen or used without permission. That’s why we have civil courts, so people can be sued for just compensation. If the government must get involved, then suspected site owners could be subpoenaed, and, if they are found guilty in a court of law after due process has been served, then have their sites taken away. But my tax dollars should not be going to make Homeland Security into the personal police force of Viacom, Turner and Disney (and handbag designers.) That’s what really burns me. Not only is our government bending us over for its corporate masters, but it’s trying to hide it under the umbrella of Homeland Security. Please please please, President Obama, please make the connection between terrorism and copyright violation for me in your next speech. I’d love to hear it. I keep thinking of the Family Guy gag where Lois runs for mayor, and all she has to do is say “Nine Eleven!” over and over and over again to get away with whatever she wants. Uh oh, I just quoted a television episode. It’s been nice knowing you.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm at my parent's house. When we were kids we always went to my grandmother's house in Brooklyn for Thanksgiving. (And why do I automatically think of it as just her house instead of both my grandparents'? Probably because my grandfather was so relaxed while my grandmother was loud and fiery.) Turkey has been eaten, I've had the drumstick as always. I've never liked white meat, it's too dry and bland. My mother put on Snow White for Mandy but she's not interested, so I'm sitting on the couch eating twisted wheat pretzels keeping mom company. We watched it a few months ago. Once again I'm amazed at what a beautiful labor of love it is, (though I'm sure Disney ran a sweatshop that would have put Kathy Lee Gifford's to shame,) while being bored to tears by the story itself. Oh well, my mother sat through years of Monty Python and Doctor Who just because she wanted to enjoy my company, and her company is priceless. Fifteen minutes of dancing dwarfs is a very small price to pay for it.

I've played there games of pinochle with my father and lost two of them. For some reason I can't fathom BBC America shows nothing but Start Trek TNG every time I'm here. I think their excuse is that Patrick Stewart is British. Most of the episodes they're showing today are so boring I want to cry. Give me Kirk and Spock any day, although anything's better than Voyager. Yes, I suffer from Arrogant Nerd Syndrome.

I'm going to visit my friends Troy and Chris at their parents' house. The Witloxes are good people and have always been friends to me. For them and all the other dear friends in my life I am very thankful.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

IF: Sneaky

Illustration Friday: Sneaky

It's been a while I know, but I missed contributing to Illustration Friday. Click above for higher resolution.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What do we want? APATHY! When do we want it? MAYBE SOMEDAY!

OK, I'm going to tell everyone my shameful secret. I'm sure some of you share my affliction, but you're too ashamed to admit it. I'm here to tell you you're not alone. You don't have to be ashamed anymore.

I'm an apathetic voter.

The American two-party system has become a ridiculous us vs. them shell game that keeps anything from getting done on a national or even state scale, (I think local politics DO make a difference, actually- things are controlled best at their lowest levels- I'm not talking about that) and I don't see how I'm wrong by refusing to play the game anymore.

I'm sick of being given two package deals - both which are full of some good but mostly bad ideas, and told that I have to chose between one of them or I'm a perverted, bad, evil twisted four-legged smelly disgusting creature. Fuck that noise, I'm sick of it. People tell me that if I don't vote, then someday we'll have no choice. I hate to break it to you, but we don't really have a choice now. If I don't perpetuate and champion the illusion of choice, will that illusion vanish? Is that what everyone is really afraid of?

I'm sick of being told that because I'm a blue-collar worker I HAVE to vote for a party which has done nothing to help us in recent years, under the logic that the other party would probably make life even worse for us. I'm sick to my stomach of being used as a hard-hat wearing voter trophy by people who aren't actually helping me.

See, I don't agree with the current administration's failed economic policies and laughably transparent propaganda (Apparently the recession ended in June 2009 - may Obama be praised - this is just the slowest economic recovery period in U.S. History. Up your ass with broken glass, I just got laid off again. I can't survive on working 4 months a year.) But the thing is - as with the Democrats when Republicans were in power - the Republicans have NO PLAN OF THEIR OWN! They talk about taking the country back by teabagging each other but they don't say HOW. Yes, served in the military, yes, I have some conservative leanings. But the Republicans have become a party of morals instead of ideas, and you can't run a country without ideas, and just assuming that your morals should be everyone's morals. How can people look at Sarah Palin or Christine O'Donnel and say "Well, yes, they have no practical experience, or ideas, and every time they open their mouths they show off their ignorance and blithering idiocy but... they're against the same things I'm against, so I want them to run the country!"

People who want to teach creationism (or Intelligent Design) in a science class scare the living shit out of me. Seriously. Most of the shit I have is dead. It floats or sinks in the toilet based on what I've eaten. But when Christian-right politicians want to get a foot in the door and push us back toward the dark ages, it comes out of me alive and screaming and wriggling... oh God what the hell is wrong with people? I've asked this before - but if you think we're God's instruments and here to do God's work, then shouldn't you want to know how the world ACTUALLY works rather than how goat herders thousands of years ago assumed it worked? Hasn't God answered prayers of healing by helping humanity discover penicillin - WHICH WORKS BY FUTHERMUCKING EVOLUTION? Wouldn't your children better be able to do God's will if they knew the truth about his creation? WELL????

And Democrats aren't any better. You may all have your push-button issues, (LGBT rights, for example) and I may sympathize and agree with some of them. But you're just as bad. You all assume that because YOUR crowd agrees with some of the things you believe in or claim to have sympathy or understanding for you and yours that they should be running the country, and every bad choice and mismanagement should be forgiven because of that. I'm sorry, but it doesn't work that way. It's just all a way to keep an us vs. them mentality running in this country so nothing gets done.

So no, I'm NOT voting today. I honestly don't see the point. I could pretend that I am, that my vote would somehow make a difference, would keep the world safe for democracy, but it ain't going to happen. Not until people can vote directly on issues instead of electing officials who pick and choose for us. I know that's not how a Jeffersonian democracy works and I know it will never happen because our gargantuan government needs us to believe they know what's best for us to keep themselves in power, but I don't feel like casting a vote to decide which side's global corporate masters get to split up my tax dollars.

Here endeth the ranting, I'm off to play with my kids


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thoughts that keep me awake...

Yes, it's a fun game, but can someone please tell me WHY the birds are so angry at the little green pigs?

Monday, September 27, 2010

More of My Childhood Down the Drain

In regards to the PBS kids show, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That: When did the Cat in the Hat go from being an anti-establishment hobo-type who gets kids into trouble with their parents to some sort of giggling babysitter who takes kids on educational field trips? Did I miss something?


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Classic Who Trivia Questions!

Although I can find trivia questions for the new Doctor Who series, I can’t seem to find any good ones for the classic one. Therefore, I’ve decided to make some of my own for you to impress your friends with. Enjoy!

1.) Whose real name is Dorothy Gale McShane?

2.) What was the Doctor’s nickname at the Timelord academy?

3.) Which companion was descended from hyper-evolved swamp monsters?

4.) What is the virtual-reality computer on Gallifrey that is controlled by the users’ minds?

5.) In “Destiny of the Daleks,” the Doctor reads a book by which fictional author from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy universe?

6.) Speaking of Douglas Adams, which novel of his was reworked from his DW episodes “Shada” and “City of Death?”

7.) Which Doctor only had one television appearance?

8.) What personal possession did the 2nd Doctor use to free himself and the 3rd Doctor from Omega’s domain?

9.) What “instrument” did the 7th Doctor play?

10.) Who are making the screams that can be heard echoing across the Death Zone of Gallifrey?

Feel free to add your own!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do I Need Psychiatric Help?

I had a dream last night where I rode the Q64 bus home from work. A man in a black trench coat with a large black hat sat behind me. I could tell he was staring at me, but I was afraid to turn around and look at him. I was so afraid I got off at a stop that wasn't mine, and the man got off with me. I felt afraid, but angry, I wanted to face him and fight him, but the dream took its own course out of my control. I walked faster, but I could hear his footsteps matching mine. I ran, and he followed. I felt his hand grab my shoulder and he spun me around. I fell to the ground, twisting. I raised my fists, ready to beat the shit out of whoever it was, and looked up in the rain and darkness at my attacker. He loomed over me, tears streaming down his childlike face.

It was Matthew Waterhouse.

"Stop telling everyone I ruined Doctor Who!" he sobbed. "It's not my fault Adric was a total prat, I just read what was written and played the character like John Nathan Turner wanted! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!!!"

And then I woke up.

OK, seriously... what the fuck?

May I add that while I always hated Adric, (a blatant attempt by a science fiction franchise that had been doing fine for decades with an adult cast to increase their number of young viewers by adding a kid,) I haven't thought of him in decades. The only reason I can think of is that Mitchell and Webb recently mentioned him in a sketch. So is this just proof that the flowing river of the subconscious can occasionally dredge some bizarre sludge from the forgotten wastes of my memory, or is it a warning, and should I fear the day I meet him, Wil Wheaton, and Jake Lloyd in a dark alley?


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Snow White's Plotholes

I recently watched Snow White with my cute, little, sainted Sicilian Catholic mommy, as it's always been one of her favorites. Although it's not exactly my cup of tea, I have to admit that it is an animated work of art and an obvious labor of love in a way that very few animated movies ever were again. I just have three questions:

1.) Seriously, you expect me to believe that this princess is forced from her life of luxury - and right away all she wants to do is clean some midgets' filthy shack?

2.) The dwarfs sing that they're working in their own diamond mine. Excuse me? If that's the case, then why are they living in a filthy shack in the woods? Are they just waiting to lure in some princess with a maid fetish?

3.) Why doesn't the evil queen just use her magic to make herself a little prettier?

My favorite part of the movie will always be when the queen sees the skeleton in the dungeon who obviously died stretching through his bars for a water jug, and kicks it at him, and cackles, "Have a drink!" Why don't they do that in Disney cartoons anymore?


Saturday, September 11, 2010


(Me back in September 2001, working on the roof of the Trinity building, restoring power at ground zero.)

As with previous years, the following is a letter I wrote to my friends & family in the days after 9/11. The only comment I'd like to make is that while at the time we were told the death toll was 6000, we now know it to be about 2700.


I'm sorry that I've been distant lately. I'm sure you can all understand, some even more than me.

I've been scared. I don't like to be, much less admit it, but I've been scared. I was lucky and in Queens, not in Manhattan last Tuesday. No, I wouldn't have been THERE (Though at 2 am I remember that I was working on the roof of a building a block away a month before this happened.) When the towers went down, I walked to the LIE overpass behind the apartment house and stared at the smoke that was in the place of the towers on the Manhattan skyline. Even though I'm one East River away from the close-ups on TV, it was stomach twisting. I called my foreman that night, and he told me how they watched it happen from the windows, 30 blocks away, how 20-50 year-old tough-guy construction workers were shaking, some crying, because they thought it was WW3 and the beginning of The End.

On Thursday, back in Manhattan, I had to walk from 42nd and Lex to 23rd and 1st, because the #6 line was down. (They were afraid of subway vibrations bringing down more buildings) It's not really as long a walk as it sounds, but I passed the recovery HQ on 1st ave- Past all the TV vans, and past a block's worth of pictures taped to plywood sheets. As time has past, these hopeful "have you seen" pictures have become memorials, and they're everywhere. I can't talk on the phone without staring into photographs with tearful notes of hope underneath, knowing they were put there by loved ones who will never ever see them again. I call my wife, and my voice becomes a dull monotone. She asks why and I'm at a loss on how to explain.

One of my friends at work is 40 years old, and he's a kind, good man. Today he suddenly started cursing himself, muttering what a failure he is. When I asked him what was wrong, he admitted it was because he started smoking again after giving them up cold turkey for 10 years. He told me he feels worthless, because suddenly he can't live without them again. I tell him it's an understandable need, but I can tell that my words don't help. I realize the frustration goes deeper than a pack of Marbalo 100s

Again, I'm on a job 30 blocks away from "ground zero", and I can see out the window that what was once a symbol of achievement is still a smoldering hole in the ground. I know it's only been a week, but I wonder when the skyline won't have a haze that has nothing to do with pollution. I walk down the street and I see people that are scared and jittery, no matter what their profession or race. I buy a paper from an elderly Arabic man, who wears a "God Bless America" shirt every day, and shrinks down in his kiosk- which is draped in American flags- like a frightened rabbit every time I, or any other customer approach. I give the little smile I have, but I don't think it does any good. I wonder if he's so afraid, why he stays here, and I realize he probably has no one and no where else to go.

Our shop is working on restoring power to one of those buildings- the same one I was on the roof of not too long ago (The Trinity building, 111 Broadway for those of you with a love for geography)- and being a lowly apprentice I helped the truck driver deliver material yesterday. My drivers license was scrutinized by armed police and National Guardsmen, like I'm trying to get onto a military base, and they make me wait in the cab while they and the driver search the truck. The won't let the truck get closer than a few blocks away and we wind up rolling 3' diameter wooden reels of sj cord down the street. The smell twisted my stomach, when I realized that what I was smelling was death- the death of a great achievement, of that smug "nothing can ever happen to us" attitude we Americans had without giving it a second thought, and, most disturbingly of over 6000 bodies.

And there's this feeling that grips me, this feeling that there's nothing I could ever do to protect myself, my wife or my son (I know that's a MCP attitude, but I'm sure Jen feels the same way about Joey and me.) And I wonder every night if tomorrow some new insanity will strike. I jump every time a car backfires. I run 2 miles a night (yes, frightening but true. This started a while before all this happened and I'm down to a not-quite-slim-yet 225lbs, thank you very much) and every time a plane flies overhead I flinch. I watched President's Bush's speech on TV tonight, and every time the picture flickered a little (I don't have cable, so 2 is really the only reliable channel- the others are coming and going- for those of you not in NYC, the WTC had all the broadcast antennas for the area except channel 2, leaving those of us cable-less with only CBS ) I thought "oh shit, what's happening now?" Every time I hear a siren, I wonder what's happened. The QM4 bus got held up at the Midtown tunnel yesterday (connecting Queens to Manhattan) because there was an accident. Of course, everyone seeing a bunch of flashing lights and emergency vehicles as we approach a tunnel, we instantly look around like caged animals, wondering if stage 2 had begun.

I feel guilty. Part of me tells myself that I have no right to feel so hurt or so angry- my family and my friends are all safe, and I'm alive and healthy. I'm a civilian now, I don't have to worry like so many others do. Who am I to feel so much? There are some without homes, without jobs, without their wives/sons/husbands/dads/daughters/brothers/sisters/fiancées... oh, you get the picture. I feel like I'm just whining.

I can't help being angry. We have the freedom of religion, but we jump out of our skins if someone says a prayer before a graduation ceremony or a football game. We have the freedom to own firearms, but we curse any law abiding citizen who owns one, while passing more and more lenient laws against criminals who use them. We showed the world that our presidency is a joke, that we don't care about our own history, our pride. We have a popular culture that demands more and more freedoms, but damns those who give/gave their lives and personal freedoms to protect the ones we have. I watched the speech, saw Democrats and Republicans give up their petty bickering that's been tearing the country to pieces, for the first time since WW2. It gives me a boost of hope, and I pray the sentiment lasts longer than this week, and reaches further than military resolve- into fixing our school system, into caring more about our OWN country's welfare, into bringing back production into this country so people can have jobs and learn trades to feed their families. I hope our politicians will stop trying to convince group A that everyone in groups B, C, and Q hates them, just to get their block of votes, then running around like idiots and asking "why?" when that hate turns to violence. I hope we learn to accept and love each other because we're Americans, despite our preference/denomination/color/sex. God, two weeks ago, that statement would have sounded so corny, wouldn't it?

We're at war, but we don't really know against who. There's no clear enemy, no one knows who will attack or when. Will it be us or them? Will it be "Us" or some nut like McVeigh, thinking we'll blame foreign terrorists instead of domestic? I realize I live on an island, and the only way to the rest of the world is by crossing another island (either Staten Island or Manhattan) Am I going to worry over every bridge and tunnel I cross for the rest of my life? And if it's "them," what form will it take? Watching 6000 people die as the WTC go down in flames is one thing. Watching millions in a city die from Anthrax in our water supply is another.

I'm sorry if I see this as just an NYC thing. It's hard to grasp that this is affecting the whole country.

It's an uncertain time, it's become an uncertain world. I just want you all to be certain that I love every one of you.

Those of you who've been forwarding bits of editorials, news items, letters, etc. Thank you, but it's you who's opinion I'm interested in. Let me know what you're thinking & feeling, if you'd like- you're more important.

Love each other, stay safe, and live your lives, for yourself and for each other.


Monday, August 30, 2010

On the Train Again...

I'm back on my regular route going back to the city. It's a 7am start, which I like better than a 7:30 because I get out a little earlier, but that also means I have to drag mein tuchas out of bed a half hour earlier too, and the snooze button is not my friend. I deliberately put my alarm clock on the other side of the room so I can't just hit the snooze, but I do it anyway, feeling myself being sucked back to the bed like a magnet. Well anyway, I did make my bus at 5:45, but I just got the last seat, and mine is the second stop. Will I get up even earlier to make the first, which is four blocks away? Possibly yes, probably no.

Oh dear how am I going to even get there? 5th Ave. and midtown... sounds like the F train with a long walk. I'm writing this with my tool backpack on my knees. That sounds like it should be a song. Now I'm sitting on the F-train with my tools between my knees... (second verse.)

All the people on the subway are fascinating, and I try not to stare. There's the woman whose giant unhappy face looks like it's glued together from giant slabs of meat, decorated with liberal amounts of lipstick and eyeliner that just can't possibly help. There's the muscular guy in bright tartan golf-shorts and sunglasses who's asleep with his arms folded across his chest looking as relaxed and comfortable as if he were sitting on his own couch in his living room. A balding woman with a lined face who has three or four shopping bags piled at her feet reading a newspaper that's falling apart in her hands and she's grabbing at the pages every few seconds without even thinking about it...

I'm at 21st St Queensbridge and every time the subway stops here I think of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere when they have to cross... um... Kingsbridge? Knightsbridge? Is the Marquis hiding somewhere? I love how watching that BBC miniseries was like watching the old Doctor Who. The story was more important than whether they had enough money for special effects.

I almost don't notice time passing when I write on the subway. Maybe that's the secret to productivity? But then time also flies when I play Nethack...

Anyway, that’s all for now.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

More thoughts that keep me awake...

So... what did Charon need the coins for, exactly? Where did he spend them? Was there a mall of the gods? Did he have a girlfriend? Did he cry poverty every year and constantly raise his rates, like a mythological version of the NYC MTA? Any ideas?


Thursday, August 19, 2010

This Annoying Life...

Another fun-filled day has come to a close. I always feel like I’m whining when I say that I’m tired, but I AM tired. I feel it all the way from my skin through my muscles into my bones and up my spine to my dissolving brain. I feel like I’m a computer game that was meant to run on an i7 with 8 gigs of ram and a GeForce 480 that’s trying to clog along on a Pentium III. Do I have unrealistic expectations, or is there someone I can see about an upgrade?

After having been eradicated for fifty years, bedbugs are making a comeback in New York City. The reason? Because certain pesticides that kept them at bay have now been banned. The annoying thing is that any articles I read on the subject have an, “Oh well, we need to learn to deal with it,” attitude. Fuck that noise. So many things around us are destroying the environment, one more won’t make a difference. Bring those pesticides back. Now.

Here’s something else that annoys me. I read a few editorials today that state that one in five foolish, racist, and uneducated Americans (not my feelings, just the tone of the editorials) believe that President Obama is a Muslim. Here’s what pisses me off - and no, I have no idea nor do I care what religion the president is - I just hate the us vs. them mentality that our media thrives on fostering: The poll says “Do you happen to know what Barak Obama’s religion is?” It does not say, “What religion does President Obama say he follows?” Because there’s a big difference in having the personal belief that the president is a closet Muslim, and thinking that he is an openly practicing Muslim. The wording of the poll and the resulting smug editorials that followed seem to imply that anyone who thinks the former really believes the later, and has obviously had their brains thoroughly scrubbed by the sinister FOX conglomerate rather than being someone who has merely formulated an opinion.

So what’s annoying you today?


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blogging Through Banality

Hello my friends, I’m sorry that it’s been so long. I’m looking at the headlines for something to write about, and everything just seems so banal. I don’t care that Halle Berry is happy to run around naked, or that some star of some reality show I don’t watch is “criminally annoying,” or someone’s mother is sleeping with someone… I don’t know… In addition, I don’t want to hear any more about the mosque being built near ground zero, or how the MTA is crying poverty again or what imaginary numbers say the economy is/ isn’t recovering depending on who is slanting the news because overall it just sort of makes me feel powerless. No wonder people concentrate so much on celebrity idiocies.

I feel cooked after being out in the sun all day hauling bits of scoreboard (blocks with LED lights on them) with ropes and pulleys and constructing gantries and scaffolds. I wonder why so much of my life I’ve wound up doing things opposite of that that I’m suited for. Is it a subconscious desire to round myself out, or do I feel a need to prove something? OK, I know that I’m smarter than the average bear, but I can also fight off heat stroke while standing on top of a scoreboard, hauling up large bits of metal and fixing ballasts.

I may have mentioned this before, but I wonder how much the push for self esteem is forced consumerism. Due to books and TV shows and movies and commercials with little sad faces that look like illustrations in a Shell Silverstein book, I feel like I’m supposed to be happy and confident all the time, and that everyone else but me obviously is. So I need to buy a self-help book, (as the late great George Carlin said – if someone else wrote it, it ain’t self help!) or buy some sort of happy pill or do yoga, or something along those lines. I agree with Ayn Rand on the subject- self respect and self love comes from doing and being someone you can respect and love. But I also think that I just need to accept myself and stop imagining that everyone has their shit together but me. Our stools are all loose.

On that pleasant note, everyone have a pleasant night and a fun-filled tomorrow.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Embiggen is a Perfectly Cromulent Word!

Is it just me, or does it seem like every time a difficult topic, (such as whether or not we should "refudiate" a mosque near Ground Zero*,) comes up, the media makes a huge deal out of whatever blithering idiocies Sarah Palin spouts on the subject? This way instead of having any sort of meaningful debate, everyone can just jeer at her and by default, anyone who agrees with her. Also, when she tries to fend off criticism by comparing herself to Shakespeare, I have to wonder if she's really a politician or just an actress hired to keep the Us VS Them shell game going.

*For the record I have nothing against Islam or Mosques, but I don't see why there NEEDS to be one near ground zero, and I personally think that the feelings of the families of the 9/11 victims should be paramount. However, I also tend to think that one should remember to flosingrabe their toes with nonerschmidst every other pingwobble.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tony's Movie Rants!

I took Joe to see Despicable Me today. My God, it was hysterical, much better than the predictable (but enjoyable) Toy Story 3. I would love an army of minions! Plus, it had a cameo by Julie Andrews, (almost unrecognizable with an Eastern-European accent,) as a painfully unsupportive mother.

My only issue with the movie is that there are three adorable orphan girls who predictably warm the not-so-evil supervillain Gru’s icy heart. Now I have no problem with orphan girls, but- as orphans throughout literature history have done- all they dream about is getting adopted and what their new mommy will look like. Will she read them stories? Will she give them kisses? But as a writer who thinks about and researches characters, I kept thinking: What about their old mommy? Don’t they miss her? Don't they want their mommy more than anything? Don’t they want to know where they come from, what their family was like? Where they got their eyes or sense of humor from? What Gru had still fallen in love with their cuteness, but instead of adopting them, had helped them find their real mother or father? (Assuming they were given up for adoption. For all I know real mother could have been eaten by a pack of wild yaks.) Yes, there are many wonderful people who take in children for adoption. But like the Godfather told Tom Hagen (in the novel,) never forget your real father.

Now that I’m on the subject of movies and adoption, I think that the trailer for Salt staring Angelina Jolie looks cool as hell. But she and these other obnoxious stars (are you reading, Madonna?) who go to countries where poor parents had to give their kids up and adopt these kids like they’re some sort of trophy piss me off. (Ten points to Tropic Thunder for it's satirical take on this trend.) If you have that kind of cash and you really want to do good, instead of adopting these kids, why don’t you sponsor their family so they can be with their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters? I think if I was a kid and my parents were alive but poor, I would give anything to be with my family instead of living in lala land. (I’m sure my parents are reading this and laughing their asses off, but hey, I missed everyone horribly when I left for the army and I was eighteen!)

Well, I’m off for a late-night walk. Everyone have a good night. And seriously, despite my perspective, go see Despicable Me. It’s a riot. (Is it me or is Vector supposed to be Bill Gates?)


Friday, July 09, 2010

Musings of a sun-broiled brain.

For those who don’t know, I’m finally back to work again – which is a wonderful thing. The only proverbial fly in the ointment is that I’m working outdoors in this miserable heat. At least I can work on my tan. My feet and arms feel like stretched-out rags. We had a last second emergency to take care of, involving digging and laying PVC in the ground. I’m filthy, sweaty, smelly, and my fingers are dry and stinging from the solvent. Shower here I come.

The sky is stacked with cumulus clouds that come and go, come and go. I love the sky like this - when there are layers and layers and shapes and the sun or moonlight (especially the moonlight) is refracted through the clouds creating shapes and halos. I wish I could lie in a field and stare at it all night, but wild coyotes might eat me.

How does a group of individual nerve cells form a consciousness? Are bee hives or ant colonies a complex organism? Sometimes I wish I was a fish in the darkness and crushing cold on the bottom of the ocean and I wouldn't have to move and I wouldn't make any perceptible ripples in the world and I wouldn't matter. I could just be.

I may have mentioned that I once wrote an algebra paper using Ohm's Law equations to plan city traffic like a circuit board. Energy was speed, the volume of cars was amps, and traffic lights were ohms. The difference is the cars are each being driven by an individual consciousness, while electrons are sucked through to the negative pole. It also doesn’t matter if one electron hits another.

If you’re driving in a crowded city or highway, do you partially become a member of a gestalt mentality?

I think it's time for a nap.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I made this at my parents house over the weekend, when I was playing with Play-Doh with the kids. Yes, I know it's pretty much the same as my tin-foil stop animation a few years ago, but it was just something I did on the fly, not a Gumby adventure for Christ's sake.


Thursday, July 01, 2010


Yes, for the first time in years, here's an animation for you. What's more, it's hand-drawn!

Enjoy! :)


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just Curious...

I'm wondering - does anyone else cackle, "Fly, my pretties!" when using Insect Swarm while playing the Bioshock games?


Monday, June 28, 2010


OK I know it's World Cup time and all, but since it's everywhere (even youtube has a button for it on some videos) I have to ask: Is someone trying to force Vuvuzelas into being the next big meme?


PS - Something else I'm wondering: My daughter just got a Dora the Explorer doll for her birthday but um... Dora seems to have sprouted boobs. Did I miss something?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Awwwww... it's PAISLEY!

Illustration Friday: Paisley.

All the weirdly cool people will get it, everyone else will wonder. :)


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

...or the ripples from a pebble someone's tossed into a stream...

Illustration Friday: Ripple. And yea, was it written that thou shalt click above to get a higher resolution.

It was suggested that because of the recent horror in the Gulf of Mexico, our Illustration Friday submissions coincide with the Ripple Blog. The Ripple Blog will sell the images as autographed sketch cards for a $10 donation to The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies or The International Bird Rescue Research Center.

OK, seriously, words fail me. I can't possibly form a coherent post about the greed that caused this, the idea that you can just ignore safety precautions and keep trying to insulate the bottom line by risking disaster, and when the world gets a giant schlong up its tuchus because of it, you can just hide behind an army of lawyers and lobbyists and whatever politicians you own.

This shit is seriously the last thing the world needed right now. Our economy was already in the toilet. Now the lives of all the people who make a living off the ocean in the gulf have been ruined even further: fishermen, the tourist industry, people who had stock in BP or it's employees... people who were struggling and fighting to make ends meet, and now the ends have just been yanked another mile apart.

How can I even begin to touch on what this has done to the wildlife - to the fish who breathe that water, to the birds who swim in it? I read an article that some ornithologists suggest it would be kinder just to euthanize these birds, as they may not survive even after cleaning. Seriously, how can you live with yourself when your laziness and greed has fucked up the world so badly that euthanasia is the only way to fix it?

And I have nothing for or against President Obama, but what he said about wanting to know "whose ass to kick" is total and utter bullshit because - like the Wall Street bailout - the complete lack of responsibility in this disaster just seems to highlight how much our government is OWNED. I don't care which party you worship, it's owned, and the sinking feeling deep in my stomach when I think about the future keeps getting lower and lower.

Anyway, I made this image in 3ds Max. I'd seen wire-sculpture 3d images before and wondered how to make them. I found a great tutorial about how to make random wires in 3ds using particle flow. Basically, you make a stream of flowing particles and have each one spawn new particles (tiny spheres) in their wake that - when numerous and close enough - look like strands of wires. The question was, how do I give them form instead of being a random explosion? The trick would be to model an object and have the particles flow over the surface. Well with all of 3ds's tools, you would think this would be something particle flow could do- but apparently it's not. There is a plugin that allows you to do that, but I don't have $200 to spend for a hobby (if I had a professional studio it would be a reasonable price.) I searched the internet for workarounds, but didn't find any, just suggestions that I buy that plugin.

OK, so I can't get the particles to flow across the face of the surface, but I CAN get them to originate from the face of a surface. What's more, I can tell them to flow to the surface of another object. The only problem is, they're either going to take a random path, or they're going to just make a bee-line for it. I realized I could use the same mesh for both a source and a target. and using different random seeds, the particles would travel to different random points in the same mesh. The only problem was the wires were a bunch of sticks crossing through the object's center, even if they did start and stop at the surface. Again, not QUITE what I wanted, but I was getting somewhere. I modeled a pelican shape using different objects (I didn't want a wire going straight from the beak to the tail):

OK, so now I had an image that looked like a bunch of sticks in a bird-shape. Nice, but not quite what I was looking for. I added a vortex force operator to make the particles swirl around an axis (which I aligned with each object's axis) and after a lot of playing around, I finally got the model I wanted.

The oily water was a bit of a pain in the tushie. I'm still not quite happy with the specular highlights in the ripples. The oily surface map was created using the freeware fractal creator Chaos Pro. It takes a little bit to get the hang of it, but it is an amazing program.

So that's it! A little auto-leveling and sharpening in Photoshop, and that's all she wrote! Thank you for coming by, and I hope you enjoy and think about buying the card and donating. Think of it this way, if you do, not only will you be helping the wildlife that have been hurt in this disaster, but you'll also get my autograph. Who knows, might be worth something on eBay someday! ;)


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ultimate Nerd Test

This nerd test is very simple:

Step 1: Watch Mister Hankey's Christmas Classics (or at least the first nine seconds of it, or even better, skip to the ending credits at 21:20 to see Trey fight the frizzies!)

Step 2: Answer the following question: What is, "Fighting the frizzies at eleven!" an allusion to?

Don't look it up, you either know the answer or you don't. If you don't - congratulations, you have a life! If you do - welcome, friend!


Friday, June 11, 2010

So what ARE the best songs written for computer games?

Yesterday, I mentioned that portal had one of the best songs ever written for a computer game, and I got to thinking: What are the others? The original Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Tetris games all have soundtracks that have become part of twentieth century culture. If I had to choose my favorite game soundtrack, it would be the one for Lucas Arts' Grim Fandango, which combines Mexican themes with thirties jazz and blues. (The game itself is one of my all-time favorites.) However, I was thinking of songs with lyrics. So, in no particular order, here are three of my favorites.

"War" from Sam & Max Season One

There are a few other wonderful possibilities for the Sam & Max franchise. There's the C.O.P.S. and Ted. E. Bear songs (also from Season One,) The T.H.E.M. song from Season Two, and the classic "King of the Creatures" from Sam & Max Hit the Road (you have to skip ahead to 6:15.) But I personally love the idea that the outbreak of war would cause secret service men to break into a song and dance number while the president would just sit there dumbfounded.

"Skeletons in My Closet" from The 7th Guest.

In the early 90s, multimedia computers with CD-ROMs, video memory, and sound cards exploded upon the scene, bringing with them games more ambitious and creative than anything seen today. Some of these games were Myst (Riven is my personal favorite, but Myst came first,) Doom, Star Wars: Rebel Assault, Day of the Tentacle, Phantasmagoria, and yes, the greatest puzzle game of them all, The 7th Guest. Winning the game meant you got to hear this gem during the end credits.

And of course, "Still Alive" from the ending credits of Portal.

There's so many reasons to love this song. It's sung by GlaDOS, the game's boss. It's message is clear - you thought you blew me up, but I'm still alive. Not only that, but it's sung in such a childish, passive-aggressive, lay-the-guilt-on-thick sweet voice: OK, I used you and manipulated you and tried to kill you, but did you really have to be so cruel and try to destroy me? The game wouldn't have been half as fun without GlaDOS egging you on. (I love the Black Mesa joke.) But the real question is, will there be cake?

Are there any that I've forgotten, or any personal favorites?


Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Geek Ranting

Sigh... it never ends.

Apparently, Portal 2 will be delayed until 2011, for the reason that, "Making games is hard." At least they still have their senses of humor. There will supposedly be a Portal 2 "surprise" at this years E-3 gaming convention, which makes me wonder if they're planning an early release and just want to be schmucks about it and create buzz first. Very possible. If so, I take my hat off to you. But if not...

Dear Valve. (I feel like bitching today in letter format.)

Years ago you created an awesome, enjoyable first person puzzle game with some action overtones. Despite it's short length, it was very popular for six reasons:

1) It is creative.
2) It is just challenging enough to be fun, not so challenging as to be frustrating.
3) Hidden information that is slowly revealed, creating a sense of mystery and making the player want to know what's really going on. (The cake is a lie!)
4) Dark, dark humor.
5) An AI villain that speaks in increasingly hysterical, paranoid, alternatively childish then Jewish-mother-guilty manipulative monologues.
6) One of the best songs ever written for a computer game.

In short, it is ENJOYABLE. Get it? Few games these days are ENJOYABLE. Most of them just try to make as much cash as they can off of you with over-hyped bullshit that makes you angry you wasted your money. Instead, people love it because it is ENJOYABLE. Do I need to say it again? MAKE A GAME THAT IS FUN AND ENJOYABLE.

The only thing that really needs to be improved is the length (the first game was a freebie in the Orange Box release.) If you want people to buy a full-priced game you need to make it worth their while. Concentrate on a good background story that is slowly revealed, that's the best way to keep gamers enticed. You don't even need a new engine - the Half-Life 2 engine is beautiful for this game, and after six years you should have all the bugs worked out for any platform.

Throwing money at it WILL NOT HELP. Many low-budget independent movies are classics because they are ENJOYABLE - there's that word again - while many blockbusters suck.

Improving the special effects WILL NOT HELP.

Making meshes and textures so high resolution that no one will be able to cleanly play the game until a new graphics card comes out in two years because you're getting kickbacks from the manufacturers, (not saying you particularly are, but this seems to be a common practice with new games,) WILL NOT HELP it will just piss people off.

To sum up: make an ENJOYABLE game that YOU test thoroughly without expecting players to buy and beta-test at their expense and then have to wait months for a patch, (Don't get me started - there's no excuse for this with console games, everyone has the same systems. You can't blame it on different configurations, and you're just proving you were full of shit when you did it for games on the PC,) and you'll be fine. You'll have a winner and make gobs of cash, everyone will sing your praises, people will want to have sex with you, whatever.

Just remember that one word. ENJOYABLE.


Sensory overload.

June 10, 2010.

Google Inc. World Headquarters
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

Attention: Inability to remove Google background image.

Dear Sir or Madam:


Reservedly yours,
Anthony Joseph LaRocca Jr., O.B.E.

PS - Yay, after fourteen hours,Google changed it back to normal, with the face-saving excuse that there was a bug that erased the link explaining why there were suddenly annoying and distracting pictures in the background. No, everyone understood WHY, they just hated it. I salute them for trying something different - it's always better to try than to do nothing, but this was just annoying. Bitching wins!!!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Daddy With Too Much Time

The other morning I woke up to the sound of my daughter (who will be seven in a few weeks) in the bathroom. I called out “Amanda, what are you doing?” She didn’t answer, so I ran in there to find her with a fistful of hair and a pair of scissors. “Look Daddy,” she said proudly, “I cut my hair!” They weren’t that many strands and she only cut off about three inches (her hair is long.) I honestly can’t tell where she cut them from. Does that mean it’s time for her to get a haircut?

We had a street fair the other day. There was a flash downpour, so the rides were temporarily closed. We stood there for twenty minutes while my daughter kept yelling “I want to go on the horsey!” (Carousel) “I want to go on the horsey!” One of my friends was working the carousel, and promised her she could be the first one on when the rain stopped. As soon as it did she waved us over and Amanda was the first one on. She stood on it, looked up at the horses, and said “I don’t WANT horsey, get me down!” All I can do is give a fond sigh.

The other night my son asked me why pi goes on forever. I said that first of all, we don’t know that it goes on forever, we just have not found an end or a repeat yet, (scientists have divided to 1,241,100,000,000 decimal places so far,) because we had a base-ten numbering system. I then explained what bases are, and why we use base ten. (To quote Tom Lehrer, “But don’t panic: base eight is just like base ten, really… if you’re missing two fingers!”) So the next morning in the shower I wondered: is there any base that pi can be resolved in? What about a base pi numbering system, where pi would equal one, two would be 2pi, three would be 3pi, and so on. The problem is that the “10” place would then be pi squared, which is somewhere between 3 and 4 pi. So in that sense, it wouldn’t work. I was thinking that maybe that would be a sign of superior intelligence in the galaxy, if they had a base-pi numbering system, as that would be a constant throughout the universe, as opposed to the number of digits on beings' hands, and if it wouldn't fit into our system of mathamatics, humanity would have to learn an entire new way of thinking. In a wonderful moment of synchronicity, my friend Julianne posted a quote from Buckminster Fuller on her fb page:

"To how many places does nature carry out PI when she makes each successive bubble in the white-cresting surf of each successive wave before nature finds out that PI can never be resolved?... And at what moment in the making of each separate bubble in Universe does nature decide to terminate her eternally frustrated calculating and instead turn out a fake sphere? I answered myself that I don't think nature is using PI or any of the irrational fraction constants of physics."

I like that I can enjoy looking at the universe from both angles.



Sunday, June 06, 2010

Trail Mix!

Illustration Friday: Trail. He's leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. OK, it's a stretch. Sue me. Click on the bad boy above for some real detail. :)

A few weeks ago, the Illustration Friday word was Equipment. I sketched out a well-equipped warbot:

I then went to 3ds Max and created some dummy objects as placeholders so I had an idea of how I wanted to model my warbot:

It took me about a week and a half to finish modeling him. ("Equipment"'s time as a subject was long over) Most of it was fashioned by deforming shapes (spheres, capsules,) or from creating an outline and then extruding it. I wanted him to have a copper steampunk look, but at the same time look futuristic. I suppose the Bioshock game series were a bit of an influence, though my son says it reminds him Proxy from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. (And I personally think all fictional war machines since the 80's owe a debt of gratitude to ED-209.) I played a lot with different metals and textures to get effects. The copper bitmap was made from a digital camera photo of the bottom of my teapot. To get finer detail, I extruded and beveled many of the objects faces. Sometimes after I beveled them inward, I overlapped the sunken faces with another material (such as the blue glow.)

I can be a bit of a mechanical / engineering wonk, and although the warbot is a bit top-heavy, a lot was created with functionality in mind. You can only see the top of it in the image, but the thighs have shock absorbers, and the feet have springs between the tallons (which never worked the way I intended.) Every joint has a screw that rotates with the child limb. The neck is on a gear, as is the rotating barrel of the gun. Rivets are just low polygon spheres. I tried to use the scatter modifier, which places duplicates of an object on the surface of another, but no matter what parameters I changed, the placement always wound up being slightly random.

(By the way, I have no idea why I created a rotating barrel on a weapon that looks like it's a laser beam. Maybe... maybe the two glowing bits are small relativity furnaces which convert energy into matter and feed it into the firing chamber, which would then, for rapid speed, need a rotating barrel to prevent overheating? I love thinking about the details.)

Once I finished modeling him, I wondered what sort of a setting to put him in. I decided to put him in the ruins of a city. Keeping the camera in the same location and at the same angle, I created some dummy objects for buildings, using a sphere to remind me where my finished bot would generally be:

Some of the buildings were difficult to model and took days, others were easy. The round tower's skeletal structure with dripping gray matter was from how I remembered everything looking after 9-11. It disturbed me that all these buildings that contained objects that had form and purpose and years of work were all reduced to a dripping gray ash, and after I finished modeling, I realized just modeling it brought back disturbing memories. I laugh at myself because I worked very hard to make the outer shell realistically smashed and broken- and you can't even see it behind the warbot. The second building on the right is very detailed and modeled right down to fire escapes, but you can't tell at all because of its placement. I love how the first building on the right (the one with the cracked and damaged facade) came out. I drew the cracks in Photoshop, modeled the facade with a very high mesh, and then used my drawings as a displacement map (which raises the light areas and sinks in the darkened ares.) The broken brick building was easy, it's just an opacity map (I made a black and white image in photoshop over the picture of the bricks, blacking out where the building would be invisible. The building is simply a 1 face by 1 face box.) The bridge was simple to model. You can barely tell because of the fog, but if you look all the way to the left, you can see that it's broken. That's why the main suspension cables aren't there to the left of the main support. (The thinner cables are hanging.)

The far off buildings were created by talking a plane and adding the Greeble modifier to it. This extrudes the faces to random heights. with extra "widgets" on top. I used a simple pattern of light squares on a grey grid to make the window lights (which I also used for an illumination map) They just repeat off into the distance, but they're just there to give the background depth, and are mostly covered by fog.

I tried to make the clouds in various ways. I took digital photos I had of skies and tried to manipulate the colors until I had what I wanted, but it didn't look right. I tried drawing them and then using the burn and dodge tools to give them texture. It still didn't look right. For the record, Photoshop's rendered clouds are absolute shit. I remembered I had used a facing-particles technique to make a cloud vortex for the IF entry 100%. I dug up this fantastic tutorial by Jonas Ussing. The only thing I did to add to the clouds texture was giving them a "smoke" diffuse map. With the spotlight (and moon) behind them, I finally got exactly the effect I was looking for.

The thing Is, I could keep detailing and adding and detailing and adding, (I considered having jets fighting in the sky,) but I'm very happy with what's here. You have to stop at some point.

As far as the final effects go, praise the FSM for Photoshop! If I was creating an animation rather than a static image, I would have had to make pains to make sure everything was perfect in 3ds Max so it could be correctly rendered frame after frame. I could have tweaked and tweaked and tweaked the settings to get the eye glows and the glowing fire in the mouth exactly as I wanted in 3ds, all it took in Photoshop was the addition of a few mouse clicks of linear light. The same goes for the electricity in the warbot's blade. I don't know who first came up with the technique, but it's very simple to make realistic lightning in Photoshop using rendered clouds (See? I knew they had a use!)

The final image was rendered with a width of 1920 pixels so it could be wallpaper on a widescreen hd monitor. I'm going to look for a site that has 3d wallpaper galleries on it to get a little publicity. I would have posted it at that resolution here, but Blogger's filespace is not infinite, and I have a lot that I've shared and plan to share in the future. But 1024p is nothing to sneeze at either!

So here's a Rorschach test: is the warbot humanity's destroyer, or it's defender?


Saturday, June 05, 2010

What Happened After Lost? the image above and find out, in I Can Bend Paperclips!


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nerd Fantasies

Please Click the above to see I Can Bend Paperclips! No. 6.

So, come on, who were your nerd fantasies?


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

If you're not aware, today is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Please click on the above image to read what I have to say about it in cartoon form on I Can Bend Paperclips!

In April 2010, the animated television show South Park aired a two-parter to celebrate it's 200th episode, bearing the not-quite original titles, "200" & "201." The episodes centered around celebrities wanting to kidnap Mohammed and steal his power: being the only thing in America that was taboo to ridicule. As with the previous episode "Cartoon Wars," Comedy Central blocked out all images of Mohammed in "200." After a blog made vague threats against South Park's creators, Comedy Central went so far as to bleep out the name "Mohammed" in "201," and to bleep out an entire speech at the end about terrorism and intolerance - even though the speech did not mention Mohammed or Islam.

On April 20, 2010, Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris created the cartoon Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, in support of South Park's creators Trey Parker & Matt Stone. It suggested that on May 20th, everyone should draw Mohammed in the name of free speech. A facebook page was created, (well, a few facebook pages, actually,) and the idea gained momentum. Since then, Molly Norris has done everything possible to apologize and distance herself from the idea, including scribbling over her original cartoon, pointing out that none of the images she actually drew are of Mohammed ("they are just CLAIMING to be," - in her own words and capitals,) and suggesting that the name be changed to "Everybody Draw Al Gore Day." Meanwhile, the Pakistani government has banned facebook and YouTube access within its borders indefinitely.

So why am I doing this?

I have nothing against Islam, or its non-violent followers. To be honest, I'm a little taken aback at the hatred that some of my fellow participants are showing. But no one should be afraid to draw a picture, especially in a country that is based on free speech and has a mainstream culture that constantly ridicules Christianity and other religions. If you say that I am being deliberately offensive to your faith by drawing Mohammed's image, look at it this way. Catholics aren't supposed to eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but that doesn't mean that non-Catholics who do are offending them. Get it?


Monday, May 17, 2010

Attention Whore...

Click on the above image for comic No 4. of I Can Bend Paperclips!
(Thank you all for your kind comments and support over the years, BTW.)


Friday, May 14, 2010

Honset Parenting

My son is a "tween," and dealing with all the things that go along with being that wonderful age. Tonight I felt so much for him when he asked me why he sometimes does stupid things. Should I pretend that I have a clue, or should I be honest with him and tell him that adults (especially yours truly) ask themselves that all the time?


Thursday, May 13, 2010

I'd Rather See...

Great googly moogly, I'm actually being semi-productive! Check out I Can Bend Paperclips #3!


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Paperclips #2

OK, I've decided I wanted to make more webcomics when the mood hits me, so I added a new blog to my profile, I Can Bend Paperclips. I'll announce here when I post a new comic there, so hop on over and check it out!


I Can Bend Paperclips No. 1

A new webcomic for you. Will there be more? Does it mean anything? Do you have to click on it to read it? All these questions will be answered in our next exciting episode!


Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Rest in peace, Frank Frazetta, your imagination will be missed. May your heaven be full of voluptuous women barely contained by shreds of translucent silk.


Monday, May 10, 2010

The Mouse of LaMancha

Illustration Friday: Fearless. Please click above for much nicer resolution.

This is my first composite attempt. There's three different elements here. The floor and walls are actually from a digital photo. The mouse and rat were hand drawn on paper, scanned in, and detailed on my Pocket PC using Pocket Artist and on my laptop with Photoshop. The mousetrap and cheese were made in 3ds Max, and I used that and Photoshop to put it all together. Enjoy!


Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Question...

Seriously... am I really the only person in America who doesn't find Debbie Downer funny?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Dream Analysis

I know I haven't posted one of these in a while. Enjoy!

I dreamt I was in a dimly lit travel agent's office with my cute & little sainted Catholic mother. We were going to pick up plane tickets for Jeff and me (I don't remember where or why we were flying.) The agent (who I think was conservative/republican) asked if I would mind filling out a survey. The thing is, the survey used a sort of electrified stick that you had to poke through holes to record the answers, and it didn't work very well. One of the questions was, "Do you believe in God?" Another was, "When was the last time you used gas in your home?" I talked to my mom about it and realized that everywhere I lived had been electric except my parents' house, so the answer was 1996. Then I looked the time and said "holy shit, I'm going to miss my flight!" The agent was trying not to act offended that I wouldn't finish the survey, and I told him yes, but my flight leaves in half an hour and I have to get to the airport still! Then Jeff called me and my cell phone was all screechy and the screen flickered and made weird shapes, and I told him I had bad reception, and he said "that's not bad reception, my friend, your phone is fucked up!"

Then I woke up.



PS - My daughter just looked at the hair in my ears and said "Daddy, your ears are fluffy!" Sigh...

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Illustration Friday: Cocoon

Illustration Friday: Cocoon. Click above for higher resolution.

I wonder how he got in there, what he's turning into, and how he's getting out!


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Last Minute Illustration Friday

Illustration Friday: "Ahead." Please click above for higher resolution. It's worth it.

OK, I know I got this one in at the very last minute, but it took a week to make, goddamn it! The hardest part was modeling my head in Poser. I eventually gave up trying to use the Face Room utility that's supposed to line up photographs of your head with splines, and instead saved their default texture and matched my webcam photos up to it in Photoshop. Once I had a texture I could live with, I imported it back into poser, and did a lot of trial and error to get features that were close to mine.

I exported my pretty-decent head into 3ds max and edited the mesh (soft selection is very useful) until it looked pretty much like my dear old self. Next I used Boolean tools to cut the top of my head up into pieces. After that, I used Reactor to simulate blowing a musket ball through the top of my head, and let the pieces fall where they may. I now had a head in pieces, but it looked too clean. I went back to my friend Photoshop and created some cracks both as an opacity map (making it look like my head was missing pieces) and to add to my texture.

Ah, but what's inside? Zbrush is very organic, but it makes wonderful gears very easily. I created some different gears, imported them back into 3ds Max, created a few springs, multiplied them until I had a handful of 64, then used reactor to dump them all in a heap around my open skull.

The marble floor was a bit of a pain in the ass. I couldn't get the tiles to look exactly the way I wanted. I used different smoothing groups, but the effect still gives the individual tiles too much slant. I don't think it's noticeable to anyone but me. (I made it by creating a cylinder, and extruding and beveling certain faces to get the raised tile look. The grout is a plane with a noise texture.)

But why did my head break in the first place! I know, it's because my unwanted, squatting tenant escaped! I spent half a day creating a mechanical bug and just didn't like the result. had a free ant mesh by someone named 3DMB. I gave him a metallic look and he worked nicely.

OK, so I rendered it and put it all together in Photoshop. There were a few problems with the ant's reflections and shadows and I fixed them by drawing in a few extra shadows and rendering twice, once with and once without the ant, and composting between the two. I then decided that I just didn't like the way my beard looked- there was too much artifacting in the texture. I took the original webcam photo I had used to make the texture from, pasted my mouth over the 3d mouth, scaled and skewed with free transform, added appropriate shadows, matched the color and contrast, and voila! A wee bit of Gaussian noise and everything matches up pretty well! I blurred the far tiles to give it a little depth of field, and there you have it!

I hope you all enjoy, and I'm glad to squeeze it into IF with two hours to spare!


Monday, April 26, 2010

Vomiting Trees

When it rains, the trees in Queens like to vomit their flowers onto the sidewalk.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Out of the fog, into the smog!"

Illustration Friday
: Detective. Bonus points to whoever can tell me where the post title comes from.


Monday, April 12, 2010

I came home the other day and found this notice posted in our building lobby:

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Fooling April Blahs

The hot water’s not working. I wanted to shave and take a shower, now I’m resigned to being hairy and smelly. I can’t find the charger for my trimmer either. It’s somewhere in this unholy mess. I’ve unearthed six adapters so far. Two are for phones I no longer own, the other four I have no clue what they do. Can you say pack rat?

I have some slightly overdue library books to return. I also have paperwork to drop off at the union. I’ll take my son with me, it’s such a beautiful day. I’ve been trying to clean and I’ve found a stack of the kids school pictures over the years. If all they do is sit in a stack, why the hell do we order them?

My daughter has built a wall out of the ottoman and couch and chair cushions to block the living room from the rest of the apartment. I’m dealing with stepping over it right now because I just don’t have the heart to dismantle it.

I did some editing this morning. Getting closer and closer to getting my second draft the way I want it to be. I got caught up last night in playing Civ 4. It’s so easy to get distracted, to do things to pass the time instead of living. I’ll have to walk to the grocery store later and get some fresh fruit and smoothie ingredients.

That's my exciting life, hope everyone's having fun being foolish.


Monday, March 08, 2010

(...and Wiffle Balls!)

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of balloons?


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pollitical Musings

Ok, so if I'm supposed to take President Obama at his word that he has saved us from another great depression (despite the current high unemployment rate,) does it then logically follow that I'm supposed to take former Pres. George W. Bush's word about all the times he supposedly saved the world from terrorism?

When I listen to how both major parties and their followers blame each other for the current situation (whatever situation that may be,) I think of Ayn Rand's Forward to her novel We the Living:

"Take a look through the files of the newspapers. If you do, you will observe the following pattern: first, you will read glowing reports about the happiness, the prosperity, the industrial development, the progress and the power of the Soviet Union, and that any statements to the contrary are the lies of prejudiced reactions; then, about five years later, you will read admission that things were pretty miserable in the Soviet Union five years ago, just about as bad as the prejudiced reactionaries had claimed, but now the problems are solved and the Soviet Union is a land of happiness, prosperity, industrial development, progress, and power; about five years later, you will read that Trotsky (or Zinoviev or Kamenev or Litvinov) or the “kulaks” or the foreign imperialists) had caused the miserable state of things five years ago, but now Stalin has purged them all and the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union has surpassed the decadent West in happiness, prosperity, industrial development, etc; five years later, you will read that Stalin was a monster who had crushed the progress of the Soviet Union, but now it is a land of happiness, prosperity, artistic freedom, educational perfection and scientific superiority over the whole world. How many of such five-year plans will you need before you begin to understand?"



Saturday, February 20, 2010

Daily Cuteness

My son and I took a trip recently to visit my parents. We thought it would be fun to take the train. I was explaining him how to plan a trip online, and mentioned that our destination was the Lyons Station. My daughter ran over all excited. "Lions? You're going to the zoo to see lions and elephants and giraffes?" Ever since, for three days now she's been asking me to go to the zoo. Sometimes she's just too adorable for words.

Still don't believe me? We've been watching back episodes of Lost recently on Netflix. As the credits rolled on the last episode, I closed out the browser window. "Where's the bad robot?" Mandy yelled. "I want to see the bad robot!" Of course, I started it again. At the end of the credits, she happily shouted along with the children's voices, "BAD ROBOT!"

I spent the day finishing a project on Neutrino Astronomy. Did you know millions of those little buggers are passing through you as you're reading this? Well now you do.

Goodnight, my friends

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Strawberry Stickers

I had an uneventful day today. My daughter is obsessed with stickers. There are stickers everywhere. Most of them are of Strawberry Shortcake. One of them is mysteriously stuck to my computer desk next to my keyboard. I think I'll leave her there.



Friday, February 12, 2010

Morning :)

I'm feeling a little happy this morning for some strange reason. It must be the thought of shoveling my car out of the frozen snow. ;)



Thursday, February 11, 2010

If we live in a multiverse of parallel worlds, is it possible that to each of our consciousnesses, our world is unique? Are we each, in fact, God, and is our subconsciousness shaping our individual worlds without us realizing it?

I once had a lucid Kafka-esque lucid dream where I was really a sort of walking stick alien playing a computer simulation, and that my friends and people I cared about were aliens playing along with me.

Neatorma has an interesting psychological post about Placebo Buttons. I thought you might find it interesting.

Well that's all for today. Hope everyone is doing well and has a good one.