Okay, this is the last entry at this old location, http://my.tbaytel.net/macbeth/blogger.html - please update your links etc. to http://www.psw.ca/blogger.php - I already have on my main page.

I paid extra when I moved to godaddy.com hosting so I could continue to have cgi support which my comments system requires. It turns out that Godaddy has really lousy cgi support - it's extremely restrictive, and after too much fiddling, I've given up trying to get my old blog system working.

I've still got all the old comments in a file, but the new php-based system I'm using has a different file format, and it means the old comments have to be changed over. I treasure your comments, every one of them, but it might just be too much trouble to convert them all. If I had time, I'd probably try to learn perl well enough to do it somewhat automatically. Anyone want to volunteer? :)

This new system is called "Poster Child", and it seems I couldn't get it running at tbaytel due to it's php-ness. So if you're reading this on tbaytel, please go over to psw.ca so you can leave a comment, and let me know it's working for you. That's where all the action will be from now on!



I'm switching hosts for psw.ca which is where my blog's commenting system lives, so the comments may act strange for a while. But once everything's settled, it should work much better, and get rid of that stalling problem that happens sometimes with my current you-get-what-you-pay-for-and-can't-complain host.

Both my real job and my top-secret-cool-job have been pretty busy lately, leaving little time and/or energy for the kind of blogging I like to do. But Carla's been picking up my blogging slack - she's the Disenfranchised Housewife linked to the right. I think I've been linked to the Right too.

Finally, it was uber-cool listening to my good friend Richard Pepper's "Free Stanley" song being played on As It Happens, a nationally broadcast radio show here in Canada. Rianna did a very interesting interpretive dance while the song played, and then the Harbrons cheered right along with the hosts of the show. "Well done, Mr. Pepper!"


Creative Inspiration

I spend a lot of time thinking about being creative. I think about articles and blog entries I want to write, I think about video games I want to program, I think about books I want to write, songs I want to write and record, even an idea I have for a movie (a fictional documentary) I want to make. A lot of these ideas are pretty concrete too - I can read or play or read or listen or watch (respectively) these things in my mind, at least partially.

Unfortunately, this happens almost exclusively when I'm too busy to actually do any of it. And then, when I have time, that creative spark leaves, pulling all the motivation away. I guess I'm a part-time escapist.

I'm glad I actually have completed some projects, so I'm not only a dreamer - I've had many of my articles published in newsletters and pseudo-magazines (even been paid for several of them), I've recorded some of my songs and put together a couple homegrown CDs, I've freely released several computer programs (and even been paid for a few others). And sometimes I blog. This isn't meant to be a brag list, I'm just trying to reassure myself that I'm somewhat credible, because for every project that I complete, there's several that I didn't. And for every project that I didn't complete, there's another dozen "great ideas" that I never even started on.

And I still want to see many of these ideas come to life. There's a few that I think of daily - I'd almost say that I'm haunted by them, but the thoughts aren't unpleasant enough to describe them that way. But it's such a long path from conception to final creation with these bigger ideas - so I'll just keep on blogging along until inspiration and free time intersect.


Kids and Video Games

What, can't drag Johnny away from that book he's reading? Can't get Suzy inside the house on a beautiful spring day? Like most parents, you want your little kids to be playing video games, and you get worried when they seem disinterested, or they find the games too frustrating or confusing.

Well, I've got some tips for you:

First, ease them in with some educational games. If you have a Windows machine (even an older 200-300 Mhz machine will do nicely), I recommend the Reader Rabbit series, which has been great - right from the preschool version up to grade two. Kids seem to be able to figure out the mouse fairly easily - one of our kids had it down before she turned two, while the others all had it by the time they turned three. Plenty of different minigames and tasks are tied together with some sort of story that gives the kids something to work towards. It also works well for a group of kids - one kid uses the mouse, but the others are happy to give advice, and enjoy the story and music.

Now, time to get them playing some (almost) real video games. I used to hate that purple dinosaur, but when I discovered a Sega Genesis game about Barney for just a couple bucks at the thrift shop, I had to get it, and see if it was good for the kids. And sure enough, it's like the Rosetta Stone of gaming for little ones. It's a typical side-scrolling platform game, sort of like Super Mario Brothers or Sonic, but with a couple important changes. First of all - Barney can't die. This might sound like a major disadvantage (Barney dying all sorts of horrible deaths could have been a really strong selling point for the adult crowd) but from the kid's perspective, this is great. Little kids have enough trouble coping with the controls, never mind avoiding enemies and jumping over wide chasms. Secondly, if you don't touch the controls for a while, Barney just starts walking by himself, and will finish the level on his own. So kids can just sort of sit there with the controller, feeling they're doing something even when they aren't. And as they start to clue in that pressing left or right on the pad makes Barney walk, or pressing the button makes him jump or hug (yes, hugging is a big part of this game), they slowly become video game players.

Once Barney has caused the great awakening, kids are ready for all sorts of other games. The next one I recommend is Bowling for the Atari 2600. This'll get them going on a joystick, which surprisingly is a lot trickier for a kid to figure out than a gamepad or especially the mouse. All you have to do in bowling is press the fire button, and the ball (more like a square) will roll (okay, slide) down the lane and hit the pins (more squares). It's all accompanied by simple, yet distinct and attractive sound effects. After a while they'll figure out that pushing up and down on the joystick moves the man up and down, and so forth.

Once they've got these skills down, they'll be ready for some newer systems. Mario World 64 on the Nintendo 64 is great, as there are large areas with no threats, where Mario can wander around as they get used to the controls. There's plenty of exploring to be done in the castle when they feel comfortable.

Once the N64 control pad is mastered, no problem moving to some Vigilante 8 on the Dreamcast, Crash Bandicoot on the Playstation, or Mario Kart: Double Dash or Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube.

Pretty soon all your concerns about books and outdoor play will be over.


Electronic Music

My tastes in music have changed a lot over the years. In the early 80s I was listening to the current top-40 type stuff, like Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen or, dare I admit it, Michael Jackson. Then I remember during the breakdance craze starting to listen to some rap and some techno-type music. Then by the end of the 80s I got into some harder rock and metal, but also into those dance-remixes that were becoming very popular.

Grunge arrived in the early 90s, and I liked the "be real" or "who cares" messages. Plaid, bass, drums and guitar is pretty much all I wanted, though a certain form of folk music fit in with this view too, and that was cool. I pretty much despised electronic instruments, like keyboards and drum machines (with the notable exception of Richard Pepper's music, of course).

However, throughout all this time I never stopped liking my favourite computer and video game music. From the moody (both happy and dismal) music of Super Mario Land on the original Gameboy to the Commodore 64's SID chip - the medieval songs of Ultima III & IV, the super-long epic soundtracks of Delta and Tetris, and the many games that Rob Hubbard's tunes made so much better (Last V8 and Master of Magic to just name a couple). Great stuff!

So what's the difference? I think it has to do with how I perceive music as being honest, or real. Most 8-bit type music is blatantly computer generated. Nobody is trying to hide anything - it's in your face. What I grew to dislike was electronic instruments trying too hard to be real. And it seemed the same artists that were happy to use a keyboard to replace their bassist and a little black box to replace their drummer were the same ones that wanted every last note in their recording to be sequenced to "perfection" - and they ended up sounding like yet another over-produced, homogenized piece of, um, music.

A lot of the music I'm listening to now is from individuals or small groups that are using 8-bit sounds in their music. Tree Wave uses a C64, Atari 2600, luggable ancient PC clone and a dot matrix printer(!) to make some fantastic music. Bud Melvin does a live show with Gameboy, banjo, and vocals. His recording of "Moonglow" is one of my favourite songs, ever.

These bands aren't using electronic music to sound slick, or over-produced - they're just using it to create cool sounds and original music. They've got the honesty in their art that makes me want to listen, even if it just sounds like beeps and boops to other people.


Tron 2.0 Killer App

Not only a really good pun, Tron 2.0 Killer App for the Gameboy Advance is also an excellent game. I spent this last weekend playing Tron whenever I could. It's a fairly short game - I was able to finish it in two days, but it was a good trip, and it's full of extras that will keep me coming back for quite a while.

The main game is an isometric platform/shooter game. You guide your choice of Tron or Mercury through several levels. Each program (that's what the "people" in Tron are called) has their own mission and areas to explore - occasionally their stories intersect, but essentially you have two seperate adventures in the same game universe. These levels generally involve exploration to find keys to pass through to different areas. Sometimes you encounter other programs that give you help, or want to make a trade with you. Upgrade chips are found which enhance your abilities, or unlock other parts of the included mini-games.

From time to time the game shifts to a remake of the classic overhead light-cycles game, and also to two different 3d games - one where you drive a Tank around, and the other where you fly a Recognizer around. At first I didn't like the 3D parts much, but I really got into them after a while. Flying the Recognizer is excellent once you've mastered the controls.

The mini-games are super-great. There are three puzzle/action games that you need to master as Tron and/or Mercury go through their adventure. One is a puzzle game, sort of like Pipemania except the pieces are hex shapes - this game is used to hack terminals scattered throughout the game areas. Another game involves defragmenting a program - if you're attracted to watching the Windows disk-defragmenter work (I am, strange as it may be) you'll probably love this game. Finally, the last game involves shooting through a firewall to get at this crazy program that looks like a disco-dancing robotic crab. I think this is the weakest of the games, but it's reasonably fun, kind of a bit like Yar's Revenge or the last level of Phoenix, but with power-ups and a couple extra complexities.

All 3 of these games are available to be played directly from the mini-game menu, in addition to their appearance in the main game. Also included in the mini-game menu are both of the original Tron arcade games from 1982 and 1983, which are recreated perfectly, at least, as far as I can tell. The Tron game from 1982 is a long-time favourite of mine - a very difficult but addictive game involving 4 different sub-games. Each time you complete all 4 parts, you repeat with the difficulty ramped up substantially. Very cool getting portable versions of these great games.

Anyway, that's a whole lot of value packed into one game. And all that playing makes me want to watch my Tron DVD again!


Wrong address/phone information will cause Parcel Lose.

I've written before about how much I enjoy good ol' NHL 98 on the Sega Genesis. My friend Victor organizes approximately three tournaments a year where we get together and play this game. Two of the three involve modern NHL rosters. This becomes more of a problem which each passing year, as more and more of the players retire, or get traded, and new players enter the league, and the NHL 98 rosters become increasingly inaccurate. A few custom players can be entered in the battery-backed-up cartridge, and players can be moved around from team to team. This is quite a procedure - Victor makes a many-paged recipe list of what needs to be done, step by step, and then he (sometimes with my assistance) goes through this one, maybe two hour procedure for each cartridge. In bigger tournaments, this needs to be done 3 times! And then there's the risk of the cartridge getting accidentally reset.

I've long dreamed of being able to directly modify the NHL 98 cartridge with new rosters. Some years ago I discovered more-or-less how the players and teams were encoded in the cartridge with a hex editor program (incidentally, I actually used a hex editor at work today, legitimately!) but didn't know how to take it to the next step of actually using the edited binary file on a real Sega.

I've always been fascinated with anything programmable - starting with the PET, Timex-Sinclair 1000 and C64s of my youth, and then into calculators and game consoles. Game consoles in particular are usually closed systems - no keyboard or disks or operating system to allow you to enter your own programs, besides pre-packaged cartridges, or more recently, CDs. Enterprising individuals (mostly located in Hong Kong) have created "flash carts" - cartridges containing flash memory which can be changed. Hook one of these devices up to a recent PC through the parallel or USB port, and the cartridge is flashed with whatever binary image you choose. These devices have become extremely popular on the various Gameboy incarnations, and are used 99% of the time to play pirated games. Of course, they're sold as "game development kits" :)

So, while searching online for a flash cart for my Gameboy Advance (for game development, of course!) I found a flash cart for the Sega Genesis! This is exactly what I need to go further with Project Genesis: NHL 2005 (or 2006). If all goes well, I hope to write a program that would allow Victor to change player names and stats easily in a text editor, then interpret those changes and put it in the binary file, which is then burned on the cart.

So, I ordered one of these flash carts today - maybe Victor will buy one too, if my experiments go well. The title above was the message I received when my order was completed. Yes, I trust these people with my money :)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?