Tuesday, November 11, 2008

NaNoWriMo kickoff

Midnight on Halloween was the NaNoWriMo kick-off, what's called a Midnight Write. It was held at Dragon's Lair, and when I got there about 11:30pm, there were about 25-30 people already there at tables set up with laptops at the ready.

By the way, Dragon's Lair is a great games/gaming/comic book/book store. Very family-friendly, and a large selection. Nice people too!

Anyway, the Midnight Write was also a potluck, and I was planning on bringing some cookies but other Halloween stuff loomed over our horizon. There was quite a bit of food, though.


Luckily someone had set up both a donation pot as well as a coffee pot.

So here I am in Central Nerdistan, among my people of course, and at five minutes to midnight we get warned about a whistle that will shake us to our very foundations. I mean, it's supposed to be THAT loud.

We gird our loins.

Fifteen seconds until midnight, and the countdown begins. We think we hear a faint whistling sound, but nobody in the back (wargame table) room is certain if that was the Whistle of Doom or one of the store cats meowed. We spend a few seconds looking at each other, and then one of the moderators comes in and lets us know that, indeed, that was the whistle.

We write!


The store can only stay open until 2am, so at roughly 1:40am I break away from my keyboard, an almost wordless husk. Sort of. 50,000 words over 30 days is roughly 1667 words a day. I hit just over that number, which was my goal.

So how was the Mini 9? Basically, it was great. The only problem I had was with the placement of the apostrophe. It is on the row under the home row, so I usually hit enter instead of apostrophe when I was writing contractions. This led to a lot of "did nots" instead of "didn'ts," etc, which is a bonus when you are counting words!

The machine was much more solid than I expected, and at first I was hesitant about the screen size and resolution, but in practice I had no problems with it while using it.

It was getting a lot of attention though, and I probably could have sold a few had I had a box of them that night.

Back to word count, unfortunately I'm just over 2300 now, and the server is down so both my NaNoWriMo word count widget is down as well as the ability to upload my word count. Such is life! I'm pretty far behind both where I should be and where I wanted to be, but I'm not giving up yet.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and NaNoWriMo

My good friends at Dell hooked me up with an Inspiron Mini 9 laptop/netbook to use for participating in and blogging about the National Novel Writing Month. It is a pretty sweet, tiny machine.


My wife wants to use it all the time! I'm going to have to distract her somehow during November. She seriously is crazy about it. It came with Ubuntu Linux on it, but I swapped out the 4GB flash disk for the 16GB flash disk that comes with the high-end XP Pro config. I also factory-installed XP and loaded Word. Nothing against Linux, per se, but I want to use Word for this project.


The Mini 9 is sturdier than I expected, and I like the fit and finish. It comes in black and white, and this one is white, which looks pretty nice.

The drawback? I'm a touch-typist, and I'm a little concerned about the keyboard. To get everything in a package that small, some of the keys had to be reduced. This may not be a problem for many, but I am using it in what amounts to a typing contest (of wills), and my large hands and I will soldier on and report back how it goes.

After a week of configuring it, hooking it up to wireless, browsing, and email, I like it. It feels solid and the keyboard is sturdy, albeit cramped on the sides. It is the smallest laptop I've ever used. Actually, I love that it is so small when I'm carrying it around, and I can use something other than my huge XPS backpack.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

RSS Feed for comments

I'm not sure how I can merge these two feeds, if it's even possible, but by clicking here you can subscribe to my blog's comments feed.

If anybody has done this with blogspot, let me know.

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Behind the scenes Autodesk meeting

So Autodesk buying Softimage is already old news. What everybody wants to know is how they came to that decision. My secret sources have delivered!

The subtitles are great, and I loved every joke. This video has seen its share of resubtitling, too. The scene is from the movie Downfall.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Autodesk acquires Softimage??????

I'm browsing around some random graphics sites, when I see a news item. It seems fake, but I follow it, look around, and it looks legit!

Autodesk Signs Agreement with Avid Technology to Acquire Softimage

Whoa! This may not be a big deal to you, but it is crazy in the 3D Graphics world.

In October 2005, Autodesk, home of AutoCAD and more important to this discussion, 3D Studio MAX (a 3D graphics package) acquired it's biggest competitor, Maya.

Now it looks like one more competitor is being pulled under the Autodesk umbrella - Softimage.

Who is left to compete against Autodesk products now? Newtek Lightwave? Luxology modo? Maxon Cinema 4D? Side Effects Houdini? Anybody?

I'll have to try and track down some people to talk to about this - it's crazy!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Krause Springs

We've been trying to go camping now that the weather has gotten colder, and our first choice was Inks Lake State Park, as we've gone there for day trips and my parents have taken me there as a child.

As luck had it, Inks Lake was booked through the rest of the year! At least, campsites with a fire ring on the lake side were booked. If we wanted to hike in ~1.5 miles schlepping our gear to a primitive site, there were a few openings.

No thanks.

We had heard about Krause Springs and had wanted to check out the place just as a swimming hole, and found out they had campsites. I called them up and spoke with Elton Krause himself, and when I asked him about reservations, he said just come up, drive around until you find a spot you like and pitch your tent!


We left later than we planned, and had to make a few stops on the way, and got to the campsite a few minutes before dark. We used our headlights to help us set the tent (thanks Erika and Ty!) up and managed to drain our battery. Some nice neighbors help us jump it the next day.

Our first night went without a hitch and we woke up to masses of Monarch butterflies gathered in the trees right over our heads.


One of the other campers mentioned that they were migrating, and I wasn't sure about this (but I had no reasonable explanation otherwise - I guess it is the skeptic in me), so when we returned, I  consulted my pal Google. Armed with the knowledge that Spicewood, TX, is roughly at Latitude 30, I consulted this migration schedule. Zut alors! The time matched!

My wife found a Coleman cooking stove thing at a garage sale for $5 (normally ~$50) and it worked like a charm! It uses a small thermos-sized canister of propane, and we had a blast cooking outside. I had to go the instant coffee route, as I didn't have a chance to look around for a suitable camp coffeepot or get my French Press action going, but roughing it is roughing it!


Krause Springs has some amazing natural rock formations, with grottos, waterfalls, rockwalls teeming with squirrels, HUGE cypress trees, a natural spring that feeds into a lagoon/swimming hole, etc. We went exploring and ran out of space on our 1GB photo card.

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I also took a panoramic shot of where we camped. We were in the middle spot - under the RV hookups and above the primitive area.


The right-most spot in the panorama was filled with Cub Scouts from Saturday to Sunday. We were there the weekend of the Red River Shootout (Texas vs OU) and one guy was camping in our area I noticed what I thought was football sounds coming from his area. I investigated and he had stretched over 200 feet of extension cord from a table outside his tent to a power outlet in the RV hookup area to watch the game. Roughing it indeed!

They also have a butterfly garden with some wind chimes bigger than I am, plus a swimming pool that is fed directly from the spring. Let me tell you - it was cold! I eased in to my waist before I took the plunge, but my wife was brave enough to dive in. It's brisk!

We had a fantastic time, and will definitely go back. In fact, we are trying to work out a November camp date. The kids loved it, we loved it, and it's cheaper and closer than Inks Lake. Win-win!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Speaking of gaming....

You know what I like about gaming around Halloween?


Once the box of decorations come out, miniatures abound! I'm leading my son through an adventure, and when the goblins aren't around, he doesn't mind hacking and slashing through some seasonal creepy-crawlies.

Superheroes from spam

So I got an interesting sounding spam email a while back, and either these spammers are also trying to get me to run a Mutants & Masterminds supers campaign, or they are randomizing their subjects to try to sneak in under my radar!


I think it is the latter.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

New recipe for roasted stuffed jalapenos

My parents got me a jalapeno roaster as a gift, and I have really been giving it a workout.  You basically core jalapenos, stuff them with, uh, stuff, and roast them for an hour.

I usually try to take all the seeds and membranes out, as some people still think they are pretty hot without them, but feel free to leave an amount in that suits your tastebuds.

I've been known to top them with pieces of bacon but I've not been doing this lately.

My most recent recipe is to start stuffing them with (American) Neufchatel cheese, then shredded pork barbecue (from HEB), and topped with apple or pineapple chunks.


I'm still working on coming up with something for roasting dogs. I feel like it needs to be more complicated than just putting them on a grill!


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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

National Novel Writing Month

I may have mentioned it here before, but next month, November, is National Novel Writing Month.


There is a large website and community dedicated to working on what I've wanted to do for a while - write.

What it boils down to is taking thirty days to write 50,000 words. While this might seem like a Herculean task, it's really more of a sprint than a marathon.

The goal isn't to have a finished, highly polished manuscript that will pop up on Oprah's radar on December 1. It's more about accomplishing a task that many, many people think and talk about, but don't do it. It's quantity over quality, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

What if you only make it halfway - 25,000 words of ridiculous characters, contrived settings, and a plot more reminiscent of an after-school special than the next great American novel?

Guess what? You just wrote 25,000 words you used to only talk about.

I put a NaNoWriMo widget (which will track my word count) above my profile, and I've joined the Austin region group, so expect more pictures and thrilling blog entries about my progress. I talked the talk last year, so I'm hoping to do a lot of walking this year. Drop me a line if you sign up!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

VP debates flubs

I'm sure there will be a lot of this stuff on YouTube, but at ~8:35pm CST, Gov. Palin referenced "Senator Obama and Senator OBiden."


We had to rewind it just to make sure, but it's there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Star Wars Holiday Special

Wow. Where to begin?


Somehow I managed to acquire a copy of this...masterpiece...on DVD. It's a transfer from someone's VHS copy, but unfortunately it lacks the commercials, making for less of a time capsule but more of a study in the art of pain.


I mean, I knew this thing was bad, but I didn't realize how bad it really is until watching it.

It aired once in 1978, but that was enough to warrant a cult following. We get to see Chewbacca's family, which includes his son, Lumpy, and his father, Itchy, who has an intimidating underbite.


I could go on and on about this, but there is a lot of material out there already. I mean, Tony an Golden Globe winner Diahann Carroll as a holographic prostitute? Check. Emmy and Golden Globe winner Harvey Korman as a robotic, multi-armed cooking instructor (among three roles)? Check. Jefferson Starship as a holographic, uh, Jefferson Starship giving off purple energy waves and singing into a short lightsaber? Check. Bea Arthur even makes an appearance singing and dancing with Greedo! Wait - it couldn't be Greedo, as Han shot first. It must be some other Rodian. Upon further painful review, it seems like she is calling the Rodian "Ludlow."

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Is there anything positive we can draw from this trainwreck? Yes! It marked the first appearance of Boba Fett!


If you can find a copy, pick it up! It's better if you can get one with the commercials, just for the late-Seventies references.

This thing is painful to watch, but at least one viewing should be necessary for Star Wars fans, completists or purists. I haven't shown my kids yet, as I just found my copy, but I'd be interested in what they thought, as they love anything even tangentially related to Star Wars, and Wookie Humor should get them going.

!! I forgot to add that there is a Rifftrax for the Star Wars Holiday Special. If you like Mystery Science Theater 3000, get it here. !!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Security: FAIL

At work we have these "secure document" shredding bins, where you drop stuff - dark, personal secret stuff, or technical documents - and it gets shredded so nobody can get to it.

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It needs to be cleaned out, eventually, and presumably shredded.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hurricane Ike

Recently Hurricane Ike hit Texas and we, outside of Austin, were in line to be part of the blast according to the news and the hurricane trackers. Then, Ike turned a little more and we thought we would get some good rain. Then a little rain. Then we were totally missed.

My friend Kelvin, on the other hand, had a somewhat closer encounter. Here is a great image from him:

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Check the link for his account. Glad y'all are in one piece! Wait - two pieces. You know what I mean.

Monday, September 15, 2008

7,413,359: Method and apparatus for printing

My second US patent has been granted!

I'm not sure how it got through with that unfortunate name, but my idea was to have an Automatic Document Feeder that could double as a print duplexer.


I still haven't received my plaque from the first one, but maybe I'll get two in one shot at the next meeting.

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Most Humiliating Spam.

So here I am, just minding my business when I notice some mail in my Junk/Spam folder. I try to scan them since the filter can be a little aggressive in shielding me from email it thinks is spam.

Most of the time it is pretty good. The emails follow spam trends (how many Nigerian princes are there really?), but this is one that I hadn't seen before.


Ouch! Is this supposed to shame me into getting a prescription, or turn me away from using it at all?

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Windows Live Writer, finally!

I begrudgingly tried Windows Live Writer while at SIGGRAPH. Think of Writer as a word processor that uploads to your blog. Before trying it, I was fine going online to my blog, writing updates and uploading pictures. If I couldn't get online, I just didn't blog. Connection taking too long? I got frustrated and didn't blog.

I didn't know what I was missing!

What I like: offline post creation, WYSIWYG, easy tags and formatting.

So far the only thing I don't like is that there seems to be a bug that un-centers images when I upload a post. I have to redownload the post, center the images again, and reupload.


I wasn't sure I could do this, but I just Alt-PrntScrn'ed the window and pasted it into the body text. Nice! I figured it would, but nice to know it works like expected.

I'm using it exclusively for blogging moving forward.

Thanks Dave!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

SIGGRAPH miscellaneous

Here is a smattering of stuff I saw at SIGGRAPH that I thought was interesting, in no particular order.


This is an "ultra-efficient" BRAMMO Motorsports Enertia Electric Motorcycle at the AMD / BOXX booth. It was a prize for the "Creativity for a Greener World" contest.



This is just a badass motorcycle! Tim Cameron is an artist as well as motorcycle rider, and this is his V-Rex creation, which was spawned from his Dreambike. Here is more information about him.


I started taking some pictures in the Art area before I was politely asked for my press pass. Whoops! I need to make cards for my blog! Pictures were for press only, but I got away with a nice shot of these mathematical sculptures from Bathsheba Sculpture. Very beautiful pieces!


I didn't think I'd get one but I was able to stand in the longest line at SIGGRAPH to get a wind-up walking teapot from Pixar's booth. This is my first, and it is number 58, whatever that means. Well, I know what it means...but not what it MEANS. This year the teapot celebrates Renderman's 20th anniversary. Here is an article from 2006 describing the differences between teapots from the Pixar booth and the teapots for the user group. Apparently someone is selling their Renderman teapot on craigslist...for $75! Good luck with that!

Rhythm & Hues & sushi

On Saturday David hooked us up with a former ILM guy who now is at Rhythm & Hues.


We got a great tour, and the workspaces had a nice creative vibe that reminded me of school. I brought back some good ideas to help my poor cube back home.

Thanks, Ari!

After the studio we drove over to Marina Del Rey, I believe and had some outdoor sushi from sugarFISH. A little pricier than what I'm used to, but tasty and packaged in a nice box reminiscent of bento boxes, where everything is compartmentalized. The waiter said that the box helps keep the rice from getting soggy if you took it home with you.

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We finally started home...back to San Francisco, I mean....


Whoops! No music! Slight detour to a couple of stores looking for blank CDs and then we are on our way. I had David's laptop in my, uh, lap, and thanks to him syncing up his MP3s I was able to burn them to CDs for the trip back.

Highlights? How about Terrorizing Telemarketers by Jim Florentine. Here is his site. I'm a big fan of prank phone calls, and David introduced me to The Jerky Boys as well. Great stuff!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Speedshape visit

On Friday we made our way out to the Venice Beach area and checked out Speedshape, a studio where my friend Robert works.


We got to see some sweet demo reel action (the Norwegians were right - I really believed a plane could fly!) and a nice studio in what turned out to be the former Wachowski brothers studio.

If you want to see a car, real or virtual, these are the guys to call. Check out their reel!

Afterward we drove up the coast for a bit and then through Topanga Canyon to hang out at Rob's pad. Nice! And thanks to the fumes from the floor work I'm hearing colors I've never smelled before!

Thanks Rob!


Monday, August 18, 2008


This was the last day of SIGGRAPH.

To complete what I started the previous day I attended a screening at Nokia Theatre of some of the best (?) Flash work out there. I question best, though some really was top-tier work, such as the Heavenly Sword backstory - my favorite hands-down. There was some other stuff that I might call interesting, but I don't think best of the best.

I also saw one of the competitive animation screenings, which showcased some work ranging from students to research to special effects houses. Not exactly a level playing field, but some very interesting stuff nonetheless.

The theater was powered by dual 4k projectors, with 5.1 surround sound, and this is what it looks like:

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Convention Center food is always too expensive. $3 for a 20-ounce Pepsi? No thanks! I took a load of snack bars and assorted goods with me so I wouldn't have to go through highway robbery for food, but that got old by the end of the week. Today we had lunch just down the street a few minutes away in a little shop that was more than a convenience store. It was like some sort of bodega/coffee shop/snack bar kind of thing, and it was very reasonable, especially compared to what we had in the convention center.


We happened to both be interested in going to the last Technical Paper - Procedural Modeling and Design, with the following papers:

Automatic Generation of Tourist Maps - using rules about how buildings should be shaped, how streets should be widened and how users designate points of interest in maps.

Automated Generation of Interactive 3D Exploded-View Diagrams - more rules about how parts of models interact and envelop other parts and how these relationships govern what parts need to move away from others.

Interactive Visual Editing of Grammars for Procedural Architecture - describing a "grammar" for architecture allowing buildings to be scaled, for instance, and appropriately placed and scaled architectural features appear without modeling them by hand.

Interactive Procedural Street Mapping - using tensor fields to generate street maps, which also allowed modifying fields manually.

Wow. I can't believe SIGGRAPH is over. It was great to be back from a six year absence, I believe. I definitely learned a lot, and it was really good to recharge my batteries. I'm looking forward to working on a few creative personal projects as well as being energized for my regular work.


I started today with a panel called Games: Evolving on an Order of Magnitude: During initial development of Playstation games, development teams averaged 15 artists, designers, and programmers with three to four technical engineers. For PS2, average project requirements increased to 55 artists, designers, and programmers with a technology team of 20 engineers. Now, for next-generation platforms, developers are seeing asset and team growth of an order of magnitude, but not necessarily the same growth in budgets or timelines. The greatest challenge now for game developers is to create economies of scale and pipeline efficiencies to accommodate project teams that are currently averaging 100-120 artists, designers, and programmers with 30 technical directors, programmers, and engineers. How do these companies address the complexity of programming and increased demands for quality and quantity of art assets to achieve near-life visuals?

Wow, that's a long description. I heard some good stories, and something interesting I took out of was from Steve Theodore of Bungie. He said that they removed all instances of File Explorer, et al, from their systems and relied on Search for finding files, assets, etc. He said that they saved roughly a man-year by doing this, and I'm going to see if I can translate that to our office.

Next up was a class - Advanced Material Appearance Modeling: For many years, appearance models in computer graphics focused on general models for reflectance functions coupled with texture maps. Recently, it has been recognized that even very common materials such as hair, skin, fabric, and rusting metal require more sophisticated models to appear realistic. This class begins with a brief review of basic reflectance models and the use of texture maps. It describes common themes in advanced material models (combining the effects of layers, groups of particles, and/or fibers); surveys the detailed models needed for materials such as (but not limited to) skin (including pigmentation, pores, subsurface scattering), plants (including internal structure), and automotive paints (including color flop and sparkle); and summarizes modeling of complex appearance due to aging and weathering processes. The class includes a general taxonomy of effects, as well as methods to simulate and capture these effects.

I'm on the record for liking the latest incarnation of Speed Racer, so I was able to check out the last thirty minutes or so of the Production Session called "Speed Racer": How Digital Domain, ILM, and Sony Pictures Imageworks Transformed a Vintage Anime Into a Wild Ride for the 21st Century: As the numbers of visual effects shots per film soar into the thousands, a huge army of artists, technical directors, and managers collaborates to create dazzling spectacles. In this session, supervisors from three of the principal studios reveal the psychedelic design, elaborate car animation, and complexities of collaboration required to create a very wild cinematic ride.

I caught another panel under the Computer Animation Festival banner called Flash Forward: From the classroom to the desktop, from the gallery to the television, Flash makes animation accessible and entertaining. Here is a full hour of some of the best Flash work in the world.

I heard from Greg Araya, one of the artists that make Foster's House for Imaginary Friends on the Cartoon Network, saw some nice interface work from Ken Martin of Blitz Agency as well as heard from one of the creators of JibJab, who created the "This Land is Your Land" Flash piece.

Flash is one of the applications for which I'll be creating some consumer usage models, so it was good to see how some of these people worked.

Thursday night was also the SIGGRAPH reception, and we got our money's worth! All of right field was reserved at Dodgers Stadium for a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies.


Underneath right field they had all kinds of free food. A Mexican food area, Asian Splendor, hamburgers and Dodger Dogs, ice cream bars, and they gave out a coupon for one free drink.

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We left around the 8th inning with the Dodgers leading 3-1, and we got out right in time. We missed a whole lotta crowd.