June 27, 2006

For the next 15 days, I will be on vacation. Have a good one!


June 26, 2006

Found an interesting program, actually made by microsoft that allows for a very nice amount of tweaking. Look for TweakUI.


June 26, 2006

Blah, today served as both a high and low in my self-perception. All is the result of the unquenchable desire to try the impossible and explore the unknown. The desire leads to both the greatest discoveries and the downfalls of the discoverers.

Let's begin with Tabby, the slow, hot-running Tablet PC that just doesn't seem to like Linux. The Tablet came with Windows XP Tablet Edition, which took up the entire 60Gb hard drive. Over the years, I've come to understand Windows XP as a "handy" operating system in that it can be quite useful for specific purposes. However, the operating system is also bloated like crazy, which causes a significant decrease in performance, especially on my Athlon 2200+.

After repartitioning the drive, I tried installing several distributions of Linux, but none seemed to stick well. Following this, I installed Solaris 10, whose Unix roots make it appear as nothing more than another Linux distribution, though it hogs more resources. In either case, I wasn't achieving the amount of system performance I desired, and I certainly wasn't able to use the Tablet interface.

Solution: Make Windows act like Unix. I found some relatively useful websites describing how to speed up Windows XP. The first, http://www.askbobrankin.com/make_windows_xp_run_faster.html, gives some nice information about how to maintain the operating system. A second, http://www.jasonn.com/turning_off_unnecessary_services_on_windows_xp, gives more useful information by describing some rather unnecessary system services. This speeds any XP computer up a bit, but to make Windows really act like Linux, I needed to cut all the desktop crap. After a bit of preference editing, I now a minimalist desktop, containing only an icon to get to the command line and the recycle bin (which, apparently, doesn't want to die). From the command line (renamed CMShell), I'm able to access select programs. Using Windows Explorer (explorer.exe) I made a folder to contain shortcuts to programs I'd like to use. I set the Path variable to include this folder and changed the extensions accepted to include "lnk", thereby allowing shortcuts to be run from dos. Good stuff, really.

On another note, my mother wanted to get the X-Files theme as her ring tone. I spent time online, found a nice mp3, as well as a program that serves as both a driver and interface to the cell phone. After poking around on the cell phone, I found the directory where the audio is stored and uploaded the x-files mp3 there. Surprise! Everything still worked. Using the phone's menu, I navigated to the audio section and found and played the lovely little file.

Unfortunately, it could not be selected as a ring tone. Apparently, there was a file that contained the list of ring tones. According to the program, I should delete this file and restart the phone. This will cause the phone to create a new version of the file by checking its data. I copied the old file to the computer and deleted it from the phone. A copy was already stored on the phone, so I didn't worry too much.

This was a mistake.

Through the beauty of annoying programming, if the cell phone begins its operating system and finds the file does not exist, the phone restarts. The process takes about 10 seconds and never reaches the stage of a communicable operating system. Hence, I can never get to the point where I can upload that one file. I broke the cell phone.

Anyone think of a solution? It'd be handy if I could access the memory on the phone without using the phone's operating system. 

Many believe the best form of education is that in which all students are taught the same material at the same rate (thereby allowing everyone to receive the same education). In particular, the Japanese style of education requires all students, whether they have learning disabilities or brilliance, be taught together, at a unified level. To this end, many see that, as a whole, Japanese students are more intelligent than their counterparts in the West. The downside, and one of the largest problems their education system has to face, is that there are relatively few truly exceptional students.

In America, and much of the West, we tend to use a multi-tiered system that allows for more individually-tailored experience. We allow students to take the same basic subjects but at different paces, creating "remedial" classes on one hand and "AP" and "Honors" classes on the other. In theory, by seperating students in to three groups, those who need extra help, those who are progressing at a normal rate, and those who need more challenges, we educate everyone to the best of his/her abilities.

This division creates difficulty in that it creates not only superiority and inferiority complexes, but also instills a sense of mediocrity in those that are progressing at a healthy rate. With divisions so blatant that students refer to classes as "dumb-people calculus" and "Einstein physics", we create another problem. At this point, many are no longer speaking of a student's academic ability, but rather a student as a whole. No one wants to be considered the "dumb-person," but what choice is there when you are enrolled in "dumb-people" classes?

I propose a solution to both dilemmas that lies closer to individualized education. Hopefully, by creating more distinctions between students, we will erase the problems inherent in a hierarchical system. In theory, students will be divided to the point where a division holds at most 10 or so people. This would create a sort of "class rank" system, where divisions should seem rather arbitrary. Think of it, what's the difference between a 73 and a 77 on a 100 point scale? 4%; a twenty-fifth; relatively nothing. Further, if we increased the amount of students in each division, we would cut the "Number One" syndrome, as we'd have several students that all of about the same caliber at this highest level.

The theory I propose moves us towards this ultimate goal by offering students an option in workload. Given any assignment, a student will be able to perform the bare minimum, the full assignment, or an extended assignment. Here's the basic setup:

 Bare Essentials: This will cover the absolute minimum a student should absorb from a class. The highest a student can receive on any assignment in which he/she does only the bare minimum is a C (appxy 70-75%). About 2/3 of the class time should be spent on these essentials, as they are the foundations of all other work.

Full Course load: This is the equivalent of a standard class  taught today. This work builds on the essentials, and allows students to receive full credit on assignments. Most students would fall in this category, as it is the standard workload. Students would be required to work all bare essential problems as well as all full course problems to receive full points. Approximately one third of class time will be devoted to this tier.

Extended Curriculum: When students complete both the minimum and full problems, they may wish to finish some extra problems for a very small amount of extra credit. The amount of extra credit will not be proportional to the work load. In theory, the highest a student can receive on an assignment is 105% while the breakdown may be 10 essential, 4 full, and 3 extended. Almost no class time will be devoted to covering this curriculum, but further resources will be provided (especially websites, etc).

This method of education would be much harder on professors, as they would have to make divisions and be required to find and read further resources as well as create additional problems for the extended curriculum. However, it would offer students more opportunities to do the amount of work they want, especially when learning the extended curriculum. Also, if this system is implemented, students would not be required to perform at the same level for every assignment. Better still, the amount of effort put in to any assignment is strictly the knowledge of the professor and the student, so the complexes mentioned before may not appear within the classroom.

Any thoughts? 

The Story of Sequels

June 22, 2006

The games industry has a conflict again. This doesn't involve slow hardware, backwards compatibility, or even Microsoft's pig-headedness. No, today's problem involves creativity and the problems it causes.

Scott Miller, my absolute hero, raves on the importance of intellectual property. The only way to have creative freedom, he claims, is to maintain control over brand names. His company, 3D Realms, realizes this concept by allowing most games they produce to remain the intellectual property of the developers 3D Realms financed.

Unfortunately, continuous use of brand names causes another pandemic, the unending march of sequels. In the movie industry, sequels of any quality are expected to make around 2/3 the income of the original. The games industry tends to spout an even higher rate, with many sequels outselling their origins. For example, take almost any realistic sports game. Madden football games began in 1989, and continue to be best sellers today. Each year, a new iteration of the same game outsells the edition from the previous year.

Unlike the Madden games, which serve as revisions of the same, relatively-static concept, the real issue here comes with games that should be using innovative concepts. For example, I love the Mega Man games to death, but this series tends to rehash the same game with only minor changes to art. These sequels serve more as expansions, especially with such a non-existent story (even in the X series) and little redesign of gameplay. Of course, Mega Man is a blatant example of this abuse of a brand name, but this sort of repackaging appears in many other titles.

Pokemon, Rainbow Six, and Deus Ex also serve as examples. The original Pokemon was wonderfully creative; continuing the same fighting mechanics and goals in to three (?) generations of the same game was not. Interestingly, the most innovative game in the series besides the original is Pokemon Snap, which received terrible reviews. Rainbow Six also served very interesting concepts and gameplay in its original design, but served major design issues when the same style missions, planning, and execution appeared in sequels. The truly brilliant Deus Ex was followed by the mediocre Invisible War, which had some innovations in gameplay (though few) but served the same basic story conflicts.

The industry must therefore walk the fine line between making meaningless sequels (let's not become the movie industry) and creating so many universes that none are unique (visible in the world of comics).

With CC&C I originally wanted to all games, comics, etc. to be part of a serial. Slowly I began to realize that I would only make one game in a series and then move to a different series because I wanted to try a different kind of game experience. I only returned to older series to completely revamp the user's experience. For the Maze of the Mastermind series, the original game called for solving trivia puzzles in a series of larger pyramids. In the second game, I completely broke from this concept, making some excuse to how the pyramid was not complete. This game was to also involve logic skills, but not in the form of trivia.

We'll have to see where this goes in the future, but I do believe there have been examples of successful sequels. Consider Duke Nukem 3D, Timesplitters 2, and the original Mega Man Battle Network. Each offered some of the same, whether it be gameplay, characters, or themes, but also alot of something different. The differences do not include changes to the amount or type of enemies or weapons, but rather deal with fundamental alterations to the game design. Duke 3D involved a completely different perspective, original story, and innovative level design. Timesplitters 2 offered a completely new and integrated storyline and level design as well as some new gameplay types. Similarly, a big change to the storyline and a huge alteration to the game mechanics of Mega Man were used in Battle Network to create a new game design.

Types of Learning

June 20, 2006

Higher education persists as one of the largest sources of dispute in my mind. There are several methods of attaining such an education, but following any one will likely lead to alienation and regret. Let's consider the options and discuss the pros and cons of each. Keep in mind, many attributes overlap between the different forms of higher education; I'll try to just mention each once.

Joining the Workforce – During our rather long high school career, we are bombarded with messages warning of the dangers of dropping out or not attending college. We were told we would not make good money and would therefore forever be less happy, living in the lower bracket of society. Okay, at least that's what they said to me…

Pros – More Money in the short-term (sometimes reaching more than $120k saved in loans), Faster Training (most jobs require specific abilities that must be learned on-location), Head-start to "Life" and "Career"

Cons – Less Money in the long-term (despite the bias mentioned above, you are statistically more likely to make more money), Wider Career Options (though this is greatly depending on the type of work you want), Networking Possibilities (these can be exceedingly helpful but may not be worth it if you don't use them)

Community College – For many, community college serves as a sort of midway between high school and the real world. Attending community college may also serve as a stepping stone for further education, such as transferring to a university.

Pros – Easy classes (you'd be surprised how few closed-book tests appear in the working world), Less money than a traditional college with more acclamations than the first option, Part-time options (allowing for a job or industry experience)

Cons – Not as prestigious as the university or other forms of college (the importance of which depends on the type of job you wish to enter), Larger class sizes/ more TAs (this may or may not affect you; I certainly hate it), Less Class Breadth (though, if you just want a degree, this wouldn't be a problem)

Institutes of Art, Technology, or Business – Usually these schools offer both assosciate's degrees and bachelor's and widely range in fame. For example, the Illinois Institute of Technology is a very well recognized college, while ITT Tech doesn't usually turn many heads.

Pros – State of the art (much of academia is a year or two behind the common techniques used in the "real world"), Specific Education (often in areas unattainable to other forms of education), Co-op or similar programs (the equivalent of on-the-job training)

Cons – Breadth of courses (generally no or few history, philosophy, etc), Pigeon-holing (when those hiring you believe you can only perform one task well), Out-dating (if you only learn the latest technology, but very little theory, when the industry changes, you will quickly be left behind)

Liberal Arts College – I currently attend Grinnell College, one of the most liberal arts-y colleges in the world. At these schools, students learn a very broad spectrum of education that is usually considered "well rounded."

Pros – Variety (taking classes in Jewish religion, neuroscience, and the cold war on one campus), lower class restrictions (less credits required to major promote more class testing), expert writing (essential skill in most industries)

Cons – Little specification (jack of all trades, but master of none), Expense (often the most expensive of the options listed), Outdated (most classes focus on theory, which may not be helpful if you aren't familiar with the latest technologies)

Religious Institutions – I won't discuss much about these schools as they tend to fall under all the other categories. These universities tend to have class requirements dealing with religion but may be less costly or feel more safe. They range from small liberal arts schools to huge universities that teach everything from microbiology to theatre.

Public Institutions – Public colleges and universities usually offer a wide variety of classes to a large number of people. This is possible because they are largely funded by the state (or nation or province). Usually, there are heavy fines levied on out-of-state students.

Pros – Cost (though this has been mentioned before, it is really important here), Quality education (to many, there is no real difference between the amount of education received at a private institution and a public institution), Graduate studies (almost all public institutions have a graduate study option, while most private schools do not)

Cons – Class size (tremendous, especially in introductory classes), Lack of Dedication (not to step on toes, but with so many people, it is very easy for both teachers and students to stop caring and for no one to notice), Bureaucracy (unlike a smaller institution, it is very difficult to make special circumstances or accommodations)

Self-Learning – Largely a complement of other forms of education, to teach one's self consists of reading, listening to audio tapes, or watching videos in the hope of learning useful skills.

Pros – Self-paced (including amount of depth), Individualized content (learn only what you want)

Cons – Little or no assistance (no mentor), Little recognition (there are few ways to prove your knowledge)


Hopefully, I'll be attending Grinnell then SFU, which would be a combination of the Liberal Arts school, the Tech school, the public institution, and, by working with CC&C and keeping up to date, self-learning. However, as this post is already quite large, I'll leave more information on that later.

The Alpha Post

June 19, 2006

The blog is unique in the world of communication. Blogs walk a narrow line, at times, swaying into the realm of journal and at other times, serving as a sort of rouge journalism. Blogs discuss the headlines of The New York Times and divulge company secrets. Authors may rant about the stupidity of president Bush, vent about college crushes, or post their life's work. Okay, maybe the last one is a stretch… or at least I hope it is. More than all this, blogs are a source of mutual (though unequal) communication.

I forgot this very important aspect while working on my first attempt at a blog. I began hosting a site that served my thoughts and rantings, taking pride in the complete customization allowed by designing the html by myself. Unfortunately, creating and maintaining forms (and the database associated with them) can be quite a hassle. This lead to static content… a one-way conversation in which I shout and hope someone listens.

That's not the purpose of a blog; at least it's not the purpose of my blog. This blog should serve as a communication tool, one that will not only allow me to share and explain my mind, but more importantly, allow you to do the same. We'll see how that works.