Followup: Puzzle Pirates

About a month ago, I posted a review of Puzzle Pirates. I said at the time the game looked interesting and was fun to play. A month later, I thought it might be a good idea to post an update.
I’m still playing. 🙂 And not only am I playing, I’m addicted. This is really the first MMPORG I’ve gotten into, and while it isn’t quite as immersive as, say, Everquest or World of Warcraft, it’s still mindbogglingly addictive.
Since I wrote that article, I’ve teamed up with great crew, and have recently been promoted to an officer (though a junior one. I have a lot of practice ahead of me before I can consider myself a decent officer 🙂
The puzzles are still fascinating, but with the added bonus that the crew has to work together to make the ship run well (and this is done not only by performing the puzzles well, but also working together during swordfights and trade), it really does suck you in. I’ve gotten more involved in how the commerce works in the system as well, buying and trading goods, how the individual stores, islands, and the like work.
If you like puzzles, like interracting with other folks, and like gaming where you’re working together to reach a common goal, I heartily recommend you take a serious look a look at Puzzle Pirates.

Nice when things just plain work

I’ve been lamenting the loss of my camera for quite a while. Lisa took pity on me and long-term-loaned me her Sony Cybershot DSC-P30 camera. It’s a simple 1.3megapixel camera, with an optical zoom, 128meg memory stick, and 1280×960 resolution. Fine enough for most of what I want to do, and will hold me over until I can really get my true dream camera.

Anyway, one of the things I was worried about was that the Sony uses a “Memory Stick” – a proprietary format that only Sony manufacturs. They’re not any different from any other small medium, but making anything that reads or writes from them requires some sort of unholy legal contract with Sony, so the number of public readers for these devices is somewhat limited.

But lo, on the side of the camera is a normal mini-USB port. “I have USB”, sez I. So I plug a spare cable into the camera, jack it into my little mini-hub, and watch to see what happens.

I had tried this once before with an older camera, and wasn’t pleased with the results. This time, however, things Just Plain Worked. Linux happily recognized the camera as a ‘mass storage device’, and brought up the active device:

USB Mass Storage device found at 4
usb 1-1: USB disconnect, address 4
usb 1-1: new full speed USB device using address 5
scsi3 : SCSI emulation for USB Mass Storage devices
Vendor: Sony      Model: Sony DSC          Rev: 3.28
Type:   Direct-Access                      ANSI SCSI revision: 02
SCSI device sda: 253696 512-byte hdwr sectors (130 MB)
sda: assuming Write Enabled
sda: assuming drive cache: write through
/dev/scsi/host3/bus0/target0/lun0: p1
Attached scsi removable disk sda at scsi3, channel 0, id 0, lun 0
WARNING: USB Mass Storage data integrity not assured

This is the message that normally comes up when a USB mass storage device is added to the system (the USB stack uses the SCSI driver for block device access).

A quick filesystem mount, and I was able to read and write files to the memory stick (which, btw, was still inside the camera) just like it was another drive on the system. This is identical to the way my Sandisk pen drive is used, so this was all familiar territory.

I copied off a few sets of pictures, and finally, after almost a year away from it, I’m populating my picture archive again. Of course, one of the first pictures had to be a pic of the snowstorm we had last weekend. This particular one is after our second snowfall yesterday, which dropped another 5″ of snow or so. The unfortunate vehicle here is my mothers Subaru station wagon, which lives here over the winter while she’s away in Florida. Hi mom!

Arisia post-mortem, with pictures!

With special thanks to Lisa for the loan of her Sony Cybershot, I have some pictures from running registration at Arisia.

We learned a lot this weekend. It was the first time we deployed the CONGO Kiosk terminals for at-con registration of attendees. We needed to make some functional changes in the code at the event, but for the most part, it worked pretty well. The Kiosks allowed people who were not pre-registered to enter in their contact / regsitration information themselves, and get a printed receipt. This meant the operators didn’t need to re-key all the data into CONGO, and slow down processing. For a first time out, I’m really pleased with the results. There were no disasterous failures (in fact, I can’t think of a failure beyond ‘we’re out of paper’), and folks seemed to like the kiosks, modulo the normal kvetching that’s pretty much unavoidable.

Gateway Operator terminals
This was also the first time we used the Gateway terminals for cashier / operator use. This was a HUGE win for the operators, as the terminals are MUCH faster than the iOpeners for general data access and work. Not to mention the fact that when things slowed down, the operators could play games on them 🙂

We ran all badges ‘on the fly’, meaning that even pre-registered attendees had their badges printed as they showed up. This allowed us to make minor changes to information before we wasted a badge (such as a spelling of a badgename, etc).
We had no delays and no problems with the printers. One other thing we did was used blank white badge stock, so we were printing the -entire- badge image on the fly. It was a black ‘stippled’ image (not grey scale, but ‘screened’ to look like it was grey), using an image from our artist guest of honor. They came out great! We had to hand-punch the stock before running it through the printer to get the slots on them, but with a pair of new slot punches, that was really no big problem.

All in all, a very successful event, despite the snowstorm. All the work that went into CONGO in the last 2 months since our previous large event was well worth it, and made the product even better.

Credit where Credit is due
I would like to thank all the folks that made this possible. Without this team of folks volunteering many many many hours of work to the process, we never would have had such a smooth running registration:

Sarah Twichell – Killer answerer-of-email and registrar-on-the-ball. Sarah answered registration requests and paypal registrations within minutes of receiving them. The database was always up to date whenever I needed to find someone.

Lisa Wilson – Database geek extraordinaire. Lisa kept the database sane and was also on the front lines of requests and registrations. We had tons of comp lists, updates, and changes going on, and Lisa helped plow through them all, even though she was 2000 miles away in Colorado!

Jonah Safar – Jonah was one of the people who first took a gamble on CONGO with an event he was helping run. Since then he’s been there when I need him for coding, hacks, and general help.

Yonah Schmeidler – Yonah showed up to help with Arisia last year and ended up staying til 4am helping with some database and postscript issues. This year again he helped all through Thursday doing database updates and maintenance just for the heck of it. He also plays a mean FreeCIV 🙂

Katy (Pancua) – Katy was the badge goddess all through the mayhem on Friday, and helped out all weekend with things that Just Needed To Be Done. She brought a lot of energy to the whole situation, something we all need after spending days in a coat room 🙂

Ben Cordes – Ben is sort of the unofficial roadie for Stonekeep Consulting. He’s worked with me at a ton of events, and not only knows the systems and the processes well, he also knows my quirky management style. Even in spite of that, he keeps coming back for more. This weekend Ben was a great help with setup and maintenance of all the system components, not to mention being a great crowd wrangler.

Catya – I can’t leave Cat out of this thanks. She puts up with an awful lot to let me do these events – and I love her dearly for it. Thanks!

Dayblogging Arisia – Day 3

End of the con. We’ve been calling this sort of ‘Arisia ’05 – The Extended Edition’. Many folks decided to just stay in the hotel this evening, and try to make our way home tomorrow. We hauled out the Registration terminals and set up a LAN game of FreeCiv – since I was done with services for Arisia, it was nice just to relax and game for a while.
Now the laptop is the last thing that needs to be put away, and the rest of the work is done. All the terminals and printers are packed up in the shipping cases, and we’ll load them out into the van tomorrow.
I’m tired, but it’s a mostly good tired. A lot of things learned, we’re already making plans for next years event.
The word of the day is ‘snow!’ – 18-20″ of snow fell overnight, and it’s windy as all git out. There’s nasty storm surge along the cape. Boston is basically shut down, state of emergency all over the place.
The hotel internet link is up and down, so I haven’t been able to post that much (not to mention being horrifically busy). Most folks are extending their hotel stays through Monday, opting out of even attempting travel.
The con has gone well – I’ve got a fantastic team working with me, things have gone really well. I’ve almost gotten enough sleep too, how weird! 🙂

Dayblogging Arisia – Day 2

STORM! Aieeee! There’s a major snowstorm (they’re using the word ‘blizzard’ freely:

Snow…heavy at times. Snow accumulation of 10 to 14 inches by morning. Blustery. Not as cold with lows around 10 above. East winds 10 to 15 mph…becoming northeast 15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 40 mph.
snow Sunday
Snow…heavy at times in the morning…then tapering to flurries in the afternoon. Total snow accumulation of 14 to 22 inches. Windy with highs around 10 above. North winds 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph. Bitterly cold wind chills.

It’s spooking a lot of hte attendees, it’s the quietest Saturday night I’ve ever had at an Arisia. At least the reg system worked great!
Wow, missed an entire day. The hotel network link was out of service for most of yesterday, so we had on network connectivity at all. Woe!
At any rate, things are workign! We’ve been making on the fly tuning to the Kiosk app and CONGO all weekend – CONGO itself hasn’t needed much tweaking (except for badge layout issues we resolved yesterday morning), but the Kiosk, being a ‘brand new app’, has definately needed some nudging.
No disasters, no major catastrophes, in fact, no real bumps for the whole weekend. We’re at about 2/3rds of the people checked in, more news later.

Dayblogging Arisia: Day 0

As expected, things went chaotic once I arrived here at the hotel. I’m pretty beat now, but the terminals are all running, we’ve run badges for a large chunk of the staff and guests, the kiosks are running fine, and folks seem to be happy. The reg team has been doing great, we did a ton of work today that didn’t -need- to get done, but I’m glad it did. For instance, we had a backlog of probably 200 address changes from bounced mailings. A couple of the reg team folks buckled up and entered all of them into the database. Yay!
OF course, now I’m exhausted. I’ve dumped out the database into a backup file, and copied the backup to my pen drive. We’ve shut down the terminals for tonight, and now I’m heading off to relax until we open at 2pm tomorrow.
I’m a little nervous about the state of hte hardware – some of the Gateways are being a little flaky, and the iopeners are being their normal odd selves. The Kiosk app needs some tuning, though JB and Joel H and some other folks gave some -very- good feedback on making the kiosk easier to use.
The proof will be tomorrow when we have hordes of folks moving through the kiosk lines and registering. Stay tuned!
Packing is complete! We have a lot of boxes and crates, but thanks to Steph and Dwight, we have a lovely minivan to haul it all. Lisa is helping me pack up and load, and things are going swimmingly. Only a little tired. 🙂
Off to load up and drive in.
Ung. A slow morning – not quite enough sleep (it’s a con, right? :). I have to take Z to school first, so I’ll make a stop at dunkin donuts en route to pick up some high test. The equipment is all laid out in the great room mocking me. I think I know how i’ll pack it all, just have to get crackin. Still have to take the seats out of the van too.
On the other hand, only 2″ of snow fell last night, and the sun is out now. It’s really quite beautiful outside.
Off to Framingham and back.

Dayblogging Arisia: Day -1

I’m going to try this out, and see how well i can keep up with things. Today is really the first day of prepping for and going to Arisia (a big SF convention in Boston). I’m the Registrar, so I’m responsible for handling all the registrations and making sure everyone gets checked into the convention.
This is really a huge test of CONGO in an end-to-end model. CONGO was used for all pre-registration, membership tracking, and database reference for many of the Arisia staffmembers leading up to the event, and so far has performed very well.
The big test starts tomorrow when we move the entire system, terminals, printers and all, to the hotel for isntallation and testing. Registration doesn’t officially open until Friday, but we’ll be printing staff badges and some of the comped group passes tomorrow.
I’m going to try something I’m going to term ‘dayblogging’. One blog post per day, I’ll just keep adding content to the posting, marking it with the time. Folks with RSS feeds will see the post updated, folks on LJ may see this article stay ‘high’ on the friends list as I add content.
Wednesday, 11:24pm
The first stage of departure is pretty much set. I’ve disassembled most of the testing equipment and laid it out in the great room for packing and loading into the van tomorrow morning. It’s a lot of stuff. 6 Gateway terminals, 8 iOpener terminals, all the supporting hardware for them – power systems for everything, the 3 badge printers, the receipt printer, and the registration supplies (paper, badge clips, etc). I’m pretty beat, but the shower helped a lot 🙂 Off to read in bed (at a reasonable hour!) mostly because I need to get up early tomorrow to take Zach to school before loading up and heading in.
This evening I nailed a bunch of small bugs in the process – things like the receipt printer kicking out an extra page on every print, some wording problems on the terminal, and one PANIC moment where I realized the receipt printer would not work off the Kiosk terminals. I had to run to Officemax to pick up 32′ of USB cable to run ‘around’ the end of the area to put the printer near the kiosks, but plug it into the server. Annoying.
The last problem really is that the badges, when punched with a slot for the badge clip, punch a hole in the ’05’ of ‘Arisia 05’. I may re-layout the badge, we’ll see if I have time tomorrow.
Onward and forward!

Microsoft Bad Design Perpetuation. Again.

It boggles me how, in this modern day and age, corporations can still consider Microsoft a true source of quality software.

I am an online VAR for a credit card processing service. Part of their service is being able to go online and view residual reports. Sounds fine. When i view the page, the font is incredibly tiny. Fortunately, Firefox has ye ole magical Control-+ function, which zooms the fonts up one notch.

I decided to do a little investigation. Using the web developer plugin, I viewed the sites stylesheet (yes, they actually did use a stylesheet, though they also used in-stream styles, and table layouts out the wazoo). I found these gems:

font-size: 7pt;
font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;

Searching for the source of this offense, it became clear in the header of the HTML page:

<meta name="GENERATOR" Content="Microsoft Visual Studio 7.0">
<meta name="CODE_LANGUAGE" Content="C#">

Tell me again why people would use a Microsoft product when the result of said product is CRAP like this? Oh yes. “Long as it looks fine on my IE, it must be okay!” – Doesn’t matter it has 3x as much code as is necessary, and huge chunks of the code is CRAP.

Chair-bop song of the day

Once again, Radio Paradise hits my music button right on the head. This morning it was Less Mccann and Eddie Harris doing their version of the song “Compared to What”, originally written by Eugene Daniels and performed by Roberta Flack more than 35 years ago. This version, performed live in Montreux, Switzerland in 1969, is truly outstanding, with masterful jazz piano driving the piece. It’s impossible to keep still listening to talent like this.
But it wasn’t just the tune that got me going. The lyrics, at the time written to protest the Vietnam war, come in as oh so appropriate today:

The president he’s got his war
Folks don’t know just what its for
Nobody gives us a rhyme or reason
Have one doubt they call it treason
We’re chicken features all without one nut
Goddammit! — Try to make it real! Compared to what???”

Why are we destined to continually repeat the failures of the past?

A quicky hi!

Gosh, it’s been a while since I posted, thought folks would like to at least get a dave-life-snapshot to get an idea where I’ve been.

  • Mosaic Commons, our Cohousing group, is moving into a very intense state of land and busines negotiations. More details on this shortly… it’s taking a lot of energy and time, but it’s very exciting.
  • Arisia is happening this coming week, and I’m the registrar for the event. This means not only am I supplying the systems and software, I’m actually running the registration. I have two great helpers keeping me sane, but it’s a lot of work registering almost 2500 people in under 36 hours. If you’re in Boston, come see CONGO at work!
  • Our house is still on the market. Hopefully things are going to pick up after the holiday and election season. We have an open house today, and know of another prospect that will hopefully be viewing the house this week. Cross yer fingers!
  • Virtually all the people in my social circles have gotten sick in the last 2-3 weeks, including myself. I think we can be done with the vicious flu or whatever this thing is. Zach was out sick from school for almost 4 days, finally diagnosed with pneumonia. He’s on antibiotics now, and the fever and most of the cough is gone, but it was a rough week.
  • Coding-wise, CONGO is coming along swimmingly. The amount of code I’ve written in the last 2-3 weeks has been astronomical, and I’m really proud of the end result. I’ve posted some current screenshots as well as descriptions of how CONGO works on the business site. Check ’em out.

Now, we’re pretty much done with housecleaning, and have to head off to a Mosaic meeting. Life marches on!

Tinky Flingy Revisited

2 years ago I wrote up an article on a tinker toy trebuchet I had built. Recently, I got mail from Peter Holley with a story of his own:

I was goofing around with my kids tinkertoys last night. And ended up with a trebuchet. I used a pull string instead of a weight. I also used tinkertoys themselves for the ammo.
at first it was just popping them to the ground. but after a minor adjustment I had one fly into the wall at an amazing velocity.
we took it to the hall. At one point my 5 year old son ended up on the
receiving end and got whacked dead center of the forehead (from 25 feet!)
with a wheel we used for the ammo. After we stopped laughing (it really was
an accident, but the way it happened was quite humorous) he had a lump on
his head.
They ought to put a warning on the container. This isn’t the first lethal
toy I’ve made with tinkertoys. (the other was a kinetic yo-yo, the pieces would often fly of in a random direction at a serious velocity)
It’s funny to see I’m not the first to do this.
Some notes on the picture.
The kit we have is the “Jumbo Builder Set” only pieces from the kit were
used. The spool piece I used for the hub of the arm kept breaking so I substituted the connector piece.
The best ammo is the spool piece, that’s what bulls eyed my son in the
forehead. The connector piece works, but doesn’t have much mass.
The ammo slides on the yellow stick.

Thanks Pete!

Seti@Home revisited.

Recently I realized I had 2-3 machines here in Chez Geek that were basically idle 95% of the time. I did regular work on them (one is the server for my CONGO cluster, the other is my Windows XP box that I use for, er, very important projects and, er, other network er… monitoring… stuff.
Ahem. Anyway, the Seti@Home project lets your home computer act as one of the computation engines for the SETI project, by downloading small chunks of data the big radio telescopes pick up and analyzing them looking for potential signals from remote civilizations.
The Seti@home project, when originally started back in 1997-ish, ended up being a geek computation contest, as folks banded into teams to see who had the most computing power. Companies like Sun Microsystems ran the Seti@Home client on many of their internal machines (the program runs when the machine is not busy doing other things, which for many computers in the world, is about 90% of the time), and racked up huge quantities of ‘work units’ (the measure of how much work a seti client has done).
Last year the Seti@Home project switched over to BOINC, a more versatile system that allows arbitrary computation to be run on all those idle computers. BOINC has been used for numerous projects, not just Seti.
Unfortunately, today it appears the Seti@Home and BOINC are offline, apaprently due to some power outage in Berkely. Today my poor computers are truly idle, and have nothing to do.
I wonder if they’re bored?

A milestone of sorts.

Just on a lark, I decided to figure out how ‘big’ CONGO had actually gotten. Looking at all the java code, the PHP code, and some HTML (not much, everything is in PHP), my total is just over 20,000 lines of code. This makes this application by far the largest I have ever written (Keystone is about 12,000 lines).
By the way, I’m prepping a set of screenshots of Coconut (the web client for CONGO), as well as a glance at the new template interface that lets folks generate their own registration pages.
Feel free to take a look at the screenshots. There’s no commentary at the moment, but it’s nice to actually be able to show a bit of what the system is about.