Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Inventions and Great Ideas

As if I needed more to do...

I'm now working with a friend on some invention ideas. He's a real entrepreneur and thinks some of my ideas are worth investigating/researching and maybe even marketing. Being more active in my ideas feels good, especially talking with someone who sees their potential, is not a threat (NDA, w00t), and is willing to invest/investigate them. He's a real hardware tinkerer, whereas he imagines I'm a computer arts tinkerer. I have to mention though, that the idea that got this situation going was my wifes. She's rightfully apprehensive of the situation.

Regardless, this made me think of situation I had regarding an idea I had a few years ago. First let me explain the context. My day to day job was/is often translating Pro/Engineer assemblies into real time geometry. What that means is that the CAD software the engineers and designers used to design in was converted from its engineering 3D data, high detail, high accuracy, parametric model parts and assemblies, into low polygon, simplified representations. As much as I tried automating the processes, and even invented some automation techniques, the results still never looked very good. The computer just didn't know what it was doing, where it was important to keep data (is that hole important or not), or where data could be removed, like the internals of a bearing assembly. Thus I was often struggling in Pro/E removing extraneous small details and then fighting in the low polygon modeler to further reduce details to get my models to adequate sizes, as well as optimized for run time performance. I still do this today, though not as often. You could say I'm a seasoned veteran in polygons. Here's a picture of what I mean, I've come a long way baby!
Anyway, I had this idea to help my process, a way to automatically reduce poly counts quickly within geometry by simply looking at it. (Proof, an old forum post of mine!) Essentially, you loop the observer around your model, looking at it from all the important angles and note any polygons that are never seen, essentially an all encompassing cull. So one day Right Hemisphere was visiting, demonstrating some of their products, including one that supposedly could do this sort of thing for me (I think it was called Granite, Pro/E to OBJ with dial-a-fidelity sliders). The meeting was over for the most part and I mentioned my idea to one of the presenters. He seemed interested, but blew it off to show me something "interesting". So nothing happens for some time, then I'm invited to another meeting with Right Hemisphere (they came back, they were trying to worm into our business, getting us to go with some of their content management solutions which we weren't interested in). At the meeting we do the same thing but more focus on the bigger picture though I do get another demo of their products that apply to me. This time one of the sales-engineers says they have a new reduction algorithm in the works. Do you see where this is going? Yep, he explains the quick premise of how it works and you got it, it was my idea, the one I stupidly blabbed to the guy at the last meeting. Needless to say I gasped and asked if it was GuyName's idea, to which the reply is yes, but he doesn't work for them anymore. Long story short, I learned a couple valuable lessons that day.

Since that day I've continued to have ideas, some good, some obviously horrible (pork chop beer mug, drink then eat), but now if I share them I double check my audience and the purpose of me sharing (do I want to sound smart/important) and more importantly, can they gain from my idea without payback to me. In the case above, the situation provided me with little to no advantage (it was in a product or module/add-on we didn't have or want) and gave them another bullet on their list to help sell their product and no credit back to me. However, I continue to use Right Hemisphere's Deep Exploration product at work, but purely as a geometric conversion tool. At home, I'm still using 3D Exploration for the more obscure/older formats (3D Exploration was what Deep Exploration became, after RH bought it out and before they slopped the multi-hundred dollar price tag on it).

[UPDATE: New Blog Post: Trouble in Polygon Optimization Town]


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Arcade Here I Come!

Since March I've been saving my dollars and cutting costs where I can. I've quit eating at the cafeteria at work due to its outrageous pricing, and I'm hording my money earned from freelance and ads on my website (thank you top 50 and top 80 text tutorials). I've almost raised $300!

I've decided to only buy some of parts I need, and get more once I learn more. I'm going to start with an external one player lap controller, six buttons and one joystick. My bill is $193.70 at Hagstrom Electronics and $46.40 at Happ, though I'm waiting for a check or two to clear first. I'm excited to take a step forward.

Yes, its almost 2 AM.


Freelance Guru, Special FX and Modeling

Every once in a while I'll take a job on the side. I prefer paying gigs, but sometimes I pro-bono if I'm interested or the cause is good. I currently have three "gigs".

The first is a special FX shot for a MN independent filmmaker. I took this job back in July of 07, didn't get the footage until January, and I'm about to finish (April). It's been a slow process, which is my fault to some (probably great) extent of course, but with family, school and other jobs, hobbies (the pumpkin movie) and interests (video games, beer, etc.), I've been less than available and less than motivated. Good news is its done. It was a special effects shot with fire as you can probably see from the image. I lit fire to my driveway three times and my garage five times to get the shot right. And that was after my attempts at "faking it" failed to yield results I was happy with. Hopefully the film turns out well for the director/writer barring my delays.

The second gig is a good one. It's a Guru job. Guru.com is a website for freelancers. I get e-mails about freelance jobs and I look but usually don't apply. This one however was right up my alley. Some guy out there is modifying a Head On arcade cabinet with a SEGA baseball game and needs a custom control panel. I submitted a bid and he took it because I mentioned my current interests and motivations with classic arcade cabinets. Its going well I think, though I way underbid compared to the time it will take me. Course, I will take the money earned and apply it toward my own arcade.

The third gig is a free one. I've been unmotivated to produce any TurboSquid assets lately and needed some inspiration. It came in the form of an e-mail from someone who downloaded one of my free models, a pickle to be exact. This person had obviously read my e-mail asking for response if they use it, so I rewarded them with a reply and an offer for more free models. Turns out he's working on a mod to Fable. To date, I've made him (I'm assuming a him) a low polygon hamburger with texture. Soon I'll be completing a hot dog and additional food items. Should prove interesting in the least.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gradual Decline

An old friend invited my family over for dinner and play time (kids of course) and for some reason they started talking religion and politics at dinner. These generally aren't safe topics to discuss with people, especially people you know you'll disagree with. My wife and I did our best to stay safe, but... To sum up: I was astonished with their opinion of the world. According to their view, the world is getting worse and worse and is in a gradual decline. Kids are loosing respect for their parents, becoming stupid and lazy and their parents are to lazy to care. More and more teens are getting pregnant. The world, "have you read the Bible", is becoming worse and worse. Etc. Doom, right?

Maybe its me but I don't think that. I think the world is becoming a more and more exciting place. Perhaps its my optimistic tenancies (my personality profile says I'm an optimist so don't disagree), or perhaps it is truth. I've heard of statistics saying kids are smarter (or more knowledgeable) than decades past. I've heard that teenage pregnancy is down. I've heard that children are doing more and doing better in school than their parents. Maybe its my optimism getting the best of me. Unfortunately, on top of my optimistic tendencies is my skepticism. I need to know, is the world in a decline? Given the subject matter I guess, I would be referring to a a social decline as we American's narrowly view it.

Teen Pregnancy, up or down?
DOWN! According to this study, the number of teen pregnancy's has reduced significatly. Of additional note and further proof (at least to me) that things are not declining is that the total abortion rate has also declined, in 2002 it was almost half of what it was in 1986. I don't want to start debate, and I'll say I believe strongly in a woman's right to choose. However, I feel the best choice is to choose life.

Drop out rates, up or down?
DOWN! From 1972 to 2005, the drop out rate has decreased (in total) from around 15% to the lowest its ever been, 9% according to this study. This table provides a real quick look at the statistics. (My DW, dear wife to those not in tune with the lingo, commented on this the other night saying its now law to stay in school, but I haven't researched that or how, or when, it may have impacted this particular study.)

As with any statistics, they can be skewed to reflect the views of the presenter. So perhaps I am really, truly seeing what I want to see. Regardless, I refuse to live in a world destined to destruction and decline. I have high hopes for the future, for my children and my grandchildren, and their kids for ever and ever. I'm excited for them to live their lives as much as I look forward to living mine. It brings extreme joy to my mind thinking of the future. The bright shining, lovely future.


Course Books for DeVry GSP

Wow, text books are expensive! Well, they're expensive if you buy them through the
DeVry bookstore. Forget that! You can find the same books on Half.com, new or used. Plus, when you're done with it, list it back on Half.com and get some of your money back, unless its a book worth keeping anyway.

My book for GSP 240 cost $50 through DeVry, plus S&H. I got it new for $27, S&H included.


Course Overload!

In examining my degree courses for my GSP degree, and given the time drain experience with my three previous courses (time drain in a minimal sense, they didn't take much), I decided to kick it up and try two courses this session. I'm taking GSP 220, Math For Game Programming I, and GSP 240, Practical Game Design. The courses opened recently and I had a chance to look over the syllabuses. Hopefully I'm not biting off more than I can chew.

The math class should be easy, considering I have an undeclared math minor, carry over from my engineering degree. I do trigonometry on a regular basis in my day-to-day too. Looking over the course objectives, it also sounds like I've already done most of the stuff before. I was concerned that since my programming courses were over, the classes to pick from seemed to de-emphasize programming. I was afraid that the skill would atrophy some before it came back in later courses. However, I'm happy to see that this math class includes programming exercises and assignments on a regular basis.

I'm very disappointed in the Practical Game Design course though. Looking at its course objectives and assignments, it sounds like a rehash of GSP-110 (the intro to game and simulation programming course I already took). Seriously, we have to review games with what appears to be the same template as 110. We have to write a pitch document, and write a design document. We also have to compare and discuss game generas. Everything I did in GSP-110 again! I dislike these sort of courses, I'm technical by nature and like technical problems. The online learning I don't think goes well with these sort of classes either, where face-to-face discussions could really be of more benefit. One potential positive with this course though is that we get to work in a group, which I'm hoping will help improve my outlook with the online degree. This could be good and bad, depending on the group of course. I'm willing to keep an open mind.


Programming II Final, Another DeVry Course Down

Took the final for my GSP (Game and Simulation Programming DeVry degree) programming class, it's called CIS-247 OO Programming with Lab, C++. The final was easy, though it took me a lot longer than I expected. It had two pages, which I almost missed due to the poor webpage design for the test and my skill at ignoring headings and extraneous looking details. Luckily I saw the link for page two right before I almost clicked submit. Good thing too, because page two was the bulk of the actual final, the "essay" part.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Bob Saget = God


Back in 1994 (plus or minus a year), my friend Bill and I went crazy with some clip art collection, making the stupidest things our 20 something minds could create. One of those creations was "Bob Saget = God" and it became an inside joke that was often of much humor to our circle of friends.

Well Bob Saget was in town this week doing his stand up routine and luckily I got to go with Bill and some of his friends from college. Although he was funny, he was not God. He was somewhat spastic; combining multiple joke/story lines together is a blended mash of humor, confusion and brilliance. His brain must be that of a fucked up pubescent boy, trapped in a 50-something with a history of prime-time family-friendly comedy. I mean: I give the guy a lot of credit for rolling with his history as well as he does, embracing it and telling you to fuck-off with your assumptions at the same time.

The high point for the show was when he pulled out his guitar and played some comedy. This was my favorite:



Thursday, April 10, 2008

Film win, we're big in Iowa

After an eventful weekend at a film festival in IA, and a broken sump pump which required my attention, I'm finally able to post an update. My film, Bill's Big Pumpkins, took Silver in the Pro-Am Documentary category at the Cedar Rapids Film Festival in Cedar Rapids Iowa last weekend. Silver I guess is second place. It feels good to win something.

It was fun. I went with my wife, my BF from high school and his wife. We stayed at the lamest, 1970's remodeled Ramada in Waterloo. It was an adventure that's for sure. We didn't plan much of anything and it was a real stress releaser. We just let whatever happen. We got the last two rooms at the Ramada too, so that was lucky.

We stayed later than we planed, sticking around to see another documentary called FRAG. FRAG is about the (or the theoretical idea of) professional video gaming. It was a really interesting subject, but... it was long and sooooo boring and repetitive. It was repetitive. Really repetitive, saying the same thing about 10 times, unnecessarily. I was really hoping it would be exciting and something to tell people about, but not so. So much potential. Still a good idea, and parts were done really well, but it did drag.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

char woes and the blight of the console menu

Sometimes, no matter how hard I think about it, or try to avoid thinking about it, my brain finally opens up to a concept that has seemed foreign for so long. Today, while trying to do some other stupid thing with chars in C++ I finally figured out, I mean figured out as in now I understand, the "cannot convert from 'const char' to 'char'" error and I have to say I have egg on my face. But before I get to that, I want to bring up the context that is usually an introduction to programming where errors like this drive noobs batty.

It seems that many programming learning materials, or courses for that matter, tend to introduce the language by having the user make inane, 1970 text menus for some stupid functions, such as inputting names and dates into a database, or doing simple math. These archaic menus require input from the user (who is also primarily the programmer in this case) and then determine the appropriate action based on the input. The concepts are introduced gradually too: first input a single integer, then maybe multiple line inputs, then a single line input with spaces, on up to words and/or names (aka character strings). Things, like inputting your full name, sounds so easy yet causes so much headache. Let me just say I hate this sort of menu making/programming/thinking. It's not what programming is about. You end up fighting the language and syntax instead of learning the concepts. This is sort of user interface crap that I think clouds programming learning with programming fighting. Perhaps its just me, but that error I mention above, along with numerous others in a similar variety, plagued me as I struggled to get my menus working with char, char*, and/or strings. (Additionally, little to no advice is given into which is a more appropriate variable either.)

Perhaps I have the other concepts and syntax down that this one vague area maddens me. Or perhaps it truly is a hard concept to grasp for the intro programmer.

Regardless, here's some code sample to help show what I learned.

//given
char word[10];

//ERROR, character arrays cannot be set this way
word = "great!";
//SOLUTION, use a function to set the array
strcpy(word, "great!");

//ERROR, this one dealing with the index of the
// character array, where you can actually work directly
word[0] = "g";
//SOLUTION, watch your syntax, ' and " mean something
// different. In this case, it's interpreting the set
// to an array, not an individual character.
word[0] = 'g';

Sometimes it’s the simple things…


DeVry, how doth ye suck

Strangely, in monitoring my traffic (I see you 1/4 person a day, I'm watching yous) I've realized all my visitors come because of the words "DeVry" and "game" and "suck". Weird. Maybe I'm pandering here, but I actually have a legitimate beef with the school.

In my third session at DeVry (for Game and Simulation Programming, the GSP) I'm really surprised at the level of confusion, disassociation and confusion with their people, website, and setup. My god! How hard is it let a student know how shit is going to work. You would think something as simple as designing a course path, such as can I take class XYZ next semester, would be an easy thing to determine. I actually asked my admissions adviser, who didn't know (though I cut him some slack, he's new). I eventually talked to some dean or something of admissions, who didn't know much about the online degree stuff since he's a campus admissions adviser, but he was able to show me where the link for the annual schedule is. To my dismay it was really obvious, hiding in plain site like a shoot-the-duck-and-win-a-free-hooker ad, though I think its located on the wrong page all together.

WTF? When I originally called DeVry (last year) I was soon barraged with dozens of phone calls, of which there were conflicting requirements, expectations, descriptions, lies and general disconnectedness. I was willing to take the chance though, and picked the local adviser because he said he handled on campus and online advising. He left, and now his boss, the dean or whatever, tells me I should ask my online adviser concerning online degree concerns. Fine. I'll just ask my success coach (no joke, but she's cool and helpful) how I can get another adviser.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

In preparation for the Speed Racer movie coming in May, I decided it was time to introduce the kids to the cartoon. It was nothing like I remember it. It's almost laughable how weird it is but the kids still loved it.
In related news we recently moved our big TV from one wall to another. I took the opportunity to clean up the wires and get the laptop connected. I'm thinking media hub...


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