Entries from March 2006

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Saturday, 25 March 2006 [01:00 CST]

a revolution in gaming

Actually late Friday night....

So, since my last update, I had Spring Break, went to East Texas for a couple of days, and did a whole lot of errands, including getting my oil changed and a haircut.

Then school started back up again, and not much of note happened except that my Computer Science III kids all finished their sudoku solvers.

Oh, Fedora Core 5 was released, so I downloaded the six discs on the embarrassingly-fast Internet connection at school. I'll be installing it once I get enough time to backup all my existing data and do it right.

Also, I hear that V for Vendetta is pretty good, so check that out if you get the chance.

What I really want to talk about is the new Nintendo console, which is slated to come out at some point later this year. It's currently codenamed 'Revolution', but will end up being called something different.

Some of you may have seen the Xbox 360, Microsoft's new console which runs about $400. Or you may have heard about Sony's Playstation 3, which is due out in November, and may cost even more. Both consoles have powerful processors and powerful video cards, and they have expensive, high-definition games that cost millions of dollars to produce.

On the other hand, some are speculating that Nintendo's offering might be as cheap as $150-$200. The game controller is basically a wireless, gyroscopic remote control. People who have used it say that since it knows which direction you're pointing it, you can control something onscreen as easily as you can direct a laser pointer.

The new console is already known to be backwards-compatible, playing all GameCube games. Nintendo has also announced that there will be a "Virtual Console" service included which will allow you, for a small fee (probably $5 or less), to download and play most of the popular games from the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo 64. And at the Game Developer's Conference yesterday, they announced that you'll also be able to download classic games sold for the Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx consoles.

In his GDC keynote, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata talked about how his company has intentionally decided to go a different route with this console. And I think they just might be able to pull it off.

One quote that made me happy was this: "Our Virtual Console concept is the videogame version of Apple's iTunes music store."

What is the iTunes Music Store about? It's about selling single songs very cheaply, sure. This implies to me that I won't have to pay much to download, say, River City Ransom for the Revolution. But the iTMS is also about driving sales of iPods.

It's kind of backwards. Both Microsoft and Sony make very expensive consoles. Sony initially made very little on the Playstation 2, and Microsoft actually sold the Xbox and sells the Xbox 360 for a loss. It's suspected that the Playstation 3 will either be $800 or Sony will be selling it for a loss, too.

On the other hand, Nintendo makes a fair profit on each GameCube sold, and there's no reason to believe that they'll not do the same with the Revolution. There's also no reason for them to try to profit much on downloaded games from twenty years ago. All the development costs for the original Legend of Zelda have already been sunk. And a digital download has no incremental costs.

Let me repeat that. At this point, the version of the original Legend of Zelda that will be available to download cost them nothing to produce. And it costs nothing to duplicate and only a cent or two in bandwidth charges.

They can easily sell such games for $0.99 and have it all basically be pure profit. Such a low price will reduce the desirability of a pirated ROM of the same game played on your computer in a crappy emulator. Who needs to pirate a game when you can have the real thing for less than a 20 oz. bottled water?

And, most importantly, these downloaded games can only be played on Nintendo's console. Just like the iTunes Music Store drives iPod sales, Nintendo's Virtual Console should drive sales of their hardware.

I'll freely admit that I've been a Nintendo fanboy from the beginning. Our family had an NES, and I bought a Super Nintendo with my own money when it came out. I haven't played hardly any video games since graduating high school, and I still don't. But Nintendo's new console has me excited about videogaming again.

Saturday, 11 March 2006 [22:56 CST]

taunted by my own creation

Lately I've been doing a lot of sudoku puzzles. This is partially because they're fun, and partially because working one a day is probably good for my brain. So, Thursday evening I had started working a puzzle but hadn't completed it. I was having a slow day in class, so I was working it Friday morning while waiting on someone to have a question for me.

Eventually, I got stuck. I had found values for about two-thirds of the cells, but I couldn't see any way to figure out any more. I manually worked out the possible values for each of the cells remaining, but that didn't help. Even looking at the numbers, I still didn't see any way to proceed.

I began to expect that maybe I'd made a mistake at some previous point, leaving the remaining cells impossible to fill or something. So, to check my work, I entered the starting values for the sudoku I was working on into the solver I've been coding.

Now, my solver is still pretty dumb (it only knows two rules for solving), so what I expected is that it would partially solve the puzzle, getting some subset of the numbers that I had found so far, and then show me the possible values for the remaining cells so I could make sure all my values were reasonable.

What did happen was that my program solved the sudoku completely and displayed the answer.

Or, at least, that's what I thought at first. After a second of shock I noticed that it had given me an incorrect solution, with two 1s and two 4s in the same block, for example. One of my recent changes had inadvertently introduced some subtle bug into the solver.

I backed out the most recent rule I'd added and only ran the one, super dumb rule on the puzzle, and the results were still wrong. It took me a few minutes but I finally figured out what was going on and got that working as expected. It solved a couple of numbers in the puzzle, but not very many. So I added back in the second rule.

My now-fixed program solved the sudoku completely and displayed the answer. Only this time the answer was correct.

"What?!?" I questioned the machine. "How do you know?!? I taught you how to solve these things, remember? What do you know that I don't?!?"

In a turn of events that would alarm doomsayers, the program I had written, featuring only two very simplistic rules, had correctly solved a sudoku puzzle that I myself couldn't solve. It was a little unnerving.

I spent the next fifteen minutes or so adding debugging output to the program so that whenever it decided on a number for a cell, it'd tell me which cell it was examining and which rule it had used to make the decision. I further made it run one step at a time rather than all at once, so it could figure a couple of numbers, show me the new board, and then wait for me to give it the go-ahead to move to the next step.

Doing this, I slowly walked my own program through its logic until I got to a point just before the state my own paper was in. At this point, it had deduced almost exactly the same numbers as I had, though I had one more number that it hadn't seen yet. I checked my possibilities and found an error or two, but nothing that would have affected my results.

Then I made the computer run the next step. The next number it found was one I didn't have. It showed me which cell to look in, and which rule it had invoked to make the determination. And you know what? It was right. Normally this rule only finds fairly obvious values, but in this case the value for that cell wasn't obvious, at least not to me.

It was a little reassuring that the move I'd missed was really the only legal move at that point. And once I got it all the other cells fell into place pretty quickly.

Still, having your own progeny, so to speak, flippantly perform a task that you've been struggling with is mildly unsettling.

Saturday, 4 March 2006 [21:18 CST]

DIviant behavior

This morning, I left my house at 6:00 A.M.

I was at Bowie High School by 6:50, ready for check-in. My first experience as a Destination ImagiNation appraiser began shortly thereafter. From 8:00 until nearly 5:00 I counted ping-pong or tennis balls shot into a "receiver" in just about every way imaginable. The best team scored over 170 balls in under eight minutes. A couple of teams, new to the competition, probably, didn't manage a single one.

Overall, it was a lot of fun. It's amazing what kids can imagine and execute when they're properly motivated and guided well.

During some down time I took the opportunity to wander the halls and reminisce, since I did my student teaching at Bowie almost exactly nine years ago. I found the classroom I'd been in and was surprised to find that the room number was 205, the same number as my current classroom.

Anyway, it's time for bed. Getting up so early on a Saturday just isn't me. Oh, and Google added my word.

Wednesday, 1 March 2006 [23:24 CST]

Google spelling

Some of you may have been impressed with my correct spelling of the word 'rigmarole' in my previous post. So I feel compelled to confess: I had to look it up.

This is one of the only times when my usual dictionary – Google – failed to set me straight. My first guess, which I typed into Firefox's built-in Google searchbar, was rigoramorale, a spelling so creative that it doesn't appear a single time in Google's database. (Before now, that is, as Google may add it once it indexes this very entry.) Google, as usual, helpfully suggested a more popular spelling: rigamorale, which at the time of this writing occurred 439 times. However, there was no definition link for the word off to the right, and the hit count seemed really low.

Guessing again, I modified Google's suggestion and tried rigamoral, which was slightly more popular at 530 hits, but still having no definition link. So I gave up on my old standby and pulled out a for-real book-form dictionary: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition). Searching around the "rig"s yielded a pointer, at least: the following entry.

rig•a•ma•role  var of rigmarole

I shifted over one page to confirm the meaning I expected for this word, and then returned to Google once more to check the popularity of the correct spelling. Rigmarole turns up a whopping 367,000 results and the sought-after [definition] link. Bingo.

Good to know that Google hasn't obsoleted everything yet. Or that I'm just a completely incompetent guesser-of-spellings.

Wednesday, 1 March 2006 [22:04 CST]

got them grades in there

So, I spent some more time at school on Monday night and got all the GradeSpeed scripting basically finished, so I was able to turn in my grades – for the first time – with all the grades in the program rather than just the final average.

I spent some more time working on a GUI for the thing, but it was very tedious since AutoIT expects you to just align all the widgets by hand by specifying pixel values for everything. I've since found Koda Form Designer, which is a drag-and-drop thingy that spits out the required AutoIT code for you. I haven't revisited it, since grades aren't due for a bit yet, but everything looks promising.

There's not much else to report, I guess. Oh, eHarmony has been busy enough that I've asked them to stop sending me new matches. I've decided against (closed) 19 "prospects", put another nine on hold, and there are nine more that I haven't decided on one way or the other. And there are thirteen matches with which I'm in some stage of communication, though none with whom I've made it through eHarmony's entire four-step guided communication rigmarole.

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