Some More Book Stuff

Readers of McSweeney’s already know this: William Vollmann’s new book Rising Up and Rising Down will be released in a couple of weeks. I have read very little of Mr. Vollman’s work; before today, actually, no more than an excerpt of Rising in McSweeney’s 9.

So today I went out to Schuler Books and Music and picked up a copy of The Ice-Shirt. Using the first few chapters therein, and a quick re-read of the McSweeney’s excerpt, I will decide within the next week or so if owning Rising is worth $120.00. A 3,500 page, seven-volume treatise on violence, seventeen years in the making. It would be an awesome, monstrous thing to have in the house, but would I ever read it?

Only time will tell. Right now I have another new book to read, this one a third the length of Quicksilver, which I finished this past Saturday, and will review as time permits.

Some Book Stuff

Thanks for the help everyone; the puppy was delicious.

Sunday’s book give-away went better than expected. Of the 220 or so books put out for relocation, over half were taken. The rest I am leaving in the window so visitors over the next couple of weeks can browse through them. Visiting Barnes and Noble was discouraging, as they are currently only buying Fiction hardcovers and paperbacks; so whatever is left over at (say) the end of November is going to the public library .

So as I was plowing my way through a breakfast of Donut Holes and Goldfish Crackers I glanced over at the pile of books and one in particular caught my eye: The Master of Petersburg by J.M. Coetzee. In hardcover.

I stared at it for a little while, wondering why that name seemed so familiar. So I looked him up on the internet.

Oh yeah. He just won the Nobel Prize for literature . Guess I’ll be keeping this one.

I opened it, wondering when the book was published, what it was about, etc., and discovered that it was a signed first edition. Hardcover. Nobel Laureate. Etc.

Let me say that again for all the search engines: A signed, first-edition copy of The Master of Petersburg, by the 2003 Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, J.M. Coetzee.

To all the people who stopped by on Sunday, I offer a heartfelt “Thank you”.

And a very quiet “Ha!”

On the Acquisition of Chinese Text

My last few days at work have been filled with the thrills of non-Latin character sets; specifically, getting Chinese and Japanese text into an XML-driven flash movie. It was in interesting trip, so I figured I might as well publish my findings as an exploration.

One caveat: Doing this required the downloading of a lot of language packs, both from Microsoft (for Windows) and from Mozilla (for the Mozilla browser). Visiting any of the following sites will probably bring up “install language pack” dialogues, but since it is not certain that your browser(s) will be able to view the text, I have placed all non-Latin characters in images.

First I went to Babelfish and typed in Ecce Signum .

Hmmm. Apparently Babelfish doesn’t automatically do English-Latin-Chinese translations. Let’s try “behold the evidence”

Closer… let’s try one more: “witness the evidence”.

There we go! Now for the verification, I copied the Chinese text from Babelfish and went to Mandarin Tools ; specifically the Unicode Character Dictionary , and pasted the characters into the text field titled “Search By Character”, while making sure the select box to the left of the text box was set to “UTF-8”.

Apparently it doesn’t translate very well… but is appeared to be close enough. But now the characters were not of a good size to make images of. Printing the screen and resizing the image was, to say the least, not very good. So I whipped up a little web page to display the characters, while making VERY SURE that I saved the page as Unicode, and not ISO-8859-whatever. VERY IMPORTANT for the display of Unicode characters. So now I had this:

Hmmm… little squares where I once had Chinese characters… So I looked at the page in Mozilla anyway. This is what I saw:

Perfect! Now the hard part is over. The rest was simply taking another screen capture, isolating the text in the screen capture, turning the image into a .gif, making it black text on a transparent background, and importing it into Flash to do a Trace Bitmap.

Before-and-after of doing a Trace Bitmap in Flash.

So there it is: my first experience in making Flash play nice with non-Latin characters. I am sure there are many many ways to do this that are much more elegant, and I am sure I will discover them the day after this project launches. But right now, I am kind of happy with what I have.

The Great Book Give-Away

That’s right. I’m weeding my library. This Sunday, October 26 2003, somewhere between 150 and 300 books will be free for the taking. Show up any time between 2:00 and 9:00 pm. Genres include, but are not limited to: science art religion languages philosophy Russian photography poetry literature misc beer design computers martial arts etc. There may also be some CDs in the mix.

There are only three rules:
[1] The books I am NOT giving away will be kept separate from the books I AM giving away. Stay away from the books I am NOT giving away.
[2] Some of you may be tempted to grab an armload of books and drive straight over to Barnes and Noble to sell them. If you do this I will kill you.
[3] This is a book GIVE AWAY , not a book SWAP . Don’t bring books of your own and try to get in on my action.

If there are any books remaining after the GiveAway, I will take them to Barnes and Noble and sell what I can. Any remaining after that will be donated to the Grand Rapids Public Library. Any profit made from the Selling of the Used Books will probably go into … MORE BOOKS. Or beer. Depends on how much I get.

Email me for directions, if you don’t already know where I live.

I :heart: Words

Now that I am done with The Fountainhead I am plowing through Quicksilver . Sometimes I forget what a joy it is to read the work of someone who is deeply in love with the English language.

On that note, a particular word has wormed its way into my subconscious recently, and probably won’t let me go until I give it a good thinking-about:

Fix. Or, fixed. Probably because I hear it so much at work. “John, can you fix this?” “I fixed it yesterday.” “Fix it again.” “It’s still fixed.” “Then make it even more fixed.” “Consider it fixed.”

Fix can be used in several different confusing and contradictory, not to mention amusing ways:

Fixing a car means making something a little more perfect. Fixing a cat means making something a little less perfect. Fixing a deal means that it will go through according to agreed-upon rules. Fixing a bet means the exact opposite. Being in a fix is a Bad Thing. Getting your fix is a Good Thing. The Fixx was a band in the eighties is still around! Who’d’a thunk???.

So as you can see, when using this word it is important to be a precise as possible.

“Fixing something with pliers?”
“Yes. A boxing match.”

“Dad hurt himself golfing?”
“Dad fixed himself golfing.”

“I just fixed my cat.”
“Good for you.”
“…to the ceiling.”

…etc. In my next lecture I will meditate on the GeoSocioPantheoPolitical ramifications of the Co-option of Tradition in the Acceleration of Nostalgic Meta-Journalism.

The Fractal Nature of Space

Lately I have been working on this game which I have had stuck in my head forever. More specifically, I have been building the tools which I will eventually use to build the game. Doing so has forced me to learn a lot in the way of data architecture.

My primary influences for this game are Nethack , the early Ultima games, and Diablo . All of these are adventure games, but there the similarities end. Nethack is – not to belittle it at all – a straightforward dungeon crawl, very simple graphics, simple rules, and astoundingly complex gameplay. Ultima (c. the Commodore-64 era) is middle of the road. Slightly more complex graphics, simpler gameplay, but a much more complicated world. It also gives you the option of controlling multiple characters.

Diablo – specifically Diable II – is an interesting blend of extreme complexity (the size of the world) and extreme simplicity (you play by clicking on stuff).

For the mechanics of the game I am building, Ultima IV – which cost me many a grade-point in college – has the most to teach me.

The interface was quite simple: Your character was always in the center of the screen, and the world shifted around you. Every time you hit a doorway, a city, the entrance to a dungeon, a teleport trap, or any number of other things, you would find yourself somewhere else.

One of the goals for my game is that absolutely all of the data for the game be held in XML files. Flash, while improving with every release, still chokes on huge files, so I had to come up with ways of [1] keeping files small, [2] keeping things modular, [3] keeping things consistent, and [4] keeping things interchangeable. This meant, to coin a phrase, “small pieces, loosely joined”.

Later I decided that, not only did everything have to be saved as XML, but even the images had to be built in XML. And that included multiple-frame animations.

So now I needed a logical system of creating maps and maintaining the internal logic of “When I exit room [1]at door [a] i need to appear in room [2] at room [b]”. How to connect all of these XML documents in a manner which maintains logic at the administration level, the file level, and the gameplay level?

Then it hit me: portals.

In Ultima IV, every time you hit a door, or a cave entrance, or a city, you were dumped into a new map in a specific place. That meant that there was something about the thing you activated which knew where to send you. It didn’t matter WHAT that thing was; every portal, no matter what it looks like, does the same thing: sends you somewhere else. Therefore each door, pit trap, ladder and trampoline has a set of coordinates identifying an XML document and an X and Y coordinate within the map which is built by that document. Scope and scale don’t matter; only the target. Let the new map take care of physics and context once you arrive at the new location.

So this long train of thought has made me think about the various portals in day-to-day life. The door of a house. The door of a car. A stairway. A slide. Each leads (for practical purposes) to a space with its own rules. Inside to outside. Rest to motion. Down here a fall will bruise me. Up there a fall will kill me. Out there is bright and cold. In here smells funny.

Portals, as initiators of action, rest in an indeterminate state. They are neither here nor there, and at the same time are both; like a shoreline. I imagine Schrödinger came up with his famous theorem after watching his cat stand halfway out the door for fifteen minutes. The cat was neither in the state of being inside or outside, but was half of each, yet it was a single cat, so logically it must be oscillating between one state and another. Yet the cat itself isn’t moving, so it must instead be in neither state until it makes up its damn mind.

My next big random train of thought will be on the object-ness of events, and consensual reality with reference to discrete units of time.

October Already??!?

I finished The Fountainhead on Tuesday, and now I am plowing my way through Quicksilver. 200 pages down, 700 to go. Then, at long last, I will give myself permission to buy…Another Book. No idea which one.

I have noticed that, as cool as Flash is, it loses some of its charm when I am required to use it constantly at work. Makes me long for a nice complex table to build…maybe some form elements…images…

Nah. I would still rather do it all in Flash.

When I am feeling a little less burned out I will dive back into the tile/adventure game. look for updates somewhere around the end of the month.

A Proper Autumn Day

The sun came out today, so I celebrated by walking the two miles to work. I took this picture (facing West) on the corner of Monroe Street and Monroe Avenue.


At lunch Scott and I wandered down to the waterfall as we do every day. The salmon are running and we saw a fisherman pull one in.


It didn’t out up much of a fight. Actually, it looked dead tired, exhausted, worn out. It probably would not have made it over the falls or up the fish-ladder.

Spending my free time redesigning the Yoga Studio website, stripping paint and reading The Fountainhead.