Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Trying out the Processing language

I had seen references to the Processing language on a few web pages (like, but a couple of key things I read about it recently led to me actually trying it out:
  • I noticed that a variation of it is used as the language for the Arduino boards, which I had become interested in as a useful way to get into PIC-type electronics
  • I learned that it has a feature to export programs as Java applets, complete with wrapper html pages, making it super easy to put a program out for people to consume
  • I learned that it's graphically-oriented, with a ton of features for 2d and 3d graphics. I've been looking for a graphically-oriented, easy, hobbyist-type open source language for several years now, and this one seems to fit the bill.
So I installed it and tried it out yesterday. This evening I was showing it to my 10 year old, and said that I thought it would be easy to make a simple arcade game like Space Invaders using it. And then I coded up a simplified clone, in one evening. :) And here it is.

This ability to easily post a program on a web page is a big deal, because most languages I've tried require a lot more work to do that. I like Perl, but someone would need to install Perl and any modules I used, before they could use a script...or I'd have to compile the script into an executable, at a minimum. Emacs lisp is fun, but you have to install Emacs first before you can do anything with it.

Now my amateur game programming shall be limited only by my time and sticktoitiveness. Maybe I'll finally write the computer version of Dungeon's Revenge I've been dreaming about for years (a takeoff on the Dungeon! boardgame, where you play monsters who come out of a dungeon to attack the city).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Super Saturday

Having multiple children has its challenges. Heck, have more than two kids these days and people look at you funny. But you also get times like this past Saturday, when my 9-year-old daughter not only got up before anyone else on Saturday, but also dressed her 2 year old sister...and made her into a superhero. When we parents got up and found them, both were wearing blanket capes and paper eye masks.

We think the explanation is that the 2-year-old is now big enough to follow orders in her big sis's reindeer games.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Build a game around Carcassone

I've been thinking about ways to use the tiles from the board game Carcassone to make a new game. It seems to me that they're perfect for building a landscape, maybe something for a simple role-playing game. In fact, I'd say this idea is pretty obvious, but it's not going to prevent me from expounding on it for a few paragraphs. :)

Here's what I'm thinking:

- Use the tiles to set up a landscape, in which players play scenes
- Each turn, a player can play one piece, just as normal for Carcassone
- You can place a meeple on your tile, but instead of playing meeples from a set of one color, you choose a meeple of any color, and the color indicates something about the space. Basically, you're salting the space with some particular kind of encounter, and when a player visits that space, the player then gets an encounter of that type.
- Perhaps each player gets a random pile of meeples to play from, in different colors.
- Red might mean monster, green = a patron, black = a dark magic...
- Players use tokens to move about the map, playing out scenes in aid of some goal. Clearly there needs to be some goals added on top of this, but my thinking hasn't gotten that far.
- After you play a scene in a space, you collect the meeple, for points of some kind.

The secret to perfect bedtimes

I was ecstatic last night, because although it was one of my nights home alone with the kids, everything went swimmingly: we were done with dinner early, I got the dishes all cleaned up and the kids lunches' made, and did a bunch of chores off my list, and then put the kids in bed nicely with no screaming, and finished my writing, and heck, I went to bed early for once.

So I was trying to figure out what the secret was, because who wouldn't want to repeat such a wonderful experience? Then I remembered that Tanya had had dinner ready for me when I got home, and I got home a little earlier than usual, and Tanya took Ethan away to a school function, so it was just me and the girls. So, the secret is for your spouse to plan ahead and set your evening up nicely for you. :)

Nah, I knew that a part of it was Tanya hauling Ethan away and making things simpler, and I have a theory that the lack of Ethan made Chloe a lot more tractable, but I think the subtler thing is dinner. Having dinner done well before 6pm means there's time to interact and play with the kids before getting them started on bedtime, so they don't resent it, and so there's time to apply positive incentives (like, get dressed now, and whatever time is left I can use to read you a book) rather than punishments.

So now I have a good reason to plan ahead for dinner more. And to be home as early as possible. I even considered, tonight, bribing Ethan to go hide in his room and read a book or something, to test whether that would make Chloe easier to deal with, but I didn't.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Apply buttocks to chair

I was really not feeling like writing tonight. I spent probably half an hour surfing the net when I sat down to get started. But when I actually started writing, I got a lot done. "The Wonder Kid" is moving along...the scenes I was working on are not too awfully different from the last draft, so they go really fast, of course. Still. It's not a bad idea to work on something easy now and then to get the project flowing along. Heh. I hate to even express this thought, expecting that at some point soon I'll be depressed when the project gets difficult again...but at the moment, I am making great strides because I know the story so well. Which makes having had to start the thing over a lot less painful.

The Bank of Dad, a year later

Having read the book The First National Bank of Dad: The Best Way to Teach Kids About Money something like a year ago, and put its ideas into effect in our household, I thought I'd report back on how things have worked out.

The gist: I enjoyed the book, its ideas are easy to implement, and I recommend it to any parent who is considering starting an allowance plan for the kids.

In our family, the relevant kids are 8 and 10 years old now. Based on the ideas in this book, we established allowances for the kids, and I maintain simple accounts for them. I add their allowances to their accounts weekly, and when they spend money, I deduct from their accounts. This way the kids don't have to carry cash around, and yet whenever they ask me for something, I can tell them to use their own money to pay for it. I also apply interest to their accounts -- 5% every month.

Now, what works and what doesn't work about this system?

The intent of the Bank of Dad idea is to address several problems:
  1. Kids asking you to buy them things
  2. Kids growing older without a sense of the value of things
  3. Kids being unable to understand the value of saving when interest takes too long to accrue (relative to a child's time sense)

Those, anyway, are the big items that I remember from the book.

Item 1: The system is a lifesaver in this respect. The advice is to stop making judgements about what your kids want, and let the decision be based on whether they have enough money for the thing. So instead of arguing about some crazy worthless toy, let 'em buy it, and learn for themselves whether it's worthless or not. The dollar amounts aren't very high, and it's important for them to make their mistakes with small amounts of money.

We've applied this decently well, and it helps avoid a lot of arguments.

Item 2: Sense of value. I guess I started to talk about this above. The point is that they're now making judgments of value all the time. This has worked okay. My 10 year old thinks about this stuff more than he used to. My 8 year old has little patience and usually buys whatever she wants when it's in front of her; the heartbreak is when it's something from the convenience store she could get for half the price if she just waited for a trip to the supermarket.

Item 3: Interest and saving. The theory here is that you give the kids a really high interest rate, one that would make any adult's heart beat fast...5% per month. The idea is that real interest rates are too small to incent a kid to save. Well, my kids have taken little notice of the interest so far. After all, it still doesn't amount to much...if a kid has $20 in the bank, that's $1.00 he gets in interest. Since we're giving each kid at least $2 a week, the interest just doesn't seem like much.

Still, the paper account system has enough benefits to make the system worthwhile. And my older kid has done such things as set up separate savings accounts and ask me to deposit his money and keep it inviolate.

Another virtue of the system is that I can reward the kids with money without actually having cash handy. The kids love the system, too.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Now I'm a Knidower

My wife has gotten into knitting in the past year in just the worst way. Our house now overflows with scads of skeins. Where before she made me scones, now she makes them only to take them to Stitch & Bitch sessions.

It's inspiring in some ways. She's completing a lot of projects. She's getting more knitting done than she used to do with painting, one of her prior big loves. Right now she's working on surviving a Hat Attack game, a game something like a long-distance version of Killer, where each participant is assigned a target and an attacker. But they attack each other by all knitting the same hat pattern, which was just released this morning; if you can get your hat finished and sent off to your victim before you receive one in the mail, then you "kill" your victim. She's having a lot of fun with it.

This is all the fault of Ravelry, which seems to be a pretty innovative web community for knitters. But what am I supposed to do? I'm tripping over yarn. I'm stabbing my feet on needles.

First really satisfying writing session in weeks

I had my first really satisfying writing session in weeks last night; it really felt good. I've been hammering away at the outline for my story "The Wonder Kid", and finally started working on prose again, which I much prefer.

I also prefer not to get near the end of a story and then decide that the whole thing is wrongheaded and needs to be replanned. I've done plenty of that. So I made myself work on the outline until I was happy with it.

Last month I made a goal to work on TWK daily until I got it done, to curb my habit of switching to other projects when the going gets tough. The only real result from that was that I didn't write every day.

Heh. And I thought I'd be done with the outline by Januray 1 or so, so that I could begin work on the prose, maybe finish it by Jan 31. Instead I'm at that point now, a month's kind of funny how all the writing takes twice as long as I think it will.

But I'm making progress again, and that's what counts. And now the thing might go pretty fast; I have done so darn much work on the characters and the setting that I can churn out prose quickly. Let's hope so.