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RWHE Having Fun Yet?
A blog by, about, and perhaps primarily for, Ron Hale-Evans
These are notes I jotted down while watching Joe Biden debate Sarah Palin tonight:
  • Paraphrasing Palin: "I may not be able to answer any questions, but doggone it, I can stick to my script!"
  • She can't stay on the fucking subject.
  • She's babbling again.
  • It's good to know McCain and Palin won't forbid gay people from making and signing contracts. Um, was that even on the table?
  • The press will roast her for repeatedly changing the subject and keeping to her script.
  • She's temporizing. Biden is eviscerating her.
  • I never thought I'd think of "adorable" as a hateful word.
  • OK, so being a mom qualifies her to be the Vice President? Also, how is Alaska part of the "heartland"?
26th-Jul-2008 06:40 am - Photorealism with playthings
A couple of weeks ago, I posted some 3D renderings of some Lego chess pieces I had made. Since then, I bought the book Virtual LEGO and installed more of the LDraw suite of Lego CAD programs under Wine on my Ubuntu laptop. I've been playing with rendering better versions of the pieces.

My latest attempt (go see!) is large and almost photorealistic; you can even see the brand name LEGO on each stud. How studly is that?

p.s. As I thought it might be, LEGO and LDraw are proving an easy and interesting avenue into the world of 3D rendering with POV-Ray and such. Next up: getting a foothold in robotics through LEGO Mindstorms.
17th-Jul-2008 01:10 am - The Daily Tweet suspends publication
LoudTwitter doesn't work very well, and it annoys people.
15th-Jul-2008 12:03 am - The Daily Tweet

04:13 Another freaking power outage. #

05:44 Aaand... we're back. #

15:16 My old dog dreams of running, running. #

16:33 Great postal day, incl. Japanese edition of Mind Performance Hacks and review copy of www.gobeyondchess.com/pages/bcframeset.htm #

Automatically shipped by LoudTwitter
10th-Jul-2008 08:54 am - Et in arcadia LEGO
Part of my recent Legomania is due to our considering including some games that use Lego as components in Games Unboxed. Clark and I determined that Legos are "ordinary components" because nearly everyone has some, especially if they have kids. Lego brick designs are in the public domain because Lego's patents have expired, and there are many compatible clone brands. I'm happy to see there are even web forums devoted entirely to Lego clones (forum 1, forum 2, forum 3). Open-source Legos!

Not only that, but there are now intersystem protocols for connecting Legos and clone brands with other kinds of building toy systems, such as K'nex, which are a hub-and-spoke system like Tinkertoys. For example, there was a patented toy called Sploids (now defunct) that connected Lego and K'nex; these days, K'nex makes its own Lego-compatible bricks.

Thus, I see Lego and the like not only as a toy system and as "ordinary equipment", but as a highly flexible game system, and I'm trying to prove it by showing that you can play almost any chess variant with a Lego set. I'm also in the early stages of work on some of my own games using Lego as components, but more about that later.
9th-Jul-2008 01:47 pm - More Lego chess variant pieces
OK, I CADed and rendered all the chess and chess variant pieces I've built so far.

You saw the pawn in my last post. Here it is again, ministered to by the Bishop, who looks somewhat similar, except for his white mitre, which ought to work on both red and black pieces.

Next, the Rook and the Knight. The Rook is one of my favorites.

Here are the King and Queen, with "gold" and "silver" crowns, respectively. The closest you can come in a Lego set is usually yellow and white. Yes, the King is less powerful than the Queen, but he's more important to the game, so he gets the gold and the Queen gets the silver. Otherwise, the pieces are built identically.

And that's it for my standard Chess pieces.

The chess variant Capablanca Chess, developed by the Grand Master Jose Raul Capablanca in the 20th century, includes two new pieces: the Archbishop and the Chancellor. Just as the Queen combines the moves of the Bishop and the Rook, the Archbishop combines the moves of the Bishop and the Knight. I built it to look like a meld of those pieces. Similarly, the Chancellor combines the Rook and the Knight, completing the symmetry. My Chancellor is supposed to meld those two pieces visually as well, but I'm told it looks it bit more like the Majestik M00se.

Finally, there's a piece in the chess variant Ultima called the Chamelon that moves and attacks like the piece it's attacking. You can play a game of Ultima with an ordinary Chess set, and represent the Chameleon with a Bishop, but the whole point of using Lego is to build unique pieces. I built a multicolored Chameleon out of Lego bricks, but now I wonder how to represent the red and black sides with it, since it's neither red nor black already. Perhaps it should have a red or black cap on its head, and of course its face gives it directionality, like a Shogi piece.

That's it for my chess variant pieces so far. Next up I plan to build the rest of the Ultima pieces. I already have Kings and pawns, as well as the Chameleon, but that leaves the Withdrawer, the Long Leaper, the Coordinator, and Ultima's most powerful piece, the Immobilizer.

Meanwhile, I just got a huge package from Amazon, so I may play with that for a while. A pirate ship would have been a great thing to bring into the freewheeling Lego miniatures wargame I played on the Fourth of July using the Politics By Other Means rules. Did you know a laser is useless against zombies, but a sonic beam will shake apart a skeleton?
Here's how out of touch I am with What The Kids Are Doing: it's actually easier for me to build a CAD reproduction of one of the chess variant pieces I've already built out of LEGO bricks, and then render it in Linux entirely with command-line applications, than it is for me to figure out how the hell my cell phone camera works. Then again, maybe it's Asperger Syndrome.

Here's a rendering of the chess pawn I designed. I've also built all the other usual Chess piece types out of LEGO bricks, as well as a few variant pieces, such as the Archbishop and Chancellor from Capablanca Chess, and the Chameleon from Ultima. All of my chess variant pieces are designed to use only the simplest and most common LEGO pieces, such as what you get in the Big Blue Tub. They are also designed to be small enough to be playable on a regular chessboard, and to be affordable to make. These last two features distinguish my pieces from all the other LEGO chess sets I've seen, some of which have king heights in the neighborhood of 18 inches, to judge from photos.

I'll upload more piece images later as I get the chance to render them.

I hear the LEGO people are quite touchy about fans posting original LEGO art, so let me say now that I have no connection whatsoever with The LEGO Group, LEGO.com, or any trigger-happy, clinical paranoids that, erm, just happen to work in the LEGO legal department. Not that I'm saying any do, you understand.

I don't expect this utter absence of connectivity to change in the near future or even geological time, but if it does, I'll let you know
12th-Feb-2008 04:45 pm - There is a God, or at least a Ghod
Did you ever notice how much the phrase pom pom squad looks like the phrase porn porn squad?

Just cleaning out my hipster PDA...
3rd-Jan-2008 12:16 pm - Principle of Suber Equivalence
Any sufficiently advanced metagame is indistinguishable from Nomic.
Marty and I each bought an XO computer from the 2007 Give One, Get One program of the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC), making us a G2G2 family. Her sister Meredith's family bought three, bringing our extended family to exalted G5G5 status. :) Our computers are supposed to arrive by January 15.

On Sunday, 30 December, I attended the first meeting of the Seattle XO User Group with my friend John Braley. I estimated 40 attendees, of whom roughly 75% already had their own XOs. Because G1G1 is a charitable program and apparently for legal reasons can't be held year-round, I will probably never see so many XOs in one place again, at least so many XO-1s, or first-generation machines.

This picture is courtesy an anonymous SeaXO photographer, possibly Chris Altwegg, who blogged the meeting. I'm the big guy in gray, gesturing. The guy next to me leaning over is named Yen (sp?) and had two XOs. Since John and I were some of the few people at the meeting not to have an XO yet, he lent us one of his for a couple of hours. It was great! Thanks, man!

John and I played with a number of XO features, but the one that fascinated us the most was ebook mode; most other people were playing with collaborative mesh network features. The XO makes a great ebook reader. We noticed a small bug: the arrow buttons still think the screen is in laptop mode when it's rotated into ebook mode, so you have to press what is now the right arrow when you want to scroll down. However, the arrow buttons are all physically in just the right place on the faceplate ergonomically, unlike the Amazon Kindle, which reportedly often gets powered down by accident -- and software can be fixed, unlike the Kindle's button placement. Oh yeah, the XO is free of Amazon's shitty DRM too.

John likes to read in the bathtub and I like to read while waiting for the bus, so the waterproof quality of the XO would make it ideal for both of us. At about three pounds, the XO is a little heavier than I thought it was, but superb ergonomics still make it very comfortable to hold, so I look forward to reading in the Seattle winter rain -- something I can't even do with a "real" book! -- Real Soon Now.

For more information on the capabilities of the XO, read this terrific blog post or watch this terrific video. Or both. Then G1G1 next Christmas!
10th-Dec-2007 01:15 pm - Always driving home
No head
No headlessness
Only the rolling road

--8 December 2007
Two words: adult undergarments.

Any sufficiently advanced undergarment is indistinguishable from magic.
7th-Dec-2007 08:16 pm - Have a Soggy, Foggy Christmas!

Marty (wingedelephant) and I wrote a song parody a couple of years ago to the tune of "Holly, Jolly Christmas" from the Rankin-Bass animated production Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). This TV special plays a large role in Hale family mythology, because I am often likened to the Bumble, or Abominable Snowman (see above), being tall, fat, shaggy, bad-tempered, misunderstood, and frequently accompanied by a toothache, or so the mythology goes. (Overall, I'd rather be a moose.)

Marty and I love Christmas (or whatever you prefer to call it), and we love our city. So listen:

It's a soggy, foggy Christmas
In Seattle every year;
As you know, there won't be snow,
But have a micro-beer!

It's a soggy, foggy Christmas,
All the boats are lit up fine.
No-one's out to run about,
They're going to shop online.

Oh-ho, the es-press-o,
Grande, iced or hot;
You'll want to stay up late,
So add an extra shot!

It's a soggy, foggy Christmas,
But we're all still full of cheer.
Oh hot doggy,
It's a soggy, foggy Christmas this year!

Merry Christmas!
1st-Dec-2007 07:54 pm - Clowns, continued
Upon reflection, it seems to me that even if I did manage to patent the alphabet, the media would probably treat it as a "human interest story" and trivialize it that way, completely missing or deliberately debasing the point I'd be making about our broken patent system.

Some substantial proportion of the US public still thinks Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. If they can't understand the stark facts in that case, how could they understand a relatively abstruse point about "intellectual property"?
I've been interested in the fourth dimension for most of my life, at least since I discovered Flatland in my junior high school library around age 12. My recent obsession with 4D comes from the coincidence of two recent events

  1. My discovery on the web of the text of C.H. Hinton's classic The Fourth Dimension and a printable PDF showing the colors of his Hinton Cubes, which are a sort of toy to help learn to visualize the fourth dimension.
  2. My watching the 1939 movie of The Wizard of Oz with my wife Marty and her sister Meredith, the night before Thanksgiving this year. When Dorothy's house landed and she stepped from the sepia world she knew into the full-color Land of  Oz, Marty and Meredith  remarked  how perfectly the Technicolor simulated a new world full of things so far beyond one's previous experience and conceptions that one had to find a completely new way to understand and represent them.
I wanted that. I ached for that. Once I found new vistas in pot and LSD, but then I discovered that madness runs in my family. I can't discover new things that way any more; it's too dangerous for me. But the fourth dimension is waiting.

That's supposed to have its dangers too. When Martin Gardner popularized the Hinton Cubes back in the 1950s, he received some letters with warnings about forbidden knowledge that sounded practically Lovecraftian (even the dates are right):

Dear Mr. Gardner:

A shudder ran down my spine when I read your reference to Hinton's cubes. I nearly got hooked on them myself in the nineteen-twenties. Please believe me when I say that they are completely mind-destroying... It is not difficult to acquire considerable facility... but the process is one of autohypnosis and, after a while, the sequences begin to parade themselves through one's mind of their own accord. This is pleasurable, in a way, and it was not until I went to see Sedlak in 1929 that I realized the dangers of setting up an autonomous process in one's own brain...

My inclination is to understand this dreadful, "mind-destroying" process as nothing more than the Tetris Effect. I survived "Tetris dreams" in the 1980s like everyone else. If I'd had them back in 1929, they might have scared me out of my wits, but I predict that's about the worst they can do. Of course, if this blog goes silent for a few months, please google my name to see if the cops found a slack-jawed vegetable in a Seattle suburb, still clutching what looked much like a Rubik's Cube -- but somehow disturbingly different...

Aiiiee! The unspeakable angles!

Meanwhile, here are a bunch of the most interesting links I've found about the fourth dimension. Hey man, the first hit's free.
In his novella "Riding the Crocodile", which forms the background for his next novel, Incandescence (May 2008), Greg Egan puts forth one very interesting -- and plausible -- argument against the Singularity:

Historians had always understood that in the long run, technological progress was a horizontal asymptote: once people had more or less everything they wanted that was physically possible, every incremental change would take exponentially longer to achieve, with diminishing returns and ever less reason to bother. The Amalgam would probably spend an eon inching its way closer to the flatline, but this was proof that shifts of circumstance alone could still trigger a modest renaissance or two, without the need for any radical scientific discovery or even a genuinely new technology.

Read the story!
28th-Nov-2007 11:02 pm - More on Games Unboxed
I didn't mention in my initial post about my new project, Games Unboxed (with Clark Rodeffer), that the book will be released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license, or something close to it. This means that we'll probably have a website where you can read the rules to the games for free, and a printable PDF of the entire book that you can obtain from the website, as well as download from the usual places like BoardGameGeek and email to your friends. Even if you don't want to print the entire book, you might want to print individual games from it, reference cards, player aids, printable boards, and so on. We'll make those available individually as well as within the PDF.

We haven't got a publisher yet. What if they don't like this idea?

Sucks to 'em. Liberating our content is non-negotiable. We'll shop the manuscript around until we find someone who will publish it. But I don't think we'll have much trouble. My last book, Mind Performance Hacks, has sold around 30,000 copies since February 2006, and is currently hovering around Amazon sales rank 5000 (anything above 10,000 is great) -- yet it's "pirated" like mad all over the world. Hardly a week goes by that I don't get a Google Alert or two notifying me it's been uploaded illegally to another site. In study after study, "piracy" has been shown to help sales.

I've printed many an ebook, free and otherwise, and in almost every case, I'd rather have a nice, official, bound copy than my crappy laser-printed one, crappily spiral-bound by some barely sapient Kinko's employee working for crap wages. But if you want the PDF, you shall have it, and all permutations thereof.

Because we love you.
28th-Nov-2007 10:37 pm - My little clown car
If I had $10K to blow, I would patent the alphabet.

Given the astounding shite that's already been patented in the US, it'd be easy. First, I'd call it Novel method of representing multiple phonemes with individual graphemes, then I'd dazzle the examiner with claims about how the entire "graphemic system" could itself be used with multiple "morphemic systems" (languages). The technical illustrations wouldn't show the Roman alphabet, but a completely different set of symbols with a one-to-one correspondence to it. Maybe I'd omit the ones corresponding to the letters J, U, and W -- they weren't originally used, and 26 symbols are much more of a tip-off than 23, even to some of the addlepates in the USPTO.

Once my patent came through, oh, wouldn't you love to see all the reporters pouring out of the little clown car in my media circus?

What do you say? Anyone have ten grand they want to dedicate to the cause of mayhem in the soi-disant field of intellectual property? Let's have some fun.

p.s. Next up: my plans to obtain the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
28th-Nov-2007 02:21 am - Sweet, sweet, easy money
Think of easy money as the equivalent of junk food for corporate organisms. Corporations go for easy money for the same reason humans like fat and sugar: they evolved in a harsh environment where it was once necessary to survive.
27th-Nov-2007 01:55 pm - Human League
There should be two kinds of sports: acoustic and electric. Steroids would be banned in the acoustic leagues, whereas in the electric leagues, steroids would be the least of the enhancements available.
27th-Nov-2007 12:52 pm - Hypnagogia 1
Mantoad: the toad with the head of a man...
If only I had known that dogs get hairballs too...
27th-Nov-2007 05:03 am - updn
Some people have their ups and downs.

Lately I have anas and katas.

p.s. Enjoy some printable Hinton cubes.
26th-Nov-2007 09:27 pm - Games Unboxed
As some know, I'm the primary author of the O'Reilly book Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain. For my next hack, I mean trick, I propose to collaborate with my friend Clark Rodeffer (cdrodeffer) on a book with the working title Games Unboxed.

This book, which is quite far along, and which we expect to submit to a publisher in Q4 2008, is a collection of games you can play with "standard equipment", meaning things like Chess and Checkers sets, standard decks of cards, six-sided dice, pen and paper, coins, and other things you might have around the house if you're a gamer, including beer and pretzels. There have been several books like this in the past, the most notable of which is probably Sid Sackson's 1969 collection A Gamut of Games, which is so magnificent it has its own Wikipedia entry.  We aim to be just that magnificent, or more so -- a collection of designer games that incorporate the game design lessons of the last 40 or so years since Gamut, including the German games revolution; a collection of games that might come in a box, but instead come in a book.

We currently have roughly 170 game submissions, about 20 of which are definites so far. We're aiming for 100 games in the finished book. We've been rewriting the games we like (for clarity and house style, not to change the rules or take credit for them). When we have 25 we think are in publishable shape, we'll submit them to some publishers in the form of a book proposal. We're not just editors or rewrite artists. Clark and I will each have anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen games in the book ourselves.
My wife Marty's family often likens me to a moose. When I was asked why in email today, I responded, "because of my adorably ungainly demeanor".

Marty (wingedelephant) elaborated, "It's not just the ungainliness, with the big body and long legs, and how you kinda amble like a moose.  It's also the air of being slightly absurd yet slightly dignified (albeit somewhat unkempt) and the unsocial-yet-amiable quality, how they are basically pacifistic and mostly like to wander alone in the woods, but will tolerate you visiting if you're pleasant, come visiting in your yard if it seems interesting, and kick your ass if provoked. Also the thoughtful way they stand around and chew while dreamily thinking deep thoughts.  It's true that Ron didn't pick moose, but cops to the mooseness thrust upon him."

So, now you know.
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