Space Engineers (Laughing So Hard Right Now)

Posted by admin on April 6th, 2014 filed in Games, Science Fiction, Space
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Wahahaha, this Space Engineers game looks awesome! These guys managed to write the hard scifi sandbox game that I would like to write myself. It’s like Lego in space, very impressive.

I’m watching this in-game video by LastStandGamers — and it’s hilarious: They found a buggy racetrack in the Steam workshop and… well, their scrapyard vehicles were literally buggy. :-) Given that rovers were not the main usecase of a spaceship game, the game physics (based on Havok) are still flexible enough to build all kinds of crazy/fun interactive vehicles! I guess the developers could add round wheels with friction as building blocks in the future.

Overall, the alpha version that we see here is already better and more solid than some other officially released games. I would like to see a “planetary” mode too, or at least larger asteroids with gravity. Hmm, wait… Can’t I just put a “station with gravity generator” into the core of an asteroid to simulate a planet? That’s the kind of thinking that this game evokes. :-)

Good music, great artwork, great sandbox/crafting game play, multi- and single-player, and a creative community. What else do you wish for? … Well, I wish it was not only available for Windows. :-(

jMonkeyEngine 3.0 Stable

Posted by admin on February 16th, 2014 filed in jMonkeyEngine, Open Source
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Here’s the official announcement, jMonkeyEngine 3.0 is stable! Congrats to the jMonkey team!

I say “official announcement” since 3.0 was… um… kinda ready since last autumn… But since then, we updated so many integrations (JDK 7, Blender 2.69, and a first glimpse of the promised iOS7 support), that the autumn release felt more like the second-to-last Release Candidate. From our point of view, we immediately went on working on 3.0.1. Welcome to feature creep!

Recently we discussed our (lack of) “P.R.” in the chat and we realized that we never posted the official 3.0 announcement. But a blog post is important since newcomers will likely check the blog to see how active our community is, new visitors don’t necessarily look for release announcements in the forum. So yeah, we kinda dropped the ball on that for various reasons. ;)

Regarding the final list of features: I already documented the latest addition (Level of Detail optimization), but I am behind on the other new features. I’m pretty sure the walking character doc is out-of-date, ugh… And what the heck are shader nodes now? :-D

Download the jMonkeyEngine SDK 3.0 and check it out for yourself!

Mobile Camera Video Blogging Tips

Posted by admin on February 15th, 2014 filed in hacks, Technical Writing
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Here my notes from when a colleague shared his best practices for video blogging (thanks to Timothy Kuhn): These tips are intended for laypeople who are using e.g. a notebook’s built-in web cam, or their mobile phone cameras, to record stuff like expert interviews at conferences. (If you are more of a pro and have a real camera, these tips will be redundant to you.)

  1. Avoid mixed lighting (i.e. natural light + artificial light). Small cameras can’t handle that, it makes part of the video too blue and other parts too red. Record either indoors (no windows), or outdoors.
  2. Avoid racoon eyes, i.e. ugly shadows on a person’s face. The person should not stand directly under a light.
  3. Avoid bright backlight, e.g. coming from window behind. Backlight causes over- or underexposed video, because your small camera cannot tell whether it should focus on back- or foreground.
  4. Pick a good background. Avoid the ‘hostage footage’ look, ie. don’t shoot a person right against a plain white wall, it feels cold and boring. Use a calm unbusy everyday background — to give the room some realistic depth. (Think of a newsroom.)
  5. Pick a good frame. Simply do a head-to-shoulder upper-body shot like they do it in the news. Position the person a bit off center. Don’t cut off chin/forehead. The person should not stand too far away (unless you must see the full person for the video to make sense), this will improve video and audio quality on small recording devices. The person should not stand too close either — just a head with cut-off body looks uncomfortable.
  6. Test the device’s microphone to get optimal audio. Be aware of (and avoid) aircon and laptop fans and other background noises. Noise will come out loud and unfiltered in the recording.
  7. Use short opening and end slides. This is good for branding and gives your video a character and closure.
  8. And finally: Say no to vertical video! :-D

PS / Update:

LOL and behold! This video interview is spectacular: Not only does it showcase 7 examples of the 8 “don’t”s listed here. You also see Amanda Palmer with eyebrows. And clothes on! :D

iPhoto’s Gotta be Kiddin’ Me

Posted by admin on February 9th, 2014 filed in Mac, Uncategorized
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Dear iPhoto. I know you only want the best for me. And you are only trying to help me recognize faces in my photos. And yes, you are usually doing quite a good job. You even recognized a friend standing in a large crowd, which was impressive.

But. This?? (click to enlarge)
iphoto face recognition

Might As Well Sell Chocolate-Covered Broccoli

Posted by admin on January 4th, 2014 filed in Games
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Now this is sneaky… The game Dragonbox secretly teaches children algebra… “They won’t even notice.” :-o

(Full disclosure: I heard of it because Dragonbox’ community manager is also the jMonkeyEngine’s community manager. I’m not getting a commission.) :)

This educational game became very popular in Norway and is now available everywhere. The player solves puzzles by dragging and dropping a box and monsters on a split screen, following simple rules. When the box stands alone on one side, the box captures the monsters on the other side, and you win this round. In order to free and activate the box, you need to dissolve or move the monsters.
Dragging “day” and “night” monsters of the same type onto each other cancels them out and creates a void. Voids disappear when you click them. You can conjure up a cancelling night monster on one side, but the same monster must also appear on the other side. Somebody who knows algebra recognizes these rules pretty quickly. Someone who doesn’t still solves the puzzles intuitively, without becoming aware of why they are doing this (which can be considered good or bad).
After the player has figured out the rules and reaches higher levels, the cute monster icons are replaced by letters, day and night by plus and minus, and the voids by zeros, etc, until the board looks like an algebraic equation.

But by then it will be too late! Bait and switch! ;-D

The game is marketed to parents (mobile app) and school teachers (web version). The “12+” version is the “5+” version with added levels. (The age levels are just estimates, it’s hard to say what individual children will find hard or easy.) We all (that is, we jMonkeys) complained that there is no free trial or demo, I hope they will improve their web page in this regard. In the meanwhile, here’s a Dragonbox review including a user video.

No, My Name is Not Mayday

Posted by admin on November 23rd, 2013 filed in Science Fiction
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io9 is pretty cool, look what they dug up: New Gravity short shows the other end of Sandra Bullock’s radio call.

I had first heard of the hidden clip after the end credits of Gravity in a German article about a film festival. The reviewer mentioned that an extra scene gave an interesting (and chilling…) spin on the scene where a barely surviving Dr. Ryan Stone tries to contact Earth, but the only person that can hear her speaks a foreign language and is of no help.

We waited in the cinema, but this scene (called “Aningaaq” after the main character) has been dropped from all other screenings, it seems. Check it out!

Your Agile User Story is Lying to You

Posted by admin on November 2nd, 2013 filed in Technical Writing
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The Agile Development author Gojko Adžić caught us red-handed lying in our spec for user-interface specific user stories, when we wrote “As a user, I want to register in order to log in”…

The lie starts with the whole premise. “As a user, I want to register”… No I don’t. As a user I don’t want to give my private information to another site, have to argue with some arbitrary fascist filter about which combination of letters and numbers is strong enough, try to guess what’s written on some random distorted image, and then have to remember another set of fake privacy answers. That sentence might be in a user story format, but it’s far far from a user story. It’s grammatically correct, but completely false…

So which narrative would be closer to the truth?

it’s not the users who want to register or log in, but possibly the web site operators who want to identify users so that they could charge them correctly, or compliance officers who are concerned about privacy complaints, or marketers who want to harvest e-mail addresses.

Stories in Agile Development are not just a fake brainless template we fill in — we still have to think and capture the true needs of the stakeholder.

As a tech writer I often catch myself writing stories such as “as an administrator I want to read documentation how to configure XYZ”. No. “I, as an administrator” actually do not want that. I maybe want release notes that inform me which new features were integrated. But otherwise, what I want is a user-interface, wizards, and templates, that are intuitive enough so that I do not have to dig out documentation. As a tech writer on an Agile team, I represent this point of view of the stakeholders.

It’s a typical case of in-depth expertise versus broad big-picture knowledge: You as tech writer look at the whole UI, while a developer does not necessary know more than his component. Developers sometimes use synomyms for feature names — because they are not aware of the larger context in which their UI text appears, or (more commonly) because the dev team simply has their own lingo, while the UI uses official “marketing-approved” terminology. It’s my job to point that out and make sure the terminology is consistent throughout.

While documenting, I try out the workflow, e.g. on a virtual machine. When I get stuck, I send the developer screenshots with questions. A tech writer is often the first to try a new feature (even before QA). I see this new error message, this new menu item, this button or label etc, in the same context as the customer. If I can’t get this to work with the developer sitting next to me, then the customer won’t stand a chance.

If a workflow is hard to document, then it’s hard to perform. If it’s hard to perform for customers, they will simply call support. Remember, you as tech writer should dare make suggestions how to improve a workflow. This is also in the interest of the developers, who will have fewer calls to answer.

We Don’t Need No Gravitation

Posted by admin on October 19th, 2013 filed in Science Fiction, Space
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I don’t get why some were dissing Gravity for its “scientific inaccuracies”: There’s a reason why it’s called science fiction. Apparently it was so realistic that the audience mistook it for a documentary, and applied documentary standards. That’s quite a compliment for a scifi movie! :-P

gravity movie - biggest error of all (funny)

Even Neil Degrasse Tyson chimed in from the point of view of a scientist: If you have a real scientist analyse your scifi movie, and the worst he can come up with is that the astronaut’s hair “did not float freely” enough, then the movie did a great job, in my book.

Tyson did not see his comments as criticism: He didn’t say “this movie sucks because the orbits are wrong”. He watched a scifi movie, and added some real world info (such as, by the way, these space stations exist, but they are not within sight of each other). Why does a scientist feel the need to comment on fiction at all? Again, because this movie was shot so realistically that it could be mistaken for a documentary. These visuals will stick in our heads longer than anything theoretical that we have heard in physics class.

It’s not like one astronaut is hanging “down” over the edge of a cliff and is too “heavy” to be pulled “up” — as Tyson points out, in zero g, pulling the tether would make the two masses move towards each other. However, in the scene in question we (the viewers) can’t really see what other 3D momentums the two masses have. Would the trajectory bring them back in touch with the station or would they both miss it? Applying forces in 3D space in order to move in a specific direction is not trivial. The scenes with the fire extinguisher are great because the propulsive effect is surprising and unexpected, yet understandable. That’s why most space computer games never let you do real zero-g navigation in 3D — because it’s dang hard!

OCD? Who? Me?

Posted by admin on October 8th, 2013 filed in Technical Writing
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Oh look, we have a wiki to keep minutes now. Guess which team has OCD?
two lists with strinkingly different formatting...

Response of colleague from team Alpha: “Cannot unsee!!”
Response of colleague from team Bravo: “What’s O.C.D.?”
Yup, that fits. ;-)

Real Astronauts Advertising IMAX 3D :-p

Posted by admin on September 28th, 2013 filed in Space
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Not a very subtle advertisement… But nice to hear they had real SMEs on board in Gravity.

PS: My favorite comment from an interview with a real astronaut about “mistakes” he spotted in Gravity: Real astronauts’ underwear doesn’t look that… good… ;-D