October 2011 Archives

Mon Oct 24 08:00:31 EST 2011

Seafarers' Festival

Ensign Staff

We're going to sea today for 8 days. Before I go, here's one more update. We've been working like crazy getting the ship ready for sea and still had time to open the ship for the Seafarers Festival.

Flags Windeward Bound Dressed

The ship was dressed to impress. For an occasion like this we clean and polish everything and rig heaps of flags to make the ship look good. Lady Nelson and Preana were also there, looking their best:

Preana Lady Nelson Dressed

Speaking of getting things done before I go, I finally finished my lanyards! One of the first things a new crewmember has to buy is their knife and spike set. To take tools aloft, they have to be secured to a lanyard or canvas bucket. I did the spike lanyard first and tried to be fancy, then a simpler one for the spike and pliers.

Lanyards Lanyards Detail

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Sat Oct 22 08:30:51 EST 2011

Prepping for Sea

Wednesday was an interesting day. We're working to get the ship ready for the voyage season. Some of the tasks I was working on:

  • Splicing lanyards
  • Double-checking the first-aid kits
  • Diagnosing and working around an IP address conflict (no, really)

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Sun Oct 16 08:46:29 EST 2011

Z+ UI Mockups

One of the first decisions I made concerning Z+ is that the display area will be constrained to 80 columns and 25 rows, because that's how it used to be. There's a better reason than my nostalgia, though. If I ever make a multiplayer version, it stops higher resolutions from having a huge advantage. Besides, the latest version of libfake437 can scale its display to fill larger screens.

ZZT's display was laid out something like this:

60x25 Play Area

That's a 60x25 play area (black) and a 20x25 status area (blue). As a starting point, I think it's pretty close to what I want. I also want a way for the game to send one-line text messages to the player. In ZZT, they show up for a few seconds, blocking the bottom row of the play area. Here are a couple of mockups I've done, with a possible message area in green:

60x20 Play Area, 80x5 Message Area 60x20 Play Area, 60x5 Message Area

I'm still deciding what I should go with, and opinions are welcome. Send me an email.


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: zplus, coding

Sun Oct 16 08:00:11 EST 2011

Visitors!

Earlier this week, the Danish ketch Yukon arrived in Hobart and berthed over behind Lady Nelson. She's a beautiful old thing built in 1930 and she's on a world tour at the moment. I think she leaves Hobart on Tuesday. I haven't had the privilege of going below decks, but apparently she still has a wood-fired stove!

Yukon Yukon Nameplate

Yesterday morning, the steam yacht Preana was out and about. She lives behind one of the bridges that lift up, and those only open at certain times. So to bring her out, the engineer has to start the boiler at 0430 or so. I'm glad he did, because she's a beautiful little thing:

Preana

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Fri Oct 14 23:17:11 EST 2011

Why ZZT was so Great

I have a problem with my personal projects. I start lots of them, but I never manage to finish any. There's a common thread that runs through my various failures: my projects start with a grand vision, and when I try to implement them I become overwhelmed trying to hold the design and the half-finished structures in my head at the same time.

I'm going to try something different this time: publicly write stuff down. I normally write a a page or two of chicken scrawl and it's never clear enough.

What's the latest attempt? I want to make a ZZT-inspired game creation system. I'll probably call it Z+ (hence the tag). For those that don't remember, this is what ZZT looks like:

ZZT Title Screen

That's a 60*25 play area and a 20*25 status bar. The game shipped with a limited library of pre-programmed terrain and enemies, geared around making arcade/adventure-style games (usually with a plot like "collect the five purple keys to enter the final area"). What made ZZT more than an footnote of early-1990s PC gaming was its world editor and programming languge. It was one of the first games that let players create and share worlds, and the community that formed around this lasted for over 20 years. Its built-in language, ZZT-OOP, inspired many people to learn programming. The constrained display and character set lowered the artistic barrier to entry. World-builders only had 16 colours and 256 glyphs to work with, so the "graphics" were mostly symbolic (ZZT is similar to Dwarf Fortress in this regard).

Modern programming environments are also much harder to get going than those of the past. Even on developer-friendly systems like GNU/Linux, the user still has to download a toolchain, stuff around with driving compilers and linkers from the command line and deal with a nearly endless list of portability landmines. The beginner doesn't want to stuff around with that, they want to make cool things! Before _why performed internet seppuku, he wrote about "The Little Coder's Predicament". I share many of his concerns. ZZT was accessible in a way modern systems aren't.

To summarise:

  • ZZT's world builder has a low barrier to entry.
  • ZZT's constraints were part of its charm. Something that can do everything is often not particularly good at anything.
  • Low-fi graphics reduce the amount of artistic effort required.
  • Modern programming environments have a high barrier to entry.
  • A modern ZZT-alike would be a great starting point to teach programming.

Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: zplus, coding

Sun Oct 9 22:11:50 EST 2011

The Awful German Language

I finished another audiobook this morning: Mark Twain's The Awful German Language. I'm not sure what to think about this reading. I enjoyed the material, but the reader sounds like a German Pravin Lal and the recording is a little quiet. It's good that the reading was done by a native German speaker, especially when Twain makes fun of German compound words.

I imagine it would be a more entertaining piece if I actually knew German. Even so, Twain comes up with great lines like "I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective."

To my untrained ear, the deadpan reading of the giant compound works makes them sound especially amusing, but the same effect occurs when I instead read the apparent jumble of letters in written form.

Overall, I think it's worth enjoying, but read the text instead of worrying about the audiobook. Either way, it's fairly short.


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: librivox

Fri Oct 7 21:58:02 EST 2011

Dracula

I have finished another book. Bram Stoker's Dracula. This is the work that introduced the term "undead", which previously only meant "alive". The narrative is mostly told through the diaries of the characters, along with occasional news clippings.

At this point in time, everyone knows what's going to happen. Count Dracula is a vampire. Vampires have sharp teeth, nocturnal habits and bite people. Even though I had been "spoilered" by popular culture, I still enjoyed the read. Stoker does a marvellous job maintaining tension through the later parts of the story.

Worth reading? Probably. RPG players may be particularly interested as a study in storytelling-by-diary. As part of a hypothetical campaign, players could find diary entries as they progress, each fragment answering some questions but opening new mysteries.


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: readings

Fri Oct 7 21:26:49 EST 2011

New Skill: Whipping

Jack Working

Unsurprisingly, the most interesting work is that which involves learning new skills. The newest skill I've learned is whipping: wrapping a thin cord tightly around a splice end or line end to stop it from coming undone. The result is quite attractive:

Whipped Rope

That's some of my handiwork. The knife's mine, too, and I tied the knotwork on the lanyard myself. I'll probably write about that later, once I finish the lanyard set.


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Fri Oct 7 21:19:11 EST 2011

Disintegrated Dunlops

Volleys Front Volleys Back

It's been less than two months and I've had to switch to my backup pair of Volleys. My first pair have turned into a salt-encrusted mess and I've worn a hole clear through the sole. Aside from the durability issue, Volleys work well: they're flexible, grippy, fast-drying and comfortable. Anyone know of a better replacement?


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound

Fri Oct 7 21:09:21 EST 2011

Going for a Walk

One of my favourite things to do on my days off is to switch on an audiobook and go for a walk around. There's a lot of really good scenery surprisingly close to the ship.

Lady Nelson

A few meters away from our berth is the Lady Nelson, another Hobart-based tall ship. She's a funny little brig and she looks a bit big for her yards. (I've been told that they removed the course yard and shifted the remaining three down. There's a lithograph of her in Windeward Bound's saloon with four yards on each mast, so perhaps this is true.) There are a few people who casually volunteer on both ships, but I've had little contact with her and her crew.

Sculpture

This bronze sculpture commemorates Hobart's connection to Antarctic expeditions.

Old Buildings

Here and there you can find buildings that look like they've changed very little over the years. Take out the modern cars and road, and it could pass as a picture from another time.

Cenotaph

I often cross Anzac Parade and walk by the Cenotaph. I haven't examined it closely, yet, but the surrounding grass is very well kept. It wouldn't look out of place on a fairway.

Walk Start

This is the start of the Soldiers' Memorial Avenue. It's a well-maintained collection of walking tracks and there are a number of trees planted along the way. Many trees have a plaque next to them indicating that they were planted in commemoration of some deceased soldier.

Looking through the Trees

The walk passes through some nicely shaded parts...

View over the Bridge

... gives a great view over the river...

Looking Back

... and then I turn back and start heading for home. Until next time.


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound