Taedium Edax Rerum

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Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Tiefling + Zweihander

Posted by Doug on April 24, 2009

The Dungeons & Dragons Character Builder is a very useful program for anyone interested in the most recent edition of Wizards of the Coast’s flagship roleplaying game (whether or not it is worth subscribing to Dungeons & Dragons Insider to access is debatable.  I think it is, but your mileage may vary).  It is a fairly straightforward interface that can step you through the process of making a playable character and whenever you gain levels, it can guide you through that, too.  You make all the choices, and the Character Builder does all the math, adding up your attack bonuses and defenses and whatall, and outputs the end result to a slightly customizable character sheet…which is one of the weaknesses of the program.  At best, it is an inefficient, disorganized layout with lots of unneeded and/or redundant information.  At worst…well, needless to say I organize my character sheets differently.

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Posted in Computers, Games, Software, Traditional RPGs | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Much Easier Than Going Outside, It Is

Posted by Doug on December 11, 2008

I like to think of myself as a writer, but one of the problems I keep running into is that the characters in my stories tend to know a lot more about certain topics than I do. Take, for example, Hijū from the Mecha Monogatari. She is an avid motorcyclist, and rides like a demon, but I’ve never rode a motorcycle before. Why, it’s been well over a decade and a half since I was on a bicycle. How to you ride a motorcycle? More importantly, how do you accelerate and brake, change gears, and use that clutch thing? The Internet, though not truly omniscient (like Al Gore had originally intended), is  almost omniscient, and it did not take long to find a sufficiently detailed explanation of the processes involved.

Of course, I guess I could have actually, oh, I don’t know, actually went out and learned how to actually ride a motorcycle, but I’m terribly lazy, and consulting the Great Sage Google was much easier, and much less likely to end with a funeral.

Other questions exceed even the vast and infinite ‘net, largely by being very, very specific.  For example, if you were writing about a character who was an amateur astronomer, they could reasonably be expected to know the constellations and identify with reasonable accuracy a large number of celestial bodies.  To demonstrate said character’s knowledge, you could have them out at night, pointing out Venus and Aldebaran and…I don’t know, other stars and stuff.  I could just make up a skyful of planets and stars and constellations and whatall for my fictional character to be seeing in the fictional world of my fictional story, but I have this nagging fear that some real astronomy buff will come along and say something like, “Hey, moron.  Just for the record, Polaris and the Southern Cross can not both be seen except on the Equator.  Get off my Internet. —AG.”

So it would help if I knew what was in the sky.  A star chart would be nice.  Given that my stories tend to take place in locales far from the United States, and in times quite a bit into the future and/or past, it would be even better if I could program in a location and a date, and see exactly what was up in the sky.  It would be perfectly awesome if I didn’t have to pay outrageous sums for said star chart, too (I’m a cheapskate.  Sue me).

KStars 1.2.9 to the rescue.  It was free, it downloaded and installed quite easily through Ubuntu’s Synaptic Package Manager, and I managed to figure out the basics of how to use it without even having to reference the manual.  It even has a little tool showing the planets in relation to each other from a top-down point of view.  Perfect!

KStars KStars

Set your location either from a list of major cities worldwide or by inputting the longitude and latitude, adjust the ‘current’ date and time as much as you want, and voilà! You have a nice map of the sky, showing the planets, stars, galaxies, the works.

So now I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that if I were in to Tokyo at midnight on October 11, 2016, and looked straight up I could see the Triangulum and Andromeda constellations (assuming I could see anything past the light pollution of the Tokyo megalopolis).  KStars is a terribly useful little tool, not just for astronomy buffs but also for writers who might feel compelled to write about what’s up in the sky.

Given that I’m both, I am loving KStars.

Posted in Astronomy, Science, Software, Writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Playing around with Ubuntu

Posted by Doug on November 22, 2008

I came into the possession of a hand-me-down computer, an ancient Compac Presario 6000.  It wasn’t anything special even when it was new—1.66 GHz processor, 480 MB RAM, 40 GB hard drive, with Windows XP on it.  Just a cheap computer.  But hey, it did work, albeit very, very slowly.  In any case, it was replaced by a significantly better system, and the relic came to be mine.

I had been curious about operating systems other than Windows for a while, but other than a brief segment on Linux at the vo-tech I attended a few years back, I had always used some variant of Windows.  I had obtained a copy of the Live CD of Ubuntu 8.04.1, so I installed it on the old computer, just to tinker around with.  I named this computer Makoto, for Reason #2.

Ubuntu is very…different.  Using it is pretty straightforward, but installing new programs is an interesting exercise.  The distribution came with OpenOffice.org 2.4.1, but I had already been using 3.0.0 on my laptop, so I figured I would just install that.  But on of 3.0.0’s packages has a conflict with one of 2.4.1, so you have to get rid of 2.4.1 first…a process which (for me) required a great deal of referencing online tutorials, given that I am not exactly fluent in Linux yet.  sudo and dpkg and tar are arcane enchantments, mysterious and occult.

Strangely, now that I’ve got everything up and running, it seems like Makoto is running smoother—probably because Ubuntu eats up less system resources than XP.  Or something.  I’m no expert.


Posted in Computers, Software | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Teaching Myself A Little OpenOffice.org

Posted by Doug on November 15, 2008

When I bought Natsuki (my HP Pavilion dv9500 Notebook PC), it took me all of a day to realize that Microsoft Works sucks, and Microsoft Office was significantly better, and so I plunked down over $100 of my hard-earned cash to buy Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007.  Now, over a year later, I’ve taken an interest in Sun Microsystems’ OpenOffice.org 3.0.0, which I downloaded from the official website for the low, low price of absolutely free.

OpenOffice.org (hereafter referred to as “OO.o”) functions pretty much like every other work processor I’ve ever used when it comes to basic tasks, but of course, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of more advanced usage, things get a little complicated.

I like to write, and as of late I have been (slowly) working on my own anime-inspired novel, The Mecha Monogatari, and posting it here.  I actually do the writing in OO.o, mainly so that  I can use the Autocorrect feature to change, for example, the name Hijuu to Hijū.  (I like the macrons.  Sue me.)  Once I got the text finished, then I copy-paste it into the editor window of WordPress and reformat it a little before publishing it to the blog.  Nothing complicated there.

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Posted in Computers, Software, Writing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Creating An Interactive Fiction

Posted by Doug on November 11, 2008

I can’t recall ever playing any interactive fiction games.  No Zork, no…uh, I’m sure there were other relatively popular IF games, but I can’t think of their names.  If they had a heyday, I took up the videogaming hobby too late for it.

Still, as a wholly untalented hack an aspiring novelist and budding programmer, the concept of IF is quite alluring.  Build a world, put stuff in it, populate it with people, decide how everything interacts with everything else and the player—infinite, the possibilities are.

So lately I’ve been tinkering around with creating my own IF work, using the Inform 7 design system, which uses a mostly natural programming language.  For example, the code:

The yellow door is a door.
The yellow door is north of the red room and south of the blue room.

creates two rooms (the red room and the blue room) and puts a doorway (which can be opened, closed or walked through) in between them.  The player starts in the first defined room (the red room) and can use relatively simple typed commands—like “go south” or “enter yellow door” or “open door” to do stuff.

Inform 7's interface Very, very simple

The above left picture is Inform 7’s interface. To its right is a most simple IF game played in Windows Frotz.

Of course more elaborate coding can be used to create significantly more elaborate gameworlds with significantly more elaborate interaction possibilities.  Of course, significantly more elaborate means soul-crushingly more complex and ridiculously more difficult to organize for a third-rate programmer-wannabe such as myself.

Still, I’ve always enjoyed programming, and I like to think I have a few creative neurons in my brain, so  I’m going to play around with this, at least until I get distracted by Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World when it comes out tomorrow later today.

Posted in Computers, Programming, Software | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Newer is not always better

Posted by Doug on October 19, 2008

Case in point: version 0.9.4 of the VLC media player. I had been using VLC 0.8.6c for well over a year, with great success. Aside from an issue with subtitles that I never figured out how to fix to my satisfaction, it worked great, and so, when I heard that VLC 0.9.4 was available, I upgraded without thinking about it. Surely, if 0.8.6c worked great, 0.9.4 would work greater—right?

Wrong. All the old bugs and quirks persisted, and now choppy video playback and a complete refusal to display the subtitles was added to the mix. It all came to a head when I was trying to watch the third episode of Kannagi. It loaded slow. No subtitles, no matter how much fiddling with the settings I did. Choppy playback. Then it crashed.

Fortunately, I am a packrat, keeping everything I have ever obtained until it I am forced otherwise, and I am no different with my digital media. Of course I still had the installer for 0.8.6c.

Start → Control Panel → Programs and Features → VLC 0.9.4 → Yes, I want to uninstall it. Continue!

Once I got 0.8.6c installed again, i tried playing the Kannagi episode again. The subtitles are a little wonky sometimes, just like always, but the program loaded quick, actually displayed the subtitles more or less correctly, and the video isn’t choppy.

Now I return to watching my anime.

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