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Presidential cousin…

Our local paper was recently bought by a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, which led me to briefly browsing Warren Buffett’s Wikipedia page, where it mentioned that he’s “of distant French Huguenot descent.” Not sure why this is considered noteworthy, but whatever. Anyway, I am also “of distant French Huguenot descent”, from my 10 x great grandfather (if I counted the generations right), good old Benoit Brasseur, or Old French Grandpa Benny as we call him in the family. So what Huguenot is Buffett’s Wikipedia page referring to? Could it be the same one?!

Nope. Wikipedia’s page is referring to a Mareen Duvall. But Duvall’s second wife, and the one Buffett is descended from, was Susannah Brasseur, daughter of Benoit! So that makes my 10 x great grandfather Warren Buffett’s 7 x great grandfather, making Warren Buffett my 8th cousin, 3 times removed! So the local paper is like a family business now.

But there’s a bonus relative, too. Also descended from Mareen Duvall and Susannah is a president of the USA! As in… the current one. Bleh! Old cousin Barry, 11th cousin, once removed.

(Other famous descendants of Mareen Duvall include Harry S. Truman, Dick Cheney, and actor Robert Duvall, but my brief Googling around seems to indicate that these famous guys are descended from Duvall’s first wife rather than his second.)

Of course, these connections are so distant that they’re completely and utterly unremarkable, but it is interesting to actually be able to trace a path.

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Frequently asked questions about the cookie-based diet

cookies

This holiday season, I’ve been trying out a new diet that I call the cookie-based diet. It involves eating cookies all the time. Here I try to answer some questions and concerns people may have about this diet.

Q: Is it unhealthy?

A: When people hear about the cookie-based diet, they immediately assume that it’s unhealthy. After all, cookies are full of sugar and lack vitamins and nutrients. As it turns out, these concerns are well-founded. The cookie-based diet is extremely unhealthy. Risks include everything from diabetes and cavaties to an early death. But this concern also completely misses the point of the cookie-based diet, which is to throw health concerns to the wind and eat more cookies.

Q: When will I know when to stop the cookie-based diet?

A: Never.

Q: Should children try the cookie-based diet?

A: No one at all should try the cookie-based diet, but this isn’t about shoulds and shouldn’ts. This is about cookies.

Q: Should the cookie-based diet be government funded?

A: Yes. Everyone has a fundamental God-given right to cookies, therefore the government should help provide cookies to those who cannot bake cookies themselves or buy them at the store. Please write to your congressmen and elected officials, telling them how important cookies are to you. Bribe them with cookies, of course.

Q: Should I eat cookies that fall on the floor?

A: Eat all cookies.

Q: What should I do if someone else wants to eat my cookies?

A: Eat more cookies.

Q: I am concerned about cookie riots and cookie wars.

A: You are afraid of these things because you have not eaten enough cookies. Cookies will give you peace of mind.

Q: At what point does the cookie-based diet become cookie idolatry? Isn’t it immoral?

A: The All Great and Powerful Cookie doesn’t think so.

Q: Don’t they call cookies “bisquits” or something in the UK?

A: A cookie by any other name, blah blah blah.

Q: Are your answers becoming more and more insane?

A: Cookies.

Q: Are you OK?

A: Coooookies.

Q: What happens if–

A: COOOOKEIS

Q; W;’a

COOOKEIS

MSUT HAVE COOKEI

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Diversity!

Diversity_Kittens

Over Christmas I got into a discussion about the modern ideas of “privilege” and “diversity”. If I’m talking to people I know, I can get a bit too enthusiastic in such discussions, so I’m not sure I explained my my understanding / viewpoint very well. So I’m going to sum them up here to get it off my chest.

My basic premise is that it is unjust discrimination to make decisions about who to hire or admit to a school or club or whatever based on race, religion, sex, background, etc., when such traits do not matter to the decision being made. (Sometimes they do matter. For example, if you’re hiring someone to do construction work, it is not unjust discrimination to hire a physically fit young man rather than a man with no arms. It is discrimination, but it is not unjust to hire a person who can do a job better than someone else in regards to the qualifications the job entails (assuming those qualifications are themselves just and not designed to justify unjust discrimination). Another example: it is not unjust discrimination to hire actors of various races to portray historic figures of the same race for a film or a play. It is not unjust discrimination to not hire a non-Christian to teach at a Christian school. It is not unjust discrimination to have a boys and girls locker room and bathroom, or boarding school, or scouts, or whatever. Etc, etc.)

As far as I can tell, the promotion of seeking “diversity” on campus or in a workplace leads to (whether intentionally or unintentionally) unjust discrimination. That is, it leads to hiring or admitting (or not) people based on traits that have nothing to do with how well they can perform the job.

Of course, one must first ask the question, “What is diversity?” Given a group of people, how exactly do you measure its diversity? I never really got a straight answer on this. In my view, every group is already diverse by virtue of being made up of different people. Every person has different life experiences and different points of view with which they can contribute to a group. To claim that swapping one person for another (based on some irrelevant trait) makes a given group “better” (by virtue of now being more “diverse”) seems rather judgmental to say the least. On what grounds can such a claim ever be made?

The next question is then, of course, “Of what value is diversity?” Granted, it’s hard to answer this question without answering the the question above. I don’t think I got a straight answer on this either, but it usually has something to do with different points of view offering considerations you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. What exactly these considerations might be, and how they might be measurably “better”, I have yet to understand.

One argument may go like this: A school has a chess club, and all the club members are nerdy white males. Because of the club’s lack of racial diversity, a non-white and/or non-male student will not be inspired to join the club. I must interrupt the argument here, for I must naturally question whether the interest in the club should at all include anything other than an interest in chess itself. That is, of what importance is it that the club is made up of white males? Is it not racist and/or sexist to assume that one cannot join the club because one’s skin color or sex differs? Is it not unjustly prejudiced to assume the club members will not appreciate such a new member despite such differences? The argument then concludes that the club should actively seek to be “diverse” so that potential new members will not feel discouraged from joining. But, again, I fail to see the need for this, as my interruption explains: a potential new member should not be judging whether or not to join the club based on anything but his interest in chess. And, by extension, the chess club is not obligated to present itself in whatever manner that would make potential members feel welcome other than their devotion to chess itself (especially when this manner is ultimately measured in traits like skin color or sex).

In the real world, one may readily observe that there are clear correlations between one’s interests and traits like skin color, religious backgrounds, sex, age, geographic location, etc. Someone arguing for diversity may see these correlations as evidence of rampant unjust discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious.

On the contrary, it is completely natural and need not be counter-acted. (In fact, trying to counteract it is futile.) Your interests do not form in a vacuum. Of course your interests will be influenced by the people you grow up with and the culture you are exposed to. Why is this a bad thing? It does not imply that you can only be interested in certain things, assuming you are not judging the “diversity” of your interest area before pursuing it (that is, being prejudiced). And, again, it does not obligate anyone to switch interests or encourage interests in others for the sake of “diverse” representations among areas of interest.

As for “privilege”, the discussion never really got anywhere. I often find the term used as an ad hominem attack to end discussions without having to actually argue one’s case (as in, “Check your privilege!” = Your ideas need not be considered because your race, sex, religion, or whatever implies that you haven’t had to suffer like I have, therefore I don’t have to listen to you), or as a way of trying to justify unjust discrimination (as in, “I have suffered in some way you have not, therefore I’m entitled to something special and you are not”).

Of course it is true that there is unfairness in life. Some people are born with diseases and hardships, some people are born to wealth and influence. Different people with different backgrounds will have different life experiences. Some will have to struggle for decades so that their children may live a better life, while others will grow up in mansions. While we are obligated (by love, not law) to treat everyone equally (that is, without unjust discrimination, not without any discrimination at all, as explained earlier), we are not obligated to make everyone’s circumstances themselves equal. Circumstances, in and of themselves, are irrelevant, as I’ve blogged about before.

So fighting for special treatment (after comparing circumstances, real or imagined) makes no sense, and in fact only perpetuates any unjust discrimination one may seek to end. After all, if you’re not fighting for equality for everyone, then you’re not really fighting for equality at all.

Finally, there may of course be arguments about the distinctions to be made between “special” treatment and “equal” treatment, just as there may be arguments about the distinctions between “just” and “unjust” discrimination. But one has to be ready for such arguments; merely trying to sweep them under a rug with claims of “privilege” is hardly going to convince anyone not already considering themselves somehow “unprivileged”. (That is, when you make these discussions about “privilege”, you’re really just encouraging everyone to A) compare themselves to others and to B) think of themselves as somehow not “privileged”. After all, you get nothin’ extra for being “privileged”. And everyone can find something, so we just end up with the Suffering Olympics and all the prejudice, racism, sexism, etc. that come with them.)

So that’s my understanding of these issues; I hope you appreciate the privilege of reading them.

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Still programming…

Haven’t posted in a while, so here’s a little update on what I’ve been up to lately.

Basically, I’ve abandoned Unity for now, though I’d like to get back to learning it at some point. But I’m much more familiar with Java, so I looked around and found jMonkeyEngine, an open-source Java-based 3D engine, so I’ve been learning that. I’m currently working on a small 2D mystery game for PC and Android platforms. (Like a small adventure game, where you go around talking to suspects, searching for clues, collecting inventory and using it, etc.) It will use pixel art, since I can actually create pixel art with a bit of clicking around. Currently I’m using Pyxel Edit to create the pixel art, which is small and elegant and quite affordable (only $9 at the time of this writing). Pixel art actually isn’t too difficult for a non-artist like me. Well, OK, it’s still possible to create really crappy pixel art. What I mean is that it’s much more approachable for a non-artist; you can create an effective passable character (and walk-cycle for that matter) much more easily than, say, trying to draw something with pencil and paper or trying to actually model and texture something in 3D. And it’s not difficult to search for references online to see how other artists did things; everything is made of pixels anyway. So I’m confident I can create the sort of graphics I think this game will need. Still, if I had the money, I’d rather hire a free-lancer. After all, it’s still a time-consuming process, especially the animation.

Anyway, while I’m more familiar with Java programming, jMonkeyEngine has far far less online support than Unity (and their forums are difficult to navigate and contain many broken links). The engine also has far less features. For example, to achieve the animated textures I need for my 2D game, I had to program my own shader. Granted, that’s not too difficult to program once you know how to do it, but I spent over a week just focusing on how shaders work (and only scratched the surface, I’m sure).

Still, the advantage is that I’m working in a programming language I’m much more familiar with, and I’m not obligated to pay any license fees or anything when my game is released. So, while I’m sure I’ll switch back to Unity (or GameMaker) at some point, I do very much appreciate the option of jMonkeyEngine.

So that’s what I’m up to at the moment. I have no idea how long it will take to finish this game, assuming I don’t abandon it. Guess we’ll see. I’m crossing my fingers that it doesn’t take longer than March 2016. (Which means it will probably take until March 2017.)

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Back to Unity 3D

So my Kickstarter quietly (but I suppose not unexpectedly) failed yesterday, though backers did pledge to contribute $785 of the requested $9,000. Which isn’t completely horrible for spending no time building an audience. But it wasn’t nearly enough, so unfortunately there won’t be a book on melody from me in 2016. Not sure yet if I’ll try to build an audience and try another Kickstarter later, or if I’ll find some other way to find the time. But it’s back to being on the back-burner for now.

Other than that, I’m still learning the ins and outs of Unity3D. I’m confident I can learn the programming side with more practice and experience; Unity is so much more convenient and intuitive than the engines I fooled around with a bit more than a decade ago in high school. (I could swear I used to understand quaternions when I was in high school. Not that I really need to understand them now, as Unity takes care of them, but I still want to understand them again, if I ever really did.)

I’m also not worried about game design. Though I don’t really have much practical experience with it (beyond daydreaming), it is the fun part of game development. Writing, designing puzzles, storytelling, etc… Those are what excite me about game development in the first place. I would never have bothered to learn GW-BASIC when I was in elementary school if storytelling through video games didn’t excite me.

What I don’t have any experience with is creating art for games. Modeling, texturing, or drawing in general. And since I can’t afford to hire freelancers, that’s something I’m going to have to learn, and a skill I’d love to have anyway. Though I may try programming a game that features purely abstract shapes to circumvent the need for art, I still want to create adventure games at some point, and those will require some modeling and texturing skills.

So there’s that fun stuff, and of course I’ve still got some novels I’m working on…

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First impressions with VR (via Oculus Dev Kit 2)

OculusDK2

A few days ago, I finally got my hands on the Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2, and I’m already loving it. It did take a few hours to get it working; I had to change the lenses for my nearsightedness, calibrate the distance of my uneven eyes, and my PC needed new drivers that Nvidia’s auto-update wouldn’t download. Anyway, I haven’t actually done much with it yet besides try out a few demos. A lot of demos out there are unfortunately outdated now and won’t work with the Oculus’s latest software (Runtime 0.7). But I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far, and I’m very excited for the possibilities VR holds, in gaming and beyond. This thing is AWESOME.

First, the cons. The Dev Kit 2 is a bit clunky; it’s not the most comfortable thing to wear. The resolution is also pretty low; it’s a bit like looking at an old standard definition TV up close, where you can see all the pixels. They mesh nicely together, so it’s not like everything’s pixelated like an old DOS game or anything, but that “pixel grid” is still clearly visible. Small text is practically impossible to make out, for example. It’s like you’re looking at the world through an old TV screen.

Another annoying thing about DK2 is the smell. That new electronics smell isn’t bad in and of itself, but when it’s pressed to your face and you’re smelling it for a while, it can get annoying. And you know what they say: Neurons that fire together, conspire together. (Actually, they say “wire together”, but I think “conspire” is more poetic.) When you start associating the smell with VR sickness, it can be extra annoying.

And the biggest problem for me at the moment is VR sickness. I don’t usually get very motion sick, so I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem for me, but VR sickness, though related, is actually a bit different than motion sickness, as there’s really no motion involved. Rather your eyes tell you that you’re moving, yet you feel no forces acting upon you, and the result is nausea. Some movements in VR are completely unnatural as well. In the real world, unless you’ve been hit with a force strong enough to injure you, you cannot go from resting to moving forward at a constant velocity instantly. You’ll accelerate first, and your body naturally expects to feel that acceleration, even if you’re just walking. Some of the most sickening moments in VR for me happen when the acceleration, or lack thereof, just feels completely unnatural.

I also suspect the sickness may have something to do with the motion the eyes detect in their peripheral vision rather than what’s right in front of them. This would explain why we don’t get VR sickness with games on TV; the lack of motion around the TV “grounds” us. Also, I’ve found that VR experiences that put the player in a cockpit or something are much more comfortable; they keep the motion out in front while the walls on the side keep you feeling “grounded.”

Another thing that may help, but that I haven’t seen in a demo yet, is BLUR! Someone needs to try it. Blur the quick movement, especially on the edges of peripheral vision, like in Batman: Arkham Knight. In the real world, things moving quickly past our peripheral vision will blur. I’m guessing that’s not going to happen in a game unless it’s actually programmed to render. It could also help with quick head movements. I was very impressed with its implementation in the Batman game; I’d be interested to see how that sort of thing might look in a VR experience. I’ll have to search around; surely someone’s tried it somewhere…

I suppose this VR sickness issue is a testament to how convincing the 3D VR world can seem, but I think it will require: 1) developers to pay far more attention to movement control; what you can get away with on a TV screen or monitor you just can’t away with in VR. (I wonder if the mouse or the Oculus Touch controls might also be able to help with this? Maybe if the movement of the world could be linked to the motion of one’s hand, one might have an easier time with it?) And it will require: 2) consumers to ease into the VR experience with simple demos first, rather than jumping right into some fast-paced action game. I have read that VR sickness can be like sea-sickness. That is, one can adapt to it, just as one can adapt to the feel of a boat beneath one’s feet. I hope this is true. Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Sitting in place in a virtual world still offers many possibilities, though; so far the best demos I’ve tried out kept the player in one position. Here are the demos I’ve tried so far:

SightLine: The Chair

SightLine

This demo just involves sitting in a chair and looking around. When you’re not looking at something, it’ll change, so the demo keeps you looking around, passing you through a variety of environments. It’s a neat intro to the VR experience, taking you from the claustrophobic feel that the walls are closing in, to the awe of floating in the vastness of space with the surface of a planet thousands of miles below.

Staring up at tall buildings or peering over vast heights are definitely some of the most awesome things to experience in VR. You really get a sense of size; it really feels like you’re staring up at something immense or down far below. The sense of scale is just amazing. You can’t get the feeling in any other way besides the real thing; it’s something pictures on a TV screen just can’t do. So I’m not worried too much about VR sickness; there are plenty of VR possibilities to explore with just a static viewpoint. I could easily play a shooter game or puzzle game or virtual board game, etc., all day long with a static viewpoint, and the VR would still be worth the cost.

Anyway, SightLine was a great demo!

I Expect You To Die

IEYTD

This mini-game also gives the player a static viewpoint. You play a sort of lighthearted James Bond-ish spy that’s trapped in a villain’s car and you need to escape. To do so, you must explore the small world around you, using the mouse to grab, move, and use items. It’s a very short game, but the controls are intuitive, further illustrating how a static viewpoint alone has plenty to offer. It would be awesome to see this expanded into a collection of puzzle scenarios; I could definitely play a game like this for many hours.

Mythos of the World Axis

Mythos

This is yet another static-viewpoint game, but this one’s in third person. You look down (or up or sideways or whatever) at a miniature world and control a small character in front of you. I suspect games like this will become very popular; indeed, this is the sort of game I think I’d like to develop myself. In a way, it’s a bit like playing with toys, only your action figures move and the world is alive. While I found it a bit annoying to have to keep resetting the view in this demo, the style of gameplay is very promising. This demo didn’t even involve much; you just move a character around a small level. And yet it’s addicting and fun. (The end of the demo also offered a brilliant little creative twist!) I’m hoping there’ll be a lot of games like this!

Darkfield Alpha: Sneak Peek

Darkfield

A sci-fi demo in which you shoot robots and stuff. It lacked a bit of polish, unfortunately, and the movement in the 3rd person perspective was a bit jarring, almost inducing some VR sickness, but the first-person shooter style and the spaceship flying definitely looked promising. Space battles in a spaceship cockpit will certainly be a popular VR gaming genre. Getting that sense of the immense size of the ships in front of you along with the vastness of outerspace… it really brings the simulation to life in an amazing way. A bit of VR sickness is possible, however, when you turn your ship too much, but I imagine this will subside with experience. I can’t wait for a fully-fleshed out space-battle game!

Windlands

Windlands

In Windlands, you explore an immense world and collect golden coins or whatever. I thought the movement control in this first-person game was pretty comfortable. You slow in and out of moving rather than just jolting ahead instantly, which definitely helps. And, again, it’s awesome to really see and feel the immense size of an immense world like this. Looking up at giant floating islands in the distance is just fantastic. Unfortunately the gameplay itself kinda bored me after a bit, but the smooth movement control definitely holds promise. If there were more to actually do in the world, perhaps solve Myst-like puzzles or talk to Monkey Island-like characters, this game would be easily enthralling, and I’m sure those sort of games are on their way!

Virtual Desktop

Not a game or a demo, but just an application, Virtual Desktop allows you to see your computer’s desktop in your VR, allowing you to blow it up to an insane size, as if you’re viewing your desktop on a grand movie screen. The resolution isn’t great though, so it’s still a bit impractical for web browsing, for instance. But streaming Netflix in your own personal VR theater is fantastic; one of my favorite VR experiences. It really feels like you’ve got a huge screen to watch a movie on. It’s less than DVD quality though, so I’m not going to stop watching blu-rays any time soon, but still, I love it. It may definitely become something I use regularly. (As if I’m not already unproductive enough.)

So there you have it; my first VR experiences. There’s plenty to explore, and I can’t wait to start my own VR projects this week.

Kickstarter

My Kickstarter is failing miserably at the moment, and now being excited about VR, I’m honestly not that inspired to continue advertising it at the moment, for better or worse. It’s also amazing how much spam you get when you start a Kickstarter. All these offers to help you market your Kickstarter. Sorry, but if I need to spend money on marketing to raise $9K, then I’m not sure my project really deserves $9K in the first place.

(I really hate that about marketing; it’s hard to learn about it objectively because there are so many making too much money off of telling others how to make money. It makes it hard to find the useful information because so many are in the business to take advantage of others. There’s a lot of money in it, I’m sure, but it’s such a vacuous, soulless market.)

Theme update

Finally, I hope you like the new blog theme! I was getting sick of looking at the other one, which I had kept for several years. Four or five years, I think. Maybe even six or seven? Anyway, I hope this one looks a bit more modern and polished.

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Trying a Kickstarter sometime soon…

I’ve been in a bleak creative rut lately. I feel like doing nothing creative at all. I’ve had no inspiration, interest, or will to do anything. Go to work, come home, eat, and waste time watching movies and surfing the web. A dull, boring, purposeless, vacuous existence.

So in an effort to give myself a bit of purpose, I’ve been working on putting together a Kickstarter campaign called “Give me some money to smile again.”

OK, it’s not called that… it’s actually fundraising for that book on melody that I’ve been writing on and off for years. The Secrets of Melody. It details my theory of melody, including how my melody generators work. Basically, if I can raise the funds, I can finish it by March 2016. Of course, I have hardly any online following, so I know it’s a long shot. Seems worth a try though, especially as I feel no great desire to do much else at the moment.

And if I fail to raise the funds, I’m going to go ahead buy an Oculus Rift dev kit and start having some fun with it to make myself feel better. So it’s a win-win for me. And I might buy one regardless because I’ve been dreaming of VR and I’ve got some fun ideas for projects I’d like to try with it. But if there’s enough interest for my book on melody, I’d love to make that a priority.

Anyway, I just have to make the Kickstarter video, which is hard because I’m the self-conscious type who hates looking at a video of himself. But I’ll try anyway.

So look out for that sometime this week.

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Son of a bleep…

I’ve heard it asserted that the phrase “son of a *bleep*” is sexist against women because it points the insult not at the male, but at the female. I suppose the interpretation is that the man doesn’t deserve to be insulted and so the insult has to go to someone more worthy of it? But that doesn’t make sense; the insult is clearly directed at the man, and mothers are rarely even present. It’s insulting to the man because he naturally venerates his mother. So, if anything, it points to women, mothers more specifically, being venerated above men. The man knows he’s a dirty stinking rat, so the insult is directed instead at a person the man honors more than himself. That’s what makes it hurtful. (It’s like when villains take hostages in movies. If you want to threaten a man, you could point a gun to his head, but he may be more than willing to die for his cause. Instead, point a gun to the head of his loved ones. Is he willing to sacrifice someone else’s life for his cause?)

But then, does it really make sense to be offended about a manner of insulting at all? Shouldn’t the moral condemnation be directed at the intent to insult in the first place?

It’s like when people get upset about the word “retarded” being used as an insult. Shouldn’t you be upset that someone’s insulting someone else in the first place? Is there a proper way to insult people? Insults are meant to offend people; do you really think the insult-giver cares about offending a non-present third party when he’s, you know, trying to offend someone? Aren’t all insults bad? Moral priorities, please!

Speaking of moral priorities, a video was recently released revealing that Planned Parenthood sells body parts of aborted children, to which I’ve seen comments such as: “I’m pro-choice, but this is sickening.” Really? Killing an unborn child is OK, but what’s done with the body is crossing the line? If you had any respect for the child, you wouldn’t defend his or her being killed in the first place. If a conscience allows for the murder, what difference does it make what’s done with the body?

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