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»  July 22, 2009

What the...?  


How many times have you woken up
and prayed for the rain?
How many times have you seen the papers
apportion the blame?
Who gets to say who gets the work,
who gets to play?
I was always told at school,
everybody should get the same.

How many times have you been told
if you don't ask you don't get?
How many liars have taken your money,
your mother said you shouldn't bet?
Who has the fun? Is it always the man with the gun?
Someone must have told him,
if you work too hard you can sweat.

There's always the sun.
There's always the sun.
Always, always, always the sun.

How many times have the weathermen
told you stories that made you laugh?
Y'know it's not unlike the politicians and the leaders
when they do things by half.
Who gets the job of pushing the knob?
That sort of responsibility you draw straws for,
if you're mad enough.

There's always the sun.
There's always the sun.
Always, always, always the sun.

The Stranglers, "Always the Sun", Dreamtime


»  July 21, 2009

What the...?  

Handy to Know:


»  July 20, 2009


Chavez: Yeah, I'll probably burn for participating in this...


»  July 19, 2009


Happy Birthday: About three years ago, as it became clear that my job was in its final months, I started thinking about possible exit strategies and new careers. Selling my multimedia development and programming business wasn't a particularly viable option, if it had been worth anything, I wouldn't have taken a job in the first place.

I've always wanted to be a writer. I wrote the first piece I was paid for at 16, and I ran my own book review magazine for a couple of years after I left the bookselling business, but it wasn't until I did a technical piece for Step-by-Step Graphics that I actually got a check again. Then, for about six years, until 2002, I was writing books, articles, and online pieces on Flash and Director programming like nobody's business. But I wasn't doing it full-time and I certainly wasn't making a living at it, two things that sort of fed into each other. Plus, I was writing computer tutorials, a market that went through constant book-and-bust cycles (one of which was the great tech bubble shake-out of 2000-2001). What could be worse?

Well, in 2005, I figured out what could be a worse market. Not intentionally, no, but just by my own stupid luck. I thought one option for the future might be to make a clean break with my career such as it was, and try to write a book on politics. In-between looking for work and worring about the future, I researched a book on Democratic Party foreign policy and its path in the aftermath of the 1972 defeat of Sen. George McGovern by President Richard Nixon, the man who was forced to resign from the White House less than two years after winning an Electoral College landslide. I wrote a couple of sample chapters, shopped it around to some publishers and agents, and ran into a wave of disinterest you can probably imagine, despite the timeliness of the premise, with the 35th anniversary of McGovern's defeat coming up (at the time), the then-recent turnover of Congress to the Democrats, and the incredible low approval ratings of President George W. Bush. But no bites. Much time, energy, and money down the drain.

Basically, the impetus behind the book was that I'm sick of hearing things like "Only Nixon could go to China." The reason Nixon was the one who could go to China was Nixon. If anyone else had gone to China, Nixon would have been leading the tar-and-feather brigade, jowls a-wobbling, howling that they'd "gone soft on Communism." Nixon and the people like him were on this side of the pacific at least the entire reason countries like China couldn't be approached a decade earlier when, say, McGovern suggested it, even before the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It may not have worked, Mao and the people around him certainly could have ignored any opening, but if it worked in '72 it might have worked in '66. McGovern's first speech on the floor of the Senate was about opening relations with Cuba less than two years after the Missile Crisis. What have the intervening forty-five years of embargo done for us or for the people of Cuba? But nobody was interested in that. At least I couldn't find anyone.

The one positive thing that did come out of that sojourn for me, though, was the opportunity to meet McGovern, even for a little bit, at the conference held every year in South Dakota, on the first Tuesday of November in 2007.

Darrel Plant & George McGovern, 2007

Today's George McGovern's 87th birthday. Happy birthday, Senator.


»  July 16, 2009


Bequest: I've been out of the fantasy and science fiction and quite frankly, the entire book industry for quite a while now, so I'd missed the death last month of fantasy author and fellow Reed alum David Eddings. A story in today's Oregonian notes that he left $18 million about two-thirds of his estate to the college, endowing an English professorship, an English department scholarship, and maintenance of his archives at the college, as well as "supporting students and faculty studying languages and literature." It's a goal that I hope to emulate one day. Of course, first I have to get something written that will make me a few million dollars. Mine would be the Darrel Plant Anti-Poetry Endowment.

I remember that Eddings got his start in fantasy in the early 1980s while I was still working in a genre bookstore. Looking back at his biography and chronology gives me some hope; Pawn of Prophecy and Queen of Sorcery, the initial two books in his Belgariad series were published in 1982, when he was about 50 years old. That still gives me a couple of years yet to get off my ass.


»  July 11, 2009

What the...?  

Looking Out for Your Safety:

[UPDATE 13 JULY] According to PGE's pole guy, it's not their pole. It belongs to Qwest. So they're passing the letter along...

In response to this letter, I got a very nice call saying they'd have an inspector look at it next week and thanking me for the photos.

Dear PGE:

Im writing to report an unsafe situation with a power pole on the west side of [redacted] Avenue, just south of the intersection at SE Belmont St.

The attached photo printouts show the location and results of a brief incident that took place yesterday afternoon (7 July) as I was returning to my car after lunch. The pole is supported by guy wires that extend north into the grass border between the sidewalk and the parking strip. The pole has a street number, an ID and bar code of [redacted], and several medallions attached to the pole.

Slightly Dangerous Power PoleLoose Wires

My car was in the first space of the parking strip, where the white truck appears in the first image. I was walking to my car, talking to my lunch partner, when I felt my leg brush against something. It was barely noticeable, but it was the loose ends of a guy wire attached to the pole.

There are two three-strand metal wires on the farthest offset guy for the pole. Both are loose, end well above ground level, and one of them, at least, is pretty sharp. I didnt really feel like testing the other one. As I said, it was barely noticeable when I brushed against it, but by the time Id walked a few more feet to the door of my car, blood was running freely down my calf from a gash four inches long.

Where You Can Gash YourselfBloody Leg

The last picture is actually the earliest of the images, taken after Id driven the few blocks back to my home, and after Id wiped off the first wash of blood when I got in my car.

Now I know its not electricity, and my gash, though bloody and long, was pretty shallow, but if Id brushed up against the same wire with more force, or if my skin at the age of nearly fifty wasnt so thick say, for instance that Id been one of the children from the Montessori school across the street something sharp enough to make a slice like that could do some serious tissue damage.

So Id like to make sure you and the city know of this hazard. More importantly, Id like you to make sure that some sort of protector is placed on those wires so that they are no longer a hazard. If its not technically your responsibility for some reason, Im sure you know better than I who is responsible for its maintenance.


Darrel Plant

Naturally, it was the same leg on which I've busted the knee and ankle.

To take your mind off the gore, cats!

Cats on the back patio.



Sales Taxes Again: Every now and then I remember that one of the reasons I started this blog was that I hated writing letters to the editors of various publications and having them disappear into the ether. Letter to the Oregonian:

In his op-ed about Oregon's tax system, Wally Van Valkenburg makes a stunningly grand mistake when he claims that a sales tax is needed because the state "generates revenue from only two of those three sources" (the other sources being property and income taxes).

Enacting a sales tax doesn't cause money to appear out of thin air. Every sales tax proposal in recent history has been accompanied by reductions in property and income taxes, a move that shifts the burden of the state's revenue further onto the shoulders of the poor and middle class. And despite the airy speculations of sales tax proponents, taxes on tourism won't create a huge windfall. The bulk of any state's sales taxes are paid by its citizens. Even a large portion of any tourism-related sales tax would be paid by Oregonians; many of the tourists in Oregon are from a different part of the state. That's not even taking into account the potential effect on decreases in income tax revenue from tourism-related industries whose sales would decrease when dollars spent on their goods and services go directly to pay sales taxes.

There's also serious doubt about another standard claim of sales tax advocates. According to theory, the sales tax is less volatile than the income tax. But studies of actual revenue figures cast serious doubt on that claim, showing that they're both relatively volatile.

It's time for sales tax proponents to stop talking in generalities and put forth some real numbers to make their arguments. Anyone who tells you there's an untapped "third source" of revenue is as reliable as someone who claims money grows on trees.


»  July 10, 2009


No Big Deal: Speaking about an eight-year-old CIA program that was unknown to Congress, a "former top Bush administration official" told The Washington Post:

The official said he was certain that, if the nature of the program could be revealed, it would be seen as "no big deal."
Which is, of course, why the program was secret.


»  July 7, 2009


The Plan: @RasmusBoserup asked for suggestions on how to publish an indie game. This was my reply (with a minor typo corrected):

First get $10 million. Bank it. Then publish your game. That way if it tanks you've still got $10 million.
Wish I'd thought of that six months back.


What the...?  

It's Not What You Know:

I'm the kid that no one knows
I live a life I never chose
With these thoughts in my mind
On my own, my own

I'm face to face with the unknown
My scary movie will be shown
I got one evil mind
Of my own, of my own

We take from one another
And never stop to wonder
How it feels from the other side
When nothing lasts forever
When stupid turns to clever
Why are you surprised?

Little know it all (little know it all)
Ten bucks in my hand
Little know it all (little know it all)
Don't cry, I understand

I'm a target of the smart
They got ambition, I got heart
I'm analyzed and tagged
Before I start

So tell me, who can I respect?
I feel the leash around my neck
As I find out there's shame
In the game (in the game)

We take from one another
And never stop to wonder
How it feels from the other side
When nothing lasts forever
When stupid turns to clever
Why are you surprised?

And I feel like I'm caught outside the box
And I feel like I'm sleeping when I'm not

Look it's for a real thing, it's for a real thing

You little know it all (little know it all)
Ten bucks in my hand
Little know it all (little know it all)
Don't cry, I understand

You never know at all

Iggy Pop & Sum 41, "Little Know It All," Skull Ring


»  July 6, 2009


Whale Carcasses: Listening to a story on NPR tonight about Mexico's economy and heard for the umpteenth time the idea that the economy's bottomed out, it can only get better" which has been pushed forth for months about our own economy, as well.

Apart from the fact that the predictions of the bottom have been so constant as to have become as meaningless as white noise over the past several months, the idea that when something hits the bottom that it immediately begins to rise is just unsound.



Go East, Not-So-Young Man: Through Ken Durso (the guy who certified me to teach Director back in 1995), we hear MacroMind founder Marc Canter is leaving the Bay Area to go to Ohio and once again do something different.

Not having directly been a part of the San Francisco multimedia axis, I didn't have much contact with Marc, but I do have a couple of stories.

At the big Q&A session at the 1996 Macromedia User Conference, I was just about to step up to the microphone to ask a question whena rather burly gentleman rushed past me to snag the floor. I can't remember what he asked, but as it happened I never did get a chance to ask whatever I'd been thinking of. That was my first experience with Marc Canter.

The next year, as the Director 6 beta was winding down and people were lamenting the closure of the discussion list (this was at a time when DIRECT-L had several thousand members and the signal to noise ratio was significant), I started up a mailing list for the ex-beta testers. We started planning a get-together at the 1997 UCON, and somehow Marc heard about it and graciously offered to host it at his house (then on Potrero Hill). In those pre-Mapquest days, though, a number of the attendees didn't realize quite how far that was from Moscone Center, however, and I still get people complaining about it a dozen years later. There's even some postage stamp-sized video from the era.


»  July 4, 2009


To the App Store!:

Bedeviled: The Most Diabolical Sliding Puzzle Game Ever

My first real iPhone/iPod touch game Bedeviled: The Most Diabolical Sliding Puzzle Game Ever went live with both a US$0.99 full version and a free, limited version in the iTunes App Store on Friday, 3 July. It's a combination of a sliding tile puzzle game and ball-in-a-tilting-box labyrinth, derived from a Flash game concept I did more than eight years ago.

Bedeviled was executed in Unity, a 3D game development system which which has a tie to my days as a Macromedia Director programmer, in the person of Unity Product Evangelist Tom Higgins, who was the Director Product Manager back before Macromedia's sale to Adobe. I wouldn't say that there's a lot of similarity between Unity and Director which was a more general multimedia development tool but if you did much work in Director's latter-day subset of Shockwave 3D, there's definitely some knowledge you have that's useful. That said, I had a pretty frustrating path to getting my toes wet enough with iPhone development to get Bedeviled from my original concept to where it is now, i.e. selling somewhat less than a copy a day over the past several weeks.

I'd toyed with the idea of programming for the Mac more generally for a long, long time. Long enough to have taken stabs at Metrowerks' CodeWarrior and earlier versions of Objective-C development environments. But it never really jelled for me. For me, Director was always the crack cocaine of programming I suppose that would make Flash the methamphetamine and trying to get things done in C++ and Obj-C just seemed like trying to swim in molasses. Late last October, though, in an attempt to broaden my skillset beyond the two environments I'd been working in for the past fifteen years (one of which nobody seemed to have much interest in any more), I bought a new laptop and an iPod touch. My trusty desktop computer doesn't have an Intel chip, so it can't run the version of Apple's Xcode IDE needed for iPhone development, and neither would the Toshiba Windows laptop whose dead pixel columns were itching for replacement. I also bought a couple of books on iPhone programming: Erica Sadun's The iPhone Developer's Cookbook and Dave Mark and Jeff LaMarche's Beginning iPhone Development, which were about the only iPhone-specific titles available at the time.

I spent several weeks working through tutorials in both books, reading blogs, and generally learning my way around Xcode. Got myself signed up with the Apple iPhone Developer program right away. Had a minor hitch getting my business license information synced up with Apple so that I could be ready for the checks to come rolling in, but managed to work that out with a very nice woman from their business unit. But I'm not ashamed to say the size of the programming portion of the task was rather daunting. There's was so much in even the iPhone-specific Objective-C libraries that it was difficult to know which way to turn to accomplish a particular task, not to mention learning the idiosyncrasies of Obj-C formatting.

Then, in early December I heard about Unity's recently-released iPhone publishing system. Tom hooked me up with a demo copy and I started working with it a week or so before Christmas, but a family emergency combined with the most snow Portland had seen in fifty years diverted time and energy for a couple of weeks. I was trying to find as much common ground as I could with my Shockwave 3D knowledge, in an effort to put together a working model of the game's basic mechanism (something I could do in less than a day in SW3D), but was running into some problems. From an email exchange with Tom, it didn't sound like what I wanted to do was possible (or at least not recommended) in Unity, and by the time my trial expired I had a paying Flash project that required attention for several weeks.

Of course, by the time I got back to Xcode, I'd forgotten more than I remembered, and I had to refresh myself a bit to get up to the point where I'd left off. I got an idea for a quick, free, gag application that the App Store promptly rejected. It almost took me longer to prep the distribution files and fill out the forms for submission than it did to write the application (and it took me a day to write the app). But, they didn't reject it because I'd done anything wrong, they just thought that it didn't have as much user value* as, say, iFart.

So after re-learning some stuff in March, I started work on Bedeviled in earnest, learning my way around UIViews and UIImageViews, and figuring out how to cut up UIImages. And once I'd managed to do all that, I uploaded a development build to my iPod and it ran like a complete dog. Which was, of course, why I'd tested it, but it wasn't the result I'd been hoping for.

Up to that point, I hadn't touched OpenGL ES except for some very simple tutorials. I knew that the iPhone had the capability to do what I wanted to do with Bedeviled after all, there are a number of actual 3D games on the iPhone and what I needed was much simpler, in processing terms but I was becoming aware that something that implemented OpenGL was going to be necessary.

And so, in mid-April, I was back knocking on Unity's door and got a second trial of the iPhone publishing tool. This time, nothing intervened, and after getting past some technical issues I figured out how to do what I needed. Best of all, when it ran on the iPhone as a build through Xcode, the performance was great. I spent about six weeks (not full-time) working on the game, submitted it to the App Store on 20 June, and Apple approved it yesterday.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to promote a game that came out the first day of a holiday weekend!



Shut Your News Hole: Aside from timing her resignation announcement for the day before the Fourth of July, Gov. Sarah Palin also chose the first day of a week-and-a-half break for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, lending further evidence to my theory that when those shows are off the air some crazy shit goes on. See also the Department of Justice's argument about not releasing torture documents.


»  July 2, 2009


My Dinner With Michael: My conversation in a comment thread with (someone claiming to be) the man who wants al Qaeda to attack America.