Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tweaked A Few Things

It turns out that my grand idea of pulling content from all over the web into one central page isn't new, fresh or unique. There's even a crappy term for it; lifestreaming. I hate that almost as much as I hate the word blog. Oh well, what can you do except whinge about it on your blog and update your lifestream with rants....

I'd been having some issues with the "merge multitple items from different sources into one post" set up that I had hacked into place on my lifestream page. The logic behind it seemed solid, if two consecutive items from different feeds had the same title, they'd get merged. This fell over if I added things to multiple feeds in a short period of time. As such it broke very often since I use spurl to bookmark interesting things and picasa to grab photos / screenshots as I surf the web and drink my morning coffee.

Now I've changed the system to trawl through all current items in the merged rss and grab any with the same title. This works perfectly for the front page, but I'm going to have to do some more code hax to get it working for the archives (which are pulled from a database rather than an rss feed).

Update: I spent some time this afternoon trying to work out a solution and ended up ditching the old method and approaching it from a completely different angle. The sticking point was dealing with the archives; how do you tell how many merged items are newer than than the content you're pulling from the archives to display on a certain page? What do you do when two items you want to be merged straddle either side of an archive page 'block'?

I've set up a photobucket account and will now be using that to store images which I want to tack onto things that I spurl. I have my online rss aggregator sucking in the rss feed from photobucket and the main one from yahoo pipes. The php page runs through the items in my lifestream and looks for any items in the photobucket feed which have matching titles. The photobucket system also saves me from having to download images from web pages, resize and upload them to picasa. I just use a nifty firefox plugin which lets me upload online images into my photobucket account.

I decided to stop doing two different things for the front and the archive; now all content is pulled out of my database. This kind of goes against the whole idea of removing reliance on me running my own host, but having a mysql db is pretty standard with all simple hosting deals. So I don't really need a whole box or root or anything. I just need a small amount of hard drive space, apache + php + mysql and a cron job to run my online rss aggregator and the lifestream page.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tricky Part Complete

I took the last few days of the working week off and combined with yesterday we managed to make a good start on getting the stable erected. I had hoped to get all the frame upright after the 4 days, but we were rained out on the 1st day and the 2nd day was spent finishing attaching each section while it was still on the ground. The 3rd day we erected the first section, only to run into woes when attempting to get it all plumb. We'd marked out the distances between the column footings from the plans, but when we got it standing up it became obvious that things weren't going to be milimeter perfect.

So yesterday we had to drop the section we'd put up and attack things from a new direction. This time around we unconnected the side sections and braced the central columns so they were parallel before standing it up. This also helped to stop the apex drooping and throwing everything out of wack. Once we had the center of the 1st end up, plumb and bolted to the footings things became a lot easier. As you can see from the photo we finished the day with 2 sections of frame up and have braced them together.

Alas there won't be any more progress until next weekend, but I'm damn happy to have made a decent start on the project. I'm also rather sore :)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

If Poker was an MMO

While I was posting up my previous blog entry about Time Investment as a Resource with regards to online gaming I found myself constantly drawing paralells with online poker. This resulted in me considering what World of Pokercraft would be like....

Players are be able to enter the game world at what ever level they can afford, since bankroll equates to character level. Like other MMO's, but perhaps to a much greater extent, skill (in the long term) and luck (in the short term) both play a large part in battles between players of differing skill level.

Grinding that damn annoying 'flop 10 sets' quest is frustrating. Especially when you think you've binked another one off only to show up with an underset and have it denied.

Bots and hackers would actually be as much of an issue as MMO players think they are. Griefers not so much. Sure slow rolling sucks, but it doesn't actually hinder your progress in the game!

No one would ever ask you for your stuff if you mentioned you were going to quit.

Time Investment as a Resource

Since becoming a twitter addict I've found myself getting back in touch with a handful of excellent humans I know from the online gaming who I've lost touch with over the last couple of years. My obsession shifted from online games to online poker and with that all the mental energy I used to expend thinking deeply about game design and concepts was spent contemplating poker related topics.

Twincannon was one guy in particular I really enjoyed discussing game design with. I met him during my time as project lead on the Half-Life 2 cyberpunk mod Dystopia. He joined the team as a level designer and quickly proved that he thought quite deeply about gameplay, design and flow. A post over on his blog titled Time Investment as a Resource has just spurred me into a train of thought I felt I could share here.

His thoughts that skill should be the measure of how good you are at a game mirror my own. As he explains, its this reason that MMO's generally don't appeal to me. The underlying 'level up' design means that a battle between to players has less to do with the skill diference and more to do with the level of the characters. Essentially players are rewarded for playing longer (and paying more, which makes it a great business model) rather than playing better.

Now obviously this is a fairly shallow mindset to hold, since increasing your ability in a highly skill based game such as Quake or Starcraft comes about mostly from practice. To anyone except someone who over thinks game design the difference between the two is undefinable.

Twincannon wraps up this section of his post with this:

After thinking about how many hours a lot of top tournament players will spend practicing a day in their chosen game, it seems a bit strange to keep my prejudice against the MMO system of skill gain. At the end of the day, what is the difference between a Starcraft player spending 12 hours a day practicing a match-up, versus an MMO player spending 12 hours a day to advance his character? If your character still requires out-of-game skill and knowledge to be played better in the latter system after he is “capped” (you are no longer able to expend time to advance his in-game skills), how is it any different to the former game?

I can definitely see that MMO character advancement is simply a system which amplifies the time = skill progression process, with a number of major benefits. These include:

  • Acting as a time release function to allow players access to deeper parts of the gameplay as they progress along the skill curve.
  • Being a forced advancement mechanism for players who aren't actively focused on increasing their skill at playing the game.
  • Makes it easy to seperate newbs from highly skilled players

This side steps the issues of casual gamer newbs remaining skillless suckers who's game experience boils down to being cannon fodder for the hardcore. While the hardcore get bored once they feel they've clocked the skill curve.

Still, MMO's are stupid time sinks and I'm glad I got addicted to poker rather than WoW :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

timezones defeated

I think I've sorted out my timezone woes. Damn you round planet!

timezone woes

Just a post to check on how the blogger timestamp is formatted.

new home page system nearly done

I've got a working version of my grand plan up and running at the following temporary location: fuzzyslogic.com/new/.

It is successfully sucking in feeds from my blogger page, my twitter account (minus @replies), my youtube favourites, my picasa photo gallery and my spurl link list. I have a couple of other things I'll be adding shortly, but those 5 are the big ones.

Tonight I mostly removed complexity from the php script which runs on my web server as I added functions to the pipes setup. I have hit a few issues with pipes which has resulted in me still needing some "smarts" in the php. The big one of these was trying to get pipes to output the html for youtube embedding.

The design of my new homepage is super simple and exactly what I was imagining when I was pondering the whole deal, so I'm happy with it. I'm sure I'll find little things to tweak as I continue messing around with things though.

Next on my todo list is adding a categories system, which will allow me to group content from multiple sources by using the native tag / lable / category system which blogger, twitter, picasa, spurl and youtube employ. Then I'll set up filters on my homepage which will allow me (or any other fool who views the page) to only display items from the subjects they select.

edit: seems that the different timezones of the various sources are screwing the ordering of things up a little. So I might have to hax up some time conversion in either pipes or php... sigh, I hate time conversion :(

Monday, March 16, 2009


Last night I spent some time getting started on this grand new idea of using free online services for everything (blogging, photos, bookmarking, tweeting, etc) so that I no longer had to run a CMS for each of these on my own host.

The easy part was signing up for all the services. The hard part was going to be collecting the rss feeds and munging them into single feed and formatting it for display on my home page at fuzzyslogic.com.

Luckily I recalled reading about Yahoo Pipes a long time ago. I imagine I dismissed it as a silly way for people who weren't as haxy as me to munge together information from all over the place. With my new found open mind I decided to take a look at it. Needless to say it does exactly what I need and is actually quite a powerful tool. What's more you even end up creating amazing looking flow diagrams which look really impressive in screenshots!

So now I've successfully jumped the "collect all the feeds into a central rss" part of the problem. Now I'm onto creating a layout I like and setting it up as the front page of fuzzyslogic.com!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I've decided that I'm lazy

Rather than have to worry about updating any kind of CMS that I run locally on my own host I've decided to just use "best of breed" services which are hosted remoted. So this means using blogger for blogging, picasa for image hosting, twitter for.... well.... tweeting, youtube for collecting cool videos and spurl for collecting links.

The plan is to then run my own simple custom hacked together RSS collector to munge it all together and display it on a web page served from my own host; at fuzzyslogic.com

Lets see how this goes....