Monthly Archives: February 2010

I Have Many Facets, Like an Onion

Hey, my game Fragile Shells placed second in the Jay is Games Casual Game Design Competition #7. I’m in a three-way tie for second, mind you, but given the other two games (including Andrew Plotkin’s), I’m quite happy with my placement.

I was also pleased by how my game was reviewed. Gruelove, Matt W., and the always-hilarious Jenni Polodna all had positive things to say about it. Jenni even gives a shout-out to the Zune, which I should have done. In my defense, I expect by the late 21st century they’ll only think of them as iPods, even the sad old Creative NOMADs. At least until a NOMAD returns as a giant space probe who can only be stopped by merging with a bald chick.

Where was I? Oh, yes, second place. Yay!

Liza Loves to Sing

This is a fine example of how Liza will sometimes say “I dunno!” reflexively.

[audio:liza-identifies-turtle.mp3]

Turtle is a small plastic turtle who “swims” in a tiny bowl thanks to magnets and a small child’s belief in magic. Liza likes Turtle a lot.

[audio:turtle-is-my-best-friend.mp3]

Despite her loud protests, though, Turtle isn’t really her best friend.

[audio:lizas-best-friends.mp3]

Liza is a big fan of bugs. She likes beetles.

[audio:liza-likes-beetles.mp3]

She likes butterflies.

[audio:lizas-green-butterfly.mp3]

She likes ladybugs and bees, though with some reservations about bees.

[audio:liza-on-bugs.mp3]

In fact, she liked the dragonfly on Misty’s necklace.

[audio:lizas-bug-fixation.mp3]

When she’s not obsessed about bugs, Liza likes to sing. She sings Happy Birthday.

[audio:liza-sings-happy-birthday.mp3]

She sings Jingle Bells for hours at a time. Jingle Bells is the toddler song version of water torture. Imagine putting this next clip on repeat all day and you’ll have a terrifying glimpse into my life!

[audio:liza-sings-jingle-bells.mp3]

The best part about Liza singing Mary Had a Little Lamb is how quickly she dives into the final consonant in “lamb”.

[audio:mary-had-a-little-lamb.mp3]

One night when I was bathing her, Liza suddenly launched into “Yellow Submarine”. “Where did you learn that?” I asked, surprised. “Pop taught me,” she replied.

[audio:we-all-live-in-a-yellow-submarine.mp3]

Liza is willing to go anywhere we want to take her.

[audio:where-we-going.mp3]

Hey, Liza, did you have fun talking into the microphone?

[audio:liza-says-absolutely.mp3]

NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer Takes Pretty Pictures

Yesterday NASA started releasing pictures from their latest orbital telescope, WISE. WISE is an infrared telescope that’s doing a whole-sky survey. It’s also looking for near-earth objects, asteroids, and comets. This thing is extremely sensitive — it’s about 100 times more sensitive than previous infrared telescopes — and it’s taking a lot of pictures. A lot of pictures, more than new parents who’ve just bought a DSLR. It’s taking a picture every 11 seconds, and will end up with some 1.5 million pictures over its ten month life.

So how do the pictures look?

Infrared picture of the Andromeda Galaxy taken by the WISE telescope

That’s the Andromeda galaxy, some 2,500,000 light years away. And there’s plenty more space porn where that came from.

Crafting, reading about crafting, listening to podcasts about crafting, oh and snow!

It’s been a snowy mess here lately. I jokingly said at Christmas that it snowed all the time here, so I think the universe decided to prove me right.

While it’s been too cold to even stick my toe outside, I’ve been stitching and listening to podcasts. I blame Alex at The Gearheart for addicting me both to his story (which is made of pure awesome) and to podcasts in general.

From Gearheart, I got hooked on Craftypod and I’ve been completely grooving to the fabulous big name crafty guests Sister Diane interviews as well as her informative shows on various crafts. Her website is a treasure trove of links, crafts and fun stuff. She’s also writing at theMake and Meaning site and I’m super excited about the conversations happening there. Now, not only can I nerd out about the crafts I do, I can nerd out reading about other people nerding out about them as well.

Just see what I’ve accomplished listening to The Gearheart and Craftypod since I started working on Starry Night:

And because I haven’t posted since before Eli’s birthday:

You can read more about the awesome cake that ReneƩ made for Eli at The Domestic Scientist.

I can’t post about Eli and not Liza, so here’s Liza and Lola:

One Ad and One Music Video

I understand this makes me something of a shill for Old Spice, but I don’t care. “We’re not saying this body wash will make your man smell into a romantic millionaire jet fighter pilot, but we are insinuating it”, says the ad’s description, and if that doesn’t make you want to watch it right now, then I don’t know who you are any more.

Meanwhile, Rhett and Link created an awesome stop-motion animation video involving a whole lot of t-shirts.

Gravity’s Probably Not Causing the Pioneer Anomaly

A quick follow-up to one of the talks I gave at Dragon*Con last year. The Pioneer Anomaly refers to how the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes were pulled more strongly towards the sun than they should have been, making them slow down more than expected. Scientists have been trying to explain what’s going on for about fifteen years. Wikipedia has a pretty good rundown on possible explanations. But to date we still don’t know what’s really causing the Pioneer acceleration.

One theory was that our knowledge of gravity is wrong. There might be higher-order effects that only happen at very long distances, so that we don’t normally see the effect. However, any gravity weirdness like that would affect not only Pioneer 10 and 11 but also the outermost planets in the solar system. A recent paper looked at the orbits of some of Neptune’s moons. They didn’t find any evidence of the Pioneer Anomaly, which means some of the tweaks to gravity like MOND can’t explain the anomaly.

Caution: you may want to skip the comments at the bottom of the linked article, as there’s some crankpotulous discussions going on.

Where I’ve Been the Last Month

Fragile Shells, new interactive fiction by Stephen GranadeI’ve been writing a text adventure!

Fragile Shells is a short, puzzle-centered game. I wrote it for the Jay Is Games 7th Casual Game Design Competition. This 7th CGDC is an all-interactive fiction competition, so how could I resist?

You don’t know how long you’ve been hammering against the station’s wall, but you stop as soon as you realize what you’ve been doing.

If you head to the competition’s page you can play my game through the power of Flash or Javascript and rate it. There are also twenty-nine other games you can play. Why not give them a try and rate them as well?

How to Put Non-Amazon Ebooks On Your Kindle

Amazon and Macmillan have been in a pissing match recently over ebook pricing. On Friday, as part of their continuing battle, Amazon removed the “Buy It Now” button from all Macmillan titles in their catalog, even the print ones. The only way you could buy a Macmillan title through Amazon was through one of the Amazon Marketplace sellers.

As you can imagine, authors weren’t happy.

By Monday Amazon had given in and started re-instating the “Buy It Now” button on Macmillan titles, though they’re taking their time doing so. Meanwhile, lots of people on the internet are happily choosing to be on Team Amazon or Team Macmillan, since you want to choose which giant company will crush your dreams instead of having one forced on you. They’re also parsing the meaning of words like monopoly, monopsony, and collusion. It’s very exciting!

In the wake of what was a pretty stupid attempt by Amazon to muscle Macmillan, some have said that they don’t want to buy books from Amazon, but they bought a Kindle. What are they to do?

Since I’m a physicist and thus have a technical answer to any question, even “Who should I date?” (answer: the robot, for he is programmed to love you always), let me explain how you too can put non-Amazon ebooks on your Kindle.

The big thing you’ll need is a copy of Calibre. Calibre is free software that runs on Windows, Macs, and Linux. It’s the Swiss Army knife of ebook software. It’ll manage your entire library if you want, but the most important feature in this case is that it can convert ebooks from one format to another. The Kindle uses a modified version of the Mobipocket format (files that end in .mobi or .prc), so that’s the format you’ll convert to. (Calibre’s frequently-asked questions has an entire section on converting an ebook to different formats.

The big question when buying an ebook is: Does it have DRM? DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a scheme where the ebooks are locked so that they can only be opened by a specific ebook reader or piece of software.

No DRM: you can buy the book in nearly any format you want, though Mobipocket is best. If you buy the book in a different format (such as ePub or HTML), use Calibre to convert it to Mobipocket format. Once you’ve done that, you can plug your Kindle up to your computer and drag the files onto your Kindle.

DRM: Ooh, now it’s going to get tricky. You need to buy your ebook in Mobipocket format, and you have to jump through some hoops to make it readable on your Kindle.

Mobipocket DRM uses something called a PID key. The PID is a unique string that identifies a specific reader. Your Kindle has one that’s based on its serial number. You can find out your serial number by looking on the back of your Kindle (for some models), checking the box it came in (it should have a sticker on it with your serial number), or going to your Kindle’s “Settings” screen and typing “411” (without quote marks). To turn that serial number into a PID, you can use this online tool. (Alternatively, you can download a python script called Kindlepid.py to find out what your PID is, if you’re a Python kind of person.)

When you buy a DRM-protected Mobibook, you’ll be asked for your PID. Enter your Kindle’s PID and download the file. What happens next depends on your operating system and whether you want to get rid of the DRM entirely.

Are you on a Mac? If so, you can use Mobi2Kindle to convert your ebook to a protected format that your Kindle will read. This won’t get rid of the DRM, but it will make the book readable on your Kindle.

Are you running Windows? If so, you can use the unswindle package (as described here) to remove the DRM and create an unprotected Mobipocket book that your Kindle will read with no problem.

Are you on Linux, or on a Mac and want to get rid of the DRM altogether? If so, you’re going to have to do some Python hacking! You’ll need a copy of mobidedrm.py to remove the DRM so that you can read the book on your Kindle. The process is a bit complicated; fortunately, there’s a guide to help you out.

How can I tell if it has DRM or not? The best way is to try to purchase a Mobipocket format book. If you need to enter a PID to do so, you’re buying a DRM-protected book. Chances are, you’re going to be buying a book with DRM on it.

There you go. You now can read non-Amazon ebooks on your Kindle.