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Sketchitizing

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So today I was left with an inordinately long wait at the doctor’s office. Once I had exhausted all other options for amusing myself (Reading my tweets, playing puzzle games, and contemplating on the manufacturing process of the artwork on the office wall) I decided it was time to do something useful with myself and jotted down a couple spaceships. I got about five of these done before it was my turn, but these three are the only ones I was satisfied with.

Sketch 1

After that was done, I had a quick lunch and was off to work. Now, making decals in a shopping mall is all well and good for keeping you busy most of the time, but it’s February. Even people who had money left over from Christmas have spent it by now, and of those who haven’t, most won’t be thinking about decorating their car until it’s warm enough to actually apply a decal without scraping ice off the windows first. So I was once again left with little to do. Fortunately, I do work at a decal shop. That means Illustrator is one of the (slightly) less expensive pieces of software on my hard drive.

Illustration 1

Surprisingly, my finished product versions of the ships turned out remarkably similar to the original sketches. I think I’ve finally found my way around this obnoxious illustrating barrier. The same thing happened on Tuesday when I was working on a logo – I got exactly nowhere on the Illustrator version until I had a passable working sketch drawn on a sheet of paper. It didn’t have to be perfect – and was far from it, really – but the basic shapes had to be down before I could make that creative leap.

Some FMA love for you <3

After a long hiatus from translating, I’ve taken on a brief project. The Fullmetal Alchemist manga is completed, but here’s some extra material which looks like it was from the last serialized volume.

Note that this is not the best clean-up job I’ve ever done, but like I said, it was a brief project.

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There’s also an announcement for a new FMA movie, which I’ll take another look at later to see what I can get out of it.

Ever wish you could buy or find something that didn’t exist? Something that would just make your life a whole lot easier, but nobody’s thought to make something like it yet? I get those all the time. As I get older, I discover that many of those wishes are also felt by other people, and those holes are slowly filled in, but there’s always something more to wish for.

Yesterday I found myself wishing I had some way to tell my phone to switch on silent mode at a certain time and then switch it back off again after a certain period of time. Wouldn’t that be convenient? You could program in your entire week’s activities (church 1-4, work 8-5, movie 7-9, whatever) during which your phone wouldn’t bother other people if somebody happened to call you at an inconvenient time, but then it would turn itself right back on once you were available. No more missing that dinner invite from grandma because you didn’t think to check whether your phone was on after work.

What about you? What do you need in your life that hasn’t been invented yet?

I’m still here…really.

Even though I haven’t blogged in a while, I’m still around. I just haven’t done anything truly blogworthy in a while. I’m not running any campaigns or actively working on any projects…at least, not until this morning. My shiny brand-new (ok so it’s been sitting on the back-burner for a while, and just barely became presentable) project is called Building a Star System, and is a newly-published lens on Squidoo. It’s a tool to help people build planetary system models for fictional solar systems.

Now before you get all excited, it’s not a fancy 3D model generator, or anything like that. Rather, it’s a series of charts and dice rolls that will get you off the ground if you find yourself suddenly in need of a random star system. It can also be used to fine-tune an existing system you’re just not satisfied with, and eventually it will assist you in fleshing out your worlds as well. Currently it can do everything from choosing a star type to determining how many moons your planets have. It’s a great starting point, and there’s lots more to come.

I also did a little updating of some other lenses, particularly my most popular lens, How to Get Rid of a Kink in Your Neck. I’m amazed at the traffic it’s pulled in so far – it always comes up on the first page of google search, too. If I could post regularly, maybe I’d pull traffic like that to the blog again too…

PHP + $$ = <3


I’ve been a little sparse with the posts lately, for which I apologize to any followers I might actually have. (No one? Ahh, ok then.) I actually had a perfectly good excuse to be busy – I finally landed my first paid web programming contract.

Now, don’t let the pretty image fool you – all I was paid for was the back end stuff. The CSS template I tossed together looks nothing like the final version, which is being done by somebody else. Still, a portfolio piece has to catch the eye, or what’s the point? Since the final website isn’t up yet, I’ve left the test site up on my server if anyone wants to take a look. Once the final one goes live, my test version comes down, so log in, take a look, add some stuff if you want to, but don’t expect it to be there a month from now.

Now, on to the stuff I learned. This was the first time I really had to worry about security and user input. My previous sites were all completely owner created content, so as long as all the punctuation was there, they didn’t have to worry about about hackers getting at their code from the front end. For this one, pretty much all content is user generated, so I pulled out all the stops. We’ve got variables being passed all over the place that can be spoofed, input fields to check and recheck but keep intact for display, and then there’s the little things that keep users from messing with each others’ content.

It was also my first time implementing a drupal-style index.php file, where pretty much all of the actual page content is served by the main page via includes and if statements. There were a lot of decisions to make, even after everything was paid for and I was tossing on some quick presentation CSS. (I especially like how the category divs look. Gotta remember that one.)

I also learned some things about the way I manage my time, once the 40 hour budget was slashed to 30 and then to 20 hours. I found this great little punch clock that let me clock out in a hurry if the kids were pulling each others’ hair out, etcetera. That’s my only real regret – not having enough time to finish the project. Still, I got some great things finished in the limited time I had, and eventually they’ll be done with the presentation stuff and need my help again.

Earth Eternal screenshotSo I’ve been following this one since the early development stages, but somehow I missed the open beta announcement a couple months ago. I guess they didn’t figure it was important enough to be the newsletter headline or something…

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to take a closer look ever since I surfed over there a couple of weeks ago and saw the new look of the website. The other day I took a break from my various projects to check it out.

Understand that my only real MMO experience is from from World of Warcraft (Air Rivals doesn’t count – it might as well be a single player) so all comparisons will be vs. WoW.

The first major difference is the preparation time. I’ve been loathe to reinstall WoW because of the 3-5 hours during which I’ll be unable to use my computer for any other purpose. Not only that but you have to check on it every five minutes in case it finishes early or has a question to ask you. Not Earth Eternal. Not by a long shot. I spent maybe ten minutes downloading and installing the plugin before I was ready to play. Probably closer to 5.

Earth Eternal runs in your browser. How cool is that?

So ten minutes in and we’re already building our first character. The race choices are pretty unique. I’ve been following the development, as I said, so there weren’t too many surprises, but if you’re unfamiliar with Earth Eternal, you should know that all the races are furries. There’s quite a wide variety, from rabbit to wolf to hawk, and there also seems to be a minotaur and some sort of cyclops.

Character customization is an interesting mix of varied and restrictive. There are only 3 faces and 3 body types to choose from, but you can color your eyes, fur, feathers, face, beak and highlights almost any color you wish. You can even change your height. Then you get to pick a first and last name, with a random generator full of ideas to help you out. (Not that I ever needed help picking a name – Lironah is almost always available).

The combat tutorial is brief but intuitive. The quest system is strangely familiar…as are all of the movement commands. One definite advantage over WoW is the quest tracking. Not only does it tell you where to go, complete with arrows, but when you get there it unobtrusively reminds you what you’re supposed to do there. Without having to open up your quest log in the middle of nowhere while trying to watch your back.

The combat and spells system are very familiar, though an explanation of how to use the points you get at each level wouldn’t be too far amiss. I like the extra toolbars; the one-click access to them saves me about the same amount of time as the quest tracker does. I also like the repeatable quests – they give you tokens which can be spent right there at the billboards, though the starting area chests all seem to contain the same 4 items.

Enough about the pros. Let’s hear some cons or things WoW does better. First off is the factions. I’m a big PVPer, and not having an enemy faction to fight just makes my heart cry. I do miss some of the NPC banter, though I could see how adding it back in would kind of kill the browser-based play idea. I haven’t seen any signs of professions, which might actually be a good thing for some people, and the only things akin to potions I’ve seen yet have to be bought with ability points and require purchased reagents.

That brings me to another big con – the imbalance between people who are willing to spend money on the game and people who aren’t. It’s one thing to be able to buy cool equipment without having to spend hours looking for rare drops, but buying ability points? That seems totally unfair to me. Sure, I know it’s just another way to recoup their production costs and pay back their investors, but it feels like…buying WoW gold, or something. Or hacking your account. Just feels too much like cheating for me’ to be able to spend money to become tougher than the other players.

Last big con is that while the game allegedly (I just overheard this and haven’t confirmed yet) has no level cap, the quests only go up to level 50. It’s not so much a game con as it is a playing in open beta con, but it still counts.

I’ll go back and take another peek next week, and see if it really balances out the 5 hours to install WoW.

Well, that was fun. I wouldn’t say I’d mastered PHP yet, by far, but now I’ve got a fair idea of its capabilities and a good collection of stock code snippets to play with. Now that I’ve spent months crawling the web for some tips on building a website with PHP, I’ve decided to put together the PHP tutorial I wished I’d had at the beginning. I’ve skipped over the bare basics in favor of explaining each line of code one piece at a time, and tried to write with the assumption that the reader doesn’t have a background in programming beside html itself. (I think I might have to build an html and css tutorial later – it was fun).

The tutorial covers all the topics I thought were vital to my website project. I started out with a basic run-through of what PHP can do and what you have to know/have before you can use it. Then I went right in to the meat and potatoes, but in the order I wish I’d learned it, rather than in the order I did. I started with using includes – writing part of your page code in a separate file for ease of editing later – then moved on the the tough stuff – databases. Admittedly, I have no idea how any of the other databases might differ from MySQL, but since that’s not what the tutorial is about, anyone using a different one will have to debug things on their own (what better way to learn, after all!)

I focused a good bit of time on the part that took me the longest to get working – that is, generating dynamic URLs with a query string. I completely skipped the ‘try this example’ stuff – there’s plenty of those on w3schools, and they didn’t really help me. Instead I used an approach I learned in one of my textbooks – explaining lines of code one piece at a time with helpful examples and a personal style. I’ve also included real working examples of code and suggestions for what uses to put them to. The goal is to get the reader from knowing nothing to understanding PHP in 4,000 words or fewer. I’d appreciate any feedback, either here in the comments or on the lens itself (backlinks welcome – one per comment please) from anyone interested in PHP on how well it accomplishes this goal.

As a little extra tidbit, I’ve included some tips on converting dynamic URLs to static ones. There seem to be several different methods out there, many of them far too complicated for a beginner to try, so I snagged a pair of the better ones and did a little how-to for ‘dessert’. Enjoy!