5:00 am calls, eclipse and part time coding…

As of time of writing this, it is 6:30 am central here in the state of Nebraska. If you are thinking to yourself: “Wow Alex! Up and early to write on your blog! What dedication!“, well get ready to be disappointed. You see, I did not want to be up this early but sometime life decides to pull a fast one on you, and by that I mean that I am currently “on-call” and that I got called at 4:50 this morning…

You see, because our system run pretty much 24/7 and many process are critical in keeping millions of dollars flowing, there needs to a point of contact that can jump into action and fix anything to keep the spice cash flowing. This week, this person happens to be me, and while I understand it is part of my job, it is always a frustrating week.

Since you can be called almost at anytime, you need to be able to able to log in the system fairly quickly and do what ever, and that means that you cannot plan to do anything during the week end. Enjoying a walk outside? You are getting a call and will have to run back to your car. Hoping to catch a ball game? You are getting a call! Enjoying a fine meal? Screw that, you get a call! Half way through a wrestling PPV? YOU JUST MADE THE LIST! I mean YOU A GET CALL!

Now, how often do you get called really early in the morning like today? The answer should be never. We actually have an offshore team in India that covers calls during the night. Apparently, the guy that was our on call could not be bothered this morning (or his afternoon) and did not pick the call. Who is next on the list? ME! How exciting… At least it was not anything important…

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While we are on the subject of disappointing things, there’s an Eclipse tomorrow! Holy astronomical alignment Batman! That sounds exciting! But Alex, why is that disappointing? Good question theoretical reader! Well, the most important part of being able to watch an eclipse is being able to see the sun, and we might not be able to see the sun. Weather forecast for tomorrow is Thunderstorm! Yay!

I did see a full eclipse when I was a kid in august of 1999, but I don’t remember much of it. As far as I remember, it was bit disappointing. Things got dark for a few minutes and back to normal. It felt like a severe storm level of darkness rather than middle of the night darkness. I was really hopping this time would a proper full eclipse experience but unless we get a break in the clouds, there won’t be a lot to see.

Besides, I don’t have eclipse glasses. I was going to order a pack of 25 on amazon and just distribute at the office, but the time I wanted to put the order prices had jumped from $15 for a pack 20 to over $40 for a pack of 5. Much disappointment, such price gouging.

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On a more positive note, I more or less finished the Asteroids game that I mentioned a couple weeks ago! It could use some more work but I am quite satisfied with its current state.

There is a start screen, you get a to click a button to start the game, you shoot asteroids, lose lives, and start again! Wow! Sure all the asteroids are circular and could use processing’s Shape to create more angular rocks, or make images to use as sprites. There is also little difficulty curve to speak of, and I could probably implement a basic high score table, but hey, at least it works!

Considering it took me like two and a half week to code it makes me wonder how people manages to do those code jams where they can get something up and running within 24 hours.

I uploaded the code to OpenProcessing so you can try it here.

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Finally watching Blade Runner for the first time…

So with an upcoming and very anticipated sequel coming later this fall, I finally got around to watch Blade Runner (the Final cut), and WOW does 2019 look exciting! Flying cars, the return of CRT TVs, terminal based computer systems, bio-engineered animals and off-world colonies! I am sure that we will get used to the perpetual rain and night if we get flying cars and Inca pyramid inspired brutalist apartment building! All jokes aside, what do I think of this classic of a movie?

There is an endless list of things that I could praise about the film. The music is fantastic, the atmosphere is on point, the visual effect are breath taking especially when you realize it is all practical effects with miniature! Even when compared with modern movie effects, the movie still looks better than most dribble that come out these day. The cast is great and deliver excellent performance as well. The plot is probably one of the few weak points of the movie.

The premise and some of the theme that it deals with are interesting, don’t get me wrong. How do you find and stop ‘android’ that are effectively indistinct from regular humans? If something looks human, feels human and believes themselves to be human, are they human? West World definitely plundered a lot of its inspiration from Blade Runner.

However, there is still a massive plot hole right in the middle of the story: if the nexus 6 replicants are designed to die after 4 years, why not just wait for them to die rather than chasing after them? As we can see with the Roy, the blonde antagonist, they were pretty much days away from simply passing away from “old age”. A couple minor complains could include: Why didn’t the Tyrell corporation make easier to distinguish a replicant from a human, like a sub-dermal implant of sorts? If they can implant memories into replicants, couldn’t they transfer them as well? They simply have made a new body for Roy and transfer his mind, or heck you transplant the whole brain!

Of course there is the age old question of “is Deckard a replicant?”. As far I can tell, probably not. I knew going in that there was this raging debate and I really tried to watch intently to catch all the possible clues but by the end, I did not catch anything truly conclusive (in my opinion anyways). There were one thing that caught my attention is the photo of Rachael’s supposed childhood. Deckard has a photo of family standing on a porch that looked suspiciously like the porch in Rachael’s photo. It could be because Tyrell uses the same stock photo for all the fake memories they give to their replicants. Other than that, nothing stood out to me. The photo could be easily explained away by lazy production taking two photo in the same location that were meant to be separate. Also every replicant in the movie has a scene where their eyes noticeably glow in the dark, Deckard’s eyes never do. I feel there a lot context to the story that did not transfer from the original story to the film.

So what are my final thoughts on this movie? Well, it is clearly a technical master piece and very avant-garde but I am not sure that I actually enjoyed it… I understand why it became such a cult classic but there were moments where I felt genuinely bored. Also, I doubt that the sequel will manage to keep the same level technical of expertise that the original achieved. It will probably be more in line with modern action with more explosion and less thinking. They will probably give an answer as to whether or not Deckard was a replicant.

Some programming ramble…

Ahh the month of August, named after Julius Augustus Caesar, who was probably jealous his adoptive father had a month named after himself and decided that, he too, had to have his own month. But enough about ancient history, let’s talk about more contemporary matters, such as my trouble with programming APIs…

So my sister has recently entered into a training program to become a web developer and has begun learning how to code. This has inspired me to do a bit of coding in my spare time, something that I had not done in quite a while. I decided to pick up the ol’ processing environment and coded away!

I decided that my first project should be a staple of computer science: Conway’s game of life. Simple enough on the surface but getting the actual logic can be quite tricky. I decided to go for a single array approach and to make it wrap around the edges like a torus (or a like doughnut). After a few trials and error I even managed to get some extra functionality, like to pause, randomized the cells and the ability to kill or animate individual cells. I was most satisfied with my code, but then I tried to upload it to OpenProcessing.

In theory, you can simply copy your sketch code into the website’s interface and submit. The problem is that the website is far from stable. For what ever reason, I was unable to get the mouse to work properly, and it appears that depending on what computer or browser you are using the sketch responds differently. You can find it here, but I would recommend just getting the source code from my Github and running it for yourself. (maybe one day I’ll go and actually write something in the read me or add comments…)

Having gotten my stride back, it was time for something a bit more ambitious. A simple space shooter ought to do, a clone of asteroids seemed like a good goal. Processing has built in functions that determines if a key was pressed and which one was pressed, which means simple if statements to control the spaceship! Sounds simple enough…

The only problem is that, as any novice programmer can tell you, a variable can only ever hold one value. When you press two keys at once, only one of those gets stored. For example, if you were to press the up arrow then the left arrow, then depress the left key, the value of the key being pressed will still read as left arrow. This means no diagonal movement and quick strafing almost impossible.

Moral of the story: Processing, as flexible as it maybe, is not a proper API for game development and sharing things on OpenProcessing is not always a good idea…

Some ramblings about Ready Player One/Star Trek…

So last weekend was the San diego Comic con and there has been some cool announcements and some new trailers released! Very exciting stuff. I need to get my stuff together and actually go there one day, or least go to one of the panels at the New York Comic con the next time I go. Most interesting, in my opinion anyways, were the trailers for Ready Player One and the new Star Trek show.

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I read the Ready Player One book I liked it quite a bit, and I thought that making a movie adaptation would be quite hard. The number of intellectual properties owned by rival company would have made really hard for the movie to have them appear. The trailer did however do decent job showing a good number of cool Easter eggs, though a number of them are IPs that Warner bros had rights to ( DC characters, the Iron Giant, Mad Max). I wonder how expensive the rights to use the Back to the Future Delorean are but I suspect that it was not cheap.

The thing that is somewhat concerning but not too surprising is the very evident rewrite of the story. A big chunk of the trailer is this cool looking racing sequence that 100% did not happen in the book. I suspect that they had to remove certain some what boring sequence of the book (say like when the main character play a perfect game of Pacman) and replace them with more impressive but generic action sequences. They might have not been able to secure right to certain things like D&D’s tomb of horror, which would explain why the Joust character appear in a random fight scene, fighting a giant robotic scorpion (which again did not happen in the book, as far as I remember). Are there event copyrights for Zork? Who knows…

I am sure that the movie will be decent but I have some reservation. Let us be honest for a moment and admit that the book was not necessarily that well written in the first place. I am not saying it was not entertaining but a big aspect that made book so successful was its reliance on nerdy references, the actual meat of the story isn’t all that great. Ernest Cline’s second book was not as enjoyable as Ready player One, despite trying to use a similar trick with sci-fi references, I am sure that the movie will be successful but don’t expect the final battle to actually have mecha-godzilla fight the Japanese Spiderman’s giant robot.

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I have already expressed my concerns with Star Trek Discovery and the latest trailer has not really alleviate my concerns. the thing is that they clearly put a lot of effort into this show. The sets look impressive, there are a lot good special effects and the make up for the alien character is top notch. However, it just feels so bland and feels like a trailer for a movie rather than for a TV show.

I understand that the original was made in the late 60’s and that they were limited in how advanced things could look. Things where mostly operated with switches and buttons and there were not actual computer screens, so I can understand updating the sets to include things like touchscreens, but they should at least try to keep the aesthetics  similar which they did not. They did a good job with the phasers but just about everything else looks wrong. They even included comm badges, which as far as I know was not introduced until TNG, which is far later in the timeline of Star Trek.

Interestingly, The most interesting thing about Star Trek that came this week was a great video from the Youtube Channel Midnight’s Edge (watch it here), where they go through some of the latest rumors surrounding the show and, most importantly, who has the rights to Star Trek. Back when Viacom Split between CBS and Paramount, the distribution rights for all the movies and TV show went to Paramount but the actual IP rights stayed with CBS. When JJ abrams did his reboot, they were granted an alternate Star Trek license which forced which forced them to make their Star Trek distinct from the original show. It is also this alternate Star Trek license that is been used to make Discovery, which would explain why it looks nothing like the original shows. As to why CBS claimed it would be in the original continuity of star trek, it’s\probably because they are bunch of corporate liars…

I will probably see the first episode as it premiers in September but it is very unlikely that I will bother to subscribe to CBS’s on demand service to watch the rest…

Some thoughts On Spider-man and Wonder Woman…

You know what I used to do? Give my opinion on movies I watched recently. What haven’t I done recently? Give my opinion on movies I watched recently. To be honest I have not seen anything all that worthy of comment. I saw Kong Skull Island, and that was pretty good. I saw the latest Fast and Furious and that was surprisingly OK.So what did I see recently that i found Interesting? Well, as you might have gathered from the title, I recently went to see the latest in Comic book based releases.

Let’s start with Wonder Woman, mainly because I have less to say. I thought it was pretty good, a definite improvement over Batman V Superman. The story is straight forward and simple: World War 1 is going on and accidentally arrive on wonder Woman secret island and Wonder Woman decides to go to Europe because she believes that the god of war Aries is the one behind it and in the process learns about humanity! Also, She falls in love with Chris Pine, which falls in line with his Captain Kirk role. It does feel a bit too thin to carry the whole film and the movie does start to stretch a bit during the last fight scene.

The music is nothing to write home about, the credits being the song from the soundtrack that I really noticed. They kept the overall color palette from Batman v Superman with loads of gray and darker colors (as opposed to Spider-man which is far brighter and colorful), but then again I would not expect war to be full of brightly dress fantasy armor. There is a passing comment that suggest that all the amazons are in fact lesbians, which gathered no reaction in the theater. There is only one glaring thing that bugged me, and that is when one of the amazon seemingly die from a single shot to the hip. I would assume that they have the same internal arrangement of organs though there is a slim chance their heart is next to their reproductive organs.

If it was not for all the incredible Marvel movies that have been coming out for the best part of a decade, I think this movie would have been praised to the moon. I would say that this movie is probably no worse than the early Sam Raimi’s Spider-man, but sinces movies like Guardian of the Galaxy and Winter soldier, the bar has risen quite a bit since.

Talking about Spider-man, let’s talk about Spider-man Homecoming. More like Spider-man Shortcoming ! Mouhahahahahah!!! /s Nah, I am kidding I really enjoyed it!

I think it was a nice touch to have the original Spider-man cartoon theme rearranged for the Marvel logo. I was hoping at in jokes at the other previous Spider-man movie but I could not spot anything, though I did appreciate the tie ins to the Avengers movies. The different things that show like the Ultron head and arms, the Chitari weapons, the Sokovian accords help make the shared universe more coherent. I also like the inclusion of minor villain “The Shocker”, even if the in comics Shocker sonic weaponry rather than electricity. The return of Jon Favreau and Paltrow does make it feel a little bit like an Iron Man movie, which is fun to consider.

I do have many question regarding the plot, like: how Stark managed to pack so much tech inside a skin tight suit? Surely the parachute would take a significant amount of space but it fits in a space that can possibly be much thicker than 3/4 of an inch. What powers it anyways? Stark’s Iron man suit all have their own fusion reactors in the chest piece. Spider-man does not have any obvious power source. Why would there be an Instant kill mode? How did the government not realize that someone was stealing form them? Do they not inventory any thing? Why didn’t Spider-man use the purple pass thru wall thingy to escape? How did Spider-man survive the elevator drop? Since he is only 15 years old, shouldn’t it be Spider-boy?

Whatever the answers are, It did not affect the enjoy-ability of the movie. The acting was top, the villain was believable and sympathetic, the pacing was good. The only thing really worth a mention is the post credit scene, which is as about meta as one could think. I suspect that, because of intellectual property and all that, they could not put one that would hint at an upcoming Marvel movie since this is technically a Columbia picture/Sony movie. I would rank it among the best ones, but my favorite is still the Howard the Duck one after Guardian of the Galaxy.

All in all, I am very excited with prospect of the upcoming crop of DC and Marvel movies. The trailers for Justice league have so far been really good and we should expect a teaser for Infinity Wars soon. A trailer was shown at D23 but no one leaked it…

Week vacation in southern Utah, part 4

Ahh yes, part 4, the final entry in this epic tale of rather mundane exploration in the land of Utah. After several days of exciting walkabouts, we only had a couple shorter trails that were recommended by the lodge’s staff left to do. The mossy cave (which was not really a cave), the Willis Creek narrows and the Petrified Forest.

The Mossy cave is not the most exciting thing in the region but I would say it is worth stopping over. It is a simple trail and can serve as a good warm up for the rest of the day. There are some nice sights to see especially if you did not took the effort of going down in Bryce canyon. The titular Mossy cave is not all that impressive and not some much a cave and more a small overhang. It is mossy for sure. There is not a lot of space at the parking lot so I would recommend stopping early in the day.

Now there is something I do have to complain about and that is people going off trail. It is stupid and incredibly dangerous. If you don’t want to end up as another statistic for death in national parks, for your own sake, stay on the trails! There were a couple idiots that decided to go off trail and they were probably closer to killing themselves than they ever realized. They were one wrong step away from tripping and falling to their demise… If you ever encounter people like that, report them to park rangers, for their own sake.

Enough of stupid people, let’s continue our adventures with probably one of my favorite trail that we did during the trip. There are a number of creeks/Slot canyons in Escalante that you can hike but we were recommended the Willis creek. The trail is only accessible by driving a dirt road for several miles, I would recommend having a decent off road vehicle. Our rental SUV proved itself quite capable in this case. The bumpy roads make for a fun but occasionally scary ride.

The trail itself is essentially the river bed itself, so do make sure that there is no risk of flash floods before entering the slot canyon.  The trail is really cool, mostly in the shade and entirely flat! The canyons do get narrow enough for you to be able to put one hand on both walls, hence the name slot canyon. If you know people that are interested in geology, you also get some very interesting patterns in the rock formation where you can see the different layers of rock come together and slid past one another.

And to wrap up the day, we ended up going to the Escalante Petrified Forest. It’s a smaller national monument a bit further east of Bryce on road 12. There is a few camping spot and a big reservoir (maybe that where everyone uses their boats?) but the interesting part is the one trail they have where you can see the titular petrified wood. Wood can petrify in similar ways that dinosaur bones do. If the conditions are right, in this case it would be a humid and swampy jungle, when tree become buried under sediment, mineral seep into the tree and crystallize, replacing the inside of the tree. On the outside of the petrified tree, it looks and feels like tree bark, but the inside is pure mineral with funky blue and purple colors.

There is also a bit of an urban legend going around the place. Supposedly, taking a piece of a petrified tree out of the park will bring bad luck and people actually mail the peaces back! The office where you pay the entry fee has a cabinet with letters on display! I am not a superstitious person but I believe in preserving nature. If everyone walked away with a piece, eventually their would nothing left to see, and that would be sad.

That is about it for this vacation write up / travel blog. I wish I could say that there is more on the way but sadly I am all out of Vacation for the rest of the Year… Yup, I only got 10 days of paid vacation and I used it all already! Between the big trip in Florida in January for My sister’s birthday and this, I think It was worthy it. We are already tossing Ideas for what big trips we could do next year but nothing quite set yet. Hawaii could make a return, I really liked that place…

Week vacation in southern Utah, part 3

After nearly a week of walking around exotic rock formation and up a river, how could we possibly top all of that? Well, Day 5 was supposed to be the most intense hike yet! 4.4 miles and over 2200 feet of elevation climb! This is the climb to Observation point in Zion!

We tried getting up and leave for Zion in hopes to avoid the crowds at the visitor center for the shuttles but no dice. I assume that many people stay over in Springdale and simply have to walk over to the park

The trail starts at the weeping rock stop on the park shuttle. There is a short and accessible trail that goes to the cliff where you can see where the water exits the porous rock causing the “weeping” effect. The more interesting trail is the one going toward Hidden canyon and Observation point. The trail is not all that exciting at first, as it start with a series of switchback carved in the rock face. You get some good view of Angel’s landing on the way up for what it is worth. The magic really starts about a mile in the trail. As you go up the switchbacks you can see where the next one starts and continues upward, but at some point the switchbacks stop and there this blind turn into a narrow canyon.This makes for a nice break in the climb and a bit change in scenery as you move from the cliff face to a sort of slot canyon.

The trail flattens a little bit as you make you way around the back of the cliff face. This is where, if you are hiking in the morning, the sun starts hitting. Also it is back to switchback for the rest of the climb. It does get a bit tedious around that part of the trail but if you are interested in geology, there are some interesting sight to see. The most impressive feature was a giant crack where the cliff split a slid apart. You can see the scorch marks on the protruding section of the rack face as well. Very cool to see.

By the time we got to the last series of switchback before the last stretch of the hike, we were in the zone, driven by pure will power. So much so that I did not realize that the cliff face mere feet to my left was in fact the better part of a 1000 feet tall! I was so entranced by the winding path that it never occurred to me to look over the edge. Probably for the best though.

The observation point is quite the sight and well worth the hike in my opinion. it is quite higher than Angel’s landing and less dangerous to reach (and probably less crowded). You get amazing views of the southern half of the valley, and if you go to one of the side paths some good views to the north as well. Some people sat dangerously close to the edge of the cliff to pose for photos, but hey if that is how they want to be remembered, falling to their doom from a 2000 feet fall unto one of the park shuttle, that is their problem.

The walk down is obviously far easier than going up, though it is far harder to avoid looking down the giant cliff, which is quite terrifying.

 

This was supposedly the hardest and most strenuous hike of the trip. It had the biggest elevation change and one of the longest, but I am not sure it felt the hardest. The Riggs Spring trail’s last mile was exhausting and some the temperature for some of the earlier hike were quite high. I think we were more prepared for this hike and did not suffer as much. I do have to say that it did give us quite the appetite and I had a 12 oz rib eye steak that evening that I simply devoured. Not the best meal of the trip, but the most deserved in my opinion.

The Sixth day of the trip was our cool down day. We would be driving down to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and take the sights in. The drive was a nice 4 hours long gave me the chance to listen to some of the podcast that my sister recommended. We did have a moment of panic when a stray rock hit the windshield and left a pretty nasty impact crater. Thankfully, that was covered by the rental insurance.

Try to ignore my finger…

The most Impressive thing about the Grand Canyon, is the sheer scale of the thing. You can read all the stats that you can find online but those won’t make sense until you see the actual thing. It is probably the most awe inspiring natural formation I have ever seen.

The thing about the grand canyon is that there are not many trails. There is a short trail that loop around the area of the hotel and camping site and the north Kaibab trail that goes down into the canyon for the crossing. We originally wanted to walk down part if the Kaibab trail but thought otherwise after looking at the elevation chart. The Bright Angel trail/Bridle path is very nice walk and you get some good views of the canyon, though the canyon is so deep and wide, you can not see the river at the bottom. The Bright Angel view point is quite impressive, but people with acrophobia beware, it is quite ‘aerial’.

There are also several other scenic view points along the Cape Royal road that are worth stopping by. the road is two lanes only and no passing lanes, be prepared to be patient if you are stuck behind an RV. I was a nice and relaxing day, though we still ate like we walked another 9 miles.

I wish we had more time to spend in the Grand Canyon but we had doubts we were prepared for the difficulty of the trails. The Grand Canyon is no joke, and you need to know what you are getting into before going willy nilly down a trial. They sell this book in every gift store we went too called “deaths in the Grand Canyon” which is a compilation of how people died in the canyon, and that is a book you don’t want to be mentioned in.

There is only one day left of adventure to go through, but I’ll save that for another post. Milking your posts is a good way to drive those view counts! Not that I actually care all that much about view count since I do this as hobby, but you know, blogging tips are always good to share.