Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cubing in Public

I'm sure most of you that know me have seen me baffle, astound, or annoy others around me in public with my perpetual Rubik's cube solving. Ideally, I would view it as some sort of mathematical evangelism, but more likely it's just attention-grabbing behavior.

The last time I stopped to bring a paycheck to the bank, I went to a branch over by where I work, and where a few of the managers and tellers know me - and have seen my silly cube nonsense. Typically, I just hand the teller my deposit, and see if I can solve it by the time they have my deposit done. For some reason, I did not have my cube out yet, and I was next in line to go to a teller. One of the managers sees me, says hi, and asks where my cube is. I mentioned that it was safely in my pocket, and I produce it from my pocket in a scrambled state. The female teller at the end calls me over, but a male teller in the front that had just finished with a customer says to me:

"Give me two minutes and I'll have that solved for you." I figure the other employees either put him up to it, or they're just having fun watching me toy with him. I start walking over to the teller that called me.

"Two minutes?" I'm incredulous, but not for the reason he thinks.

"Two minutes."

"Two minutes? I'll have it done my the time she finishes my deposit!" I hand the female teller my deposit, and she starts clicking away. I'm a tad ahead of her, and once I can tell I'm on the last set of moves, I slow down enough so that I can put down the finished cube in time to take the receipt from her hand at the exact moment she offers it to me. Presumably, we're talking about 30 seconds or so, and that included my slowdown.

So now, the male teller is incredulous. We re-scramble the cube since there's no one in line behind me, and then I start asking him what method he used - and this is the part that really gets me - he's using the Lars Petrus method! (Quick version for those who don't follow the link - Form a 2x2x2 corner, expand to 2x2x3, finish two layers & orient remaining edges, and permute the last layer similar to the Fridrich method. The Petrus method also has multiple ways for some of the later stages to be combined, so it is a very flexible and capable method but leaves a beginner wondering what to do next a lot. Yeah, I know, that's still not a helpful description.) For starters, I hadn't encountered anyone out in public that used that method. What made it all the more strange for me is that since he didn't know the widely accepted name of the method, I can only assume that he had it taught to him by someone else, and had been cubing in isolation. It's not one of the widely known methods that was around in America in the first era of the cube in the early to mid-eighties. Typically I only run into people that do the regular layer-by-layer method, but I do know people that figured out how to solve it on their own and do corners first. After I watched him struggle with my beat-up cube and complain about how he can't tell the red apart from the orange, I show him how the corners first method works, although briefly, and then I show him how two-in-one moves work, where two cube face moves are combined into a single hand motion.

Maybe the next time I see him he'll be able to beat me. I would actually look forward to it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

While Wii were out...

I may have mentioned that my Wii is out for repairs. I'm supposed to get it back today, but that's not the reason I'm typing this. The reason I'm posting is about the games that we played in my house while the Wii was out. Even though I have a Gamecube hooked up, we didn't touch it. Everything we played while the Wii was out was on PS2. My older son played a fair bit of both of the Lego Star Wars games, and pined for Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Batman every time it was mentioned/passed by in the store/shown on TV. Since he'd already beaten those games to death, I tossed him Rygar. I ended up playing all of the boss battles, but at least we finished it. He liked all of the exploring and the jumping and finding stuff in the rubble. I played through again on Normal, and did much better than I had the last time I played it. I even did the 30-level side mission!

The other thing I started playing was The Path of Neo. That game makes me appreciate how simple and intuitive Zelda's controls are. Every time I have to see a visiual indicator of what button I'm supposed to press it takes me out of the game a little.
(Funny, it happens all the time in Zelda and it doesn't bother me there.) Granted, the first two missions are training levels of sorts, and I did appreciate the glowing cubicle walls in the first level showing me where I should hide, but beyond that I was worried that I am going to spend the entire game fighting the controls. I've already flunked out of the first Metal Gear Solid because I can't beat Raiden, and I already abandoned the other Matrix game (Enter the Matrix) partway through the second character. I finished with Niobe, and got stuck on a Ghost mission because I didn't have enough ammo and didn't care enough about a tertiary Matrix character to keep going.

We'll see how long Neo lasts once I have a Wii again. (Maybe I should have played Sonic Riders instead of The Path of Neo.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Perhaps I should get a Cintiq

...because otherwise, I draw stuff on my son's Doodle Pro Travel size instead of on the computer. I might also consider more mainstream subject matter - but I'm pretty sure my brain doesn't work like that. Since a Cintiq is a little pricey I suspect that I'll have to make better use of my Graphire tablet, but I can't doodle out of the couch with it. Tablet PC? Just as expensive as a Cintiq. Anyway, here's my Living Color doodle (well, it's just Vernon Reid and Corey Glover...)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shrinkage on the Beverage Aisle

What does Pepsi do when they have a bad quarter? They start shrinking their package sizes! I was at the local Wal-Mart for some must-get items, and figured I would pick up some caffeine for the week while I was there. No Mountain Lightning, so I figure the real thing must be on sale. When I look at Pepsi's portion of the shelf space where the 12-packs would be, there were 8-packs. In place of the 24-packs? 18-packs. That way, they don't have to move the price point as far, and they ship a smaller amount of product. Since most people aren't bringing a slide rule to the store, they don't know if the new package size is a good deal compared to before or not! Additionally, Wal-Mart typically doesn't offer particularly good prices on name brand soda on a daily basis since they're pushing the house brand most of the time. Every once in a while, they'll put something on sale, but it's usually the 24-packs of Dew or Pepsi. Luckily, that was the case. I also noticed that several people had put their 18-packs back on the float that the sale-price 24-packs were on.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Clone Wars vs. Clone Wars

Friday night during dinner, while we were waiting for Cartoon Networks' new Clone Wars show to come on - last week's episode is 8:30, new episodes are at 9:00 we watched the older Clone Wars from 2005 produced by Samurai Jack's animation team. The thing we appreciated the most about the new one now is that Anakin's got a less whiny voice actor. The action of the 2005 miniseries holds up well, and it doesn't hurt that Mace Windu get lots of lightsaber time in the old one, but the new Clone Wars seems surprisingly mature and well-acted by comparison. Maybe George Lucas is only writing plot outlines and is letting better directors and writers fill in the gaps.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Time Warp

Time Warp on the Discovery Channel was pretty awesome on Wednesday night. The guy juggling chainsaws and the lighters in the blender were pretty over the top, but all of it was pretty awesome. Everyday silliness combined with crystal clear high speed photography (filmography? - D'oh! That's not the right word, is it? - but it's film, not still photographs. Videography?) is a good combination. If you check the link to the show, I would recommend using anything but Firefox and be prepared to update your Flash Player, since they show a few movie clips on the page.

In other news, my Nintendo Wii is out for a tuneup.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Get Open Office 3!

...but not yet. Open Office is a magnificent full-featured productivity suite, available absolutely free at OpenOffice.org but as of a few minutes ago the site is still completely unavailable due to the rush of people clamoring to get the new version. It's got better .pdf tools, better .xml tools, and even works with Microsoft Office 2007 better!

Put it on your to-do list for later in the week (unless you're on dialup - in which case you better call someone for a CD.) And, it would help if I fixed the link.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Baby Tortoises!

It's two baby K. homeana! These are the turtles tortoises (thanks, dear...) that my wife discovered out in the backyard a few days after they hatched. It's not that she wasn't expecting this to happen at some point, but one of her females laid eggs in the ground instead of my wife digging them out and incubating them indoors. The other big difference is that she let them stay out in their turtle tortoise garden during the winter instead of bringing them in when it got below 50°F and stressing them out. Normally these are native to West Africa, and we had to assume that the temperatures here were going to be close enough for them to be okay outside.

Common husbandry recommendations for these would normally have you keep them above 65°F at all times. A quick check of wunderground.com would show you that it never gets much below 70°F or much above 85°F for many areas in their territory. But, these three tortoises that she has have been living here most of their lives, and have managed to acclimate OK.

Since two hatched out, maybe letting them deal with the elements is better than making them stay in tortoise jail on cold nights.

The babies are eating cucumber, apple, blueberry, banana, raw sardines, romaine lettuce, baby greens, sweet potato, beef heart, hibiscus, and one of them ate an earthworm. They did not like carrots, opuntia (prickly pear), grapes, celery greens, and they spit out kiwi. Most of the other things they didn't like they just didn't keep eating.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Wii still want Street Fighter 4

For those of you who might be unaware, CAPCOM is a Japanese game studio that brought us the Resident Evil, MegaMan, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and Street Fighter series (Not in that order). Street Fighter 2 single-handedly transformed the fighting game genre, and got people playing against each other instead of the machine. It had a depth of strategy and tactics, eight different player characters, and special moves unique to particular characters that differentiated it from the other games out in a big way. Street Fighter 2 was a big hit for the Super Nintendo, and also later for the Genesis. Street Fighter 3 was a big hit in arcades among fighting game fans, but it didn't really set the home market on fire, as it was only available on Sega's Dreamcast console at the time and only came out on Playstation 2 years later. The other problem with SF3 in terms of mainstream acceptability is that they added too many new characters and dropped too many favorites.

Street Fighter 4 is out in arcades now, and wild speculation abounds about the home versions in terms of what characters will be added to home versions, and what machines it will come out for. The official line from CAPCOM is that it will come out for PS3, XBOX360, and PC. While some interviewers got some CAPCOM employees to say things that were Wii-positive, no official statement from CAPCOM includes the Wii in the SF4 lineup.

I'm somewhat surprised by this. The arcade version of SF2 and the home version that came out on the Super Nintendo were not exactly the same. One of the bonus games got cut from the home version, the character sprites were smaller, but the essential parts of the gameplay were left intact. I don't think it's reluctance on CAPCOM's part to work with Nintendo, since they have two reasonably successful Resident Evil games on Wii right now, they're working on a new Monster Hunter game for the Wii and they were even willing to try out new properties (Zack & Wiki, We Love Golf) on the Wii.

So, I can see the reasons that CAPCOM doesn't want to port Street Fighter 4 to the Wii. The first thing is that a Wiimote/Nunchuck control scheme is awkward for a six button game, and I get the impression that Nintendo won't let a game out the door if it doesn't have a way to use the Wiimote. Mandating that people use the Classic controller may be a losing battle, especially since Nintendo's still involved in a pending lawsuit about the analog controllers in both the Classic controller and the Gamecube controller.

History is also against us, since the last time a Nintendo system had a real Street Fighter game on their system it came on a cartridge. Yes, I know, there was Capcom vs. SNK 2 for Gamecube, but it was released much later than the PS2 version - so a lot of the people who wanted to play it already got it before the Gamecube version came out. Most reviewers panned the Gamecube version when it did come out because they felt the dumbed-down special moves in the EO version broke the game.

So, perhaps it is a problem of demographics. Fighting games are hardcore, Wii is not. People that want hardcore fighting games already have one of the other systems. I would be ready to believe this if it were not for this quote from Yoshinori Ono being interviewed by Russ Fischer of chud.com about what they had changed in the fighting system from 3 to 4:

Just playing Street Fighter 3, you could tell it was a game made by people who love fighting games for people who like fighting games. It's a specific audience, really. We made the rules so rigid and severe, so technical and deep, that if you look at making fighting games like a mountain, we pretty much made the peak. There's nothing else up there but air; you can't top SF3 when it comes to complexity and depth. So we decided to go a different direction.

To use a chess analogy, which we like around here, chess is the same no matter where you play it, and Street Fighter is Street Fighter, whether you play 2 or 3 or 4. But a really high level chess player is in a tournament with a timer, you can't take back a move, etc. That's SF3. The hardcore, high pressure chess. The other end of the spectrum is old men in the park playing on a cardboard board; they're letting each other take moves back, they take an hour to think of a move with no timer, they have weird house rules, whatever. That's street fighter 2.

What we learned from 2 and 3 is that, while 3 is a great game and we hope you still play it, for 4 we wanted to take it back to the fun of SF2, to the guys in the park instead of the pros.

So, what I see there, is mainstream, not hardcore.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Uhhh... Is this thing on?

Here I am, under a bigger thumb. Some of you may have seen my blog at supermonkeycube.1up.com, but I wanted to expand my horizons. Things about video games will probably end up in both places, but at least here people can make comments easily. Also, if I decide to talk about pets or kids, I won't feel so out of place as I might on 1up.

That being said, I am so proud of my wife for hatching out some cute little K. Homeana (Home's? Hingeback) tortises. Pictures to follow.