Artificial Life on Mars

I couldn’t stay up to watch Curiosity, since I’d had a very long weekend, and an early Monday morning to head to. In fact, I didn’t manage to stay up until 10 last night. But I felt confident that Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ would tell me everything I needed to know when I woke in the morning, and they did. Well done NASA!

I spent some time at NASA Langley. Unless you know some of these folks you might not believe how hard they work at their jobs, how committed they are to expanding the scope of human knowledge, and how hard they have to fight against budgets and bureaucracy to accomplish the things that they do. This is one of the moments in my life that, however briefly, I’m proud of the human race. Let’s do more like this!

Goodbye to my TravelMech

Back in 2000, the Dodge Aries I drove at the time began to have suspension problems which would cost far more to fix than was practical. With a need to get to work, I found a 1979 Ford LTD III on the local market for $500, and got to enjoy driving a tank for a while. However, the idea of me driving a 20-year-old Ford appalled my father so much that he convinced me to let him help me buy my first new car ever, a 2001 Hyundai Elantra.

I got 12 lovely years of service out of that car. It's taken me to destinations ranging from New York to Charlotte, played nice on gas, had exactly enough room for my daily needs, and fit my driving style nicely. But over the decade-plus of travel, it clocked 175,000 miles, and this last weekend it had had enough. While on the highway, the engine developed a sudden catastrophic oil leak, and the engine tore itself apart before I could do anything.

Saturday afternoon, I sold the Elantra for a couple hundred dollars of scrap value. What else was I going to do, four hours from home? I found it difficult to let it go, I had to not think about it too much while cleaning out all the stuff I'd left in it over the years. But I'm driving a replacement already, a red Hyundai of the same model that my mom no longer needs, and it only has 40,000 miles on it. And I have to say, on today's drive to work I couldn't help but notice the much smoother, cleaner ride. It's true, there were a lot of things that needed fixing on the old Hyundai, some higher-priority than others:

* Short in wiring harness made fuel pump shut off on occasion
* Faint smell of fuel when tank was completely full
* Pothole bent front axle slightly, car never completely in alignment again
* CV joints on front axle wearing out
* Transmission liked to drop randomly into third gear and stay there until car restarted
* Dashboard clock flickered on and off
* CD player failed, liked to interrupt radio with error beeps
* Cosmetic body damage on left rear door, right rear bumper, hood
* Key fob would remotely unlock car, but not lock it

So maybe it was just the green Hyundai's time. On top of everything else, the license tags needed renewing. I certainly can't complain about how it held up to the years and the mileage. Still, that car was a companion, and it feels like a chapter has come to a close.

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Traveller

That’s right, I’m not dead yet. I just haven’t felt like journalling at all in months – my creativity and ability to string words together has been darn near zero.

But sometimes, going through my old work will inspire me a bit. To that end, here’s a video walkthrough of the video game level I designed – an addon for Excalibur: Morgana’s Revenge, a game still available for play on Mac, Windows, and Linux via the Aleph One game engine.

Designing game levels is fun… and doing something I haven’t done in years may be just what I needed to stretch my muscles a bit!

To Healthy Competition

Some of my fellow geeks seem surprised when they learn I’m happy that Android phones are doing so well. But even though I’m using an iPhone now, I’d prefer that it be a difficult choice; I may like Apple products, but I want there to always be someone out there that keeps them innovating, refining, and generally working hard to convince me that they should keep my business. There was a bad period in the nineties when Apple computers were beginning to… well, ‘suck’ is probably too strong a word, though plenty of folks used it. Now that the company’s doing so well, I’d hate to see them get lazy again.

So if you have an Android phone, and you really like it, I think that’s awesome and I won’t try especially hard to evangelize you. Don’t let them get lazy on you, either 🙂

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Why this “Steam on Mac” thing is a big deal to me

Steve Jobs has little use for computer games. Inconveniently, his customers are quite interested, and that’s been a problem since 1984.

I can’t source most of this, so you’ll have to assume that my memory isn’t too fuzzy, and I wouldn’t lie to you. But while plenty of Apple engineers have been happy to help out game developers here and there, Steve’s seen bigger things for his Macintosh; leaps and bounds of creativity, imagination, and the simplification of daily tasks. Not bad, but we want to shoot the undead too, and Mr. Jobs doesn’t really seem to get that.

So thanks to that, and years of management confusion at Apple, Mac gaming has never had the market share of Windows gaming. That didn’t mean no one was playing, though. The company that created Halo made its first fortune off a Mac game. The company behind Doom and Quake always found it worthwhile to publish Mac releases of their titles. But there was one game, a classic among Windows gamers, one that always stood separate. When people tested me for rabid Apple fandom, there was always one fact I’d easily admit to: you couldn’t play Half-Life on the thing.

And there’s some odd history behind that. According to rumor, Half-Life for the Mac was nearly done: in late beta-testing, at worst. Then Gabe Newell of Valve went to Apple and asked Steve Jobs to make some changes to the Mac OS so it would run his games better. (I suspect it was either DRM hooks in the OS, or more likely, licensing DirectX from Microsoft… both of which had a snowflake’s chance in Molten Core of happening.) Steve probably explained in his winning way where he figured Newell’s head was stuck, and Mac HL was immediately cancelled.

But, you know, other guys kept making money, small though they might be. And did I mention “Molten Core”? Yeah, see, that’s a place in a little game called World of Warcraft… a game with around 11 million subscribers, available in parallel for the PC and the Mac. So, maybe Mac gamers are only 1% of the PC gaming market. That meant that Blizzard was collecting subscription money from 100,000 gamers every month. Obviously, that’s the kind of money than any successfully game company can totally ignore…

Oh. Hm. Well. And, you say, Macs all run on Intel motherboards, now? Well. Perhaps we can do this without trying uselessly to twist Steve’s arm after all…

So, now we’ll have Steam on the Mac, and I can play HL and Portal without dual-booting, and not have to roll my eyes when a friend tells me about this awesome little $5 game download they found there the other day. I’m happy. Gabe will get my money. He’s happy. And it only took him over a decade to figure out how to reach into my wallet!* Well, we all just need a little time, sometimes.

*I confess, he already has some of it. I bought HL for the PlayStation 2, and Portal for Windows, playing the latter by dual-booting my Intel Mac. But Valve says that I’ll get a copy of Portal for Mac for free just because I registered the original through Steam… and suddenly, I’m even more well-disposed to the company. (I previously expressed concerns about the Steam service, and they still exist, but the company seems to be going out of their way to make the utility worth more than the hassle. That seems good business.)

Losing things

We went out for dinner tonight, and then Starr asked to swing by the thrift store, and that just about wiped me out. I have to build up some stamina in the next week or so, because I’ll probably be heading back to work shortly thereafter. Must exercise more.

When I went in for the surgery, I weighed about 197 pounds, which is not especially unhealthy for my size and build, but it’s not trim either. I weighed myself today and I’m about 180, which is much better if I can keep it there while building my strength back up. Still, this is not a recommended weight loss plan.

I remember going in for the surgery, a little later than we’d thought as I’d misread the schedule – 11:00 was the report time, not the surgery time. I lay in pre-op getting more and more nervous until it came time for them to put in the epidural needle. According to Starr, I was conscious and lucid for several minutes after that, but I have no memory of it – they warned me that was likely.

My next memory is of awaking briefly in post-op, and dry heaving twice. I always have a rough time coming out of general anesthetic, which was part of the reason for the epidural – the heaves went away much quicker. After that, next thing I knew I was in my room and Starr was with me.

Much of the next week is blurred. I hate what narcotic pain medications do to my head – I would drop off for a two-hour uneasy nap, awaken, crane my neck to see the clock, and realize that only twenty minutes had passed. At least once, friends came by to see me and I didn’t remember that until long after getting home, when evidence was produced. Sometimes, even when I hurt a bit, I’d avoid activating the ‘as needed’ medication pump simply because I didn’t want to go back to the fog.

They did have to move me to another room once, as we had a bit of a monsoon storm here on the coast, and one of the walls sprung a leak! A couple of millimeters of water collected behind my bed and they realized I had to go. After that, no further moves.

Entertainment was thin. The hospital TV showed about twenty channels, none of which showed any programming which interested me. Though I had wireless access, most everything but email was blocked including the social networking sites I’d planned to use to keep people updated. Oh, I know ways around that, but the fog kept me from doing much with that knowledge. Thank goodness I had Starr to keep me company or I might have gone more insane than I am now.

More in a later entry. I just want to write some of this down before the fog claims it completely.

Return from the Medical Satellite

I am here, and I haz update.

Some folks may have heard that I was out of surgery last Wednesday night, and that everything went just as the surgeons had hoped. Assuming I held down solid food Thursday night, they’d be sending me home on Friday.

My anaesthesia was much nicer to me this time, with my post-op heaves much better controlled, but it wasn’t enough: my digestion shut down completely, and didn’t choose to restart until Monday. They couldn’t send me home until I handled solid food, so I’ve had nearly a week of being fed through a tube and dazed nights of sleeping via pain medication.

Though the hospital had free wireless, just about everything was blocked besides e-mail, and most of the time I stayed too dazed and weary to do much of anything with that.

Finally, though, they pulled the last tube from my body (I had a half-dozen in me, and you don’t want to know where all of them led (I kept restraining the desire to look at Starr and utter “Resistance is futile,” in an emotionless voice)), and told me to go home. Even that was bumpy enough, and there’s a lot more to tell, but I fear that I’ve literally used up my evening’s energy levels typing this. Pathetic, I know, but I have a lot of drugs and emotional stress to work from my system.

And, oh yeah, as I stayed so long, I got to hear the prelim pathology report. Little of the tissue turned out to be actively cancerous, and what was so was safely surrounded by buffer tissue in the removed mass. So I’m safe now.

TL;DR version: I’m home, I’m safe, everything went well, and I still feel like total crap. And I love you guys. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Medical team to the bridge

11am tomorrow, H-Hour. That’s when I go under the knife.

I know it’s a bit over-dramatic, but that’s how I’m feeling right now. I just can’t seem to maintain an even emotional keel at the moment. I’ve had surgery before, my hip replacement decades ago and my gall bladder just weeks ago, but this one has me really worked up. They’re going to make the second biggest incision a surgeon’s ever made in my body, and they are going to take a tennis-ball-sized chunk of one of my organs.

The surgeon does dozens of these a year, and has had papers published on the subject. I might well be back home before my birthday. The overwhelming odds are that everything’s going to be just fine. So why am I so worked up?

Starr will be posting to Twitter and Facebook, and passing out phone messages to be spread around. They say I’ll have wireless in my room, so I might even be posting here myself before tomorrow’s over. We’ll use the 21st Century to it’s full advantage. To everyone who’s been sticking by me in person and online, thank you so – I doubt I’ll find the words to say how much it means to me.

In a completely unrelated note, Happy Belated Birthday to southernsinger. I’d have mentioned this before, but I’m a bit distracted.

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