Digitizing Old LEGOmation Movies


Elgato EyeTV Hybrid
Elgato EyeTV Hybrid

I recently got my hands on an Elgato EyeTV Hybrid which lets me connect my MacBook Pro to a VHS player.  After a relatively easy setup, I am now able to play the tapes on the VHS player and save them to the MacBook in a digital format.  Finally, all of my old home videos can be brought into the digital age.  As exciting as this is, it also scares me.  Most of my home videos are completely ridiculous.  I would be embarrassed if the internet bore evidence to what kind of a weird kid I was.

Really though, these videos are already part of the public domain in a limited sense.  That’s because when I was ten years old, my sister, my cousin, and I had our own Public Access TV Show.  For those too young to remember, Public Access was a local TV station in most cities that aired shows created by anyone who wanted to pay for one.  The way it worked was that you would send in your content (on VHS tape) and it would be aired at whatever time slot you had received from the station.  The idea seems almost paleolithic compared to today where anyone can create a YouTube channel and share videos with the entire world in literally a matter of seconds.

Monk and Moo
Monk and Moo

Our TV show was called Monk and Moo.  Monk (short for Monkey) was my cousin.  She was the camera person and director.  My sister was Moo, the lead actress, host, and producer.  My role on the show was as more of an extra, filling in when necessary and doing small sketches (my name didn’t make it to the title of the show either).  My major contributions to Monk and Moo were my animation shorts.  I made several of these kinds of clips where I would use my LEGO’s and do a kind of animation called stop motion animation.  The master of this style is, of course, Ray Harryhausen.

Ray Harryhausen and the Medusa
Ray Harryhausen and the Medusa

The premise of stop motion animation is simple.  First, you place the objects being animated in a position.  Then you film that frame of the scene for a split second and stop the video.  Rinse and repeat.  The result is a jerky but consistent sequence of film where your object appears to move around.  Granted I wasn’t a master of this technique.  Most my videos feature at least one second of footage where you can see my hand placing a LEGO guy because I didn’t correctly stop or start the film.

Another stumbling block I had when doing stop motion animation was that I could only have dialog and music if I left the camera filming.  If I kept the music playing while starting and stopping the film, the result was a choppy garbled mess of a sound track.  Such was the result of my first attempt at LEGO-mation.

Some samples of my LEGO-mation movies are below:

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A Trip Down Memory Lane with the Macintosh Plus


The Macintosh Plus
The Macintosh Plus

An online friend of mine recently brought to my attention PCE.js, a browser-based emulator of the Macintosh Plus.  Click the link and experience it for yourself.  This emulator is solid gold.  The machine it is emulating is solid gold.  It’s a throwback to a world of computing almost 25 years ago.  Those were the days of System 7 (which, in my opinion, is still a more intuitive interface than every other Mac OS since then).  At the time, I was three years old.  The Macintosh Plus was the first computer my family owned and it will always have a dear place in my heart.  Between the ages of three and seven, I was inseparable from the Macintosh Plus.  I fondly remember playing games like Dark Castle, Dungeons of Doom, Rogue, StuntCopter, and more.  By the way, for anyone who saw the Angry Video Game Nerd’s review of Dark Castle for CDi, the Macintosh version was much easier to control with a mouse and keyboard.

Firstly, when you open the emulator you might be astonished by the specs of the machine.  It has 4MB of memory and about 20MB of disk space.  Really powerful stuff for 1986.  Now I can run System 7 in a web browser on my computer while I simultaneously listen to music and write this blog post in another window.  And my computer is still only using 12% of its CPU.  I know it’s not a fair comparison, but I always have two feelings when I reflect on this.  One feeling is, “How did I think that was so awesome back then?”  The other feeling is, “What if I could see then how powerful the computer I use now is?”  There is also a third follow-on feeling, “How awesome are computers going to be thirty years from now?”

Erase Disk next to Empty Trash
Erase Disk next to Empty Trash

Now for a little side lesson in Human Machine Interaction.  Open the PCE.js emulator.  If you go to the Special Menu of the Finder, you will see it has some familiar options: restart, shut down, empty trash, and… erase disk?  Wait a second, are we sure we want to put that potentially disastrous functionality next to all these other innocent ones?  Well why not?  Every computer user can read the options can’t they?  Not if you are three-year old Daniel Bank who likes computing even though he can’t read.  Three-year old Daniel memorizes where things are physically on the screen and clicks OK until dialog windows go away.  Maybe you can see where this is going (hint: I was trying to empty the trash and I accidentally reformatted my dad’s external hard drive… he was not happy).

Lastly, this post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about HyperCard.  Essentially, it was a stack of “cards” that you could add scripting to.  You could save your stack as a file and share it with others who could then open it with a HyperCard viewer.  The scripting really made things interesting because you could transition to different cards when a part of one card was clicked, you could prompt the user for input, you could keep track of variables, and so on.  Sadly, you won’t be able to experience HyperCard in the emulator because it only has a viewer.

Clock Tower in Dark Castle
Clock Tower in Dark Castle

HyperCard actually represented probably 80% of my play time on the Macintosh Plus.  Sometimes I played other people’s stacks, but mostly I was creating my own.  I created dozens of HyperCard games and finished maybe a handful of them.  Mostly my stacks consisted of just a title screen and maybe the first few cards of an actual game.  I was learning the fine art of creating VaporWare.  The first words that I actually wrote with a pencil were go next, a command from the HyperCard scripting language to move to the next card.  This was the start of a mad desire to create my own software gaming studio that lives on to this day.

So ends my nostalgic reflection on the Macintosh Plus as experienced through PCE.js.  Tremendous kudos to James Friend for making this emulator.  I have no idea how he did it but it is an awesome example of running a virtual machine in a browser.

On Marrying a Chinese Woman


Daniel and Haiying in Shenzhen, 2006
Daniel and Haiying in Shenzhen, 2006

In the summer of 2006, I went on a Study Abroad Program in China which changed the course of my life. The first Friday night of my stay at Ren Min University, I was casually walking the school grounds when I came across a square where many people noisily conversed. As I approached, I realized everyone was speaking English. It turned out to be a weekly event called English Corner, a time when people would come and practice speaking English with each other. Naturally a laowai like myself drew a big crowd. I felt like a celebrity with all the students gathered around me asking me questions. After several minutes, I noticed a beautiful girl in the back who was listening and not asking many questions. I felt bold so I started talking to her. Our conversation went something to the effect of, “Hi, what’s your name?”

“My name is Sea Eagle. My English teacher suggested Heidi but I thought that was too old fashioned so I translated my name by myself.”

“Oh… Sea Eagle… That is an interesting name.”

We kept talking for another hour and exchanged email addresses. Then she left and I scolded myself for not offering to walk her home or asking for her phone number. Fate was on my side because she returned to tell me that she could not read my handwriting. Having been given the second chance, I then offered to walk her home. And the rest is history.

Daniel and Haiying with her family in Liangping, 2011
Daniel and Haiying with her family in Liangping, 2011

The real purpose of this blog post actually is to describe my thoughts and lessons learned on international relationships. This post is based on my own experiences married to a Chinese woman.  It in no way reflects every international relationship.

Firstly I think that I was predisposed to seek love in a foreign land. I am attracted to difference. Different appearance, different culture, different language, all of these aspects intrigue and excite me. I also think that such a kind of love is a positive and important influence on humanity because it brings communities closer.

While differences can be exciting and provide a great impulse during the formation of an international relationship, they become challenging as you grow more accustomed to each other. As an example, in China serving food to guests is simply good manners. With my own family, however, this is never done. I don’t know if other American families do this but we don’t. It’s not that we don’t care about guests. We just trust that they will serve themselves whatever food they want to eat. So when I am eating food with my family in China, I am uncomfortable being served. Sometimes I will try to tell people I don’t want any more, “bu yao xie xie,”.  I do it even when I am not full because I prefer to serve myself.  This is just one example where cultural differences can be uncomfortable or lead to disagreements. Other examples include what is acceptable humor, gift giving customs, and child rearing.

Another aspect of international relationships that is difficult is the distance. You spend months only able to communicate on the computer or over the phone. When your unhappy, you can’t feel each other which makes comforting each other especially hard. My wife equated it to tending a fire. When you are close, the fire burns very hot. When you are apart, it cools down and only the glowing embers remain.

Daniel and Haiying in Liangping, 2011
Daniel and Haiying in Liangping, 2011

My advice on surviving the dangerous long distance phase of the relationship is to always have a plan about the next time you are going to see each other as well as how you eventually be together. Having a plan can reduce the inevitable feelings of worry, hopelessness and loneliness which shake your resolve. My wife and I endured more than five years living in different countries. Having plans was what kept us going.

A more subtle problem with the long distance is that you never really get to experience what life with the other person is like. You grow comfortable in having autonomy while also having that warm feeling that someone in the world cares about you. When you finally are living together, married life can be an abrupt end to that autonomy.

Finally, there are a lot of negative stereotypes that can impact an international relationship. In my case, I am a white man and my wife is an Asian woman. There is a bias that white men seek Asian women for exotic pleasure (the dragon lady) or because they are submissive (the china doll). Sadly I have met many such men in my travels. At the same time, Asian women are seen as seeking nothing more than wealth from their relationships with foreigners. My wife was accused of as much by a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agent during her first interview for a visa to come to the United States.

Daniel, Haiying, and Arthur in Tempe, Arizona, 2013
Daniel, Haiying, and Arthur in Tempe, Arizona, 2013

International relationships have their up’s and down’s just like any other relationship. If you can navigate the cultural differences and the hard logistics questions, international relationships can be immensely rewarding and will expand your horizons. My wife and I have known each other for seven years now and been married for three. One year ago, our lives were blessed with a little baby boy. I hope our little family can be healthy and strong for the rest of our lives. I wish the same thing for everyone.

Icosahedron


The Icosahedron
The Icosahedron

Introduction:

Icosahedron is variation of the game Scattergories by Hasbro.  It is a fast-paced heads-up style game where winning involves wit, luck, and knowing your audience.  The game is called Icosahedron because of the twenty-sided dice which is used to play it.  The idea for the game originated when my friends and I were bored on a Friday night and were looking for a new game to play without going out to buy one.  Icosahedron has since become our preferred game because it is quick, easy-to-play, and suitable for a wide variety of players.

Necessary Equipment:

A Scattegories dice (the Icosahedron).

Number of Players:

3+, it’s best played with an odd number of players

Rules:

  • The game consists of two active players, who are in a one on one competition, and everyone else, who act as moderators of the competition.
  • The active players alternate rolling dice with the current champion rolling first.  If there is no current champion, everyone should argue about who goes first.
  • When a moderator thinks of a category, they will announce that they have a category.  This indicates that dice rolling can commence.
  • As the dice is rolled, the moderator will call out their category.  The first active player to successfully call out an answer that begins with the letter facing up on the dice earns one point.
  • If an answer uses two consecutive words that begin with the letter which appears face up on the dice, it is a “double” and is worth two points.
  • If both players answer simultaneously, neither player gets a point.  A new category is decided and the next player rolls the dice.
  • The success of an answer is subject to a vote by the moderators.  If the majority agree with the answer, it is deemed correct.  Thus it is important to know your audience.  If an answer is technically correct but obscure, it will be voted down.  It is also possible for an answer to be incorrect but be voted up.
  • If the moderators are split on whether an answer is correct, the answer is correct.  This is why the game is best played with an odd number of players (so ties don’t happen).
  • The first active player to earn two points wins the round and is the new current champion.
  • The game restarts and the person to the left of the loser plays against the current champion.
  • At any time after the dice has been rolled, one of the moderators (or active players if they cannot answer) can start counting down from five seconds.  After five seconds without a successful answer, a new category is decided and the next player rolls the dice.
  • Arguing is a cardinal aspect of the game.  Healthy debate is strongly encouraged.  If you feel that an injustice has occurred, it is your duty and obligation to argue your point vigorously.  Remember, the game cannot continue until arguing stops so feel free to filibuster the game.  Icosahedron is a microcosm of the U.S. congress.

Drinking Rules:

If you plan to consume alcoholic beverages while playing this game, the additional punishment rules are simple:

  • When an active player scores a point, the loser drinks.
  • If an active player scores a double, the loser drinks twice.
  • If a moderator calls out a category that neither player can answer, they have five seconds to answer their own category.  If they cannot, they drink.
  • If the current champion makes it back to playing against the same person that they beat to become champion, they go “around the world” and everyone drinks a social.

Category Ideas:

If you need help thinking of category ideas (beyond those that you might find in the regular game of Scattergories), below are some category ideas:

– Palindromes

– Words with five syllables

– Elements of the periodic table

– Occupations

– Countries and cities

– Comic book characters

– Parts of the human body

– Weapons

– Beers

– Adjectives

Shameful Categories:

People who attempt to use the following categories should be rightly boo’ed:

– What letter am I thinking of?

– Clandestine activities (and other strangely worded categories)

More of the Sies


Ergonoid Spearsman
Ergonoid Spearsman

This post will elaborate more on the world of Sies.  We will look at some of the minor characters who figure into the story and provide a little background on them.  First up is the Ergonoid Spearsman, a guardian of a nomadic group of people who shun all outsiders, happy and angry alike.  Ergonoids are an aquatic people spending half their lives on land and half their lives in the sea.  They make their temples at a depth of fifty meters which they free-dive to in order to observe their rituals.  A master of the trident and other polearms, the Ergonoid Spearsman can easily dispatch a foe with his weapon on land and in water.  On the spectrum of happy and angry, the Ergonoids are neutral.  The Ergonoid Spearsman’s emoticon is B|.

Salazar the Lonely Hermit
Salazar the Lonely Hermit

Salazar the Lonely Hermit was once a happy lord whose lands consistently brought plentiful harvests.  One day the Angries blighted his lands and Salazar lost his favorite flowers.  Although the Happies restored his land to its original bountiful nature, Salazar still mourned his favorite flowers that were lost.  Unable to become happy again, Salazar retreated into the mountains to mope in solitude.  On moonlit nights, he emerges from his cave to cry soulfully while he watches the night sky.  Salazar was designed by Ryan Herriman, one of the first Siesians.  The emoticon of Salazar is u_u.

Dub Dub the Warrior of the Dance
Dub Dub the Warrior of the Dance

Dub Dub the Warrior of the Dance is an ally of the Happies.  His power is such that he never tires of dancing, which he uses to lure his enemies into dance competitions that rage for days until they inevitably collapse of exhaustion.  Dub Dub was once a vain practitioner of the dance, seeking only to advance his own reputation.  Flambytoes showed him the error of his ways and from then on, Dub Dub has been an upright individual.  His emoticon is naturally :P.

King Giffle the Sad Monarch
King Giffle the Sad Monarch

King Giffle the Sad Monarch is ruler of a large realm yet still he is constantly plagued by the belief that his countrymen secretly hate him.  Living in fear of being disliked, he never makes any decrees nor does he arbitrate in any matters.  Instead, King Giffle stays holed up in his castle, sulking and wondering why people hate him.  In truth, his subjects do not hate him and think he is a considerate if ineffective king.  In some aspects, King Giffle could be compared to Ukhed because of his brooding.  The difference however is that Ukhed blames others for his predicament while King Giffle is always introspective.  The emoticon of King Giffle is :<.

Wumbley the Captain of the Indifferent Pirates
Wumbley the Captain of the Indifferent Pirates

Wumbley the Captain of the Indifferent Pirates is not a seeker of adventure, though he likes such monikers.  He leads his band of pirates from island to island with the constant promise of treasure and mischief-making.  Every time the opportunity arises, however, Captain Wumbley decides to take a nap instead.  Usually his men decide to go off without him, which Wumbley does not mind as much as he pretends to.  Fiercely independent but without motivation, Captain Wumbley and his pirates could be considered allies of the Angries but they are far too undependable.  His emoticon is :l.

Roarlor the Hideous Swamp Creature
Roarlor the Hideous Swamp Creature

Roarlor the Hideous Swamp Creature lives in a swamp close to the high seas.  Although he is a solitary creature, Roarlor is nonetheless a kind being and a friend of the Happies.  He is also quite powerful, especially in the swamp where he camouflages with the green plant matter.  On rare occasion, Roarlor will leave the swamp to help his allies.  When he does, his appearance usually scares the denizens of the land of Sies.  He has even caught Mooflor the Scary off-guard and scared him.  As scaring people is never Roarlor’s intention, he mostly stays in the peace and comfort of his own swamp.  Roarlor was designed Ryan Herriman.  His emoticon is 87.

The Road Got Easier


As a wanderer, I traveled the world outside my home

walking the road to it’s end.

At first the road was hard and lonely until I found a friend.

I sat with him while the embers burned and warmed my soul

within the homely abode.

Prepared again for the world outside, I took the wayward road

Yet when the sun sank down and cold set in, the way had been lost.

So on a stone I sat and thought

How once I shared the shelter but currently did not

In that moment of true despair, I finally made my peace.

Finding an abode in my own,

I remembered my friend, I remembered my home.

Thoughts and Musings by Daniel Bank