New Keyboard

My obsession with mechanical keyboards continues.

My long-awaited 60% keyboard finally showed up (after the now-standard tomfoolery of DHS + USPS for delivery), and the first thing I did was rip all the key caps off install the set I got custom made from WASD Keyboards. It looks lovely now, and I’m very happy to be using it.

V60 w/ Custom Key Caps

I’ve not given up on my hand-wired monstrosity, either. It’s wired and has an “enclosure” and whatever, but I’ve been stalled for time with building out the custom firmware it needs to run. So it’ll wait a bit on that one. No rush.

 

obsessions.

The obsession with mechanical keyboards that I seem to have developed is… troubling. To the degree that I’m thinking about building a macro-specific keypad Keypad Layoutfor a number of the repetitive tasks that I handle on a regular basis. So, for example, one layer of this keypad would make the Mod 3 and Mod 4 keys the Edit In and Edit Out commands in FCPX, with the Mod 1 and Mod 2 maybe triggering transitions or media imports. Alt 1 would be to show video scopes, and so on. Then, with another layer, Mod 3 and Mod 4 would become Cut and Paste (in a single key press), with other keys (maybe) being mapped to insert small batches of heavily used HTML. Or something. Regardless, I’m figuring out parts lists and where to order key caps and switches and whatnot. AND how to get a Teensy 2.0 to act like a keyboard and handle all the macros and whatnot. All doable, mind you.

 

I bought a new computer.

Ah, so. The time had come.

My “current” computer is a very (10!) old MacBook Pro- it’s been great, but it’s gone all glitchy, and keeping it up and running has become entirely too time consuming- and inconsistent. I’ve written before about my affinity for Plex as a media serving solution, and this machine had been pulling Plex Media Server duty. It’s gone so flakey that it can’t be relied upon for that anymore, so it was clearly time for something new.

Or, I should say, new-er. I had planned to ante up and grab a 27″ iMac Retina of some flavor- by all accounts a lovely machine. It’s minimally user-serviceable, though, and the most you can really do is upgrade the RAM a bit. And: $1500 base price. So I also looked at a Mac Mini, but the price of those can be stiff, and they’re not user upgradable anymore, so… used? Nope- they hold value like crazy, and you’re effectively better buying a new one. So that’s out. And I don’t need the portability of a laptop.

Enter: Xserve. They dropped this line in 2010, but these were rack-mounted Macs meant for use in data centers. They are proper servers, too: dual redundant power supplies, lots of space for disks and RAM, dual gigabit ethernet, etc etc etc. I bought one on ebay, and it should be here early this week. Mine’s from 2008, and you might be thinking that I’m nuts to have bought an eight-year-old machine, but let me point out a couple of things:

  1. It’s faster than the iMac I might have bought- mine has 2x 3.0ghz quad-core Xeons, and the benchmarks for the machine are still pretty quick. It’s roughly a 6x improvement over my existing machine.
  2. It’s got plenty of RAM- mine has 16gb, but it’ll handle (at least) double that.
  3. It’s got space for 3 hard drives. Mine has 3x80gb, but I’ll eventually swap that to 3x2tb, so I’ll have 6tb of internal storage.
  4. It has an internal super drive (HA! well, useful for ripping existing parts of my DVD collection…)
  5. I paid $200 for it. Plus $90 for shipping, since the thing’s a TANK and is coming from the west coast.
  6. It’s entirely user serviceable. All the parts can come out and be swapped- it’s a industrial computer, after all.

Some downsides, of course:

  1. It eats power. It idles at 150W or so, but I’ll be running it on a scheduled boot/shutdown cycle to minimize that problem.
  2. Officially, it’s only supposed to be able to run 10.6.8 as an OS. Really, though, it’ll run 10.11.x without any real trouble- Apple dropped support for it’s video card, but I’ve got a much more modern card en-route that will fix that issue.
  3. It’s huge and rack mounted- but I don’t care, as I have a rack in the basement anyway.
  4. It’s loud under load- again, irrelevant, as it’s in the basement, and I’ll be managing it via screen sharing remotely anyway.

I’m excited. It’s been a very long time since I had a proper work-horse of a computer, and it’ll be nice to finally have my data and projects all consolidated onto one capable machine. The next stage will be monitors for it- the new video card will push 2650×1600 resolution, but I can’t figure out of that’s across one screen, or if that’s each on two screens. Whatever- it’s enough either way, really. I’ve got a 24″ 1920×1080 kicking around that’ll do in the meantime.

I figure even if I only get a few more years of life from it (which, honestly, seems unlikely- these were built like brick houses, so it should keep ticking along), it’ll still have been less expensive than an iMac, and I’ll have roughly the same speed and power, so that’s a bonus. And, given the price, if I want a “couch computer” for browsing, I can grab an iPad or Chromebook or whatever, and still have the total cost be less than an iMac.

Building a Game (Part 1)

I have young children, and for reasons I won’t delve into here, they need some special attention paid regarding their vision. As such, and in an effort to enrich their play, I’ve embarked on a project to introduce them to RPGs. Roll Playing Games are exactly what you think- you assume the roll of a character in a game and play from that perspective. The most famous of these is likely Dungeons and Dragons, but there are many, many others. Think of it this way: if you were to play Clue from the perspective and in the roll of Colonel Mustard¹. THAT’D be a RPG.

My kids are small, and even the most stripped down version of DnD has a rule book 100 pages long (the full version, near as I can tell, is 320 pages). So it should come as no surprise. Indeed, when researching what game I might introduce, the general consensus was that we should build our own. Fair enough. I wasn’t sure about their ability to grasp some of the more abstract concepts, so I chose to test the concept with a game structured around our house and our family.HouseGameProto(crop)

This is the first game board we made. The layout of based (roughly!) on the floor plan of our house, “x” on a spot makes it “special” (and you draw a card for that…), and mostly, you go about the tasks you do in real life- go to the living room or kitchen, walk around, make messes (lose points!), be polite (add points!). And that’s it. There’s no narrative or ending, but it was enough to gauge their interest in the format. Time to get more ambitious.

I wanted to keep a few things in mind:

  • These are little kids, and as such, the game should be of a finite length²
  • The game should be re-useable
  • The game should be adaptable
  • The game should be as familiar as possible
  • The game should be hackable

With all that in mind, I drew up this board:

GameProtoBoard(crop)

It’s not perfect at all- and that’s ok. It shouldn’t be precious, because I don’t want any hesitation to change it all around. I made it a fairly generic “maze” layout, and I added a coordinate system. That will allow me (as I run the game) to place obstacles and rewards in various spots, to be discovered as they play. It’s a sort of miniature quest. The complexity of the journey can be dialed up or down based on the nature and frequency of these additions- a few easy monsters with copious resources at first, then more monsters and scarcer resources. Speaking of resources…

I opted to stay fairly low-tech with much of this. That’s a recycled chunk of foam core for a board. The manipulatives- the pieces- needed to feel familiar to the kids, but also be versatile enough to function not only for this game, but for future variations and new games. So…

GameParts(crop)

This is the start of the collection. This will grow a ton in the next week or so, as some Amazon orders or parts come in. But for now, that’s a pile of Lego Minifigs, some counting bears, a handful of tiddlywinks, some small treasure chests, and a home-made die. I’ve got a bag of “pirate jewels” coming (for treasure…), 100 dice (D4, D6, D8, D10 (and percentile), and D20), as well as a couple hundred blank cards. Most of what that’s for is obvious, but the blank cards are key: those will get turned into set of stacks, each stack on a theme. For example, in the “Monster” stack, each card will specify what kind of monster and any other parameters (how strong it is, what kind, etc…). If you hit a “monster” square in the game, you draw a card to find out details.

I’m excited. From a learning perspective, there’s a lot to do here- the kids are not only going to play the game with me, but they’re also helping me to build it. That’s a lot of cutting and glueing and talking and making lists and and and. It’s a proper project.

Updates as we make progress.

 

¹ Why don’t we play Clue this way? Sounds WAY better.

² I’m looking at you, Monopoly. And Mousetrap.

Color Hints

So.

My dad wrote an app. It’s called Color Hints, and it’s a pretty nifty thing. It allows you to analyze the colors in a picture, and using that information find what colors will coordinate. You can take pictures or pull them in from your photo roll, but it also has a built ColorHintsin browser, so you can sample colors off web pages. That way, when you see a paint you really like, you can sample the color and save it. Not only will Color Hints help you find coordinating colors, but it will tell you all the values of the color you’ve sampled- and that means you can have matching paint mixed to order.

He wrote it for my mom, who’s been doing a lot of quilting recently. She uses it to log fabric swatches and know which go with which, but it’s just as useful in the hands of a designer (interior, industrial, fashion, take your pick…), and it’s a pretty decent tool for teaching color theory as well.

It’s in the app store now here, and I’d recommend it highly. I’ve been running the beta for a few months now, and when it comes to helping me pick what art to hang in the dining room to go with the carpet and table, there’s nothing else quite like it.