Roll20 and D&D

I’ve mentioned Roll20 in past posts about how my group plays D&D, but I figure it deserves a post all its own.

Roll20 was a Kickstarter project back in 2012. It raised $39,651, well past its goal of $5,000.

Once funded the project team set out to create a free and simple way to play D&D and other roleplaying games online.

They created something that has been dubbed a virtual tabletop (VTT). D&D is normally played at a table, so when you play online everyone sits at their computers around the virtual tabletop.

What does that actually mean though?

First, Roll20 transmits your voice, video, and any typed messages you want to the other people you’re playing with. Continue reading

Fixing the Camera Printer

image
Ancient technology from the long long ago. The printer is the thing on top of the computer tower. The camera is the giant cabinet looking thing to the right of the monitor.

We have something called a “gel doc printer” at my work. It’s purpose is self-evident. It prints documents of our gel pictures.

Gel doc printers are used infrequently and often labs share them. Ours is shared between… probably five different labs? Maybe more.

Taking pictures of gels is important in science. Gels are how we visualize DNA and proteins.

A digital copy is good enough for your own records, but you need a printed copy in case someone claims your digital copy is edited. The gel doc printer provides that physical copy.

Our printer is shared and an issue comes up that when the printer breaks we don’t know whose responsibility it is to fix it.

Usually the breaks are fixed easily. A reboot of the printer or the computer will suffice. Not this time!

This time the printer has refused to print any and all images despite the computer recognizing it as a printer that is plugged in and printing test pages.

Awful looking test pages, but test pages none the less.
Awful looking test pages, but test pages none the less.

I delved into it and realized the printer’s driver’s were outdated. Normally this would be an easy problem to fix. Not so!

You see, the computer the printer is attached to runs Windows XP which is no longer supported by Microsoft.

An unsupported operating system can easily be hacked which means this computer can no longer be connected to the internet. If it was, hackers would have an easy access point to UC Davis’s systems.

What that means is I couldn’t just download an update to the drivers like usual. I had to download the update on my laptop and then move it over to the printer computer with my USB drive.

So I downloaded the drivers and moved them over to the computer. “But wait! You need the driver install program.”

Okay. I get that and move it over. “But wait! You need .Net Framework 4 to use the driver install program!”

Okay… I get that and move it over. “BUT WAIT! You need Windows Service Pack 3 to install .Net Framework 4!”

Okaayyyy… Move that on over. And that one finally installs!

Moving backwards, the .Net Framework 4 installed as well. Along with the patch I got for that.

Then the driver install program laughed at me and said it needed access to the internet after all. I tried installing the drivers on my own, but no luck there.

I researched more on the problem. The printer is able to print out the very first part of all the images. Then it disconnects from the computer, reconnects, and decides the print job is complete.

I found absolutely nothing on how to fix that problem. There were some suggestions that it was a problem with the connection to the computer, but switching the USB port used by the printer changed nothing.

Maybe a new USB cable would do the trick, but I’m unsure if those are available for printers this old or whether it would fix the problem.

For now, all the images are put on USB sticks and printed on different computers.

-GoCorral

New Phone

I got a new phone last weekend and have been adjusting to it.

This was a thing for me because I’ve never had a smartphone before.

I’ve shied away from smartphones in the past for two reasons.

#1 Having a touch screen in my pocket kind of freaks me out. I’m always worried that it will touch my leg and turn itself on and text something to someone I know.

Of course that never happens but we all have our irrational fears.

#2 I don’t want to get too distracted from other things by my phone. A phone with more stuff to do on it is more distracting.

I got over both of those things by getting an iPad. The touch screen doesn’t freak me out as much and I don’t get more distracted by my iPad than I did by other things in the past.

So! The new phone! I was basically deciding between an iPhone and an Android.

I went with the Android for a few reasons (this is apparently the listing reasons blog post!).

The Android has better reviews. I generally trust consumer reviews and all of them were poiting me towards the Galaxy phones.

The Android has better ads and has always had a more adult feel to it to me. The iPhone has always felt like a child’s phone to me. Not saying that it is, but I feel childish when I hold one.

And finally, Android phones are cheaper.

The phone is working out great. As a smartphone it can do a lot of things my old dumb phone could not.

Old one on the left if you couldn't tell.
Old one on the left if you couldn’t tell.

My old phone could make calls, text, and take poor quality pictures.

The new one can make calls, text (with a predictive text messaging keyboard which is way faster), take high quality pictures (WTF do you even do with 16 MP pictures?), and has access to apps.

The apps are also a lot better than what I was using previously on my iPad.

It’s surprising to me that differences in app quality would exist for different machines, but there are.

The WordPress app that I use to write my blog posts comes to mind first. My iPad mini has advantages that my Galaxy S6 can’t compete with. A decently sized physical keyboard attachment and larger screen are just things a phone will never be able to do.

But the Android makes up for it by having an app that actually displays pictures while I’m writing. I can also access the picture library that I uploaded onto WordPress earlier. The iPad ap doesn’t let me do either of those things.

The Android app also doesn’t have any problems with carriage returns, something the iPad app has always had a problem with for some reason.

The next app that was noticeably better was the Starbucks app. The iPhone/iPad version makes it difficult to use or even find coupons that the app gives you. You have to struggle to use coupons on the iPhone version and sometimes the baristas don’t even know how to redeem them once you do find them.

The Android app ties those coupons into the pay function. You just tell it you want to pay for something and it applies your coupons to that stuff. Boom! Done!

Cons of the phone are few compared to my old one.

It uses data, so now I have to pay for that, but Wifi is nearly ubiquitous, so maybe I won’t.

The new phone has really bad battery life. I’ve needed to recharge it every night after using it. My old phone needed to be recharged about once a week. Partially that’s because the new phone has apps so I’m using it more, but its still a big difference that I’m adjusting to.

The new phone is also bigger. Taking up more space in pocket means its been a little harder to get my keys out. That falls into the category of #FirstWorldProblems so I’m not overly conerned.

It’s a good phone, I’m glad I upgraded, I wish it was perfect and had all the nice things my old phone had as well.

-GoCorral

Town of Salem

Main Screen

One of my friends showed me a new game this weekend called Town of Salem.

Town of Salem is a Flash game produced by Blank Media Games that you play in your web browser. The company recently finished a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund mobile versions of the game, an independent PC client, and translations to play the game in other languages. The Kickstarter just finished so those projects are all still in the works.

The game is a more fleshed out version of the party game, Mafia.

For those of you who haven’t played Mafia, it’s pretty simple. All the players sit in a circle and are secretly assigned roles.

The game is effectively split into two teams, the Mafia and the Townies.

The Mafia want to take over the town by killing everyone and the Townies want to live, which means hanging the Mafia members after a swift trial.

There are fewer Mafia than Townies, but the Townies don’t know who the Mafia are.

The game is played in a series of days and nights. The party game simulates night by having everyone close their eyes and put their heads down.

At night the Mafia wake up and silently decide who to kill that night by pointing at people and gesturing wildly. In Town of Salem they can still talk by typing to each other secretly.

In the morning that person is dead and the Townies can vote to hang someone for the murder.

There are a few other roles that occasionally get included in the party game. The Doctor can heal someone each night and prevent the Mafia from killing them. The Sheriff can investigate someone and find out if they’re Mafia or not. Other stuff like that.

Town of Salem gives a special role to everyone. There are Mayors, Lookouts, Escorts, Mediums, Framers, Jesters, Executioners, Jailors. Tons of roles! There’s so many that a wiki page was created to keep track of them.

Town of Salem takes all the intrigue and guess work of Mafia and turns it into an easy to pick up internet game.

Each game has fifteen players. There are a couple different modes, but the classic mode has 3 Mafia members, 3 Neutral people who have their own agenda outside of killing all the Townies or all the Mafia, and 9 Townies that want to eliminate all the evil people like the Mafia or the Serial Killer role.

The game is just like the party game. People die each night and the Townies try to figure out who did it while the Mafia spread misinformation among the townsfolk.

Its a lot of fun and super quick to play as well. You can try it out at Blank Media Games if you’re interested. I’ve also posted a Youtube clip of one of my games with my friends for your viewing pleasure.

-Mister Ed

Twitch.tv Panels

I did a little bit more work on setting up my Twitch channel and I think it is close to its “final form.”

Twitch has these things called panels that hang out below the video of a channel.

Panels Down There

Normally you’re just watching the channel or using the chat and not paying attention to what else is on the page. But what if you want to know a little bit more about this streamer?

That’s what the panels are for.

I added a little bit of basic bio info, some Disney Channel level interview questions, my computer specs, and a list of what games I play.

Here's what that looks like. Or you could go to the channel and see for yourself at: http://www.twitch.tv/gocorral
Here’s what that looks like. Or you could go to the channel and see for yourself at: http://www.twitch.tv/gocorral

What’s next for the channel? Well, one of my friends keeps bugging me to wear silly hats while I stream, so that’s probably something I should do.

I still have a random frame dropping issue that I need to deal with. The easiest way to fix that is unfortunately just dropping the quality of the stream slightly.

That sounds bad, but having slightly less detail on the video is probably better than a huge ten minute section of my video having 1 frame per second.

Which brings up another issue, my internet speed. Bad news on that front as well.

There are only two significant internet providers in Davis, Comcast and AT&T. I use AT&T currently and I’ll be damned if I sign up for Comcast ever. That company is run by Satan.

But I already have the fastest upload speed available to me with AT&T. There is no way for me to boost my streaming quality except signing up for the better upload speeds offered by Comcast.

That’s just not happening. One of my friends posts a Comcast horror story every couple months. The most recent one was this guy who spent a year arguing with them on the phone for an erroneous $2000 charge. Comcast ended up calling the guy’s work and getting him fired because he wouldn’t pay their bogus charges.

Just… Not gonna get involved with a company like that.

Back to the stream! The internet speed thing means I can’t stream my League of Legends games. League of Legends eats up to much of my bandwith. If I stream at the same time the video quality will be reduced and my League game suffers some lag problems as well where I can’t react as fast to stuff in the game.

This is fine. I can get by without streaming League, but it creates another issue.

I’ve been wanting to stream my Sunday hangouts with my friends. We get together to play D&D and some video games nearly every Sunday.

The video game we play most often is League. We play at least one game every Sunday.

So if I’m streaming on Sundays, there’s gonna be this random gap in the stream when I leave to play League.

And this is also very strange for a Twitch channel. I imagine a viewer being like, “You’ve stopped streaming so you can play League of Legends? The most popular game on Twitch?”

Another option I’ve considered is throwing a switch to reduce stream quality while I’m playing League of Legends on Sunday. That’s probably a good compromise. I wish AT&T just offered better internet speeds though.

The final thing I’d like to do for the stream is to establish a weekday night where I stream every week on that night. Even if its just for half an hour I’d like to have some consistency. I think that’s the best way to build a fan base. Along with wearing funny hats.

-Mister Ed

Samurai War

It's back, baby!
It’s back, baby!

One of my favorite websites, Samurai War, has returned from the banished depths of the internet!

Samurai War is my favorite website mostly for nostalgia reasons.

When I first started going on the internet in the late 1990s I spent most/all of my time at the GameFAQs boards learning more about the games I was playing at the time.

GameFAQs has a series of discussion boards devoted to every video game ever.

When you post on the boards you have the option of every single one of your posts being followed by a signature. The signature can really be anything and often people would put links in their signatures.

The links could go to the user’s website or to something more fun like a browser based game.

Samurai War was one of those browser based games that I grew to love.

The concept of Samurai War is pretty simple. You’re a samurai/ronin in ancient Japan. Your goal is to become the most powerful samurai in Japan. Maybe you want to be in charge of a noble house or maybe you want to remain a ronin, either way the goal of the game is to advance your character’s stats.

Stats are advanced through training, but you have to pay for training. Where does money come from then?

Well if you click the link above to Samurai War’s webpage you’ll be introduced to the first method of earning money in Samurai War.

The second method is by engaging people in combat. The winner takes whatever is in the loser’s wallet. In the modern world we call this mugging, but in Samurai War it is called honorable combat.

Of course if you’re just stealing money from other players then no new money enters the system. The game fixes that by having a NPCs spawn every few minutes for you to rob and murde- I mean defeat honorably.

The game is extremely minimalist beyond that. It’s mostly text. There are a few images on the site but nothing stunning. There are zero animations in the game.

So with so little to offer in this game, why do I love it so much?

I’d have to say it’s mostly the friendly competitive atmosphere that developed between the me and the other people were playing it.

After you’ve got a decent amount of money you have to rush to use it to train before someone else in the game sees you with a wallet that big and decides to “honorably take it from you.”

And if they kill you after you’ve already used the money, then you get to laugh at them.

It’s a great game and if you’re into little time wasters you should take a look at Samurai War.

-Mister Ed

Editing for Youtube

Making a new video called Blood Knight Adventures.
Making a new video called Blood Knight Adventures.

I started up my own Youtube channel to have another place for my Twitch videos to be watched.

I’ve uploaded my highlights from Twitch to Youtube and I’ve been posting some edited highlights as well.

Twitch is rather limited in how you can edit a highlight. The highlighted video has to be a specific section of the video and that’s it. No other modifications allowed.

So if you wanted to create a highlight that combined a section from the first minute and the last minute of your broadcast, but nothing in between… Twitch’s in browser editing application doesn’t let you do that.

Fortunately, as I’m streaming I also set my streaming software to store the broadcasts to my hard drive. From there I can edit the videos and produce a better finished product.

The two videos I’ve made so far are called “Holy Alchemy” and “Why Mind Control is Amazing in Arena too.”

They’re pretty basic. I highlighted a specific card in each video from my early Arena runs on my Twitch stream. I edited all the shots of those cards together and slapped some music on it.

Playing with my new editing software was fun. I started using Movie Maker which is a freeware editing program put out by Microsoft.

I took a video production course in high school that helped me learn the basics of video editing. The program I learned on was called Final Cut Pro.

I’d like to use Final Cut again. It has a lot of things that Movie Maker doesn’t. But it also costs $300. 😦

The first hurdle I had to jump over with Movie Maker was the file type for the recorded videos from my stream.

Almost every internet video site, Twitch included, broadcasts their videos using the Flash file type (.flv). My broadcasting software saves the recorded videos to my hard drive as Flash videos as well.

Movie Maker can’t understand Flash videos. Kind of dumb considering that Flash is the most popular video type now, but whatever.

I had to download a converter to change the recordings into something that Movie Maker could understand.

After that it was simple enough, throw the video in, pick which sections I want, delete the other sections, etc.

I remember Final Cut being easier to work with and having more options than Movie Maker.

Movie Maker hides transitions under the Animations tab. Adding titles is also hidden under the home tab.

I’m still unsure if Movie Maker allows custom title movements, cropping a frame, moving a frame, or even multiple audio tracks.

It might that I just can’t find these things yet within Movie Maker’s interface or maybe there’s nothing there for me to find.

I’ll stick with Movie Maker f it does have those options and I find them. Final Cut’s software is better because I know how to use it. Once I’ve mastered Movie Maker there won’t be any reason to switch.

Go check out the videos if you like Hearthstone! I added in some public domain music from Youtube’s audio library. Enjoy!

-Mister Ed

Streaming Other Games

An stream interface I made for streaming Faster Than Light. Still in progress!
An stream interface I made for streaming Faster Than Light. Still in progress!

A few of my friends suggested trying to stream other games besides Hearthstone.

I am interested in doing that at some point, so I’ve been working on stream interfaces for the other games I play.

Right now I play League of Legends, Hearthstone, Faster Than Light (FTL), Skyrim, and Diablo 3.

The stream client I use, XSplit, only lets me have four different stream interfaces set up at a time. More interfaces are possible if I buy a subscription for their software instead of using it for free like I am now.

I haven’t played much Diablo 3 at all lately so that’s the one of the five I’ll be leaving out. A few weeks ago I began to see it more as hamster wheel than a fun way to spend my time and have quit playing since.

There are other hurdles for creating interfaces for other games as well though.

I’ve always found a stream to be way more entertaining if I can see the streamer’s face, but where does the face go?

I struggled a lot with that issue while making the FTL interface pictured above.

Initially I had the game filling the entire stream. I tried putting my face in the top right, but that blocked enemy ships.

I tried putting my face in the bottom right, but that also blocked enemy ships.

Bottom left blocks my ship’s power use. Top left blocks my ship’s health and crew.

Middle left worked okay, but I ran into a size issue there.

My face was either too small to matter, or it was blocking the back part of my ship.

I ended up scrapping the idea of having the game fill the entire frame of the stream video.

I wouldn’t call the picture above a final product, but it was the best way to include the game as well as my face.

There’s other stuff to add as well.

In my Hearthstone interface I added the URL address of my blog at WordPress to try and get crosstraffic. I’d like to do that for FTL as well.

I’d like a logo of some kind for FTL too, like the Hearthsteed pack logo I made for Hearthstone.

Eventually I want to add in a donation, subscriber, and follower trackers, but I’d like to establish myself more before going on to that part of the interface design.

I’m committed to keeping the interface art grounded in the game I’m streaming though.

Using edited screen captures from the game has worked for me on that, so I’ll keep doing that in the future whenever possible.

That’s all for now!

-Mister Ed

Solar Freaking Roadways

My wife showed me this cool new technology called Solar Roadways this morning.

She showed me with a Youtube video you can look at here.

The technology is a new type of pavement made out of solar panels.

The video describes it quite well in a funny way (Solar Freaking Roadways!).

Solar panels cover the road. On top of the panels are a few LED lights and then a strong shield of glass.

The glass can support up to 250,000 pound (113,000kg) trucks. The inventor of Solar Roadways, Scott Brusaw, chose that researched weight because the transportation of oil refinery equipment is done at weights of around 230,000 pounds (104,000kg).

The LEDs are used to create lane lines or for other necessary road paint (Pedestrian Xing, Slow Down, etc.).

If every paved surface in the USA were covered with these panels they would generate three times the current energy consumption of the USA.

Other energy sources would still be needed as solar panels don’t operate at night.

The panels can also heat themselves to melt snow and prevent dangerous driving conditions in colder states.

Two underground channels are planned to run along side the Roadway. One will hold water runoff. The other will hold electrical wires.

The wires carry the electricity off the solar panels to consumers.

The channel could also hold telephone lines, fiberoptic internet cables, etc. By placing them underground, storms are less likely to cause outages.

Mr. Brusaw, pictured above in a tractor on the prototype driveway of Solar Roadways, seemed particularly proud of the traction of Solar Roadways.

Some people worry that cars won’t be able to stop on glass, but Solar Roadways glass panels are textured in a way that cars going 80mph (130kph) on a wet panel could stop just as fast as on wet asphalt.

My worry upon seeing the giant textured panels was that bikes would not be able to go on them.

Fortunately, Mr. Brusaw has an answer for that too. Another variety of the panels has a smoother texture that bikes can ride over comfortably.

The smoother texture allows cars to stop in times similar to wet asphalt at speeds of only 40mph (65kph) though. You can’t have everything.

It would be easy enough to build a bike lane out of the smoother panels next to a road made of the textured panels to accommodate both types of vehicles.

If you’re interested in learning more about Solar Roadways you can check out their website or fund them using Indiegogo. The fundraiser is until June 20th 2014.

-Mister Ed

Friends TV Show

https://i0.wp.com/www.imgion.com/images/01/A-Cast-Friend-.jpg

My wife got me the first six seasons of Friends for my birthday last month.

We’ve already watched out way through the first two seasons. We’re looking forward to the rest!

Initially she and I had both thought that Friends has only seven seasons. We were both pleasantly surprised to learn that the series has ten seasons! Three extra ones to look forward to!

My wife didn’t know about the Joey spin off either, so that’s one more season to look forward to.

Well, technically two Joey seasons, but the second was never released in the US and likely won’t be until the franchise is sold to someone. Who knows when that’ll happen!

Inevitably watching friends leads to comparisons between ourselves and the six characters.

I’ve always thought of myself like Chandler because I make a lot of jokes and I act like a little boy a lot.

My wife thinks I’m like Ross because I’m a nerdy scientist.

I think my wife is like Monica because she’s a perfectionist.

My wife thinks she’s like Rachel because she ends up with Ross and I am like Ross.

I took one of those quiz things to see which Friends character you are the other day. Here’s the Quiz Link.

I got Monica for some reason. I’m still a little confused by this.

It might’ve been because you can’t select more than one response. I personally would’ve put Monica as fifth on my list of which character I’m most like.

#1 Chandler, #2 Ross, #3 Phoebe, #4 Joey, #5 Monica, #6 Rachel

My wife got Monica on the test, so I am right!

-Mister Ed