Blog for June 2006

New Fred By Night Web Site Launches

Fred By Night web site

This is not a work related project, just something I and a fellow site developer worked on during our spare time. But I liked how it all came together, so I decided to post it here as well. But first, a little blurb about Fred By Night, directly from their about page...

Fred by Night is a Vampire: the Masquerade chronicle using the third edition Laws of the Night live action roleplaying (LARP) rules published by White Wolf. The game has run continuously since 1999 as a Member Chronicle of One World by Night (OWbN), a world-wide shared universe games.

With an average of twenty players per session, we pride ourselves on bringing the World of Darkness to (un)life every second Saturday night.

Now, into the nitty! Into the gritty! :)

I joined the Fred By Night game in December 2005. I hadn’t been playing a live action roleplaying game in years, and I wanted to meet new people, so I chatted to a friend and dropped by one night. For a couple months, I just played non-players, to get a feel for the game and the setting. I finally "rolled up" my own character during Keycon.

I wasn’t the only one. Turns out a couple people dropped by during Keycon and were interested in the game. They tried it out, they learned about the setting and the chronicle, and they wanted to regularly attend. The problem they discovered, as I did when I was first attending, was finding out when and where the games were happening was troublesome.

First of all, most of the game player base communicates through a mailing list. Of course, unless you already know someone on that mailing list, how would you discover it’s existance, never mind becoming part of it.

Second of all, the chronicle’s web site had fallen victim to a common malady: apathy. See, the trouble with game related sites is not that it has to be administrated, but that it requires up to date content to remain useful.

That content can only be provided by the game’s storytellers and player base. If the storytellers and player base do not provide content, the site does not get updated. If the site is not updated, the storytellers and player base lose interest in the site, and are less likely to provide updated content. The site administrators fight a losing battle against this cycle, and eventually give up. If no one else wants to bother with the site, why should they?

Usually, when a site falters like that, a site has three possible fates:

1. The site remains online, but stagnant, never receiving new content. This is, in my opinion, the worst option. New site visitors will get the impression that the game is not running anymore, as abandoned as the site seems to be.

2. The site is taken offline. This removes a site’s online presence, making it harder for new players to find the game and current players to keep updated, but better that than turning potential players away. At least this way, new players will continue to look!

3. Relaunch the site, kick start interest again. Get interest going again, get momentum again, put a fresh face on the site and get relevant content up!

The site is currently hosted and administrated by a fellow roleplayer and site developer named Reddz. He’s a fun guy to chat with, a fun guy to roleplay with, and enjoys maintaining the site. But when he found himself asking for new content from people and getting nothing back, he decided to stop wasting his time. I can’t really blame him.

After Keycon, I volunteered to assist Reddz in trying to get the site updated. I’m a web nerd, and I like designing and making web sites as a "free time" hobby, so it was no skin off my neck. As soon as someone else was interested in the site again, Reddz was full bore at it, ready to get going!

So we took down the old site, talked about what worked and what didn’t, and came out with a new game plan. We collaborated in what pages would remain, which would be combined, and which would be removed entirely. We ended up separating it out into two main sections: information about the game (rules, resources, contact info, etc) and information about the setting (the theme, the characters, etc).

I designed the site and coded the initial HTML and CSS pages. Reddz took over, hosting the site and incorporating the dynamic elements. We launched the site in mid-June, shortly before an upcoming game, in hopes we could build up some interest.

So far, things seem to be working. Players are volunteering new and updated information. Players and storytellers are requesting log in information so them can update their characters’ profiles. People are commenting on the site and the look.

Reddz and I plan to try and sustain that by occasionally adding new sections ourselves. Stuff like bringing a laptop with the site on it to the game, showing people the site and it’s (possibly missing or out of date) content. Stuff like bring a digital camera to a game and getting character shots and/or putting a gallery page together.

The idea is to occasionally prod the storytellers and player base and keep them jazzed about the site by keeping ourselves jazzed about the site :)

Down the road, I’ll write up another article to update you on the success of our endeavours.

Web Standards Series

Jump rope without the risk

Two words Ropeless Jump-rope!

Socially Awkward Moment

The other day I needed to fill up my car. Not a big deal really, as it happens every week or two. Today, however, I had just been handed a gas coupon after doing my groceries and decide that $0.07 / litre off is well worth it. So I head over to the grocery store gas station — all of the grocery stores in Canada have gas stations now, it is part of their "We sell fuel for your body, so why not your car." marketing strategies — and pull into the full service island for the first time in about three years. For the life of me, I can't think of what compelled me to go for full serve this time. Maybe it was fate.

So without much thought, while waiting for the attendant to appear, I pull out my Blackberry and check my email. After a few minutes, the attendant arrives. By this time, I am in the middle of a reply to a client and only quickly glance up and say "hello, yes please" when the attendant asks if I would like it filled up.

After about 2 minutes, I completed my email reply and notice that the attendant is standing back by my fuel tank. He appears to be trying to get the lid off and has yet to start pumping my gas. I think to myself, "Odd, no one has ever had trouble with my gas cap before."

As I think this to myself, I notice in the side mirror, that the attendant appears to be trying to get the gas cap off with some type of vice-grip. Again, I think to myself, "Why is he using a vice? Is my gas cap stuck?" and then, as my magnificent brain slowly processes the pictures being displayed to me from my side mirror, it dawns on me that this intrepid gas station attendant is missing both his arms.

My first instinct is to jump out of the car and help him. It has been about 5 minutes now and he is obviously struggling with the vertical angle of the closed gas cap. I'm also thinking to myself, "Dude. What kind of person would you be if you let a no-armed man pump your gas? Get out there and do it yourself!" However, as I'm reaching for my seat-belt clip, a thought flickers through the normally quiet part of my mind, making me pause to think that by my jumping out of the car, I am acknowledging his disability and taking away his right to do his job. Which in effect would be a form of discrimination, albeit unintentional. So I freeze, glued in place, struggling with my internal battle.

Well, now I'm stuck. I feel compelled to help as he seems to be getting no where, but I do not want to offend him by doing his job for him. So I sit, frozen. Watching in the side mirror and silently cheering his every effort. Finally. The gas cap is off and he is going after the pump. Relief fills my body as we are getting this done and all is well now that he has the pump inserted and going.

During my period of elated relief, I failed to notice in the side mirror that the attendant has gone for the squeegee. Picture, if you can, a man with no arms holding a bright red squeegee. It seems unfathomable to me that he can or would — or should for that matter — try to wash the windows of the car. That just seems so far above and beyond what would be expected of a man in his circumstances. I'm having trouble believing what I am seeing. Again, I'm frozen and just watching everything unfold. Unable to help or call off the window washing for fear of offending.

So far so good. The squeegee is out and ready. He gets to the windshield and ... things go poorly. The squeegee heads south out of his grip, off the hood and onto the pavement on the first pass. Again, I'm gripped with an urge to leap from the car and take over, or at the very least tell him that "It's ok. The windows are clean. Thanks though", but I freeze with indescision and do nothing. Again rigid from some basic desire and moral code to let him succeed. I'm also now stuck in that limbo state that comes from being in an awkward moment too long. Once you hit that cloudy feeling that this moment has gone to far and now your stuck in it, there is nothing you can do but hope something, someone, anything, magically appears to distract all parties involved and end the moment.

Undaunted, he retrieves the squeegee and continues with some success. He gets half a window clear before the squeegee takes a bit of a dive and has to be reset. Several minutes later, he is done. The window has been cleaner, but never has it been as brilliantly streaky as this day. Each left over line on the window seems to gleam with accomplishment as if to say, "We belong here. This is all right."

He returns the squeegee to the water pail, gets the gas pump out of the tank and gets things closed up. It has been about 15 minutes now and I'm still stuck in that moment. To make matters worse, when the attendant asks for my payment, I hand him my credit card and he heads for the station to process this transaction.

After another 5 minutes or so, a different attendant returns with my credit card transaction slip. I sign it and thank him. In retrospect, I'm not sure what I was actually thanking him for. It came across as a thank-you for the credit card, but I think it was really a thank-you for ending the moment. Relieved, and also a little ashamed, I head for home. I still feel like a failed some social and moral experiment that day, but my hat goes off to the attendant, who persevered through his disability. He is the stronger of the two of us through and through.

Katelin, Olivia and Jordyn

Well it seems like just yesterday that Katelin joined us. While is was just over 3 weeks ago, it really does feel like yesterday. Then at the same time, it already feels like she has been with us forever.

To update how Katelin is doing, her jaundice went away fairly quickly once we got her home, and as you can see by the photo, propped her up in the sun. Her routine has been all over the place for the last few weeks. Some nights she is up 4-5x times to eat, others she sleeps for 4-5 hours — those 4-5 hour sleeps see both Teri and me checking on her a few times to make sure all is well — and during the day she is starting to spend much of her time watching and listening to her sister tear up the place.

We have discovered that Katelin has a very strong will and prefers to do things her way or no way at all. She has taken to literally freaking out whenever she gets into her car seat and when she is hungry, forget changing the diaper, or getting her snuggled up, just get her attached to mum ASAP. The best use of this strong will is going be in defending herself from her sister in the years to come.

Speaking of Kyleigh, she is adjusting as you might expect. She says she loves Katelin while at the same time trying to bonk her with her magic princess wand. Obviously there is a little jealously at play here and it is mostly over the attention Katelin is getting from mum by way of all the breast feeding. Despite the little jealous emotions — hell I'm jealous of Katelin — Kyleigh is proving to be a good big sister. She is always asking to help change diapers and runs the dirty ones to the garbage. She wants to take Katelin to the park and down the slide. We have explained that, while a nice offer, slides will have to wait. Soon she will have more than her share of people to play with.

Now, onto the new people, let me introduce Olivia and Jordyn, two brand new cousins for Kyleigh and Katelin in the last 3 months. Olivia is 3 months old. Jorydn is Carrie's new daughter and is just about 1 week old. Man, are summer holidays at the cottage going to be fun in a few years!
(Um ... on a side note to that, if any guys want to come fishing a few times during those summer holidays, please email me or leave a comment below and I will be sure to bring you out to keep help keep the manliness quotient up. I am so seriously out gunned.)

For the entire set of photos, you can see them over here at Flickr. More to come later on.

I'll post another update in a few weeks, and judging by the lack of decent photos I have taken of Katelin, I need to dig out my photography books again and put them into the summer reading pile.

Change batteries for the last time

I am no technology genius by any stretch. I think tech advancements are very cool especially when they improve efficiency and are environmentally sound. Well here is another technology that will benefit anyone who has ever needed batteries for their gadgets.

A group at M.I.T. is rethinking a 300 year old technology and it seems that the revamped version of capacitors which they are developing could put an end to batteries as we know them. That’s right, no more chucking out your old batteries which will eventually leak harmful chemicals into the environment.

These new capacitors have the ability to recharge in seconds (unlike batteries that take hours and eventually will no longer hold a charge). According to the team working on this, it will most likely be a few years before we see these capacitor batteries on the market, but from the looks of it, it will be worth it in the end.

Conserve? Why not.

In recent weeks I've seen some debates around the web on how effective hybrid cars are versus other forms of energy conservation. While this is all reasonable debate, what seems so obvious to me is that you should be doing ALL the methods you can to conserve energy. Not one or the other. It should never be a question of "Do I want to drive a hybrid car (insert other type of fuel efficient car here) or should I change my light-bulbs to low watt fluorescent ones?"

While I can see the debate over what form of conservation is actually conserving more energy, the fact that people are debating this is a good thing. The more awareness we bring to energy conservation the better off our natural environment will be for it. Frankly, it saves you money in the long run as well, so your wallet will be better for it too. Granted you can argue the initial switch costs money, but you need to think of it over time.

Look at it this way, if you drive a car that currently uses 1000 litres (10,000 kms of driving at 10 litres / 100 kms - I know, pretty low, but we will keep it this way for easy math) of a fuel in a year, your switch to a hybrid car could (should) cut that by 400 (40% - likely more) litres. So you only consume 600 litres of fuel in the following year. If gas costs $1.25 / litre, you have saved $500 in fuel costs. You have also prevented the expulsion of 2.36 kg of CO2 per litre of fuel burned, which totals a whopping 944 litres of CO2 that did not get released into the atmosphere. Even if a hybrid car costs on average $5K more than a regular car of the same make, if gas prices did not increase over the course of 10 years (which is not going to happen) you would realize the difference in purchase costs of the hybrid vehicle inside a decade of ownership. If you drive a car that uses 3000 litres a year, then you would realize the savings in 3.5 years!

Obviously not everyone can switch to a hybrid of some sort, but for those that can, you should be looking at hybrids first and then working downwards to a standard combustion engine. Anyhow, my math is rough, so you can do your own comparisons over at the hybridcenter.org (imperial units, but you get the point).

The bottom line is that energy conservation should be a tenant in your life style. It saves money. It saves emissions. It saves the planet. Call me a hippy or a neo-green or a sheep for falling in line, but if it means my kids get to enjoy the areas of the planet as we know them now, then I'm all for getting on this energy conservation / savings band-wagon. Hell, I'll even drive it for awhile if anyone wants me to!

Launch #7 in a month

The International Centre for Infectious Diseases held a conference in Winnipeg on June 7th and 8th. The conference is here to make business aware and help them prepare  for a pandemic inluenza outbreak.

The Pandemic Business Toolkit website is designed to provide practical, easy to use materials for businesses/employers to prepare themselves, their businesses, and their employees for pandemic influenza.

Sorry can't take your call

Ok folks there are some no brainers out there, like don’t stick your finger into a live light socket, don’t drink wood alcohol, don’t stand in the middle of a railway track with your eyes closed facing away from an oncoming train. Another no brainer should be that you should not talk on your cell phone while taking a nature call. If someone calls while you are "busy", let it ring. Most cell phones have call display now so you can call whoever it was when you are no longer occupied. Three very good reasons for this:

  1. You have other things to concentrate on and wouldn’t like it if someone actually barged in on you in person.
  2. The person on the other end doesn’t need to hear what you are doing.
  3. Courtesy to others who may be using the facility next door.

There are other places where you shouldn’t be using a cell phone of course. Driving, since having someone jabbering away in your ear can distract you from navigating a 1500kg+ vehicle through heavy traffic. Theatres and other entertainment venues where the audience should be sitting relatively quiet.

For those of you who talk in very public places, use some common sense, if you have something to say which you don’t want overheard, don’t say it in public on a cell phone.

This is about what is considered acceptable social etiquette. Just like you were taught some general table manners as a child, the very public activity of cell phone use has some very specific manners. I have seen some pretty rude behaviour by cell phone users in the past. We have manners for most social situations which for the most part people follow in a general sense. Why is it taking people so long to pull together their manners for this form of communication? Apparently a study has been done. Maybe they will be able to give us some answers and start us on the path to polite cell phone use.

Net Neutrality

The US government is at it again trying to control the Internet and give sweeping powers to large corporations who will decede what you see on the Internet. It's all about big business instead of fair access and freedom for all. I don't know about you, but the Internet is one of the only places you can still get "the news" that large cable companies such as FOX NEWS fails to report. This is in the US but who knows the global consequences.

There is a colalition who has been fighting for the rights of the little guy , a grassroots organization called "Save the Internet"

Please read the Intro quote below and check out the whole story as this could change the Internet as we know it.

"Today, the House of Representatives will be debating and voting on proposed Net Neutrality amendments to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006, a bill that will grant sweeping powers to telecommunications and cable companies to set up a tollbooth Internet."

Full story here."

Launch #6 in a month

PEVAC AMERICA builds security gates for companies, embassies and security sensitive facilities has relaunched their site after 3 years. The relaunch features a new design, features, and content. This version remains a static site, but has been enhanced with a photo gallery feature which uses javascript. In order to provide this site with a bit more functionality, a savings calculator was built by your’s truly using PHP.

The new design was provided by Spacecadet Design out of Winnipeg and was implemented by we Lizards. Suffice to say that we have heard very happy sounds coming from the people who make the gates.

iPod pocket recorder

The iPod started out as a basic mp3 player which has become the most popular music player ever. Then the gadgeteeers started making software and hardware apps like the new Nike+. There have been a number of recorders built already. This one looks pretty cool.