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Jumpman, a nifty indie puzzler/platformer game

[jumpman, tessellated]

If you have any interest in puzzle/platform games like Lode Runner, do yourself a favor, go to runhello.com, and download Jumpman. It's made by just some guy, and it's free. There are both Windows and Mac versions. (The Windows version reportedly works fine in WINE on Linux.) The graphics and sound may remind you of the Atari 2600, but it has a modern physics engine underneath, and the game dynamics remind me of a lot of more modern games.

You can run around and jump, but the twist is that you can usually also rotate the level, thus changing the direction of gravity. A few of the levels can require a frustrating level of dexterity, but most just require a little thinking.

My favorite gimmick, though, is the tessellation. You're probably familiar with the way a lot of old school video games wrap around when you get to the sides of the screen. Here, the wrapping isn't always in the same direction! When you read the side of the screen, you might read an upside-down, sideways, or mirrored version of the level! Some levels make use of this for gameplay, but others, like the one pictured above, use it mostly for artistic effect. I think that's what ultimately made me love this game. These tessellated levels just look so trippy.

The game is far from polished, but it's a great demo of many recent ideas in platforming. Aspects of it remind me of Flash games like the Shift series or Sola Rola. The wacky wrapping parts remind me a bit of Portal. Some people hesitant to download it just because it requires a download. I'm rather confused. Isn't that how we played all games back in the day? And it plays so much more smoothly and beautifully fullscreen than in a tiny laggy Flash widget! Go download and play it already!

Finally, it has a pretty nice level editor. I haven't made any particularly deep puzzles with it, but I did make a few levels that might look familiar...

[jumppac screenshots]

After you get a chance to play through the game to get a feel for the various mechanics, download my jumppac.jmp.zip [9 KB ZIP File], unzip it, and put the jumppac.jmp folder inside the Jumpman folder alongside the game. Then you can just select Editor => jumppac => Play to play it.

Check out the game, and then check out my levels! :)

21L.434 - Science Fiction - Spring 1998 - The Books

As I mentioned in my last post, I took a Science Fiction class in college from Prof. Henry Jenkins with an awesome reading list. Here's the course syllabus. I already talked about the movies I watched in that class, so here are the books I read. I'm sad he hasn't taught it again, because I kept going back to look for new reading lists. :)

First, though, I have to warn you. I'm a visually-oriented person, and I tend to forget most of the details of even my favorite books, while I can remember scenes from the crappiest movies I've watched. So what I remember from a book tends more to be a general sense, if I remember it at all. That said, here are my general senses of the books I read:

Books

  • Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein - I've liked Heinlein's other books better like The Moon Is a Hash Mistress, but this one is most interesting when you compare it with Paul Verhoeven's film adaptation. The book appears to be a more straightforward depiction of a militaristic—some say fascist—society in which a war against alien bugs dominates the social sphere. The alleged film adaptation is really more like a parody of the novel, taking the fascism to a comical extreme. I personally found the book rather forgettable and the movie underrated.

  • Kindred by Octavia Butler - This is the story of a modern black woman who is inexplicable transported to the South of the slavery era. It's notable for tackling subjects that science fiction rarely mentions, but to be honest I found the writing somewhat stilted. It's a book that's interesting more from an intellectual than a literary perspective.

  • A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge - Ah, now this is one of my favorite books of all time. Anyone who's interested in cognitive science, in how we think, and how other intelligent life might think, needs to read this book. At its core, it's a depiction of the thought processes of a variety of different races: hyperintelligent AIs that cover pages of ruminations in a microsecond, a pack of dog-like creatures that are individually sub-sentient, but that communicate "telepathically" (through radio waves I think) with each other, such that the pack as a whole hits the threshold of sentience, and even some sort of cybernetic plant that had evolved long term memory and rudimentary information processing skills in order to better spread its seeds, and that someone else then came along and hooked up to a machine with short term memory and locomotion. And at the same time, it also shows an anachronistic but still amusing interstellar Usenet newsgroup system. :)

  • Ammonite by Nicola Griffith - You know, I know I read this book, but I honestly can't remember a thing about it. :\

  • Fool's War by Sarah Zettel - This one I know I somehow never got around to reading. :P

  • Globalhead by Bruce Sterling - This was a collection of short stories, and I'm sad to say none of them stuck with me enough for me to remember. I do however remember that Mr. Sterling actually came to give a talk at MIT, and he spoke to our class. I have this general impression of edgy, modern cyberpunk, and that he was a snarky and interesting guy. :)

  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson - I know Stephenson is revered in the geek community, but I've never been able to finish his books. I started Snow Crash, and found the ideas interesting, but just, I dunno, got bored or something. Same here. I just couldn't get through it. Maybe I need to try another one some time? I mean, I love Neil Gaiman, but I couldn't get through Good Omens. Maybe I should give Stephenson another try some time.

  • Permutation City by Greg Egan - Okay, after all those books I didn't finish or couldn't remember, here's another one of my favorite books of all time. Uploading our minds into a computer is a common theme in science fiction, but no one has ever explored the concept as fully as Egan. He starts with the early days of mind upload, where we create accurate models of brains for medical research and find them gaining sentience and going insane from lack of stimulating sensory input, to well, let's just say he takes things to a logical extreme. I highly recommend this book.

  • Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress - Often in science fiction, quality writing takes a back seat to speculation and ideas. That's not the case here. This is quality literature that happens to speculation and explore ideas. The idea is that we develop a way to genetically modify people at birth to require no sleep. These kids grow to be superintelligent, and the book explores the impact on their relationships with each other as well as their relationship with the rest of society. This is one of those cases of a book that I really enjoyed but can't remember the details of, but I'd still definitely recommend it. I even liked it enough to read the sequel, Beggars and Choosers, though I heard the third in the trilogy wasn't as good, and so I skipped that.

  • Blood Music by Greg Bear - Okay, I have to give a bit of a spoiler warning here, because the main thing I remember about this book is the ending. It's an ending where, not to give too much away, the entirety of human existence changes forever. :P It kinda freaked me out, actually. A lot. I dunno, I guess I take comfort in feeling like people are fundamentally people, and that while our values and social structures my progress, we will always fundamentally act and feel like people. I guess the technological singularity people think everything will fundamentally change soon. I guess I find that scary, too. :P

  • Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card - Most of you know Card from Ender's Game, which I loved, like everyone else. I actually never got around to reading this book, but I'm going to use this space instead to relate the story of Card's visit to MIT in November 1997.

    He took over MIT's largest lecture hall. I think he read from his latest book (I forget which) for a bit, and then he took questions. He gave brilliant answers. He came across as cynical but inspirational. Every time he answered a question, the entire audience would applaud! I mean, we're talking about answering questions about computers in public schools and stuff like that, and his answers were so insightful and on-the-mark that he'd get all but a standing ovation! I also remember him answering a question about science fiction in movies, and he said he felt that the public gets a skewed view of science fiction because special effects are too expensive, and that as the cost of effects goes down, we'd get better science fiction movies. That has happened to a large degree in the last decade, especially on the television front. Again, the audience love his answer. But then....

    This talk was in 1997, the year Contact was released. It was a bit of a milestone for science fiction movies, and so someone asked what he thought of Contact.

    He started by mentioning that, as his fans know, he is a deeply religious person. (For those who don't know, Card is Mormon and has spoken out strongly against homosexuality.) He said that he thought Contact was an awful movie and that it portrayed religious people in an incredibly negative light. He said that with the exception of Ellie, who was the only "truly religious person" in the movie because of her hard-fast belief in the existence of extraterrestrials, the other religious characters were all portrayed as loonies or idiots. He thought it was incredibly arrogant the makers of the movie to think that they're the only ones who are right. He said that if the Christians in the movie were replaced with black people, we would all be appalled at how offensive the movie is.

    There were definite sounds of mumbling, and when it came time to applause, whereas before just about the entire audience applauded enthusiastically every time, only about a quarter of the audience applauded, many sporadically and tentatively. There was one person hissing near the back.

    As the thing went on, and Scott did continue to make very insightful comments and so forth, and there were still a few instances of enthusiastic applause, though not quite as enthusiastic as before.

    So that was my first-hand impression of Orson Scott Card. Definitely an interesting man! Apologies for that digression. :P

  • Astro City: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek - This was the only graphic novel we read, though each chapter/issue was a separate story, so you can really just think of it as a bundle of comic books. :P It's a sort of "realistic" look at the lives of superheroes. The story I remember best is about a Superman-like character who feels constant guilt whenever he's NOT out there saving lives. Every moment he takes for himself, someone out there is dying who doesn't need to die! He tries to date a Wonder Woman-like character, but when he's on a date, all he can think about are the people who are dying out there because he's sitting down having dinner. I read this years before I got around to reading Watchmen, so this was my first exposure to this type of treatment of superheroes. Great stuff.

I grew up reading all the Isaac Asimov I could get my hands on, as well as lots of Arthur C. Clarke, and some Robert Heinlein. But this class exposed me to a great breadth of material. Makes me want to read more now. :)

21L.434 - Science Fiction - Spring 1998 - The Movies

I took a Science Fiction class in college from Prof. Henry Jenkins that had a pretty awesome reading list. It seems the class hasn't been offered again, because the course website still shows the syllabus from 1998. Anyway, go take a look. I got to watch Aliens in class! :) I thought I'd write some brief reviews of the books and movies.

Movies

  • The Day The Earth Stood Still - No, not the Keanu version. The original from 1951 is often credited as being the first serious science fiction movie, though the lesson is an essentially simple pacifist one.

  • A Clockwork Orange - Yes yes I'm aware of its impact on pop culture and whatnot, but somehow this movie has never resonated with me. I don't have much to say about it, except that I can never listen the "Singing in the Rain" again the same way.

  • Red Nightmare and Invasion of the Body Snatchers - This was probably the most memorable lesson for me from this class. Red Nightmare was a propaganda film commissioned by the Department of Defense. It was all about how the Commies are out to subvert us, secretly, one by one, and how your neighbors might secretly be Communists! Meanwhile, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, made in the same era, was about aliens who were secretly killing humans and replacing them with "pod people" simulacra. Really obvious then how the latter film was capitalizing on the public fears drummed up by by the gov't, exemplified in the former film.

  • Aliens - The second one, directed by James Cameron. Prof. Jenkins really reinforced my love for James Cameron, and Cameron's feminism in particular. Gender politics was the topic for the week that we screened this movie, and anyone who's seen it will remember the buff female marine Vasquez and the wimpy Hudson played by Bill "Game over man! It's game over!" Paxton.

    What's interesting to me is that these two characters were not only subversions of the popular macho man/screaming damsel archetypes, but they were just plain well-written and memorable characters in and of themselves! The best story is that the actress who played Vasquez saw a casting call for a movie called "Aliens", assumed it was about "illegal aliens", and showed up in a sun dress. But then she aced the interview, acting as a marine in that dress, and the rest is history. :) And of course I haven't even mentioned Ripley's battle with the Alien Queen, and the gender issues involved there. :)

  • Blade Runner - This is an odd one for me. It took about three watches (original cut then twice director's cut) before I learned to appreciate this movie. As much as Aliens was a great analysis of gender roles, Blade Runner is basically an extended rumination on mortality, as exemplified by its most famous scene, which quotes none other than Milton's _Paradise Lost_.

  • Max Headroom - The plot of the original UK pilot movie was that a TV company was airing "blipverts", 3-second rapid-action adverts (aka commercials) that occasionally caused viewers heads to explode. But that doesn't stop them from airing them anyway to maximize profits! It was made in 1985 and seems oddly prescient about our modern media world. :) (The profit-over-deaths part is of course too-often-recurring. Just this week the head of Peanut Corporation of America repeatedly pleaded the Fifth when questioned about whether he knew his peanuts were contaminated with salmonella and insisted they be sold anyway. 600 people are sick and 9 are dead.)

  • Strange Days - A highly underrated film directed by Kathryn Bigelow but written by James Cameron. It again features a wimpy male lead played by the always slimy Ralph Fiennes and a strong female lead played by Angela Bassett (who would've made a much better Storm than Halle Berry). The gimmick is that there's a device that can record your total sensory experience and then play it back for other people.... and it gets on the black market. Whatever you think people might use that for, they do... and then some.

    Made in 1995 but set on New Year's Eve in 1999, it also extrapolates a future based on the then-recent LA riots. That added to the atmosphere, but it did kind of muddy things up a bit, causing a similar problem to the also-underrated James Cameron movie The Abyss: too many subplots at once.

    Finally, I have to mention that this movie has one of my all-time favorite soundtracks. It's set in 1995 and tries to extrapolate music from half a decade in the future. Even now, some of the tracks still sound like they could be from the future. :) Really edgy and interesting stuff.

  • 12 Monkeys - I need to re-watch this movie some time. I liked the time travel story. I liked the basic feel of it. But ultimately I didn't find the details very memorable somehow. I do remember that the plot is based on someone spreading a biological weapon around at airports around the world, thus killing most of the human population. Frighteningly plausible.

  • Contact - Directed by Robert Zemeckis, and based on a novel by Carl Sagan. This is one of my top three favorite movies of all time. It's an interesting exploration of the intersection of science and religion. It's one of the few cases where I read the book first and liked the movie better. I liked that the movie was less overly bashing of religion, and that it was necessarily focused on the main character, without all the irrelevant distractions in the novel. Some atheists complain that the movie is too softened, but I think it just shows Ellie (the main character) being human while still sticking to her principles.

  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - Not sure what I have to say about this, other than: Getting to watch this in a college class? EXCELLENT! *air-guitars*

According to the syllabus, we also saw episodes of The Outer Limits, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Babylon 5, and The X-Files, but I don't remember what episodes I saw. :P Okay I'll write about the novels from the class later.

See my next post, where I talk about the books I read in that class.

Lu Report Retrospective (Volume 3)

In 2005, I started blogging a series of emails I sent to friends in the wake of September 11. You can find links to the earlier editions by clicking on the Lu Report tag at the bottom of this post).

Here's the next edition.

From: kenlu@mit.edu
Subject: [LR] Indians, Due Process, Scientology, Berkeley, and the World
Date: September 19, 2001

Welcome to the September 19, 2001, Early Morning edition of the Lu Report!

In this issue:

1. Why Indians are actually being targeted more than Arabs, even
2. "What do you mean I have to have EVIDENCE to throw someone out the
country?"
3. Yet another reason Scientology is evil
4. Gotta love Berkeley...
5. Photos of support from around the world


*****
1. Why Indians are actually being targeted more than Arabs, even

As you probably know, there's been a lot of anti-Arab violence.  I'm glad
Bush spoke out against it, and I guess it's to be expected, but I still
think it's really sad.  One interesting aspect of it is that much of the
anti-Arab violence has been directed toward Indians, which may seem
confusing at first.

From someone on a chat group at MIT (the war.d zephyr instance):

> Indians are getting targetted more because      
> 1) On average Indians have darker skin than Arabs and therefore are more
> likely to look foreign. Many people from Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine, and
> also some North Africans can pass off for white.
> 2) A significant portion of the Indian community in the US is composed of
> Sikhs, who by their religion are forbidden to cut their hair and thus have
> long beards and Turbans. Very few American Muslims or Arabs wear Turbans and
> beards so they don't get attacked as much.


*****
2. "What do you mean I have to have EVIDENCE to throw someone out the
country?"

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52767-2001Sep18.html
[That link is dead now, so try this Independent article instead. Feb-2008]

The Justice Department wants Congress to pass legislation allowing them to
deport suspected terrorist aids WITHOUT EVIDENCE.  This includes not only
visitors, but LEGAL permanent residents with green cards.  (This is even
worse than legislation passed in 1996 that allowed the submission of "secret
evidence" to the court that would not be shown to the suspect.)

I mean.. do I really need to point out why I think this is horribly wrong?


*****
3. Yet another reason Scientology is evil

http://www.xenu.net/archive/events/20010911-tragedy/
Some of you may have had the *ahem* pleasure of listening to me rant about
how evil the Church of Scientology is.  If you haven't, and would like to,
please let me know.  (Also feel free to visit http://www.xenu.net/ for
info.)

The Church of Scientology, which sees psychology as evil, is actively
diverting psycholgists from the scene at the World Trade Center by
bombarding them with questions and by using other techniques.  They are also
masquerading as secular mental health help!  They tricked Fox News into
displaying their "National Mental Health Assistance" phone number onscreen
for several hours.  (This was meant to be confused with National Mental
Health ASSOCIATION, which in turn was not amused.)

The intercepted internal emails in that link are truly frightening, talking
about how happy they were to divert some "psychs" and how religious
ministers have "shown their true colors" by working with the "psychs".

In the interest of fairness, they do defend themselves, saying that they
wear jackets with "Scientology Volunteer Minister" written on them in 4-inch
letters:

http://www.sacbee.com/news/calreport/data/N2001-09-17-2015-0.html
[Again, link is dead.  This NY Times bit about Scientologists at Ground
Zero is the best free article I could find. Feb-2008]

(Pardon me if I wonder if they ever took those jackets off, though...)

I mean, trying to convert people in times of grief is nothing new, and it's
something members of other religions use, too, but to masquerade as secular
help, and to actively tie up other workers... 

I mean, the Church of Scientology has ruined people's lives before, but I
doubt on this kind of scale.


*****
4. Gotta love Berkeley...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52813-2001Sep18.html
[Fixed WaPo link, or try this Daily Cal article. Feb-2008]

Barbara Lee, House Rep. from the district that includes Berkeley and
Oakland, CA, is the sole member of Congress to vote against authorizing Bush
to use military force.  The vote was 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the
House.  She's had to shut down her phone due to angry calls, obviously. 
(She DID vote for the bill that condemned the attack and authorized $40
billion for recovery.)  See article for details on what she says.


*****
5. Photos of support from around the world

These rather speak for themselves:

http://www.employees.org/~bandy/thankyou/thankyou.htm

(Think about how many of those embassies usually have rocks thrown at them
instead.. well, I know the Beijing one did only a year or two ago, if you'll
recall Kosovo...)

(I actually already linked to that last page, and even made a collage of the images, in Lu Report Retrospective Volume 2.)

View all Lu Report Retrospective volumes

About February 2009

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in February 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

January 2009 is the previous archive.

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