Geek Smithology

February 28, 2009

It’s ALIIIIIVE!!1!

Filed under: Announce,Craft of Dev,Ruby by Nathan @ 11:34 pm

chess Shortly after I left Service Intelligence all those years ago, a small panel convened at a Tim Horton’s to discuss the future. Well, actually, it was me, The Ront and Foo and since we seemed to like working together we figured we’d write a game of some kind. After not a whole lot of thought we figured we’d go ahead and write a chess game in Java. We didn’t really get anywhere with that, though. Then it happened.

I remember it like it was yesterday. But really, it was right after No Fluff Just Stuff 2005. My eyes were opened and it was decided right then and there that the chess game would written in Ruby. Sure it’s not the most “performant” language for chess calculations, but I wanted to learn Ruby and it’s always better to have a real project to work toward.

We decided to call it “pawnzilla”, for all the reasons you can imagine someone might want to call a chess engine pawnzilla. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster – we went through a horrible OO implementation, transition to 64-bit love and bitboards, and a fairly recent switch from sourceforge to GitHub, but after three and a half years (maybe a couple person months total effort – it’s tough to get time to work on this stuff!) I finally realized a dream, and played a game against my own chess engine.

It was pretty anticlimactic. All of the time so far has been spent working on a complete rules engine (this turns out to be quite a difficult proposition!), so the AI is pretty stupid. So stupid that the game lasted only 7 moves. But still, after all this time, it was great to watch pawnzilla make moves and actually “understand” that the game was over.

I think that we’ve implemented some pretty cool ideas in pawnzilla (including our domain specific approach to testing) and now that there is finally something to see, I hope to start blogging about some of those ideas. The next big goal is to develop the AI into something that doesn’t suck and hook it up to the free internet chess server so that it can get rated. So far it’s been a hell of a ride, and even though it took so long, it’s nice to get to such a significant milestone in my own labour of love.

If you’d like to see it, pawnzilla is licensed under the Apache 2.0 license and you can check it out over on github. And if anyone out there wants to play with a pure-ruby chess engine (should be a lot of fun just to work on different AI strategies now that the rules engine is in place) drop me a line and I’ll be happy to talk about it.

So cheers to pawnzilla.

February 22, 2009

Live Blogging the Oscars 2009

Filed under: Grab Bag by Nathan @ 6:31 pm

6:29 The show is about to begin. I fell down the stairs yesterday and my tailbone is in bad shape, so I’ve spent most of the day off of my feet, which means I caught most of the red carpet rigamarole. I can’t say I missed it. Ooh, ooh! Here comes Hugh!

6:38 Okay, so far Hugh rules. “Robert Downey Jr. is an American playing an Australian playing an African American. Nominated. I’m an Australian who played on Australian in a movie called Australia. Hosting.” This is the best introduction of all time. Standing O? Damn straight.

6:42 and so endeth the first montage. At least it’s relevant, but still too long. Do we really need five past winners? And I’m sorry, the speeches are too long. On one hand, I like that they’re recognizing the nominees, but this is too much.

6:47 And the winner is… Penelope Cruz. Yeah, I’m on record saying I thought Marisa Tomei should win, but I can’t begrudge Penelope this win, she was a good part in a good movie. But I really don’t like the twenty year introductions. Nathan goes 1 for 1.

6:57 I like they way they did the introduction of the Best Original Screenplay , if that is indicative of the new “style” this could work out really well. And the winner is..Milk. I probably should have guessed that, but I really think In Bruges was the better script. 1 for 2.

As for adapted screenplay, the winner is Slumdog Millionaire. This was a pretty easy pick and I’m sitting at 2 for 3.

7:07 Is there anybody anywhere surprised that Wall-E is the best animated feature? In a rare move, all three nominees were excellent, but the Pixar film was heads and tails above the rest. I easily go to 3 for 4.

7:17 The Art Direction oscar is presented to the folks behind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Silly me for thinking that it would be the latest costume drama featuring a certain Keira Knightly and I drop to to 60 percent and 3 for 5. Will Ben Button sweep the design awards or will the costume drama win? And the oscar goes to The Duchess. Ah, there’s the Knightly movie award. I feel vindicated for no reason whatsoever, but take my place at 4 for 6. Another easy call as the Makeup Oscar goes to “the movie where Brad Pitt looks all old”. Smith is looking good at 5 for 7.

7:35 Damn, Ben Stiller is hilarious, and Natalie Portman looks better than she can act. My theory that just picking Slumdog Millionaire for every category in which it was nominated will probably bear a lot of fruit as the night goes on. 6 for 8 as I say hello to 75 percent, the best I’ve been since 100% after one award.

8:12 Heath Ledger wins best supporting actor. Once again I want to stress that he was the best actor in that group, and this is not a sympathy win by any means. Very emotional, but well done. 7 for 9.

8:15 I was starting to second guess myself and thinking that Trouble the Water would win the best documentary, but I am pleased to see Man on Wire win. Such acrobatics. And you gotta love Bill Maher. 8 for 10 – what’s up?

8:27 “The movie where Brad Pitt looks old” wins another Oscar, this time for the heavyweight category Visual Effects. Make a good looking dude look old and you too can win Oscars. 9 for 11. But I think I’m going to go downhill quickly with Sound Editing and Mixing. I went with Wall-E, which should win, but won’t.

Nope. Sound editing goes to Dark Knight. I guess they had to award it something. Bah, I fall to 9 for 12. As for sound mixing, Will Smith gives the award to…Slumdog Millionaire, of course, Whatever, no-one really cares about sound…9 for 13.

After my craziness for Wall-E subsided I went back to the “if it’s Slumdog pick it, and here they win for Editing. Not much of a surprise, 10 for 14.

8:54 Slumdog wins again, this time for score. I don’t think it was the best, but it’s a Slumdog night and it continues. I go 11 for 15 and I’ve already hit my total from last year. That’s just crazy talk.

9:00 Okay, while this medley of the nominated songs is pretty annoying, it’s far better than having separate performances throughout the night as we’ve seen in the past. Slumdog has two songs nominated so the trick is to pick which one. And the winner….Jai Ho. It was a bit of a slam dunk — when in doubt, go for the dance number. Hello 12 for 16. I don’t know how I can possibly beat such a performance.

9:20 Danny Boyle wins an unsurprising Best Directing statue for Slumdog Millionaire, and received it “in the manner of Tigger”, which certainly entertained my wife. 13 for 17.

9:32 Oooh, I’m on fire. Kate Winslet wins for The Reader – watching Marion Cotillard do her little speech was almost better than Kate’s. This is really good to see her win after six nominations. 14 for 18.

9:43 “You commie, homo loving sons of guns”. Sean Penn wins another Oscar for his brilliant performance as Harvey Milk. I’m disappointed for Mickey Rourke who likely won’t be here ever again, but the bottom line is Nat X goes 15 for 19.

9:52 And after three and a half (not as torturous as other years) long, long hours, Stephen Spielberg awards the best picture to Slumdog Millionaire. Is anyone surprised by this? If you are, you’re a fool. It’s hard to believe that this movie was almost a straight to DVD release, but thanks to the magic of Toronto and its film festival, it found a distributor and found love. Even if you don’t like the movie (and if you don’t, you’re a fool) you have to like the story. Nice to see so many people from the cast make it to Hollywood for the show.

I absolutely destroy last year’s result of 11/19 by going 16/20. I’m not making any kind of prediction for next year.

And there it is, another year, another Oscar telecast. I think Hugh Jackman should be given a lifetime contract to host the Oscars – he was truly excellent.

February 19, 2009

If I picked the Oscars…again

Filed under: Grab Bag by Nathan @ 11:17 pm

As with last year, I’ve decided to throw out who would win the oscars if the Academy decided that maybe they should ditch the whole voting process and get some guy from Calgary to pick the winners. I will list both who I think the academy will pick (Who Will Win), and who I would pick if I had an actual ballot (Who Should Win.) I’ll be keeping score during the oscars to see how well I did.

Supporting Actor
Who Will Win: Heath Ledger (Dark Knight)
Who Should Win: Heath Ledger (Dark Knight)

The Dark Knight wasn’t a very good movie, but Heath Ledger was great in it. He took the Joker out of the clownish imp of Caesar Romero and Jack Nicholson and turned him into the insane monster he really is. Some will say he wouldn’t have won if he was still alive, but that’s an unnecessary excuse – it’s the best performance of the nominees.

Supporting Actress
Who Will Win: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Who Should Win: Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)

The academy loves supporting actresses who are different See Mira Sorvino for Might Aphrodite and the bizarre win by Tomei for My Cousin Vinny. And Penelope Cruz is quite the character. But I think that this year Marisa deserves the award, and not just because she was naked, but finally real.

Lead Actor
Who Will Win: Sean Penn (Milk)
Who Should Win: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

I have a feeling I’m picking the wrong role for who should win, but the academy loves Sean Penn, and with the Democrats in charge, maybe they’ll put up with this politics. But thank goodness for Darren Aronofsky who wouldn’t make this movie without Rourke (hard to believe that Nicholas Cage was once attached to this role.) Forget all of the art imitates life drama, this is where MIckey proved once and for all that he is a true actor. Remember Diner?

Lead Actress
Who Will Win: Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Who Should Win: Kate Winslet (The Reader)

It’s finally Winslet’s year. So many nominations (5) and so few wins (0). This nomination makes her the youngest actor in history to have received six nominations, and she will ride the tidal wave of her dual Golden Globes to Oscar gold. She plays a character who is detestable in every way that matters, but you can’t look away.

Best Director
Who Will Win: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Who Should Win: Gus Van Sant (Milk)

Make no mistake – Slumdog Millionaire is a great film with the unmistakable stamp of Danny Boyle all over it, but it’s riding a wave of over-hype that was only fed by the Golden Globes. The true directing achievement of the year is Van Sant, who evokes old timey San Francisco while creating a truly interesting film even though we come in knowing the result.

Best Picture
Who Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Who Should Win: Milk

Again, the nominations are wrong this year. For Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon to be nominated in the year that Wall-E and The Wrestler were released just shows that the Academy is, in a lot of ways, out of touch.[1] There are no masterpieces on this list, unlike There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men last year. Once again, while I’m a big fan of Slumdog, it doesn’t have the direction or performances of Milk. While Sean Penn seems so over the top in the movie, you need to seek out video of the real-life Harvey Milk, and you’ll see how dead-on his portrayal is.

And there it is, folks. I’m hoping to live blog during the show again and seeing how I measure up. For everyone playing at home, here are my full picks. Once again, I’ve omitted best foreign film and the shorts, because I saw none of them.

Please feel free to comment or email me with your own choices (see here for a full list of nominees) and we’ll compare our prognostication abilities.


Category Prediction
Lead Actor Sean Penn (Milk)
Supporting Actor Heath Ledger (Dark Knight)
Lead Actress Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Animated Film Wall-E
Art Direction The Duchess
Cinematography Slumdog Millionaire
Costume Design The Duchess
Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Documentary Man on Wire
Film Editing Slumdog Millionaire
Makeup The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Original Score Slumdog Millionaire
Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire
Sound Editing Wall-E
Sound Mixing Wall-E
Visual Effects The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Adapted Screenplay Slumdog Millionaire
Original Screenplay In Bruges

[1] To the fanboys complaining about The Dark Knight getting “snubbed” in the best picture category, not only is it not the best picture of the year, but in retrospect, it’s not even that good.

February 17, 2009

Microsoft just doesn’t get it.

Filed under: Industry by Nathan @ 10:05 pm

You know, we like to put Microsoft down all the time. We all remember the hilarious “If Microsoft designed the iPod box” video[1], and those excellent points about how the Zune marketing discusses how many gigabytes it can hold, while the iPod lets you know how many songs it will hold. Hell, even I occasionally wonder what they are smoking. But, let’s face it, Microsoft really makes it too damn easy.

There are seven (that’s right, 7) different versions of Windows 7. Insert your own joke.

[1] Yes, I am perfectly aware that the parody originated within Microsoft. I chalk it up to frustrated designers and the old maxim “It’s funny because it’s true.”

February 9, 2009

Review – Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Filed under: Sight by Nathan @ 9:44 pm

We’ve all felt like Randy from Scream: watching hapless horror movie victims take every wrong turn so they cross paths with the killer for the next death set-piece. But who ever thinks about that killer? What about all the planning and training that goes into the perfect spree? If post-modern horror movies took the step of becoming self-aware, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon goes even further and takes us into the life of an up-and-coming slasher as he prepares for his big night.

btm-leslie-vernon-photo

The story is told through the eyes of a documentary crew led by Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals[1]). Unlike the hardcore verite style of Man Bites Dog, another documentary that follows a killer, this movie follows a more comedic tack as Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel) works through all of his moves, as if it were a chess match. He talks us through picking out his “survivor girl”, planting bizarre clues (when leaving a fake newspaper article behind tying himself to survivor girl, he marvels at his own wit in remembering to alter the microfiche), and working out the remote location to ensure maximum carnage, all in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of “Jay”[2], “Fred”[3], and “Mike”[4].

As the events unfold, we meet Leslie’s mentor, Eugene a retired slasher who talks about tricks of the trade as he and his girl Jamie help the killer with his plans. When Leslie’s old psychiatrist, Doc Haloran (Robert Englund), comes to town, Leslie now “has an Ahab!” However, the film takes a turn to the dark side as it slowly dawns on Taylor that Leslie isn’t fooling and that he fully intends to go through with his plan. How it all goes down and how he handles it is a twist I wouldn’t dream of revealing, but after a second viewing, the movie earns it.

The two main performances are really strong – Baesel plays the hopeful killer with an “aw shucks” quality that will make audiences start to like him despite his plans. Goethals does a great job playing a cynical documentarian playing for laughs who slowly realizes that this is no joke. Robert Englund, so famous for playing the child killer in the striped sweater, is put into the trench coat of Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) from Halloween in an inspired bit of casting. Finally, Scott Wilson as the retired killer-cum-mentor Eugene steals most of the scenes he’s in.

Just as the characters from Clerks mused about the thousands of innocent contractors who must’ve been blown up in Return of the Jedi when the second Death Star was destroyed, Behind the Mask takes a look at some familiar cliches from a different angle and manages to be pretty darn entertaining.

four star

[1] Yes, that Angela Goethals, of famed 1993 sitcom Phenom and who uttered one of Home Alone’s most annoying lines of dialog…”Listen, Kevin, what are you so worried about? You know Mom’s gonna pack your stuff anyway. You’re what the French call “les incompetents.”
[2] for the horror impaired…Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th (Kane Hodder who portrayed Jason makes a cameo)
[3] Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street
[4] Michael Myers from the Halloween movies.

February 4, 2009

Birth of Vader

Filed under: Sight by Nathan @ 12:59 pm

Like so many geeks who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy (and I mean people who were actually born when Star Wars came out, not these punk kids who are five years younger than Return of the Jedi) I was, shall we say, disappointed with episodes one two and three.

It is my contention that Episode I was a complete waste of time, and that Episode II (a well-written and acted Episode II, of course) should have been the first, entitled The Clone Wars. And rather than just a few anticlimactic minutes of a single movie, Episode III would have focussed on the Vader’s destruction of the Jedi, call it Revenge of the Sith (because that’s actually a fine name). This means that the famous duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan (which was actually pretty good, all things considered) would’ve ended my Episode II, Rise of the Emperor. However, rather than a pathetic “NOOOOOOOOO!”, I would’ve ended it something like this…

1
INT. SOPHISTICATED OPERATING ROOM - NIGHT
1
Screen is black, and there are muffled sounds of robotic surgery: DRILLS, SAWS, WELDERS.  A strobe effect replaces the black with a series of images from the surgery.
1
First, a robotic arm being roughly welded to what remains of a ruined arm.  SCREAMS.
1
A harness lifting the torso on VADER’s black legs.  SCREAMS, sparks, a saw enters the screen.
1
The chest device is locked into place, a HISS and steam as it is sealed.
1
Fade from black to a close-up of the face mask.  As it is lowered onto ANAKIN’s face amid steam and fire, the camera pans back, so that more and more of ANAKIN’s body comes into scene as the mask descends, but we never see his face again.  The mask locks into place with the same sound used in EMPIRE.
1
Fade to black.  No sound for several seconds.
1
The silence is broken by the unmistakable sound of VADER’s BREATHING as his life support systems start operating.  After three or four breaths, the Imperial march comes up low at a slow, funereal tempo.
1
ROLL CREDITS.

February 1, 2009

This is your project on Git…

Filed under: Craft of Dev,Ruby by Nathan @ 3:36 pm

There’s been a lot of noise ’bout distributed source control the last year or two, especially with regard to Linus’ other baby, Git. Even I’ve bit – moving pawnzilla from sourceforge to GitHub last year, with serious thought to going with gitsvn in my professional life.

Stuart over at Relevence even went so far as to say that If you run a significant open source project that is not on a distributed SCM, it is a clear warning sign that you are a dinosaur.

He points to a pretty brilliant data visualization of commits to the rails project over the years. Take a look around April 2008, when they moved to Git. Make sure to watch the HD version fullscreen, it’s truly something to behold.

As always, our friends the pragmatic programmers have a book about Git to get you started on the road to enlightenment. (Or distributed SCM, as if they aren’t the same thing…)

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