Exam Sideeffects, TV Online and the Pursuit of Rest

Exams. One word says it all. If you ever taken one you know what I mean. If you never had the “pleasure” of taking one, let me just name some of the side effects: anxiety, dizziness, confusion, insomnia, sleepiness, panic attacks and memory loss. In extreme cases, exams may cause serious injury or even death of: marks, chances of passing, hope of finishing university and getting a degree.

I finished my last exam today, so please forgive my lapse in blogging punctuality. This temporary insanity only lasts for a few days fortunately. I think I passed two of my four classes. 😉

Instead of studying – the ultimate goal is to pass not excel – I contracted a recent meme-virus going around the Internet, videoblogging. After watching a number of videos on Google Video (including the feature film Dr. Strangelove), I kind of like the idea of watching videos online. It passes the time between exams and the split of Stargate Atlantis Season 3. Videoblogging reminds of watching the news, only way geekier, fun and with better looking hostesses (it’s a guy thing). The best ones I watched so far: Rocketboom and MobuzzTV.

Rocketboom, hosted by Joanne Colan feels like watching Slashdot on TV (minus the comments left by good willed gentleman – I love you guys – all trolls, except for one pleasant guy but he’s a troll too). The vlog delves into the wacky and zany antics, those creatures called humans come up with: shoverboards and the Boston Type Writer Orchestra episodes being great examples. The lovely Joanne Colan hosts the week-daily show, bringing a light-hearted humorous feel. The excellent overall quality of Rocketboom, makes me want to call it less of a videoblog, and more of a short on-line show.

MobuzzTV, raises the bar even higher than Rocketboom for videoblogs. I liken MobuzzTV to an on-line tech tv show. MobuzzTV deals with current tech-related events in a humorous, fun light. The presentation: sleek, sexy and professional. If more videoblogs of the same calibre of MobuzzTV start sprouting up, old fashioned TV will die almost overnight.

Videoblogs seems like the future of TV, and even governments seem to think so. Just check out France’s new France24. Impressive, but not surprising. I am wondering with such wonderful show and sites out there, how can a lowly “text” blogger such as myself compete for attention. Maybe some old-fashioned folks, prefer text sometimes.

I fear I must hasten to my assignments, and then I shall experience freedom from university!

Do You Really Think I Study???

Many people still believe students study before exams. Right… Some students still believe they should. I, however join the ever-increasing ranks of slackers and non-studiers. That said, I will look over my notes, before taking the exam. My definition of studying… kind of unconventional.

My rationale? If I did zero work the entire semester, I sure am not going to learn anything in a single night. So instead I read over my notes. And do other things.

Today, I foolishly decided would be reinstall-Ubuntu day. Most of the morning and a good part of the afternoon consisted of backing up and reinstalling. I tried installing the newest Kubuntu. Alas, it refused to accept a JFS root directory. I wanted JFS, cause I like a fast, responsive file system. Not like Reisers which is fast and crashes hard. Not like XFS that runs like if every machine was a six-million dollar rack with more RAIDs and CPUs then a centipede has legs. And ext3, thats an ancient system… old but reliable. Still old though. After jousting with Kubuntu Edgy Eft, I popped in my Ubuntu Dapper Drake and decided to go the upgrade route.

So I am sitting right now, 30 minutes into an upgrade, copying back my backed up data, one DVD at a time. When I am done the copying, I will study. Right…

25th Anniversary of Martial Law in Poland

December 13, 1981. General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared Poland (then still part of the Warsaw Pact) under martial law. The Communist secret service arrested hundreds of Poles. Many died for a free Poland.

25 years later, things have changed slowly. Though many ex-members of the Communist Party, secret service and collaborators still walk freely and some even take up government positions, the sacrifice of many has not gone to waste. The current government is taking great steps to bring those responsible to justice.

I salute those who stood up to the injustice, corruption and evil of the Communist Party. And I thank you for fighting for my country.

Backup Time Again!

Yes, folks its that time of year again. Backups, backups and even more backups. My system crufted up in the past few months, and I need to reformat, repartition and reinstall Ubuntu Linux again.

So today I am concentrating on getting everything ready for a massive backup. I got a stack of DVDs on my right. I just want to finish organizing my music, throwing out unneeded things and grabbing some copies of my old files.

More updates as I get further.

Viva Pinochet!

Yesterday General Augusto Pinochet died at the age of 91. (BBC article)

I never met the man, nor am I any way connected to Chile. Yet I admire his resolve and daring.
He stood up to Communism and the Soviet Russian empire. He did this at a time, when no one except the superpowers dared to. From what I see, many Chileans are grateful for his expulsion of communism and agents of the Soviet Union. I admire his patriotism, and his desire to make a strong and free Chile. He sent a clear message to Havana and Moscow, “We don’t want you.”

That said, I disagree with some of his methods. No one should of disappeared or died. There was no need to dispose of his opposition that way. I think Greece, also under a military junta took a far better gentler route. Anyone who sympathized with the murderous Soviet Union and naively believed in a better life in Communism, was sent to the Warsaw Bloc. Many Greeks ended up in Poland, enriching it, and returned back to Greece, more radically opposed to Communism than their deporters were. Maybe Pinochet should of sent Chilean communists to that beautiful, island prison utopia of Communism run by Senior Castro.

History is full of many answered ifs, great deeds and dispecible crimes. What I horrifies me, is the whining, cringing leftist, “rich white kids” who wailed for Pinochet’s life. Ironically, these same people filled with blood lust, never called to bring to justice the Khmer Rogue. Maybe the death of “hundreds” of potentially well-armed, well-financed Communist rebels, is more significant in the lefts mind, than the brutal massacres of thousands of innocents by the word of that raving sociopath Pol Pot.

The world has lost a great man in General Augusto Pinochet. I doubt that his critics would of handled the looming danger of Marxism and bloody revolution in 1970’s Chile, any better. I wish more leaders had Pinochet’s resolve against the overbearing, imperialistic, demonic machination called the Soviet Union. With his death, an era ended. Lets not speak ill of the dead, learn from their successes and not repeat their mistakes.

Still not convinced? Take a look at what Mr. David Horowitz wrote about Pinochet.

Announcing Daily Updates to Mlaren Dreams!

Greetings! Judging by the success of my recent flurry of postings, I decided to start updating the blog on a regular basis.

So I am proud to present. Mlaren Dreams, updated daily at 18:00 EST. Or 23:00 UTC, for those persistently-connected-to-the-Net-thanks-to-my-new-fangled-neural-network-connection.

Unfortunately, I need a few more days before I can link to any files.

Gaming: Simplicity, Good Graphics and Open Source Gaming

Graphics: Opium for the Eyes
Graphics. Our society places heavy emphasis on what we see. Not surprisingly, we also judge games by their graphics.

Judging games by their graphics, has become a staple of gaming reviews. Hard-core gamers, game developers and critics can tell the general age of a game by its graphics. Even the untrained eye can differentiate between an old style game from the 90’s with more recent games.

3D Realm’s Duke Nukem (January 1996)

Valve’s Half-Life 2 (November 2004)

But are graphics everything? Not if you ask older gamers, those who like me saw everything from Nintendo’s original 8-bit Zelda to the newest HDR lightened, high-polygon, physics engine Half-Life 2 Episode 1 game.

Most people that I know, actual play games because they find games fun. Many a pretty looking game turned out boring. And many “old-school” low budget graphics games enticed me to play for hours. Some gamers swear that the most important element in a game is gameplay or simply put fun. Some firms such as UK based indie game developer Introversion lives by focusing on gameplay.

Simplicity in Graphics
Unlike many in the younger crowd of gamers, I believe that one does not need the newest, greatest and latest in graphics to make enticing graphics. Often times, a simple image can fit nicely in place of a complex one. Introversion proved that a market exists for both the latest in eye-candy and simpler graphics with their second game, Darwinia.


The game follows the story of flat, sprite-like AI creatures called Darwinians, and their struggle to survive in a hostile, virus laden world. The graphics of the game inspired by early vector games, also follows the idea of simplicity. While Darwinia graphics set to full, still makes my nVidia GeForce 6800 work for its living, the overall style is simplistic. Maybe even overtly simplistic. But given the story, and type of game, the graphics fit perfectly. Can open source gaming follow the simple, attractive graphics route?

Neverball: Simple Attractive Graphics in Open Source Games
Complex, eye-candy Half-Life 2 style graphics requires tons of time and work to make. Developing a graphics/game engine can handle such graphics is also costly. Buying an engine, like id’s Doom or Valve’s Source can cost too much for indie game companies. Indie game developers do not have the money to afford such eye-candy in their games. Open source game developers have even less resources at their disposal. And so competing on the high-end graphics does not make sense for open source game developers.

However, open source games can still look good, even in 3d. Take the Neverball project for example. The graphics don’t not scream “TIME TO UPGRADE!”, but fit well into the context of the game. True, the icculus group is very experience, has worked on a number of 3d games, and helped companies like Epic bring their games into Linux. Still Neverball‘s graphics, with their colour, bright, simple textures and shinniness look impressive for this type of game. I do not see how any more realistic lighting or textures or models could make the game’s look and feel significantly better.


Screenshots never do justice to a game. Go to the Neverball website and try it out. I think the developers of Neverball showed that a game can be fun, look good and still be open source.

Edit: Sorry about the links, uploaded the screenshot images instead.

Task Logs – Managing Fragmented Time

As promised last week, an update to my self-experiment. After a week of battle testing, consulting with Lina (my university counsellor) and observing myself, I can report success in with my self-experiment. But first, lets backtrack to the “theory” behind my idea.

Last Friday, I came up with an idea to deal with creating continuous spans of work time in an environment that distracts and fragments time into sections. Fragmented time caused by distractions, creates a feeling of disorganization, confusion and frustration between switching. The greatest problem I found with switching between small tasks and my main (course) work, was the inability of getting back to the work. After some problem, I realized that I encountered this problem and a solution in another place, operating systems design.

Modern operating systems seem capable of multi-tasking. Yet the majority of computers have only one or two processors (hyperthreading and multi-core acting as two processors each in some degree). So how can a single processor run two servers, a media player, a web browser, and office suite at once? It doesn’t! The operating system switches between individual tasks rapidly creating the illusion of multi-tasking.

The CPU can switch between tasks without loosing its place by logging. Before the processor switches tasks, the operating system notes what the processor worked on, how far it got and other relevant information. I applied this same idea to enable fast personal context switching.

Before I switched from a major task to another one, I logged what I worked on. The log details the task, what I needed to do next and any ideas I wanted to remember. In its basic form (one form I use along with an activity log) I note the name of the task, what I was to do next in the task, and a bullet form list of notes. Additionally you can jot down the importance, due date, urgency and personal emotion (look at my modified activity log sheets) on the task log.

When I discussed this with Lina, she was quite impressed. She pointed out that this method, deals with the three issues in time management: organization, motivation and prioritization.
The task logs firstmost are organizational tools. They behave sort of like more advanced todo lists, and help you organize your thoughts about a task. Task logs also help motivate you. They show your progress, set your mindset toward the task and motivate you to finish off the task quickly. Finally task logs help with prioritization. Sitting with number of task logs in front, can help you decide which needs the most attention in a given time. In the short I have used them, task logs helped me switch between activities efficiently.

I like task logs, in that by helping me switch from and to a task, I can work on different tasks without a long “warm-up” period. Anyone who deals with lots of writing knows how difficult it can be to put pen to paper. And if something interrupts you, when you come back to writing you need to get back into the mindset of the task. The task log shortens the warm-up time, effectively “stitching” my shorter fragments of time into a single time span. With a task log, I don’t have to sit and think “What do I need to work on again? And what did I want to do?”. Instead I can look, and say “I did this, I need to do that… so… lets work on that task now.”

But even a super-fast CPU finds switching between tasks expensive. Taking task logs takes more time than doing without them, if you never needed to switch between tasks. In an ideal world, we could work on one thing at a time. Unfortunately, the ideal does not exist and so we need to deal with issues like fragmented time. And I believe task logs can help with fitting long term projects into shards of times and making me more productive.

Check out this page on mindtools.com on activity logs.
I will post a sample of “emotional” activity log and and a sample of my task log, sometime tomorrow.

Adjusting to Easy Schedule

I am not good at adjustments. The switch from a super-busy, near-hyper-kinetic schedule to a “normal” lighter schedule keeps on throwing me off. Hence the lack of updates since Friday.

Yesterday was the great chill day. Today was the great after-chill day. Meaning, I did not get too much done when it comes to assignments or studying. Anyone who follows the justCheckers project got lucky with the new daily updates (at least on the wiki). Everyone else… kind of lucked out. (At least you lucky denizen of the blogosphere get a neat treat today – 3 make-up posts. Why? Because I love you and enjoy having a regular audience.)

Still, I rejoice at the thought of the “evil” over-busy semester finishing. With the exception of three moderately difficult exams, a wack of writing for my writing portfolio and two assignment-papers, my goal of finishing a B. Sc. in Computer Science from the University of Toronto, just got a semester to completion. The very thought of finishing in April-May 2007, makes me euphoric. Now assuming that I pass every course this semester, only 4 more courses await me next semester.

I only worry about what I do after-university. People assure me, there is a life after university. I am not too sure. I guess I will need a job, to pay off my meagre debt. But kind of a job? Where can I work? Sure I do plan to work for myself one day, only I need money to bootstrap any sort of business. I would prefer to entire self-employment on my own terms, rather than “starving” myself into it.

So where should I work? Most jobs want some sort of work experience, something I lack in the professional sense. Take gaming firms like Valve, Apogee, id or EA: everyone wants an artist with a portfolio (but can I build one in less than 6 months?), a project developer (do you know that I never worked in let alone managed developing a commercial game?) or a programmer (does Java AWT count as graphics experience? No I don’t do OpenGL, at least not yet). How about NASA’s JPL? Would love to code rovers to race around on Mars, yet neither engineer nor US citizen I am not.

Realistically, I should contemplate working for IBM or Canonical (makers of Ubuntu). Man too little dreamy options (Valve), and too many risky (Canonical) or dirrery options (IBM, Microsoft *shivers*). So long as all effort does not land me a low paying sys admin or code monkey job.