Amazing Worldwide (Web) Updates

In a typical day, I come across many fascinating things that aren’t exactly well known. This is a list of things which interest me, and probably does not reflect interest in the general population. Of course, thinking about that alone is of interest to me, so … (Ah, recursion!)

Cyborgs Are Real
Way cool neuroscience.

Gizmodo Goes to Lego
Far more here than I could summarize, including a video tour of the Lego factory.

Star Wars is Nearer than You Think
Actually, Star Wars weapons fire charges of ionized Tibanna gas, but you’ll get the idea.

Microsoft 3D Modeler
And you thought everything from Microsoft was evil.

The Large Hadron Collider Rap
Almost as good as “White and Nerdy.”

ShapeWays 3D modeling
These aren’t quite replicators, but affordable 3D “printing” is now at our disposal.

Marketing and Stop Signs
What happens when the marketing department designs a stop sign? (Software and graphics design often go this way.)

The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer
Gamers will understand the reference. Others may learn something.

Keeper of the Star Wars Canon
Imagine having to hold the continuity of a universe together single-handedly. (Well, it helps to have some database skills.)

The Mythbusters Weren’t Allowed to Bust This.
What “the man” doesn’t want you to know about RFID.

I have Joined the Dharma Initiative.

I Have Decided to Become President

What do you think of, “Grow up, you babies!” as a campaign slogan?

Gas at $23 a Gallon (No, Not Here)

Now that I have your attention (the headline is explained below), let me tell you about my nephew Mike Matheson and the missions trip he is leading to Guinea-Bissau …


Missonary Kid/MK Minister/My nephew Mike Matheson. (I warned Mike I’d get even someday for the time he swiped my camera at my Mom’s wedding and put all sort of shots like this one on it.)

Mike Matheson is a missionary kid (MK) who married another MK and now works as a minister to MKs and their families with Wycliffe Bible Translators, at and around the JAARS (Jungle Aviation and Radio Services) center in Waxhaw, North Carolina.

Currently he’s co-leading a group to Guinea-Bissau, which is on the western coast of Africa. Gasoline there was averaging $23 per gallon … until supply ran out completely. (Yes, the whole country seems to be without gasoline at the moment.) Thankfully, the driver they needed for part of their trip managed to save up enough gas ahead of time to get them where they needed.

I highly recommend reading up on Mike’s trip, which has been updated whenever e-mail access allows, at the Guinea-Bissau Team BLOG and the GB Team Notes Page. You can follow the exploits of Mike and Beth and Leigh at their main ministry page.

Mike grew up in Brazil, and Beth in the Philippines. They are among the most caring people we’ve ever met, and have a real heart for working with the unique needs of MKs and their families—which they are singularly qualified to understand. (Nichelle and I think so highly of them that they are our designated choices to inherit our brood if we both kick.)

You can read more about the Republic of Guinea-Bissau via Wikipedia or the CIA World Factbook.

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

While I am working on posts about “The Weaker Vessel,” and “Verbal/Emotional Abuse” (and looking into how a ‘bot hacked my BLOG files to include hidden Spam links), here’s a bit to get you thinking:

Clay Shirky published a lightly edited transcript of his speech at a recent Web 2.0 conference, entitled, “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus.”

You will definitely want to read the whole post, but here are a few noteworthy excerpts:

Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened–rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before–free time.

And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.

How much television do we watch?

[H]ow big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

This reminds me, I was listening to “This American Life,” episode 328, “What I Learned from Television.” In a live broadcast, Ira Glass announces to the audience that average Americans watch 29 hours of television a week. There is a loud, collective gasp from the audience, which is composed of course, of not merely NPR listeners, but NPR listeners who paid to go out and see a live presentation of the radio program. Twenty-nine hours is the average? Suddenly I don’t feel so bad about playing World of WarCraft.

As Shirky writes,

In this same conversation with the TV producer I was talking about World of WarCraft guilds, and as I was talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: “Losers. Grown men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves.”

At least they’re doing something.

But I digress.

As I write this, our pastor is speaking on “Reflections from the Back of a Bike,” noting how we prefer to ride in a car metaphorically driven by the pastor, instead of providing our own power on a bicycle, comparing the early church’s prayer to “speak the Word of God with boldness” as recorded in Acts 4:29 to our typical prayers of, well, whatever; of how we fail to really act on our belief in an Almighty God and actually serve Him with actions, every hour of our lives. How we need to embrace the mission of Christ and actually do something to reflect what we say we believe.

To be honest, I have heard many such sermons over the years, but this one is different. It’s Scriptural. It isn’t designed to evoke an emotional response. Its success won’t be measured by the number of people who raise their hands or “go forward” to the altar. Its success will, rather, be measured by how we let Christ give us boldness to use our associations and talents and burdens to change others’ lives. It’s real. It’s a reflection of how he actually lives in following Christ.

And the Word of God convicts me, that I ought to be so focused.


P.S.: Shirky makes some fascinating conclusions based on analyses of both current society and the Industrial Revolution, getting into such subjects as cognitive surplus, shared information projects, and participatory media. It’s one of the few must-read pieces I’ve encountered in the past year. He wraps up with a look into this gem (which in this context of excerpts seems disconnected, but in reality is not):

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she’s going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn’t what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, “What you doing?” And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, “Looking for the mouse.”

Moondust and Duct Tape

This story about duct tape use on the moon was simply too good to pass up on cross-posting.

[I]n [the] Taurus-Littrow [valley, in the Sea of Serenity, on the moon] a missing fender was a potential disaster. The reason is moondust. When a rover rolls across the lunar surface, it kicks up a plume of moondust in its wake. (Astronauts called them “rooster tails.”) Without a fender, the rover would be showered by a spray of dark, abrasive grit. White spacesuits blackened by dust could turn into dangerous absorbers of the fierce lunar sun with astronauts overheating inside. Sharp-edged dust wiped off visors would scratch the glass, making helmets difficult to see out of. Moondust also had an uncanny way of working itself into hinges, latches and joints, rendering them useless.

Cernan: “And I hate to say it, but I’m going to have to take some time to try … to get that fender back on. Jack, is the tape under my seat, do you remember?” (He’s referring to a roll of ordinary, gray duct tape.)

2008 as Seen from 1968

“The single most important item in 2008 households is the computer.”

In 2008, Mechanix Illustrated prognosticated on what life would be like 40 years later. Some of the predications are eerily accurate, some may be seen in another 40 years, and as for others, we can only hope. Take a look!

(While I’m working on 3 other relatively detailed posts, I figured I’d provide something to chew on to prove I’m still alive. For the record, I was born in 1968.)

Lego Turns 50 Today

Today is the 50th anniversary of the filing of the patent for Lego bricks.


The Google logo received a Lego treatment today.

I received my first Lego set 34 years ago—number 480, the Rescue Helicopter—at age 5, as a Christmas gift from friend-and-neighbor Chuck Altwein. I quickly learned to completely assemble and disassemble the model without the directions. This was followed by set number 135 that year from my parents (too small a set, but I do not blame them), and many, many others, including some of my favorites, 190, 404 (which still gets my vote for best classic building set), and the 487 Space Cruiser, which was one of a trilogy of sets that opened Lego’s hugely popular (and still running) space line. (This line also introduced the modern Lego minifigure, or minifig.)

Lego forever changed my childhood, as I spent nearly every Saturday morning surrounded by Lego. One of the worst punishments I ever received was when I got frustrated trying to build a truck, and threw the partially completed assembly across the room. My Mom put my Lego in the attic for a week, and I learned to control my temper better. (I recall an incident with Isaac, at around age 4 or 5, where he had his Lego taken away for something similar, and he cried for 3 1/2 hours straight.)

I continue to build with Lego with my kids on rainy days at home, and lead a Lego robotics group that meets once a week at work (where I am known by the nickname LegoDoug). We have completed one project using the original RIS/RCX, and are switching to the NXT this week, thanks to Nichelle’s wonderful anniversary gift.

My boys are crazy about Lego Bionicle and the Lego Star Wars lines, and even NaNi loves to build, and I can’t think of any toy that has provided so much innovative playtime.

Check out some coverage on Gizmodo, Slashdot, Time, and this Lego timeline on Wikipedia.

Following are images of some of my favorite bits of my own Lego history.


I lobbied shamelessly and amorally for this one Christmas. It was Lego’s largest set to date.


One of Lego’s best sets ever, which included a Lego motor.


The Lego Space Cruiser, an unquestionable classic.


Lego’s first castle set.


The first Lego robotics kit, and a little piece of history.


An iconic robot constructed from the new Lego NXT robotics kit.

Censoring Crysis – Defeating the Potty Mouth

I promised you all I’d keep you updated on my clean-up progress. While I was procrastinating, another group of guys got together and blasted through the work in a manner to which only teens fueled by pizza and soda can accomplish.

I’ve actually tried their patches, and they seem to work well, making playing Crysis with the volume it deserves a much less cringy experience.

I’d recommend heading over to http://www.gamesoap.net. If their files give you any problems, just send me (or them) an e-mail. (Mine is {myfirstname}@wilcoxfamily.net.)

Thanks, guys from GameSoap. (And I’d add Company of Heroes to my wishlist for cleaned up games. I’ve looked into it, and even know how to edit the files; putting them back into the game is what I never finished.)

Blessings to you all.

Crysis rules!


This in-game screen shot shows some of the visuals that make Crysis so amazing.

Crysis is, without a doubt, completely deserving of the 98% score awarded to it by PC Gamer. Crytek built so well upon the immersive environment and storytelling that they had nearly perfected in Far Cry, that my kids and I have spent hours playing it, wearing out the demo mission, and then losing our lives for several weeks when the full version arrived.

Unfortunately, it has one small problem beyond the currently high hardware requirements. True to its military nature, the characters suffer from a severe case of potty-mouth. This really wasn’t acceptable to me, and Crytek didn’t provide a language filter or switch, so I decided to do something about it. And now you can, too!

Are you as smart as my kids?

There are a few assumptions here. I assume that you are reasonably proficient in a windows file system, and can do basic things like rename files, work with compressed folders (Zip archives), and know the difference between a file and folder.

Finding your starting point

First, find your Crysis folder. It’s probably c:Program FilesElectronic ArtsCrytekCrysis. Then drop down to GameLocalized.

Showing file extensions … step one toward becoming a power-user

For the folders in which we will be working, you will want to show file extensions for known file types via the Folder … Options dialog (see image below), unchecking the box marked “Hide file extensions for known file types.”


This is how to show those oh-so-useful file extensions.

Begin by making a backup

The english.pak file is the one you’re going to extract and modify, so we’ll make a backup of it first. Copy the english.pak file, and name the copy english.pak.original. You should end up with something like this:

The key here is, that the english.pak file is really just a pkZip-compatible archive with a different name. We can, using the wonders of Windows XP, extract it, modify its contents, and repackage it. (We could directly modify its contents just like any other folder, but there would be delays while the operating system uncompresses files that would soon become frustrating.)

Rename your english.pak file to english.pak.censored.zip.

Extraction

Right-click on english.pak.censored.zip, and choose Extract All ... from the context menu, which will open the Extraction Wizard. Click Next several times, watch the Extracting ... meter for a bit, and you’ll be ready for the next step.

Clearing the read-only attributes

To avoid possible repeated annoyances, you need to clear any read-only attributes on the exacted files. Right click on the newly-created extracted folder (which should be named english.pak.censored), and choose Properties. Click on the box marked Read-only until it is empty, and click OK. At the prompt that appears, choose Apply changes to this folder, subfolders and files. This will allow you to do the renaming or editing you need, without having to answer 7,439 prompts.


Clearing the read-only attribute for a bunch of files.

In the newly-created extracted folder (which should be named english.pak.censored), open up the Languages folder, then the dialog folder. From here you are going to have to search for text within files. Ah, but wait! Windows XP, by default, won’t find text within files that don’t have file types it knows about. So, you’re going to have to tweak your system in one more way to find what we need within the .fsq files (to be explained momentarily) that Crysis uses.

Fixing the darned Find Text within Files feature in Windows XP

Find your My Computer icon, right-click on it, and choose Manage. In the Computer Management console, click the plus sign next to Services and Applications, and then right-click on Indexing Service and choose Properties. (We won’t actually be activating the CPU-wasting Indexing Service, but the setting to fix the Find Text within Files feature is part of that service.) Be sure the box marked Index files with unknown extensions has a check mark in it, click OK, and then close the Computer Management console. (See the image below.)


Fixing the Find Text within Files feature in Windows XP.

Search and destroy the #!%#!$#!@$ bad language

Now we can find and eliminate any language you might find offensive. You should have a folder open to something like english.pakLanguagesdialog. Press F3 or click the Search button at the top of the window to open the Search Companion. Click All Files or Folders, and enter *.fsq in the All or part of the file name: box, and the word you want to eliminate from the dialog in the A word or phrase in the file: box. In the example pictured below, I’ve entered nomad, which can hardly be considered profane, but you get the idea.


Personally, I hate the silly dog, and have hacked my account with TweakUI so it doesn’t show up. This screen shot is from my youngest son’s account.

Click Search Now to start the search. It will take a few moments to find the files for which you are looking, but you can start with the first one it finds. You will know the search is complete when the Search Now button becomes active again.

Right-click on the first file in the list, and choose Open Containing Folder. That will open the folder containing that file, and highlight the file, as shown below.

In my example, greets_02.fsq is highlighted. It isn’t necessary to do so, but you can open the file and view it if you like. (Windows will ask you how you want to open it. Tell it to Select the program from a list, and have it opened in Notepad or WordPad.) The .fsq files actually contain the XML that drives the facial animation when the in-game characters are speaking, and I found it fascinating. The files also contain the “real” text for the spoken dialog, which is why we can use them to find offensive language.

As I said, it isn’t necessary to examine the .fsq files, unless you want to verify exactly what the dialog is that they describe. Notice that the folder you’ve opened contains two files with the same file name, but different suffixes. The one that ends in .mp2 is an MPEG layer 2 audio file that contains the actual dialog audio. To eliminate it from being spoken in the game, just rename it .mp2_ (or anything else you like; putting underscores in file names is kind of a Geeky programming thing to do). I do recommend keeping the name the same and modifying the 3-letter extension, though, because you may wish to get at these files again later.


Renaming a file.

Once you’ve done that, close the folder that contains these files (the one that opened when you chose Open Containing Folder). Then go to the next file the search found, right-click on it, and choose Open Containing Folder again. Repeat as necessary, and run new searches as necessary, until the game reaches the language level you’re comfortable with. (My target was somewhere between rated G and rated PG.)

(Rather than just rename the files, one could use an audio editor like Audacity to remove the offensive words. It is my intention to do this with some of the longer dialog clips, but I have not taken the time to do so yet.)

Packing it all back up

Once you are done running all your searches and renaming all the files you wish to change (and this may take a while), as there are quite a few, the last step is to recompress all the files into a new compressed folder named english.pak, and be sure that file is in the correct location. Go back to your C:Program FilesEA GamesCrytekCrysisGameLocalized folder, right-click on the english.pak.censored folder, and choose Send To then Compressed (zipped) folder. This will create a new file called english.pak.zip, and will probably take a couple of minutes.


Recompressing the modified folder into a .zip file.

Lastly, delete english.pak (you should have it backed up as a file named english.pak.original), and rename english.pak.zip to english.pak. You should then be ready to play Crysis and not feel the need to wash out the character’s mouths (especially Psycho’s) with virtual soap.

Other possibilities

Now, if you don’t want to go to all this trouble, if you send me a really nice e-mail (or a 512 MB NVIDIA 8800 GT), I just might point you to a place you can download my modified .pak file. (Mine is {myfirstname}@wilcoxfamily.net.)

Next on my list of games to fix: Company of Heroes.

$40 for an Interactive Touchsuface?

Saw this on Slashdot today.

Johnny Lee has developed a system to turn virtually any surface or display into a pen-interactive “touch” surface. The video below shows how cool this is.

Take a look at Johhny Lee’s other Wii Remote projects!

While I’m on the subject of hardware, I wouldn’t normally be remotely tempted to pay $800 or more for a computer keyboard, but these steampunk keyboards are masterpieces. And wait ’till you see the laptop.