Wisteria

To say that my grandfather had a green thumb is an understatement — at least his whole forearm was green! His garden was his pride and joy. But to the side of his house, there was very little room for a garden, but that didn’t stop him. There was a yellow wisteria growing all along the side of the house, and when it bloomed, it was absolutely filled with thick bunches of flowers!

All those green thumb genes went to my sister though: I’m not much of a gardener at all. But when I had the chance, I planted a wisteria to grow along our shed. It’s been doing okay, and every year I look forward to the flowering of our wisteria.

Greenscreen

Last December, I invested some money in a desktop gaming system, using as many left-over components as I could. This also allowed me to stream with a face-cam, because I would be sitting at my desk (instead of in the living room, where my gaming system sat before). But my desk is oriented towards the window, with my back to the rest of the house. So I used a folding screen that we had lying around to block out the view behind me — we wouldn’t want accidental domestic scenes to be streamed to the internet, right?
But that means you got to see the off-white fabric behind me during streams. Not that terrible, but it could be better. So I ordered a large piece of fabric in that chromakey colour — the colour they also use for the weather report on TV. After a bit of ironing (the fabric came folded in a box, so creases everywhere!), we smoothed the fabric over the folding screen, using safety pins. It took some fiddling to get the lighting all set up correctly, but setting up the greenscreen effect in OBS is just a single mouse-click! So now I obscure less of the screen, and it looks so much more professional. (Not that I want to be a professional streamer, but for less than 20 euros this is certainly a fun addition to the setup.)


A screenshot of a previous stream. You can see the white folding screen behind me.


Pinning the fabric to the screen. We made sure to have as few creases as possible, because a too high difference in hue will defeat the effect!


A screenshot of yesterday’s stream. Now it is as if I am in front of the computer screen!

Amazing progress

I think my last electronics project was about… ten years ago? I used the PIC microcontrollers from Microchip, which I programmed in assembly and that I used a cobbled-together serial port programmer hardware to transfer the program to the microcontroller itself. There was the BASIC Stamp, which allowed you to program the PIC in BASIC, but that was crazy expensive, as were the C compilers and USB programmer boards for the chips. So it was all quite low-level stuff that I did, because it was hard work.
There were competing microcontroller platforms, but those were pricier and I had already invested in my PIC development environment, so moving to another platform was not trivial.

I have an idea for a project, interfacing with a PC, and a bit of searching around brought me to the Trinket by Adafruit, which is an Arduino-compatible microcontroller development board that is cheap enough that you could simply leave it inside your project! It connects to USB, and the Arduino software is a free C compiler and programmer driver. Ok, you need to install a special USB driver, but then you can just connect the microcontroller to the USB, load up C code in the IDE and click a few buttons to upload the compiled code to the chip. Press a button on the chip board itself, and it connects as a USB keyboard and starts typing out messages (if that is the code that you uploaded).
That is amazing for only about an hour of work. I can’t even begin to imagine how that would work out with the “old-fashioned” PICs I used to use. And it’s all open source and open hardware, which I think is a big factor in how popular the platforms are, and thus how much development is done on the supporting technologies.

Frisian funeral

Today, we attended the funeral of the father of a friend. It was a two-hour drive (which in the Dutch scale is actually quite long: we literally crossed half the country) to a small village in Friesland — and the weather was dreadful. We feared that we’d have to gather around the grave in the pouring rain, and we prepared by having spare dry socks and shoes in the car. (Klik’s grandmother was very specific: she wanted to be cremated, so that there was no need for us, her children and grand-children, to stand in foul weather around a grave on her behalf…)
The service was in the small village church which had been restored very handsomely indeed. And there were so many people that not everyone fit inside… The mourning card was all in Frisian (the second official language of the Netherlands, and spoken only/mainly in Friesland), and so was the service and even the psalms! I guess it’s to be expected for the funeral of the man who wrote the Frisian dictionary. I could understand some parts: the pastor spoke very clear and (I suspect) a Dutch accent, which certainly helped, but there were also parts that went completely over my head. There were some anecdotes that made people laugh, but I didn’t get any of the jokes…
By the time we stood around the grave, the rain had stopped and the sun broke through.

After the service, we talked a bit with our friend. We were almost the last to leave, and it was kind of late when we got back home. But it was good to be there for him.

Instead of making multiple posts with a few reviews here and there, I’ve decided to collect all my first-episode reviews in a single entry, to make it easier for you to skip if you’re not interested. But it’s also easier to find my review for that one series!

Reviews of 39 first episodes

Leafbook

So yesterday I was playing Ni No Kuni II, and it’s a rather standard action RPG with some really smart (and cute!) mechanics and a good story. It also looks really cute: it makes the most of the cell-shaded engine it uses, making everything look like hand-drawn animation even though it’s all CGI.
Anyway, I was following along in the plot, and I met a merchant in a dungeon. And they give me a ‘Leafbook’. This turns out to be a Facebook equivalent for this magical fantasy world! Plot-events are shown as posts, complete with comments! Every once in a while, you get a notification there are new posts, and you can go read them. You can even ‘like’ the posts!

The posts themselves give little hints and a view of the world beyond your adventure, which is quite cool. But imagine the design meeting for this game, a big-budget number, and highly anticipated. And then someone says: “You know what? We should totally create something like Facebook in our game! Come on, it’ll be fun!”

I’ve played a fair bit of Pathfinder: it was the game of choice for most of my groups once D&D 4th edition rolled along and everybody hated. Pathfinder was the game that kept the 3.5 torch burning, and players flocked towards it like moths to the flame.
I’ve never much liked Pathfinder: by the time I started playing the game, it was already well on its way along the “supplements with ever escalating power levels” route. Lots and lots of options, and while options as such are great, I also felt the need to write an app for my phone to keep track of all the different modifiers my character had to deal with during combat!
Now, with the release of D&D 5th edition, Dungeons and Dragons is back, bigger than ever, and it’s eating Pathfinder’s lunch. Clearly, something had to be done to save the Pathfinder model. One of those things is that the publisher released Starfinder, which is (as far as I can determine) a Pathfinder-in-space game. But there is also going to be a second edition of Pathfinder — with the goal of ‘cleaning up’ the game.

Pathfinder is (was) big, so of course I’m kinda interested. But ‘cleaning up’ doesn’t mean making the game simpler. I think I don’t need to keep track of this second edition, because it does not provide what I want from an RPG.

PS3 streaming

I tend to resist buying games for full price these days: I still have a lot of great unplayed stuff lying around.
But Ni no Kuni II makes my little weeb heart flutter: back when the first game came out for PS3, I even bought the Wizards Edition, with the hardcover spell book and the plushie. So I checked out a stream for a little bit, and it immediately became apparent that indeed that is a game I very much want to play. So I stopped watching streams so as to not s(p)oil myself!
I mentioned this on a Discord server I hang out on, and a friend mentioned that they’d watch me stream both the first and the new game. So I thought: “Well, I do have the first game, all it takes is to hook up my PS3 to the capture device and off we go!” But of course the PS3 has that dreadful copy protection thing going on. So on a gamble, I got a HDMI splitter for about 8 euros from China that mentioned the copy protection thing in the description of the item. It took three weeks to get here (as such things do), and sure enough: the protection is stripped off by the splitter, so I can feed the PS3 video to my capture device!
Sunday, I cleaned off part of my desk and moved the PS3 to my desk, and did an intense session of closet-diving to find the game back. It’s still in the original box, with everything intact. (Now I wonder why I shelled out for the Wizard’s Edition if it only ends up at the back of a closet somewhere — the plushie was still in the plastic…)
So I hooked everything up, but… I have no audio. I could hook up a bluetooth or USB headset to the PS3 with no problem, but those are only allowed as a communication device, not to stream the game audio over them. And I could, perhaps, hook something together to make use of the capture device’s audio feed, but that has a 0.8 second delay, and that will undoubtedly drive me nuts! I would need a TOSlink-to-analog converter to actually hear the game I’m playing. Those devices are available, and for about 7 euros I can order one from China, but that adds another three weeks before I could start. All of that to play a game I have already finished…?

So I got really frustrated and bought Ni no Kuni II on Steam and installed it. Today I started streaming the game, and it’s so beautiful! There are some cool parallels with the first game. It’s a lot of fun so far, but there are quite a few systems to absorb in a relatively short time, so we’ll see how that works out in the longer run.

I wonder how many anime series (and especially sports anime) have a plot that could be short-circuited by a protagonist saying: “No, I am under no obligation to accept your challenge. And I will not agree to your ridiculous stakes.”