Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Birth of Gabriel Bright – DC Universe

Out of the ashes of our future destruction, a new hero has been born. Gabriel Bright. Beacon of hope. Defender of justice. Burdened, as are we all, with the knowledge of what is to come – and the responsibility to prevent it.

View now, the future we must change:

So, what you just watched (you did watch it right? I mean seriously, how hard is it to press a simple play button? That’s all you have to do; it works all by itself after that) is the opening movie that sets the stage for the DC Universe Online game.

In my humble opinion, that movie rocks. I guarantee you there is stuff in there you didn’t catch. Watch it again, with commentary by the creators to see how much is in there.

That is a bleak future. It sets the stakes pretty high for the game – basically you need to help save the entire planet from enslavement.

So as the movie shows, a somewhat humbled Lex Luthor came back in time and released these things into the atmosphere that can give ordinary people super-powers in an effort to build a critical mass of strength to beat back the Brainiac invasion. As the player, you pick up from there and create your character. There is a surprising amount of customization you can perform, though you’re still doing variations on a theme. To make the game fair, you can’t just load your character up with all sorts of powers like Superman. You choose a base set of powers and grow from there.

Which brings me to Gabriel.

I created a character who could fly and was a straight-forward brawler, but with a skill for gadgets. The plan was to try to mix qualities of the Superman and Batman archetypes. I gave him a coat and vest because in my head he needs someplace to keep his gadgets, but I also wanted something that would flap like a cape when flying, without being as cheesy as an actual cape. I chose yellow and blue as the color scheme because I wanted him to be a “beacon of hope” type of character and yellow seemed to suit that… and also because I suck at color and was getting impatient to start.

Then I had to pick a name. That turned out to be the hardest part of the whole character creation. I wanted it to be a name that sounded like it might have come from a comic book. That turned out to be almost impossible. Every name I came up with was already in use or banned (presumably because it actually was owned by DC). I almost gave up and just used some random letters and numbers – but after about 30 other attempts, “Gabriel Bright” was accepted. It certainly wasn’t the best name on my list, but I actually kind of like it.

Despite the cool movie, my expectation was that the gameplay itself would be interesting at first and then just get repetitive as you bash your way through the bad guys with ever increasing strength. There is some of that, but they’re pretty smart in letting you develop your powers in multiple directions, so if you want to keep it interesting you can certainly do that.

I haven’t played any large-scale action games in years, so this was a welcome find for me over the Christmas break. I played this for hours, day after day of my vacation. I have to admit, I’m not very smart about growing my powers or managing my “hit points”. I try to keep too many options open and never really concentrate in any one area, so it takes me forever to really excel. I really enjoy my time in the game, though, whether I’m just sightseeing around the different cities, engaging the fun mini-challenges like flying through a timed course, or throwing down with Nightwing or Superman taking out some DC criminal – or sometimes a mind-controlled hero (I really enjoyed the battle against the Teen Titans mission).

I like how they’ve integrated the Justice League into the gameplay, as they advise and direct you to different missions. You can even play as some of them in special team missions (by the way, I make a horrible Robin).

Did I mention it’s free? It’s a huge download and install, but for the basic game, it is free. You can pay to get more features or characters, or to gain skills faster, which widens the game play, but I’m perfectly happy with the free version.

If you’re in the game, let me know. Since I came off vacation I haven’t had much time to play, but I’m thinking I need another dose of saving the world.

What powers would you want? What name would you give your hero (or villain… you can go either way in this game, which is another cool point)?

Review: Chronicle (2012)

I don’t know about the girls out there, but I know every teenage boy has wondered what it would be like to have super-powers. What would you really do with them? Lots of movies play with that theme, but I’d argue that none is as successful at it as Chronicle.

You know why it’s successful? Because (despite what you see in the trailer) the movie isn’t really about super-powers. It’s about these kids, their friendship, and their lives. In fact, it’s really just about one kid. The fact that he attains these powers is used to put the focus on his feelings, his hopes, and his dreams of being accepted and having friends. The movie is smart about having a slow ramp-up into the powers. It spends most of its time on the relationship of the 3 main characters.

The movie is another “found footage” film, like Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. This type of film is supposed to bring you into the story more by giving you a first person view of events and very natural performances. There’s no score, no beautiful cinematography, no voice-overs. Everyone in the film is very aware of the camera and react to its presence. The focus is where it should be: on the story and the characters. This film is very well cast, with mostly unknown, but professional, actors in all the roles. Many of the actors have worked in TV or movie shorts, though the most recognizable is probably Michael Kelly as Andrew’s father, who has been a major character in both the short-lived Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior and currently Person of Interest (one of my favorite shows).

Let’s talk for a second about Michael Kelly in this role. He does an outstanding job. This is a character whose only function is to be “nasty drunk dad,” and could easily have come across as one-dimensional and nothing more than a motivator for Andrew’s behavior, or played for melodrama. There is absolutely no reason to see any humanity in this guy. From the start of the film I wrote him off as a standard one-note character, and I honestly think that’s how he was written. By the end of the film I actually empathized with the character – I still didn’t like him, but I totally saw his humanity, pain, and desperation underneath the anger. For only having maybe 5 minutes of total screen time, that is an amazing feat as far as I’m concerned. Well done, Mr. Kelly.

(In fact, even though there is no comparison (let me be perfectly clear on that) between his character and me, he actually made me wonder if I appear like that to my kids when I do get angry, even in some very small way. That is a thought that I did not expect to have as a result of this film.)

The other actors all do excellent jobs as well. I don’t mean to short-change them, but I think most of their stuff was on the page waiting for them.

The development of the powers is really tied to the personalities of the characters as well. They all gain the same abilities, but their facility with them and control of them is really tied in to who the characters are. Steve, running for class president, is open to them and uses his for fun and freedom; Matt, the philosopher, recognizes the danger and warily develops them more slowly; and Andrew, the unpopular troubled one, spends focused time learning how to finely control his in an effort to precisely control his world.

Eventually, of course, we do see the super-powers grow tremendously and there is a climactic battle, but this is a battle done right. This is very personal, despite the physical scope to which it grows. By this point in the movie the main character has left his camera behind and we see the battle take place via footage from the cameras that are around us every day: security cameras, dashboard cams on police cars, and personal cameras from tourists, as well as camera phones and tablet computers. But the focus never leaves the characters. One wants to end his own personal pain through violence and be left alone, and one wants to help him overcome his pain, protect him, and protect the people around him. The fight is epic, but never loses that these two characters, flawed though they are, truly care about each other. (To go all nerdy for a second, this is the character development that was missing from Revenge of the Sith… lost opportunities…)

On the downside, though it is a short film, clocking in at 80-some minutes, the beginning is slow and probably should have been edited a bit more. The couple next to me left about 10-15 minutes into the film, though I’m not sure if it’s because they were bored or the hand-held camera work annoyed them.

That’s something else I can praise about this film, actually. I usually hate the hand-held camera stuff, but in this movie, once Andrew learns how to make the camera hover we get a nice steadicam-ish style without losing the “home movie” quality. Very good move.

As far as recommending this movie… in the beginning it’s slow, and in the end it’s kind of depressing. It does an excellent job of appearing natural despite the extraordinary feats being performed. It also captures teen life very realistically (the fun, the stupid, and the dark sides). If that sounds even a little bit interesting to you, see this film. If you don’t like gritty depressing films, it’s probably not your thing. But if you avoid superhero movies because they’re unrealistic and lacking in true character development, do not let that stop you from seeing this. This movie stomps all over that perception.

How to publish a multi-file Captivate project as a single SCORM course

I’ve done the math and the interest in this from my typical readership turns out to be slightly less than zero, but hey… it’s my blog. I write what I want to write. You can come back next time for the usual drivel.

I ran into a problem recently that took me forever to solve because I was laboring under the false notion that it was actually possible to pull off within Captivate natively. It’s not, though I still maintain that it should be.

For those of you who don’t know, I work in the training department at my company. Specifically, I deal with the online training. Mostly I deal in the administrative side of that, but every once in a while I get my hands dirty and have to actually figure out how to make something work from a technical perspective.

This time we had a course design to implement that was pretty straightforward: you take a pre-test, you go through the content, and then you take a post-test. Nothing too fancy. Except Captivate doesn’t make that easy to do if you’re putting your course on a Learning Management System (LMS), as we discovered.

Captivate does not allow multiple scored quizzes in a single file, even if you only want to track one of them. So the only way to have both a pre- and post-test is to break the course into two separate files. Not a big deal. Jumping from file to file relatively seamlessly is something Captivate handles. What it absolutely can NOT handle, though, is packaging both of those files into a single SCORM-compliant course. All it lets you do, even using the included Multi-SCO Packager, is create separate LMS entries for each file. That’s not what we were after.

We wanted to have a single entry in the LMS, so the person enters into the pre-test, continues through the course, and behind the scenes jumps seamlessly into the post-test file, the results of which get recorded by the LMS as the score for the course we came in on.

As I said, that’s impossible within Captivate alone. It is possible, however, with a little simple editing of the IMSManifest.xml file.

To do this, you will need Adobe Captivate and the freeware RELOAD Editor (or enough understanding of XML to sufficiently edit the imsmanifest file code by hand – which honestly I don’t recommend).

In the example below, Part 1 is a single project consisting of a pre-test and additional content, and no tracking of Part 1 is necessary. Part 2 is a second project consisting of content and a post-test, and is accessed solely through a redirect from Part 1.

  1. Publish Part 1 (pre-test) without SCORM (reporting turned off)
  2. Publish Part 2 (post-test) in the same folder, with SCORM settings (do not ‘use folder names’ during publish)
  3. Open IMSManifest.xml in RELOAD XML editor
  4. Add Part 1.htm as a Resource and move to top of Resource list.
  5. Set Part 1.htm Resource SCORM Type property to SCO.
  6. Add swf and SCORM Support files to Part 1.htm Resource. (do not include standard.js)
  7. Select lowest Item under Organization structure and set Referenced Element property to Part 1.htm Resource.
  8. Save the IMSManifest.xml file.

Trust me, it’s pretty easy.

Here are 2 videos showing how to pull it off (take them full-screen if you want to actually see them).

The Captivate portion

The RELOAD portion

Hopefully this information will help someone else who wants to do this. I know it was no picnic for me to figure this out.

Tommy Jordan: Parenting and Instant Fame in the Internet Age

Recently a North Carolina man named Tommy Jordan posted a video on Facebook in response to a letter his teenage daughter, Hannah, had written on Facebook. The video was intended as an “in kind” response to his daughter, but it went viral and now Tommy (and his family) is dealing with the downside of short-term fame.

I’ve watched the video, and read all of the subsequent posts he has made on his Facebook page. It’s an interesting story to follow on many levels. I’ll try to summarize it here, and then give my (probably incomplete) perspective on the whole thing.

The story as I understand it

Some time back (months, I think), Hannah had done something “stupid” on Facebook. I don’t know what that was, but it seems like it was some form of acting out. In any case, it was something that clearly broke her parent’s rules for her behavior. Apparently her punishment was to lose computer (or possibly just Facebook) access for a while. Her parents were clearly unhappy and also told her that if it happened again, he would put a bullet through the computer.

After the punishment was over, some time went by and then Hannah posted a letter addressed to her parents on her Facebook page – except she blocked that letter from everyone in her “family” and “church” groups in an effort to avoid her parents seeing it. The letter was an invective-filled message complaining about how unfair her life was. She has to go to school and do chores, for example. There wasn’t much in there that doesn’t seem like standard teen complaining. As I said, however, it was invective-filled, layered in spiteful, angry language, and showed a severe disrespect toward both her parents and their friends. And it was published on the internet to around 450 people.

Eventually Tommy ran across the letter (how that happened is actually kind of funny, and was the dog’s fault), and he was understandably hurt and angered by it. He made the decision to film himself reading the letter verbatim, and then responding to a few of the points, and delivering the news of her punishment. He finished the video off by shooting his daughter’s laptop 9 times.

In a short time the video went viral and he was the subject of national news coverage. He has been invited on local and national news and magazine shows, including Good Morning America (who camped out on his front lawn). CBS has offered him his own show. He has turned them all down and has chosen to respond solely through his Facebook page.

He has received a lot of attention on his Facebook page, unsurprisingly. Some people are praising him, and others have apparently gone so far as to call for his death. The police and social services have visited and interviewed both him and his family due to numerous calls from random people who have seen the video (I gather that none know the  family personally).

That’s pretty much where it stands as of this writing. There is some further detail obviously, but you can get that at his page (and I’ll probably quote some of it below).

My Take on the parenting side

First off, I’ll say that I sympathize with him. Raising kids is hard and at times extremely frustrating. I’m not sure that I would have gone the same route myself – at a minimum, I’m too cheap to destroy a valuable laptop – but I understand how he got there, and I’m in no position to state that what he did was wrong. He did what every parent does: he disciplined his child in the manner that seemed to him to be correct at the time. Was it the right way? I don’t know. It could certainly be argued that he had a myriad of other options, as we all do. There is no one right way. From what I have read, it can definitely be said that he was consistent with his disciplinary style and followed through on his previous statement: he said if she violated the rules again, he would shoot the computer, and he did.

This may come as a wild shock to some […]

I’m NOT a hero… of ANY kind… at all.
I’m not a super-dad, or awesome parent.

I’m a normal guy with reasonable a moral compass that I try very hard to keep pointed north. I make a LOT of mistakes. Did I say a LOT? I mean a WHOLE lot! Daily… sometimes hourly!

That was from one of his Facebook updates. He goes on to say that he did make some mistakes in that video and recounts what they are, but on the whole, even in retrospect, he stands by it.

The two biggest criticisms I’ve seen of his parenting is that he embarrassed the child by responding on Facebook (the inferences being that he himself acted like a child, he has destroyed his relationship with her, and that she’s scarred for life), and that he violently dispensed justice on the computer (which obviously means that he’s a disturbed, violent father that abuses his daughter psychologically, if not physically).

Those accusations, without further evidence to back them up, are just plain absurd; and they are serious accusations, not to be entered lightly. Just because you don’t agree with how he handled it doesn’t make it abuse. As I already said, I don’t think I would have handled it exactly the same, but then again, I don’t know everything that went on previously to get him to this point. How many warnings did she get? How effective have previous punishments been? How many other times and how many other ways has she pushed her luck, and to what degree? Those are just surface questions. Then there’s more about her personality and learning style. What does it take to get through to her, basically? And their relationship… loving, adversarial, indifferent? I don’t have the answer to any of those questions, but based on what he said about the social services and police visits, they think he’s doing a pretty good job… plus he’s actually open to learning more about parenting. So I don’t have any complaints.

At the end of the day, no I’m not losing my kids, no one’s in danger of being ripped from our home that I know of, and I actually got to spend some time with the nice lady and learn some cool parenting tips that I didn’t know.. I use them on my 8 year old son, but not on my fifteen year old daughter.. but now I will! There were a few things I thought she was “too old” for, but after talking to the case worker, I feel like it’s worth a shot to try them.

And if my daughter would have talked about my friend and publicly (and flippantly) called her the cleaning lady? She would be apologizing to her both publicly and privately, cleaning my friend’s house, and babysitting her kids. That’s in addition to the other punishments. If there was nothing else in Hannah’s letter, that alone would have sent me over the edge.

You guys caught me on eight and a half minutes of ONE day in my life, probably the worst day in my life as a father. So, all in all, I consider the vast overwhelming show of support to be very very gratifying… that was me at my worst, not my best. If most of you found me OK as a Dad at that time, then I’m definitely OK the rest of the time. I was angry, hurt as hell, emotional as can possibly be, and stunned still. I’d taken an hour to compose myself, but apparently I should have waited longer..

In the final analysis, maybe he should have given himself a little more time to cool off before making the video, but given what I’ve subsequently seen on his page, I think he did fine.

My Take on the fame side

The other part of this is the sudden attention he’s receiving, and how he’s handling that. Again, I give the guy kudos. He’s turned down what I’m sure were some very lucrative offers. I’m not sure I could have done that, but I wholeheartedly believe he made the right decision. He’s doing his best to control the conversation by using his Facebook page as his only communication vehicle.

I really think he said it well in his post on the subject:

While we appreciate the interest you’re all putting forth to get in touch with us regarding the video, we’re not going to go on your talk show, not going to call in to your radio show, and not going to be in your TV mini-series.

Some of you think I made an acceptable parenting decision and others think I didn’t. However, I can’t think of any way myself or my daughter can …respond to a media outlet that won’t be twisted out of context. The Dallas news TV news already showed that in their brief 5 minute interview with the psychologist.

Additionally, there’s absolutely NO way I’m going to send my child the message that it’s OK to gain from something like this. It would send her a message that it’s OK to profit at the expense of someone else’s embarrassment or misfortune and that’s now how I was raised, nor how she has been raised.

So I say thank you from all of us. If we have anything to say, we’ll say it here on Facebook, and we’ll say it publicly, but we won’t say it to a microphone or a camera. There are too many other REAL issues out there that could use this attention you’re giving us. My daughter isn’t hurt, emotionally scarred, or otherwise damaged, but that kind of publicity has never seemed to be to have a positive effect on any child or family.

Perfect response. I don’t think I have anything to add.

He also now has other people pretending to be him online. That opens up the possibility of legal issues and, more importantly, the potential for some unstable person to get mad at something an imposter said and take it out on Tommy. So he warned those types of people to take their sites down before the lawsuits start. It’s worth noting that he’s only pursuing those who are creating dangerous situations for him, not normal people who have “I hate Tommy” or “I love Tommy” pages.

Sounds reasonable to me.

I’ll end here with his own take on how he looks at the news now.

It’s really amazing, to see how “news” gets spun from the from the other end of the limelight. I’m not talking about any of the video stuff, parenting concepts or anything else… just watching “pure fact” get created out of thin air is amazing. Makes me wonder how much of the news I usually read should be doubted. I’ve never been on the other end of the news before, so it’s different when I actually KNOW the facts and can compare them to the information flying around.

We should all be a little more discerning in what we take as fact. There is always more than one side to a story, and if you don’t get multiple perspectives, the odds are you aren’t getting the whole story.

Oh… and though he’s not taking it too seriously, he doesn’t seem to be above using his fame in at least one way…

Can my temporary fame influence the franchise owners of Krispy Kreme to put one a little closer?

Seems like a worthwhile goal (though personally, I’m a Dunkin man.)

Final Thoughts

I think Tommy may have acted too quickly and perhaps would have handled it differently if he’d have taken time to cool off, but I honestly have no problem with this approach. I think his daughter may quite possibly learn her lesson this time.

I have a lot of respect for his handling of the media requests and offers as well. I think that’s very smartly played.

I also think this turned into an unexpected opportunity for he and his family to learn about fame and the consequences of posting things on the internet. When you put something out there, it’s out there for life. Tommy could gain or lose customers in his business as a result of this. Hannah could gain or lose employment opportunities. While this is a drastic example, the principle holds true for all online communication. Don’t say it online if you don’t want it to follow you forever.

Whether you agree with how he handled it or not, perhaps we can all take some lessons from what has unfolded in Tommy’s life lately.

Poker face

Once or twice a year I get the opportunity to play poker with some friends. Supposedly, one of those opportunities is coming up in the next couple of months (right, Paul?). One game is with guys I’ve known since my school years. The other is with the guys from my Bible study. In one we play for cash (only a few bucks, but still, real legal tender). In one we play for a Hillary Clinton Nutcracker (which I currently hold, much to my wife’s chagrin).

I always have a good time during those games, and look forward to them. Recently, I’ve begun to actually do rather well during these sessions. To be totally honest, I’m as surprised as anyone. I’ve been playing on and off (mostly off) since I was a teen, but there is very little strategy to my game (don’t tell the guys). It’s a good day when I remember the rank of the possible hands. I can never remember whether a flush is better than a straight or a full house. I just know they’re relatively good hands.

I’m playing against a mix of experience levels in both groups. At each table there is at least one person who has played less than 5 times his entire life, and at least one who plays monthly, if not more frequently, and knows not only the ranks, but the statistical likelihood of a given hand occurring with the available cards. I’m somewhere in the middle, and that probably works to my advantage. The guys who know a lot are spending their time being distracted while they teach the ones who don’t know much how to play. That leaves me with a slight opportunity from time to time, which I’ve lately been able to convert into a winning hand.

Put me at a table without that kind of disparity, and I’m generally the first one tossed out on his ear.

Every once in a while I get delusions of grandeur and consider actually putting in the effort to become one of those guys who knows the statistics and tries to read the other players faces and tells. I’ll go out looking at sites like Party Poker and go through one of their training tables or spend some time reading their tip sheets. I haven’t paid any money (and probably never will) to sit at a table, though. My first trip to a casino taught me that it only takes one card to lose big, and I don’t have the cash to lose at this point. I play strictly for fun (even while playing for cash with the guys, we generally only spend the equivalent of a meal).

One thing that I do try to pay attention to is my “poker face.” I used to be absolutely horrible at it because I couldn’t keep a deadpan face when I had a particularly exciting or disappointing hand. I’m still not really that good at it, but I no longer go for deadpan. It’s too hard to maintain. I go for clueless now, because it’s generally the truth and I have a lot of practice with that look. So far, it seems to be working for me.