The D. Murphy Chronicles: The Dawn of a New Dwayne

63 Scion 1331 AE

Out of the pan, into the fire, they say. It wasn’t but a moment after I stepped through the gates of Divinity’s Reach when I heard the screams of villagers down the hill. My eyes hadn’t even fully adjusted to the blaring sun beyond the city walls… “Well, no time like the present to put Gulivar’s gear to the test!”, I thought to myself before charging headlong down the hill to investigate the commotion. Along the way I had a chuckle, remembering the silly old man’s stories and his insistence that he owes his life to my act of kindness. The truth is… he saved me and I can’t help but feel that now it’s time for me to live up to my own potential. In a way, to carry on Gulivar’s story by living the life he passed on to me…

It was about that moment when my train of thought was derailed by the thunder of hooves to my left. I turned, expecting to see the Seraph charging on horseback, but instead I was abruptly tackled to the ground by Mrs. Hemmingsworth, the Baker’s wife. Lovely lady, built like a four ox cart , with a demeanor as sweet as pie, unless she’s crossed. Turns out a band of Centaur had decided to raid the village and she wasn’t going to have any of that nonesense. Bravely and without a second thought, she had taken to the street with her trusty cast iron frying pan, wearing a look so stern as to cower even the most brash of adventurers. After rescuing my fool self from what most surely would have been a life threatening trampling, she dusted her self off, smiled, and charged on around the corner with a guttural roar. What an inspiration!

Now I have no misgivings with the Centaur, or any other free peoples, but I definitely don’t take kindly to violence. “Surely a peaceful arrangement could be made?”, I thought as I adjusted my ill-fitting armor and made my way further into the fray. I’m no pacifistic, but… but after taking Jordan’s life to save Gulivar from the evil that overcome my old friend, I… I can’t! Every life is a gift, a gift that is not mine to revoke, and by Dwayna’s light, I will fight to bring peace without becoming the very evil I wish was not part of this beautiful world. So when I reached the inn and spoke with Sergeant Walters, I offered to help defend the garrison in the hopes that I could help administrate a diplomatic solution to the crisis. I did have pretty good luck handling disputes between the other waifs in The Reach.

Long story short? I should have brought Mrs. Hemmingsworth with me, for either her hefty shoulder or her terror inducing display of frying pan swashbucklery. That Centaur Captain didn’t so much as flinch as he trampled over me when I attempted to parlay with him on the bridge to the keep. Shortly after I came to, I decided it would be a good time to put on the wacky helmet that Gulivar so kindly gave me. Unfortunately, the dutiful Seraph who revived me pointed down into muck below the bridge and smiled, eyebrows raised. No helmet it was! Throwing caution to the wind, and boy was it windy, I rushed toward a conjured monstrosity which looked like it was making to hurl a farm’s worth of machinery at the keep. Yup, two giant magical hands had sprung from the earth in the time I laid face down on the bridge. Finally, something I could smack with my new (old… very, very old…) mace!

“Something… something.. explode!”, and a bright flash of light is all I remember after that. Waking up in respite a few days later was a humbling experience to say the least, but I learned some valuable lessons. Firstly, helmets are good – wear the helmet! Secondly, there’s a world of opportunity beyond the walls of the great city – I should have left years ago! Why did I spend my youth and indeed, much of my early life, unaware that there was more than living day to day off scraps? People need help, they want help, and not only are they willing to pay for my hard work, they’ll thank me for my time! When Gulivar told me of his adventures that brought him from Elona to my dusty alley, I really didn’t believe him, because it all seemed so detached from my own experiences. But, now I see that all I needed was an opportunity and just a few resources to find a direction, a start…

– Dwayne Murphy

About Levels 1 – 10

Wow, is the “murder hobo” thing ever true about MMOs! When you’re actively trying not to damage, let alone kill, humaniod NPCs it’s a little shocking to watch other players bounce around gleefully murdering everyone in sight. What else becomes quickly obvious is that games such as Guild Wars 2, are designed with indiscriminate killing in mind. And I guess that’s fine, disturbing as it may be as a general concept, because they are games after all. In any case, by the time I reached level 9 I realized that no amount of stealthy or smart play will allow me to achieve “map completion” without having to murder a few dozen people along the way. Given that goes against spirit of the challenge (and Dwayne’s morals), I modified some of the post-level-80 goals so that I can reach them without having to make any exceptions.

Mr. Murphy is all setup with some extra bags I had kicking around and access to the following list of items that were “given to him by his old-man friend” Gulivar: A magic carpet, a suit of old armor, a worn out mace, a spectral glider, and a magical token which summons a freakin’ mystical jackal that is trained to be a mount! And if that wasn’t enough, Gulivar even gave him 20 gold worth of coins, along with a mandate to go out and live a life that would rival his own astounding story. For me, the player, that essentially means wandering the world trying explore as much as possible without getting into too much trouble along the way.

So far it has been pretty easy to complete hearts (quests) in Queensdale, though I did have the be sneaky when destroying Centuar supplies, because the Centaurs seemed to very much insist upon standing within the swing of my weapon. I’m pretty sure that is going to be the biggest difficulty with this challenge, because, as I said, the game seems to be designed with the assumption that folks will just kill anything that moves. Indeed, there are account wide achievements for doing that very thing!

And that brings me to my other important observation: One of the most awesome aspects of GW2, how so many things are conveniently account bound rather than character bound, also makes it difficult to track the achievements of a single character. It’s even difficult to set boundaries or limitations for particular characters, such as “only has X gold” or “can do X after completing Y achievement”. I could still set those types of limitations and track them externally from the game (in a book or a text file), but really that’s more work than I want to put into it. I mean, it’s a challenge I’m doing for my own entertainment, so… I think it’s OK for it to be a little lazy.

As of now, I am not sure where Dwayne will lead me. Maybe he’ll make his way to Hoelbrak to see if he can find out what happened to that nice Norn girl he met at a fair when he as a boy. What was her name again? Leona? I guess we’ll find out, won’t we!

The D. Murphy Chronicles (TDMC) is a fan fiction series based upon my adventures in Guild Wars 2, an online role-playing computer game.
Copyright © Semi-Nerdly 2018

RocketTux – That Time I Made a Pear Into an Outhouse

Earlier this year I was working on the sprite sheet for RocketTux, adapting artwork from SuperTux and making new pieces of my own – A project that is still in motion! After finally sizing and arranging my spin on the pumpkin, one favourite pieces of background art created by Ingo Ruhnke, I decided that it needed a friend. Yes, it absolutely NEEDED a pear shaped outhouse to keep it company!

Gleefully I went about creating the pear outhouse in GIMP, starting with a picture of a pear we had in our cupboard and working on it until it looked reasonably similar in art style to Ingo’s pumpkin. Many giggles later, here it is in all it’s glory!

My pear outhouse, as seen in RocketTux

And here are a few screenshots of the process. If you’re interested, I have an album of RocketTux development screenshots on Google Drive.

Bored? Make a Board Game!

Entertaining one’s children all summer on a shoe string budget can be daunting, especially when one lives in a place that doesn’t have any public transit. Escape to greener pastures isn’t always possible, but there’s plenty we can do right here in our house/yard. One such thing is making a new board game to play!

Yes, there are plenty of existing games we could play, but there’s just something magical about making one’s own game. I remember making board games and the like as a kid, usually trying in vain to convince peers to play them, but having great fun with the process none the less. Anyhow, this is the second or third board game I have made with the girls (admittedly I designed this one on my own last night while I was laying in bed not sleeping…).

We came up with the name “Deck or Die” tonight, because the game is played with a partial deck of cards and one die. I created a page for the game on my site, which you can view by using the link in the “My Games” menu or by clicking the link below. All the details on how to make a board and play the game are there.

It’s a pretty fun game that can accommodate about five players. Let us know if you make your own game board and enjoy it!

Final version of the Deck or Die © prototype.

Building a House out of Dirt? Sounds Fun!

Notice: This is not an advertisement nor is it an endorsement; I’m simply sharing something my sister I did for the sake of doing so.

I’m sure this is a familiar story. You know the old, “I saw a post on social media about a workshop for building a house of earthbags or something, which reminded me about that time my sister said she wanted to build a sod house, so I suggested she do the workshop with our aunt, but she asked me to do the workshop with her instead, so I did”, thing which happens all the time, right? Well just in case you’re not familiar with this type of adventure, here are some details about how my sister and I spent a weekend hauling logs and swatting flies…

Earlier in the spring I saw an advertisement for a workshop at the Gamiing Nature Centre and, as I said, I passed it along to my sister who had at one time shown an interest in this sort of rustic housing concept. I figured it would be something fun she could peel herself away from her copyrighting for a weekend and hang out with our cool aunt or something. Little did I know she would instead invite me for a “brother sister bonding weekend”! Now, I’m not your stereotypical nerd who baulks at the idea of manual labour. On the contrary, I’ve always be an outdoorsy fellow who has no qualms getting dirty and punishing his body with real hard work. In fact, I prefer it to sitting on my arse at the computer, provided the weather is cool, the shade is plentiful, and I have something to DO (I swear, one day I’ll actually get a kayak and go kayaking!). So, we made arrangements to make the weekend happen. Real life being what it is, it wasn’t easy, but we managed to make it happen and it was a good time.

We attended the first of the two weekends (Jul 14/15 & Jul 28/29) in which the Gamiing Nature Centre was building a small structure to use as their “Forest School” house. It’s only a 10 foot by 10 foot building, but it’s situated in the heart of their property near Pigeon Lake (in Ontario, Canada), with a large outdoor seating area that surrounds a large fire pit. Mean biting flying insects aside, it’s a serene location that appears to be an ideal place to learn about Ontario’s mixed deciduous forests and other nature related topics.

It’s kind of funny that we paid to do someone else’s manual labour for a weekend, but the hosts didn’t make it feel like that and it turned out to be a nice learning and social experience. I got to use my muscles and junk! Oh, and I finally had a chance to share my expertise at digging out roots. How’s that for something, eh? 🙂

Anyhow… The event was hosted by a nice older Irish-born Canadian, Hugh, who was an interesting person to say the least. Hugh I would describe as an easy going gentleman who enjoys travelling the world by bicycle and really taking in the cultures and events he encounters along the way. In his time he has built three large structures using horse feed bags filled with dirt/soil/clay, two locally in Ontario and another in Australia. Self proclaimed avid reader, it was obvious to me that Hugh has a lot of experience working with others and being resourceful and I think that made him perfect to host this event. He pleasantly answered everyone’s questions and even took the time on Sunday afternoon to take to see both of the “hobbit house” structures he’s had a part in creating.

Along with Hugh, our construction gang included Alan and his son James, Andrea and I, Cynthia, Jennifer, Nizcoleta, and Shelley. Together we used the materials that the nature centre had available to build roughly half of the structure. Hugh advised us that the construction method using cord wood isn’t ideal, but in this case it made a lot sense given the materials we had on hand, which consisted of a large pile of softwood logs, some compost, some wood chips, some horse feed bags, and a couple of bags of concrete. The general idea here is….

  1. Clear a spot of land that is on a minor slop towards where you will put the door. Doors are best placed facing East.
  2. Measure out your 10×10 foot spot and dig out the dirt down to about a foot or two, depending on if you have 6 to 8 inches of gravel to back fill for drainage. Ideally, you’d hire a someone with a backhoe to do this step, as it’s much easier for the machine to dig through tree roots!
  3. Fill the horse feed bags with the dirt you’ve dug up and lay them around the floor to make the foundation of the walls. Ideally, you’d want to add some clay powder to help the bags retain their shape as they settle. Each bag needs to be smucked and compressed remove as many internal air pockets as possible.
  4. Continue piling the earthbags for 3 to 4 layers.
  5. Now start on the cord wood walls by cutting your logs into 16 inch sections and piling them on the earthbag walls as though you’re piling wood. Place concrete mixed with wood chips between each layer of logs. We also added some compost into the centre of the walls for insulation.
  6. And a bunch more steps that are best read about elsewhere.

Again, we were there to build a stable structure using the materials on hand, not to build the world’s most amazing earthbag home. In the end, the foundation of the building will be covered with mortar (held in place using chicken wire stapled to the earth bags) and the mortar will also be smoothed between each the logs on the inside and the outside. The roof will slope backwards towards the west and there will be three windows for light and ventilation.

Here are some pictures I took on the weekend, along with descriptions that will give you a better idea of what we were up to. The full library of images is available here and includes pictures of Hugh’s “off the grid” log cabin and the “hobbit houses” he has worked on.

Sorry that this post wasn’t as interesting or as inspired as it could have been. I’ve been putting off writing it, because I haven’t felt like writing anything, but I didn’t want to leave it too much longer, what with my ageing mind and all. There are many more interesting details and perhaps I will share them another time.

I met some nice people and we had a lot fun. Thanks for the awesome weekend everyone and best wishes to the Gamiing Nature Centre.

Computer Science is for Crazy People

I’m a firm believer that it’s the computers, not the human beings, that should be doing the computing. However, due to the very nature of computers themselves, that’s often not the case. So when I say that I enjoy programming, this is what I mean…

I grew up with Lego and Meccano sets. When I was an older child, my father taught me how to repair small appliances, like vacuums and toasters. Later I learned electrical theory and about electronics. Over the years I’ve noticed that all of these activities have something in common that appears to be unappreciated: They’re all based upon derivations of the natural laws of the universe!

Lego and Meccano sets are derivations of the physical world, which is quite accurately explained mathematically by Newton’s laws and other related observations that have helped humanity build most of the world around us. Both systems allow the user to combine components that have known functionality to create a larger system, component, or object that has functionality beyond the sum of its parts. In other words, while the plastic parts of Lego are clearly different than the metal bolts and plates of Meccano sets, both sets allow people to use their imaginations to build stuff using a set of well defined parts. Importantly though, all of these parts are based on the natural laws of physics that have been discovered, therefore the way the parts work “makes sense” and can be readily understood by most people.

“Things that go up, fall down! Well, unless they go up too fast and too far… then ya ain’t never getting that shit back!” – Fig Newton

Electricity and electronic components are essentially the same in this regard; All electronic components are based off the fundamental laws of physics and as a result, on some level they’re all forced to “make sense”. Sure, the theory and math is more complicated than Newtonian physics, but none of it is subject to interpretation or imagination, therefore anyone can understand it if given lessons that build upon themselves. Starting with, “What is an electron” all the way up to, “This is how you build an op-amp”, a person can learn the fundamental rules of electronics and how to apply those rules to achieve their goals.

None of this is true when it comes to Computer Science.

The work achieved by computer software and hardware is, at the lowest level, based upon the “on” or “off” state of an array of electrical switches (called transistors). Imagine an infinite wall of electrical switches. Now imagine that you have the complete freedom to organize those switches in any way you could possibly desire, with the results being anything you could possibly imagine. That, in a nut shell, is Computer Science.

The whole of computer software (and much of computer hardware) is an imaginary construct derived from many human minds, not from any law of nature. Consequently, computer software and hardware has been dramatically influenced by hubris and insanity, both of which have, at times, masqueraded as genius. Since even before the invention of the transistor in 1948, many people have made a name for themselves by inflicting the greatness of their intellect upon the world of Computer Science. Absolutely there have been thousands of amazing people who have created wonderful computer concepts, but the bottom line here is this: The human mind is as malleable and flawed as the behaviours of humans themselves, therefore anything a human creates on a computer will also be subject to those conditions. It’s only in the real world where imagination must comply with the limitations of the universe itself.

Building a system, device, or component out of nothing but on/off switches is an immensely complex task that really is beyond almost every human being ever born. This is why we have so many computer programming languages that simplify the process by moving the programmer many levels away from the on/off switches that ultimately do the work. And this is largely where the hubris and insanity that I mentioned earlier comes into play: many computer science concepts exist only because someone at some point wanted to pat them self on the back for being so clever! And other concepts exist only because they made sense in the mind of their creator, who objectively had a mind like no one else has and no one else ever will. The end result of this unfolding of history is that Computer Science is now the study of, and further creation of, a collection of systems and concepts that have no basis in reality and that are often poorly documented and difficult to operate, even when they are well documented.

If a person builds a car and the car does not work properly, at least they have the laws of physics on their side – eventually the problem can be solved, because the answer DOES exist. With Computer Science, that’s just not the case, because all of it is completely arbitrary. One could fight for days, if not months, trying to solve a bug in a piece of software, only to find that there there is some underlying issue with the hardware that just does not jibe with the software and no amount of poking at it will ever actually fix the problem.

So, Computer Science is for crazy people, for folks who don’t have a problem with stuff not making sense simply because some person 40 years ago thought of something and now that’s “just how it is, man!”. Good for those wacky individuals. Let them have their cake and eat it too!

Where “CompSci” benefits us all is, as you are probably aware, in the USE of computers. For instance, it would cost me a small fortune to build my own R2-D2 robot, but I could open up Blender on my computer and build a fully functional model of Artoo for only the cost my time and electricity. Similarly, one could spend $50 on Minecraft and get an unlimited supply of Lego-like functionality, which is considerably more than what they would have gotten had they spent the same dollar value on Lego pieces. Of course, this truly wonderful world we now live in would not have been possible had many intelligent people not put the time and effort into creating the imaginary construct that is Computer Science.

I think at this point it is important for me to emphasise that logical programming and content creation using a computer is awesome for almost any human being. The world is a better place thanks to what we can do using computers.

However, despite how much it has changed the world for the better, the “CompSci” that lurks beneath those layers of simplicity and usability are, in some ways obnoxious, inane, and down-right insane for all the wrong reasons. I feel like I should be able to instruct the computer do my bidding and it should find the most efficient way to utilize its hardware and software to achieve my goals – That’s the difference between “Programming” (or “Coding” as the kids say) and “Computer Science”!

Unfortunately, much of the time that’s just not how it works. Often when I am programming I’m forced into spastic routines of ridiculous mental gymnastics that piss me off and waste my time, simply because the people who created the software/hardware/language/etc (all of whom are way smarter than me!) couldn’t be bothered to make it less stupid; they understood it, they liked it, therefore everyone else should too! As annoying as these experiences are, the truly unfortunate part is that unlike what we have in the natural universe, Computer Science isn’t governed by a common set of rules; When the documentation runs short, there’s no external reference one can count on. Humanity can rediscover the laws of physics, but we have no hope in hell of rediscovering the laws of Bob’s post psychedelic musings, that’s just not possible. This why I sincerely appreciate the computer scientists who are bold enough to potentially think themselves out of a job by creating computers with “artificial intelligence”, computers which will be capable of doing exactly what I expect a computer should do – exactly what I want it to do!

I am amazed and enthralled by the wonders and intricacies of our incredible universe, from the quirky electron who can’t be captured, to the joy we feel when our children laugh, but I just don’t give a rats ass about someone else’s crazy ideas that they think are so smart. My limited time here on planet Earth is better spent trying to make the most of what is, rather than to whittle it away on what drifted onto paper from another’s mind.

Legend of Hondo is Dead! Long Live the Commodore 64!

Life is full of compromises and choices. Given that my time is not infinite, I have chosen to focus my “nerd hobby time” on working with a single computer, the Commodore 64. As a result, here is where my previous projects stand:

Side scroller web based game
Will be finished in 2018-2019. Once finished, I will package it as a native application, using NodeJS, for Linux and Windows. Even though it will not be released as a Chrome App for Google Chromebooks, as it was originally intended to be, I am sticking with the goal of having it play well on a low-end Chromebook (instructions will be provided on how to do so).

Legend of Hondo
Star Wars Galaxies Emulator server mods
Will not see further development. Last fall I was working a huge branch related to Bio-Engineer, which would have been finished were it not so tedious to make BE pet versions of some animals – I bit off a giant chunk of work that I just don’t feel like doing, but the rest of the features for that branch were finished. The plain truth of the matter is that I don’t play the game and it takes way more time/effort to develop it than I want to spend on a game that I don’t play!

Loop Dipole and the Chaoties
Blender Game Engine
Game play wise, it wasn’t fun and that really disappointed me so I took a step back from it for a couple years. BGE also proved to be overwhelming to work with after the project grew beyond a certain level, so I will not be finishing this iteration of the game. However, the initial concept of “go fast and have fun getting there” and the rest will be the basis of a game that I make for the Commodore 64 once I have become skilled with Assembly language.

Rescue Girlies
SDL / Supertux mod
I have not updated this game since 2014, just as I said I would not when I released the custom GPL version of the game. It was a “one off” game that truly I made only for my kids, but I released to the open source community as a way to give back some of my knowledge. Play it if you’d like or study the differences between it and SuperTux 0.3.3 for an idea on how to make such mods.

World of Warcraft Server Emulator mods
Yeah, I don’t really play this one either, so I haven’t bothered working on it in about a year now! Wrath of the Lich King era was the best, but it’s kind of boring to play solo. That said, the TrinityCore server code base was a pleasure to use!

Tux Time, by Fives
Web based educational game
I really wish I finished this game, but for a while there my girls did use it on the tablet to help them learn how to read a good old analogue clock. All that is missing are the voice overs and the sound setup, so I will post the source on Github, but I will not be developing it further.

Torchlight II Mod
I occasionally play Torchlight II and when I do, I use this mod. It still works and I’m content with its features, so it doesn’t need any further development. Along those lines, Torchlight II itself, with the handful of mods I have downloaded, is also fine the way it is so I won’t be creating any other mods for it.

Music Production
Sunvox and Impulse Tracker on PC
I don’t spend a lot of time tracking music anymore, but I will continue to do so when the mood strikes. The sound produced with these systems is completely different than what I will be creating with the Commodore 64.

Electronics Hobby Computer Prototype
Arduino UNO programmed using a Raspberry Pi Zero
I very much would like to build this prototype, but it seems like a frivolous use of our limited discretionary funds and it likely will not be produced. The major expenses are a basic “ten keyless” usb mechanical keyboard ($35 CAD), the 4″ LCD display ($40-$70 CAD), and misc electronic bits (??$$ + shipping…). I estimate the prototype would cost about $200. If I can scrape together the parts, I’ll totally build this a little bit at a time as a proof of concept, “just because”. 🙂

I would like to thank everyone who encouraged me to work on these projects over the years, especially the supportive folks in the SWGEmu server modding community and the world of kind people who contributed to the open source projects upon which my own projects were based.

My game plan for the future consists of the following,

  • Work through the Commodore 64 Programmers Reference Guide, using a real physical book even!
  • Learn everything there is to know about the Commodore 64 hardware and software!
  • Share my Commodore BASIC programs on GitHub in text format.
  • Share my open source games/software in disk image format using Google Drive.
  • Learn how to program EEPROMs and make cartridges.
  • Make a game that is worth selling and distribute it on cartridge – how cool would that be!
  • Try to make an Arduino UNO compatible electrical system that can be programmed using BASIC.

If you’d like to listen to me talk about this sort of thing for 24 awesome “stream of consciousness” minutes, have a gander at the video below! If not, suffice to say that I am making this change of focus so as to get the most return on my “time spent doing things” investment, while also increasing the likelihood that the things I create may actually be of use (perhaps even after I kick off and walk the stars!).

From Cramped Hovel to Computing Command Centre!

We have a small house, an old house, a house in need of many repairs and upgrades. Consequently, it has been difficult to find a space in our home not only for my computer and electronics hobbies, but for where to put our kids and our seemingly endless supply of misc crap.

In the past I have had my desk area upstairs, but due to the design of the house it gets very hot and filled with tar smell from the shingles up there in the summer time, so I’d always move downstairs in the summer months. That was OK, but it meant that I didn’t have much stability and it was a little lonely being up there away from everyone all the time (because it was just me, a toilet, a sink, and what amounts to an attic full of misc crap…). For a couple of years I had my computer at the end of our bed downstairs, but when we decided to switch our bedroom for the girl’s bedroom (which once was the living room), I got back that space where I started way back when we moved here in 2005.

Here are some pictures of my computing setup over the years, ending with what I have today…

Even though I am only using an extra two feet in the room, this new setup feels enormous! Removing the useless wall not only gave me more space, but it made the whole bedroom look bigger. I liked it better without the old Compaq system, because I could look over and talk with Sarah more easily when she was in the bed. However, I have to admit I am far more likely to actually use the Compaq here than when it was in the “underhouse”. Still, something will have to give, because I’m not sure how I will comfortably fit the Commodore 64C in here when I get one later this year… But it needs to be a comfortable space to accommodate my retro BASIC/Assembler programming, so we’ll see… we’ll see!

2018 has been a year of change thus far and I have found it difficult to dedicate the time and mental capacity to achieving hobby related things. As such, I haven’t written, programmed, or created much. However, I have done a few things of note that I intend to cover here in the near future, right here from my Computing Command Centre. 🙂