Lots of people engage in fantasy sports leagues, but sports isn’t my thing. I love movies though, and I sometimes fantasize about doing remakes of movies using a different cast.

I’ve always had this fantasy about doing a Gilligan’s Island movie and my recent blog post about Vince Gilligan’s island didn’t just remind me of my fantasy. My fantasy Gilligan’s Island movie reminded me of something Vince Gilligan might write.

There’s nothing particularly inventive about my plot idea – it’s downright derivative. I guess that’s not something Vince Gilligan would aspire to, but I would blatantly rip off the Usual Suspects plotline and play on that. The whole movie idea is spoof-ish anyway, with lots of sight gags and homages to the original TV show, so ripping off a plotline is a minor sin. I think the Wayans brothers have lowered the bar on that so far that you don’t even trip over it anymore.

No, the creativity in my version is all about casting, and the idea would sink or swim on being able to assemble the ensemble cast that would have the right chemistry to make it work.

The core cast would be Adam Sandler as Gilligan and Will Ferrel as The Skipper. If you can’t close your eyes and picture those two doing the “Little Buddy” and “SkipppperrrRRR!” routine, then stop reading now and go read something else.

I sure can. I can picture Will Ferrel wringing the skippers hat between his hands, fretting, resisting the urge to hit his shipmate, saying “doggone it” and the whole nine yards. And I can definitely picture Adam Sandler being chased by hungry cannibals while yelling “Skippperrrr!”.

They both have the physiques for their respective roles, hair color and style – straight black hair for Gilligan and curlier lighter hair for Will. They might be a bit older than ideal for the roles now, but they could probably still manage.

If I couldn’t get those two to play the main roles, I don’t think I would even think of going further. I’m pretty attached to most of my other casting choices as well, but the first two are definite showstoppers.

And who should play the Professor? We need someone intelligent, forthright, brutally honest, assertive.

Samuel L. <frickin> Jackson.

I’m not going for the G rated Gilligan’s Island here obviously.

Yes.. Samuel L. Jackson would make a fine Professor.

So my whole “Usual Castaways” plotline revolves around the Howells interrogating Gilligan about a failed rescue attempt that results in a burning rescue ship and most of the other castaways ending up dead or drowned. I’m not going for the bright and cheery version of Gilligan’s Island here either. Like I said – this is more like Vince Gilligan’s island.

So who should play the Howells? I like Sandra Bernhardt and Eddy Izzard. I actually asked Sandra Bernhardt on Twitter if she thought she could get into playing Mrs. Howell, and she loved the idea.

For Mary-Anne, I like Halle Berry. For Ginger – Anne Hathaway. To be honest, these two characters wouldn’t play much of a central role in my plotline and for cost reasons you could probably talk me into actresses with a lower price tag.

So that’s it. My fantasy cast for a Gilligan’s Island remake, along with essentially the elevator pitch of the plotline.

Anyone want to lend me.. oh.. $20 million to get started on it?

 

One of the biggest advantages to using Unity for 3D and mobile development is the huge stockpile of third party assets that are available for it. Many of these are free, and more have both a free and a paid version to use.

When I create a new Unity project, there are a bunch of these assets that I import right away because I know that no matter what kind of game I’m working on they will come in handy.

1. iTween

iTween is one of the most comprehensive tweening solutions I have seen and that includes within applications like 3DS Max, Adobe Premiere or other apps where keyframing is used.

Tweening is the process of interpolating between values over time and iTween offers many different kinds of interpolation curves. It also offers unparalleled ease of use for some things. It has simple commands called “Stab, Punch and Shake” that produce extremely convincing physical simulations that can be used for shaking cameras or objects.

iTween is basically ‘just a script’ but it is free, and it has become so popular that many other extensions rely on and extend it in useful ways. For example, some packages will add their own special functions as being ‘iTweenable’ and other packages will allow iTween functions to be used in their own user interfaces.

There is a visual editor extension available that allows most iTween operations to be set up and used without writing any actual scripts. Another extension called Playmaker offers similar integration.

2. B2M

Bitmap2Material is a procedural material generating utility that allows you to generate bumpmaps, specularity maps, gloss maps, and other sorts of map channels for advanced shaders automatically, but with many sliders for control over how they are produced.

Unity supports a procedural material system called “Substances” created by a company called Allegorithmic, and they produce both a free and a paid version of this utility. It allows you to turn a simple bitmap into a procedural substance basically.

3. GameDraw

Unity allows you to create what many would call ‘prims’ but it’s not a modeling package. You import models that you created somewhere else, but it’s a bit of a pain to boot up Maya or 3DS Max just to make a tessellated plane or a sphere with the normals facing inward for a skybox.

Enter Gamedraw. The free version works just fine and it lets you do vertex level operations on meshes right in the Unity editor. The paid version has a lot more features, but either way just being able to do basic edits on a mesh is extremely handy.

4. Playmaker

If you’re not a programmer, you might want to build a shrine to the people who made Playmaker and sacrifice your virginity to them or something.

Playmaker lets you visually construct your game logic using a flow chart like visual diagramming interface with boxes and arrows and such.

It has a lot of very lengthy menus that essentially comprise a giant cheat sheet for all of the programming functions there are in Unity allowing you to basically build programs without having to read any actual code.

Even if you know how to program, Playmaker can save a lot of time over making state machines the hard way, and if you’re just starting with Unity it is really handy to be able to browse the menus for neat things you can trigger when a state transition occurs.

5. Build Report Tool

The build report tool isn’t very exciting, but it provides a really excellent summary of the output of your builds. It’s kind of like the toilet plunger of Unity programming. I don’t really want to discuss it much, other than to strongly advise you to get one.

 

It occurred to me while binge watching Dexter that the series is about a monster becoming more human. Then it occurred to me that Breaking Bad was about a human becoming a monster. In a sense, both series are about the main themes of the Frankenstein story – Dexter being the monster and Walter White being the misguided scientist.

There must be something about that ‘monster within all of us’ theme that is compelling. Think of how many of the bigger cultural ‘hits’ involve vampires, werewolves, superheroes, mutants and other examples of humans imbued with an extreme amount of something inhuman and it shows just how much we’re fascinated by our darker sides.

For a long time I resisted watching certain shows because I didn’t like what they were about on the surface. Dexter and Breaking Bad are both examples of that – I don’t generally like anything that involves gore, and I don’t really have any interest in the ‘meth’ culture as it were, but in the end I’m glad I got over those objections and watched both of these series.

Dexter does have a lot of gore in it, and Breaking Bad does deal with the meth culture, but that isn’t really what either of those series is about. They are about human beings and what they will do under extreme circumstances.

TV series today rarely deal with mundane people in mundane situations. Even The Beverly Hillbillies or Green Acres were ‘fish out of water’ stories that worked because they dealt with unusual characters in awkward situations.

We’ve gradually raised the bar over the years so that the stakes have to be much higher in order for us to want to stay along for the ride. Being able to write such a show so that it doesn’t cross over the line from drama and turn into comedy is a tremendous skill and the writers of these series deserve a lot of credit for nailing it.

And now I can’t stop wondering if Gilligan wasn’t secretly responsible for keeping everyone on that island for his own selfish reasons. After all, he always seemed to be around when one of their plans went wrong….

I was working on a product that is a simulation of something I won’t mention at this point, and I suddenly realized it was running inside a simulation of a device in a game editor that was running inside a Virtual Machine (simulation of a computer).

And it was performing just fine!

I frequently develop for iOS devices, and 9 out of 10 test runs are made in a simulator. The simulators in XCode cover nearly all kinds of devices Apple makes from the iPod touch to the iPad.

Most of my BlackBerry testing is done in a simulator. I test things for Android devices using a simulator.

What we all really need is a smartphone that can run all of these simulators.

So you used to hear about a four-day work week all the time, but lately there hasn’t been much talk about it, and I think I know why. I think we’ve been on a four-day work week for a while now, but the extra day has been quietly stolen and put to good use by the big software giants.

As a software developer, I estimate that I spend about 20% of my time at this point updating software. I have several computers that run different operating systems, and the operating systems on those computers need to update themselves periodically. When that happens, I need to close Photoshop and the 20 or thirty files that are open, close Visual Studio and the project I am working on, close all the browser windows showing vital documentation I need to work with, etc.

I have to close all the windows my Mac has open that point at my Windows machine (or vice versa if I’m updating Mac OS X). Once the update is done, assuming everything went smoothly, I need to spend a bunch of time re-opening those files, relocating the project, etc.

And that is just the operating systems on the computers I use.

Then there are the tools I use. I use XCode on the Mac, and that gets updated often - usually to match the updates to the operating systems on the devices I use XCode to build software for. It’s a big update too – many GB.

So when XCode gets updated, I usually need to get an update to Unity 3D, which produces the XCode project that gets compiled and put on the devices. I have to update Unity when Windows changes too, or a major web browser, or the Xbox or playstation or what have you. Unity has to run on a lot of platforms and I don’t envy them the task of keeping everything working on all of those platforms.

And after getting these updates, I sometimes have to re-register my devices as development devices (after I set them up again as I need to do with a major update like iOS7).

The last month has been particularly unproductive because of the (three) iOS7 update(s). but this hidden software update tax has been going on for a while.

If you have an iOS device, you know how quickly the little number showing you how many app updates there are can increase. Even if you’re not a developer, you probably spend an hour a week just updating your apps on your smartphone and cleaning things up.

If you are trying to support multiple mobile platforms, it’s crazy how much time you spend updating devices and development systems.

So is anyone up for a three-day work week?

In any industry, each competitor seeks to distinguish themselves from the other competitors by providing something none of the others can offer. This is generally known as the ‘special sauce’ and I think I’ve found mine.

Most people have heard of the Arduino, but if you haven’t it is a very cheap and very powerful electronic device that hooks up to a computer via USB cable and allows software to control a huge number of real world devices like temperature, pressure, motion and other sensors, motors, heaters, light dimmers, electrical switches.

My education is in process control, which is precisely the act of reading such sensors and controlling such devices so Arduinos are definitely my thing, but what is a Uniduino?

Well a Uniduino is a library of C# code that allows the Arduinos functionality to be controlled from within the Unity game engine.

What that means is that I can create a game world that gets information from real world devices and uses that information to control how something in the game looks and acts. I can use input from the person playing the game to send information back to the uniduino to get it to do something in the real world.

The game world can be running on a remote server, and the person(s) in the game world could be logged in remotely, so this is the core of some interesting telepresence applications. Throw in some remote video cameras and you could do some serious things.

Remote health care is already being explored with video technology. How could it benefit from the added element of a virtual world? What kind of devices could we make for chronic care patients to allow them to live their own lives while being connected to and within reach of health care intervention when they need it?

Remote monitoring of many industrial systems is already commonplace. How could this be extended by adding virtual or augmented reality? Fixed cameras monitor a lot of installations – what about a 3D overlay (underlay) on the video to tell the operator where things *should* be when they are normal?

If you’ve played any recent first person shooter video games, you know how far we have come in recreating experiences virtually. We manage to get by using non immersive flat panels crammed with abstracted information from sensors that try to tell us what is going on somewhere else with our machines.

The next generation of workers will be able to walk around virtually inside those environments and see, touch, feel and hear what is going on.

As any old time engineer on a ship or a train will tell you, they can ‘feel’ when something isn’t right with the machine. We’re not going to ‘feel’ anything about our machines until we start making the man-machine interface much more immersive than a bunch of numbers on a touchscreen.

Most of us in the west grew up with television as part of our lives, and we shared a lot of experiences vicariously through the tube. It was what we made small talk about around the water cooler or out socializing and as time passed, it was a shared bit of nostalgia we had in common with others. “Remember when the Fonz jumped the shark?”.

But it wasn’t just the story we shared. We also shared the context of the culture when the show aired. We even for the most part shared the season it was aired in.

And we even shared the anticipation and suspense of the cliffhangers. We had to wait a week to see what would happen to one of the characters, and a TV series spanned years, so we remember shows like Happy Days as being with us through our youth – from grade school to high school and to college.

But Netflix has broken all of that.

“Arrested Development” and “Breaking Bad” may have been as I described above for some people, but a lot of people now (even Sir Anthony Hopkins apparently) consume entertainment in ‘binges’ and I am one of them too.

In a sense, I have been a binge watcher since before the internet was even around. I used to refuse to watch TV series until they had established themselves with enough episodes to play daily. That coincided with specialty networks like the Space (science fiction) channel emerging, and the various Star Trek TV series that were produced.

No longer did I have to wait a whole week to see what would happen next, and the Space channel even tried to make sure that two-part episodes were played back to back. Add to that a schedule that repeated multiple times in the day. and we were no longer slaves to the weekly programming schedule.

Fast forward to now, and generally most of us are able to pick and choose when we watch what we want to watch, and for a mere pittance we can subscribe to Netflix and have access to a huge back library of TV series, most of which we never had time to watch, or that weren’t even offered on whatever TV package we happened to have at the time.

So to me, the entire “Breaking Bad” series took place in my life during September/October 2013, and my nostalgic memories of that series will always be colored by the fact that I saw them all in that time span.

More extreme examples of this time-shift nostalgia are when I retroactively watched all the Saturday Night Live episodes from the 90′s until today within a time span of a few weeks. That had some strange overtones of other nostalgia mixed in with it because I got to see all the popular entertainment people of the time promoting their stuff, and I know in hindsight all of their projects and careers turned out.

So I’m not upset about Netflix breaking nostalgia. It’s kind of neat actually. And it’s not like nostalgia was always the same for everyone anyway. It was probably only ever that way for a short time when network TV was king, and it was the main lynchpin that tied us all together.

I think in the future, nostalgia will be based on the internet. Like for example “remember when everyone used to have a blog?”

I was looking at some artwork through a magnifying visor (like YOU don’t need reading glasses too) and I noticed that up close the pixels on my flat panel monitors are very discrete and distinct from each other and it made me think about when I used to tune televisions sets (briefly) for a living.

Until flat panel monitors came along, and to a large extent even now, the video signal that forms the picture didn’t consist of discrete pixels. It was an analog signal, and there were all kinds of flaws and limitations inherent in trying to jam so much information into so little bandwidth.

Take the herringbone effect for example, or oversaturation buzz. Because of how color, grayscale and audio information was all encoded into the same signal, if someone wore a black and white pinstripe pattern it would bloom into a rainbow-colored moiré effect, and could also cause crackling and buzzing effects to creep into the audio channels.

We all remember the ads with the giant bright white lettering on a yellow background that caused the TV to emit an annoying buzz when they flashed on. OK.. some of us remember it?

There are actually laws in place that require broadcasters to watch out for and eliminate some of these effects or face fines because if they are severe enough they can actually cause interference with other television channels or even different kinds of receivers like police or taxi radios etc.

We marvel at modern technology and our JPEG and MPEG and PNG file formats, but they are all rooted in the hardware advances made by television broadcast engineers in the 1950s when they added color information to the black and white signal.

They are also one of the earliest examples of people worrying about backward compatibility. A black and white television made before color television was ever invented was still capable of displaying a broadcast television signal right up until analog broadcast was recently dropped.

To get back to my search for a point, tuning an old analog television set was a frustrating back and forth process that could involve potentially a dozen or more adjustments that all interacted with each other and had to be repeated for several iterations with more delicate adjustments each time through.

It also involved a fair bit of nerve, reaching inside live, plugged in and turned on television sets with a screwdriver while paying attention to the picture on the front in a mirror and trying not to think about the giant “NO USER SERVICABLE PARTS INSIDE” and “DANGER – HIGH RISK OF ELECTRIC SHOCK” signs on the back cover of the television.

And it struck me that modern agile based methods of web development are the modern equivalent of setting up the picture controls and alignment inside an old analog TV set.

Over the years websites have become more and more aware of who is viewing them and they now tailor themselves to what they think you want to see. The result is that websites today can seem like they are watching us because of our natural tendency to anthropomorphize everything we interact with.

Take Linked In for example. I have been a member for a long time, and given the set of contacts I had for years and the keywords in my profile, Linked In seemed like a boring place, stuck in the past, suggesting the same connections and businesses and articles over and over.

But I was no longer really interested in the kind of content it was offering me. It was suggesting lots of embedded software related links and contacts and businesses, and frankly – been there, done that.

I’m never going to not be an embedded programmer, but that isn’t what I want to do during the next phase of my career. I am trying to execute what I suppose is called a ‘pivot’ nowadays, and Linked In just wasn’t getting with my program.

But then I started to change my profile on Linked In and seek connections with people I have worked with on stuff about where I want to go and what I want to do, and gradually at first, and then increasingly so, Linked In started to suggest different people, different companies, different articles.

I didn’t really notice at first because I was too busy doing things relating to trying to shift career directions, but when I did notice it seemed to take place all at once. Linked In is like a completely different place now, suggesting all kinds of new companies and topics and people on the game industry.

It’s almost like it’s watching me, and it is in a kind of digital way. I get how it all works under the covers, but it’s still kind of impressive and maybe a bit spooky too.

But I can get over the spookiness because I know that it gets me.

Well you don’t use an axe – that’s probably the first bit of advice.

We hear a lot about disruption and being disruptive and doing disruptive things and everyone gets the disruptive part, but it’s one thing to be disruptive and an entirely different thing to be an anarchist or to poison the well for everyone else.

Being ‘disruptive’ isn’t something new. It’s been around forever under different names. It was “eating someone else’s lunch” for a while and “beating them at their own game” but no matter what you call it innovation and competition have been around forever.

There’s a huge difference though between businesses like Netflix trying to bring new alternatives to consumers that disrupt traditional markets and things like torrents and peer to peer file sharing where people share copies of things they can’t afford and justify it in one way or another. One is disruptive of the market while the other is just a form of black market, counterfeiting or whatever you want to call it.

There are a lot of Indie game producers trying to make their games on a shoestring and when you start trying to get work in the business you realize some of them are making bad choices and taking risks with assets they might not have the rights to use and I get this picture in my head of that same developer years down the road sitting in his dream tree house.

And then some younger kid comes along with an axe and starts chopping his tree down…