Blatent self promotion. Pie Menus. OpenLaszlo. Sims. Content. User Interface. Software.

Laszlo OPML Viewer/Editor

I've been discussing the design of an OPML viewer/editor with Marc Canter and Dave Winer.

It will serve nicely as a stand-alone component like a simple blog roll or nested link browser, or as a more advanced customizable blog applet like BlogBlox, and it will also be customizable for use in Laszlo applications, like the database interface, for editing XML structures stored in SQL databases.

Update: Here's a first cut of server side support for Drupal, and the client side for Laszlo: OPML Site Map Based on Drupal Taxonomy. Laszlo OPML Drupal Taxonomy Site Map Browser.

John von Neumann's 29 state Cellular Automata Implemented in OpenLaszlo

For fun, and to learn OpenLaszlo, I implemented the classic 29 state self reproducing cellular automata, invented by John von Neumann.

The JavaScript and XML code is written with no thought to efficiency, just conceptual clarity and convenience of implementation. It can't run a lot of cells at once, but at least it's slow enough to watch it compute. Don't worry: there's not space for it to reproduce!

I've configured it with several interesting initial conditions, including several different approaches to signal crossing, and an exclusive-or gate.

It uses pie menus for editing the grid of cells.

Laszlo von Neumann Cellular Automata Demo

Laszlo von Neumann Cellular Automata Source Code in Laszlo

Laszlo Mail

Note: Laszlo Mail is now live! You can sign up for a free account at, and try it out now!

This is stuff about Laszlo Mail, which is a rich web email application, runs in any web browser supporting the Flash player, talks to a Java server via asynchronous XML, and provides a rich desktop-application-like gui with drag-and-drop, etc.

Laszlo Systems is developing Laszlo Mail and other Laszlo components for customers like Earthlink, who are deploying their "Earthlink Ehanced Webmail" customized version of Laszlo Mail to millions of customers.

I've learned how to develop large complex Laszlo applications like Laszlo Mail, by working as a contractor for Laszlo Systems.

I developed the email folder tree, with drag and drop editing of a tree of mail folders, and also the attachments upload component.

Player Created Content

This is stuff about The Sims player created content.

Computer Game Design

This is stuff about computer game design.

NASA Launches Aura Atmosphere Satellite

Yahoo! News - NASA Launches Aura Atmosphere Satellite:

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - After a series of delays, NASA's Aura satellite was launched into orbit early Thursday on a $785 million mission to study Earth's atmosphere.

Subanthropic Principle and Undetectability Conjecture anticipated by Stanislaw Lem's "Fiasco"

Fiasco Book Cover I ran across this interesting stuff in the discussion forum about Stanislaw Lem, who wrote a book called "Fiasco":

From: TR, 06 Sep 2003, 08:37:53

looks much like an idea Lem published decades ago:

Abstract: [PDF]

"In the recent article `Conflict between anthropic reasoning and observation' (gr-qc/0303070) Ken D. Olum, using some inflation-based ideas and the anthropic premise that we should be typical among all intelligent observers in the Universe, arrives at the puzzling conclusion that `we should find ourselves in a large civilization (of galactic size) where most observers should be, while in fact we do not'. In this note we discuss the intriguing possibility whether we could be in fact immersed in a large civilization without being aware of it. Our conclusion is that this possibility cannot be ruled out provided two conditions are met, that we call the Subanthropic Principle and the Undetectability Conjecture. The Subanthropic Principle states that we are not typical among the intelligent observers from the Universe. Typical civilizations of typical galaxies would be hundreds of thousands, or millions, of years more evolved than ours and, consequently, typical intelligent observers would be orders of magnitude more intelligent than us. The Undetectability Conjecture states that, generically, all advanced civilizations camouflage their planets for security reasons, so that no signal of civilization can be detected by external observers, who would only obtain distorted data for disuasion purposes. These conditions predict also a low probability of success for the SETI project. We also argue that it is brane worlds, and not inflation, what dramatically could aggravate the `missing-alien' problem pointed out first by Enrico Fermi."

The Subanthropic Principle: We are not typical among the intelligent observers from the Universe. Typical civilizations of typical galaxies would be hundreds of thousands, or millions, of years more evolved than ours and, consequently, typical intelligent observers would be orders of magnitude more intelligent than us.

Software Development Magazine: Inside the Stupid Fun Club

Riding around in a remote-controlled car seat while being shot by ping-pong balls. Software Development Magazine wrote an article called "Inside the Stupid Fun Club" (registration required).

The author, Alexandra Weber Morales, unexpectedly encountered the Sad Robot, broken down and crying for help on the streets of Oakland.

We were shooting a couple of hidden camera reality TV "One Minute Movies" for NBC: one of a Sad Robot torn apart into pieces and pleading for help from passers by, and the other of a Robot Waiter taking orders, serving food and bantering for a tip in a barbecue restaurant.

I (Don Hopkins) developed the custom "robot brain" software for Will Wright's Stupid Fun Club, mostly in Python. It involved writing lots of high level Python code and XML data, and integrating all kinds of different software components together with SWIG, C++, ActiveX, Java, IRC, HTTP and WiFi. The robot features 3D facial animation, speech synthesis and recognition, conversational scripting, artificial intelligence, personality simulation, telerobotic remote control via wireless networking, with an interactive web interface for controling its behavior in real time.

For another Stupid Fun Club project, I also used Python to develop expressive synthetic speech authoring tools (audio speech "phonoscoping", like visual animation "rotoscoping"), and talking toy simulations.

Python is ideally suited for brainstorming and prototyping new product ideas, as well as developing custom real-time robotic software for supporting creative Stupid Fun Club projects like reality TV production.

Sims Designer Chris Trottier on Tuned Emergence and Design by Accretion

Will Wright, Gordon Walton and Chris Trottier brought us an exciting look into The SIMS Online. The only question now is... will they sell IV's for those users who won't be able to tear themselves away from it to eat?

The Armchair Empire interviewed Chris Trottier, one of the designers of The Sims and The Sims Online. She touches on some important ideas, including "Tuned Emergence" and "Design by Accretion".

Chris' honest analysis of how and why "the gameplay didn't come together until the months before the ship" is right on the mark, and that's the secret to the success of games like The Sims and SimCity.

The essential element that was missing until the last minute was tuning: The approach to game design that Maxis brought to the table is called "Tuned Emergence" and "Design by Accretion". Before it was tuned, The Sims wasn't missing any structure or content, but it just wasn't balanced yet. But it's OK, because that's how it's supposed to work!

In justifying their approach to The Sims, Maxis had to explain to EA that SimCity 2000 was not fun until 6 weeks before it shipped. But EA was not comfortable with that approach, which went against every rule in their play book. It required Will Wright's tremendous stamina to convince EA not to cancel The Sims, because according to EA's formula, it would never work.

If a game isn't tuned, it's a drag, and you can't stand to play it for an hour. The Sims and SimCity were "designed by accretion": incrementally assembled together out of "a mass of separate components", like a planet forming out of a cloud of dust orbiting around star. They had to reach critical mass first, before they could even start down the road towards "Tuned Emergence", like life finally taking hold on the planet surface. Even then, they weren't fun until they were carefully tuned just before they shipped, like the renaissance of civilization suddenly developing science and technology. Before it was properly tuned, The Sims was called "the toilet game", for the obvious reason that there wasn't much else to do!

Here are some questions and answers from the interview with The Sims designer Chris Trottier:

Automating The Sims Character Animation Pipeline with MaxScript

From: (John Wainwright)
Sent: Tuesday, May 05, 1998 1:31 PM
To: (Don Hopkins)
Subject: CGDC talk

Hi, Don.

Kinetix has roped me into giving a talk about MAXScript at the Game Developer's Conference in Long Beach on Friday. I wanted to see if its OK to mention your use of MAXScript at Maxis and if so, maybe you could give a few bullet points on what it's OK for me to mention. Of course, I remember the note track key stuff and the Access database interface, but I'm not sure if there were other things and how all that wound up coming together.


Certainly! Here is a description of how I'm using MaxScript to implement The Sims character animation pipeline:

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