Monday, December 14, 2015

BUB on Nintendo 3DS

Well here it is, my first game "published" (in some sense anyway) via entirely-above-board means on a Nintendo console.  (Tong on Wii was great fun to do, but requires a little hacking for others to play.)

I got to draw Ork a couple dozen times.  I got to play and re-play a game-in-progress over and over.  I got to write a program in BASIC, complete with PRINTs, GOSUBs, and DATA blocks.  Every once in a while, I engage in a project that makes me feel like a kid again.  This was such a project.

For anyone and everyone who has SmileBASIC, here is the download code for BUB:

I posted that code on Nintendo's own built-in chat-about-games-you're-playing service, and it looks like some people are already having fun, including someone who recognized BUB from its Gamebuino version!

Anyway, that's my latest.  Some insomnia-hours programming and scribbling has become my favorite-so-far version of BUB.  I like to think somewhere there's somebody whose mind is set to sparking by this and other such toys.  Toys they can enjoy both as games and as a means of learning to program.  May the source be with you!

Friday, December 11, 2015


A short while ago, the best software yet came out for the Nintendo 3DS.  It's not even a game.  It's called Smile BASIC, and it turns any 3DS into the magical kind of flexible, programmable, easily-learnable computer that is sadly otherwise absent from the modern world.

I was a child in the 80s, when Apple II and Commodore 64 computers were everywhere.  You could check out computer books and magazines from any library and type in listings of BASIC programs.  Once you got something running, you could modify or expand on it in any way you were clever enough to figure out.  The first open-source software that got me excited wasn't GNU or Linux or anything like that - it was some random maze-generating program or box-drawing routine that I copied off a printed page.

Now, that same magic, that sense of learning BASIC from examples and figuring out how to make a computer do things of your own design, is available in a $10 download, on a ubiquitous handheld computer.  And in addition to all those tricks we did on 8-bit, keyboard-enclosed, tube-TV-connected 80s technology, a slew of new BASIC commands are available which open up the 3D display, stereo speakers, wireless networking, and many megabytes of RAM to the same kinds of easy programming as PRINTing "Hello World".

If it were up to me, this or something like it would come standard on anything and everything with a CPU.  I don't care if BASIC isn't a powerhouse language, or if the hardware abstraction is limited in some ways, the point is that there needs to be a way to begin learning, on some level, how these gadgets we keep buying actually work!

A while back, I became a registered Nintendo developer.  That meant I could order dev kits, create software, and sell it through Nintendo's eShop services on Wii U and 3DS.  As a long-time Nintendo fan this was an exciting step, but as someone who values sharing ideas (and code) more than making money, it tore me up a bit to think I'd be putting out software which the next generation of me's couldn't poke around in, learn from, and make their own changes to.

Now, I don't have to.  Anybody who creates anything using Smile BASIC can publish it online, ready for anybody else to download, use, and edit just as if they'd copied it out of the back of a magazine.  Stay tuned; I'll be posting my first 3DS game very soon!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ten Years

Ten years ago, Kim and I got married.  We didn't know then what those ten years would look like, nor do we now know much about the next ten, but we'll continue to figure it out together.  (With healthy doses of sarcastic humor and genuine love.)  We're not big on vacations or travel, but we decided to take some time off for our 10th anniversary and visit Lake Superior.  We got to do plenty of walking around Duluth, I got to sample a handful of local brews, and we got to spend a week together on own terms, according to our own whims.

 I'm thankful every day that our lives connected and joined.  We're pretty private and introverted people, but I'm happy to share a little moment like this.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Super Eclipse

Got to stare at the moon and stars with Kim last night while the moon put on a big show for us.  Last time I saw something like this, I was left to my own thoughts.  While I'm always captivated by any and all celestial dances, everything is made more enjoyable when shared with someone you love.

As it happens, we were also accompanied by a camera which was up to the task this time.  We brought some lawn chairs out to the little park area behind our apartment and watched from full moon through after the umbra had passed by before clouds started interfering.  My tripods are still in storage, so the shots I took were hand-held; 1/10th second exposures were about as long as I could get away with, but I still got some very satisfying photos, including this one.

We'd heard "blood moon" among the terms being thrown around leading up to this eclipse, and it really earned its name.

I'll have to play with some of the multiple-exposure shots I took as well.  The camera does have an HDR mode but as I mentioned, no tripod, and besides I don't actually know how to use it yet.  When we bought it, video was my first priority, and learning all the still features took a back seat so distant I still haven't gotten around to it.  :^)  I fumbled around in the dark a good while just figuring out how to get the basic shots I did.

Curiously, at maximum zoom (300mm) I was able to focus behind the moon.  I suppose that means we need to go hunting for Jupiter and Saturn sometime.

(Stars already appear very crisp in these moon shots, so I probably just misunderstand what's going on when I dial the focus past a certain point.  Regardless, gas giant hunting sounds fun!)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


My wife's been convinced for some time that I've needed new shoes.  Fine, fine, I got a replacement pair.  Same exact make and model, not sure I can even tell 'em apart.  I guess the female mind is just better tuned to pick up on these subtle details.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

48-Hour Film: Enjoy the Show!

Well we did it.  Mike, Jed, myself, and a bunch of other very fun people got together the other weekend and dove in head-first to the Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project.

That means we drew a genre out of a hat, got assigned some required elements, wrote, shot, edited, scored, and submitted a short movie in less than two days.  The nominations are set for the contest part of the event (not us!), so the embargo is lifted and we can now share our movie anywhere we please.

Take a look, enjoy the show (see what I did there?  ...'cause that's the title of ... oh forget it.) and if you like, check out a site where I detailed our production and have a bunch of related crap available for download:

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Proud Day

So the US Supreme Court has handed down two sane rulings in as many days?  What curious times we live in...

Congratulations to marriages and families of all kinds!  It shouldn't have taken until 2015, it shouldn't have taken a supreme court decision, it shouldn't have been such a close vote, and it certainly shouldn't have to endure the hissyfits which the ignorant will doubtlessly continue to throw.

Progress is slow and messy, but it's oh so satisfying to witness the right side of history during these victories.  I never had to fight for my right to marry, but I'll continue to fight for others.  And today... today is a good day.  Today we should all be proud.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mr. President, P.S.

...And now we're supposed to get behind extending various provisions in the friggin' Patriot Act?!

I can only hope this is all part of some bizarro, genius strategy to get the right-wing nuts in congress to throw yet another anti-Obama tantrum, and ultimately ends in these terrible ideas dying out.  That wouldn't be the worst plan, actually, but this is a bit confusing for those of us who agreed with the Barack Obama we voted for.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dear Mr. President, A Reply

As he does from time to time, president Obama has graced my inbox with an (entirely personal, I'm sure) email.  Often, these are asking for a show of support, standing up against the lunatic fringe known as more than half of the U.S. government.  This one required a little more thought.

Overall I think Obama has done a good job; I think history will be kinder to him than the present is.  But on this particular topic I'm not convinced I can stand with him.

"I want to set the record straight", he begins.  This is about the Trans-Pacific Partnership that's been drawing so much fire.  I figured I would put my reply here, since this blog is exactly as likely to make it across the commander-in-chief's desk as my email response.

Normally, when I have thoughts that thousands of people have, I don't bother posting them.  Why pollute the internet with opinions others have expressed at least as well?  But this time, the fact that my voice is not unique is, I think, part of the point.  So to begin with, here is the key paragraph from Obama's message:

But as long as 95 percent of our potential customers live outside our borders, we don't have the option to sit back and let others set the rules. We need to take this opportunity to level the playing field -- because when we're competing on equal ground, American workers win.

There was more, but this was as close as he came to addressing the secretive nature of the agreement, which is my primary concern about it.  (I have plenty of secondary concerns based on the leaked draft sections.)  So, here is my reply, to president Obama and to anyone who cares about my two cents:

I want to trust you're looking out for us.  But you also promised transparency, and you haven't made a convincing argument about why the details of this agreement must be kept secret.  The wikileaks draft has some very alarming provisions.  We the people don't know whether that stuff is being reigned in or made worse.

Keeping citizens out of a conversation between governments and multinational corporations on sweeping international trade deals does not feel very lowercase-d democratic (or party Democratic for that matter).  It sure doesn't sound like the level playing field you're talking about.

I'm sorry.  I stand behind many of your actions and attitudes, but secrecy and ramming legislation through raise red flags for me.  Public scrutiny is a necessary part of our republic, and I will require evidence and thorough logical arguments before I can stand with you on this big, hush-hush deal.

-Owen Swerkstrom

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Another silly device, another silly game

The other day, a friend tipped me off to an in-development smartphone with a round display. Circular. I've used a computer mouse that shape before, and wasn't super-impressed, but until/unless I see one in person I won't make jokes.

But it got me thinking, what sort of game or toy might I create for something with a round display?  My first ideas were tilt-based, like those old BB-in-a-maze toys.  But for whatever reason, I was compelled to quickly throw this together:

It's really dumb.  You have a little view of the goal pattern (which you can scoot around to see more, but never much at once), and you turn the dials around to try to match it.  Get everything lined up within +/-5 degrees, and you win.  Then it resets, and picks a new random number of dials, segments, and colors.

As it turns out, it's a kinda fun little time-waster on a normal slab-shaped phone or tablet too.  (Note: Android's stock browser is terrible; use Firefox or Chrome instead.)

I have a running in-joke (so in, it's basically just with myself).  The more effort I put into a game or app, the less people will care about it.  For example, according to the stats on the Firefox app marketplace...
My most popular app by far is a stupid QR scanner I wrote in an hour.
In distant second is Halloween Artist, which I did put some effort into.
Dead last is Picross, which was by far the most work of the few apps I have listed here.

So, by this logic, since it took no time to throw together, my new "turn & seek" game will soon have hundreds of thousands of people playing!  ;^)

Monday, February 09, 2015

Bub Bub Bubbin' Along

Not a lot to show yet, but here's a side-by-side glimpse into the past and future of my silly Bub game:

I'm rebuilding the game with full animation support (rather than building on the table-based code I whipped up for the prototype), so there's still a lot to do as far as gameplay.  Right now, there is only walking left and right, and no logic for slurping up bubbles, bonking into walls, or really doing anything other than seeing my scribbles begin to come alive.

If you have a decent browser (Firefox, Chrome, probably Safari, maybe newest IE) you can always try the latest checked-in version here:
...and of course I'll post to this blog when there's something worth posting.

The current controls highlight just how much is yet to be done:
  • mouse click: test a random screen transition
  • left/right key: walk
...and that is all.  :^)

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

More and Again

Disclaimer: I know very little about economics or sociology.  This is just a thought I felt was worth exploring.

One of the effects of living in a capitalist society and consumer culture is the notion, the drive, to acquire more and more.  What we've got is not enough, we should keep getting and getting.  It's not in the pledge of allegiance (but then, neither was monotheism until 1954) or otherwise literally expressed, but it's a kind of background radiation.  A color given to "normal".  A base molecule found everywhere in our cultural fabric.

Part of it is biological - we still have all the hunting and gathering instincts our ancestors did, and some of us certainly have hoarding tendencies which can take great mental discipline to keep in check.  But all cultures have that; that's not even exclusively human behavior.  What I'm talking about is man-made.  Not just the commercials and sales and the keeping up with the Jones', but the unspoken institution of perpetually wanting more.

As consumer goods became cheap and profitable to manufacture and distribute, this "must get more" norm grew organically.  Means of injecting this idea into as many minds as possible became a business itself.  Those who had the means to manufacture and sell invested in amplifying it, one product or subscription or investment opportunity at a time.

Here's the crux of my thought:  That message of always needing more has spread so completely that those at the top, those with the means, are also being injected with it.  With their own amplified message.  The vast wealth they've made from feeding consumer culture is not enough.  Black Friday shoppers have nothing on the wealthy anytime a million dollars can be spent acquiring more millions.

So there we have it, great income inequality and all the economic badness that goes along with it.  I've seen it grow in my lifetime, but history suggests there may be cycles at work.  The rich get richer, the poor poorer, then things go pear-shaped.  More equality leads to more opportunity and growth, then eventually we start spiraling out of control again.  If there were some good way to measure the background radiation of more-more-more, I wonder if it would rise and fall along with these cycles.

I also wonder if we can learn from the past and maybe stop swinging around so much.  And in the meantime, I hope another ever-present message gets some amplification of its own:  "There are more important things in life than money."