Kartones Blog

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Book Review: Commodore AMIGA A visual compendium

Commodore AMIGA A visual compendium

Title: Commodore AMIGA A visual compendium

Author: Bitmap Books

If I had to pick a single entertainment system to define my childhood, it would be the AMIGA 500. After having an AMSTRAD PC/W with green and black screen, the AMIGA with all those colors, the incredible sound and music, and those devices called mouse and joystick were trully amazing. It defined my eighties and first half of the nineties, so it is hard to not be biased when reading this book.

Through more than 400 pages we'll see full-page, colourful images of many many classic titles, with the company, publisher, year of release, and then either a brief description or one or two paragraphs with info about the game (from its creators usually), some review or other related info. But not everything is a listing of titles, we also have some interviews in between, some of them really interesting to learn how was developing videogames and art for the machine, and a few "company specials" where we're summarized how some of the most known back then companies grew, what where some of their most important titles, and what happened with them.

The book itself is nice, but I'd prefered more consistency: All games displayed with a brief description and then leaving "insider details" for another section, or the company history, or developers/artists interviews. Sometimes you see an unknown game and just an opinion of "well, was a really tight schedule to develop this title!" doens't precisely help know what's about. Something similar happens with images, some games have wonderful screenshots or the main title image, while others have a random screenshot from the intro, a heavily zoomed fragment or artwork that doesn't represents much the game. This is what I really disliked, I'd loved to see an in-game screenshot of every game and not this "artistic approach" that sometimes fails to achieve its apparent purpose of finding representative takes.

Even with my complaints, the book is full of nostalgia and I'd recommend it (unless you have at hand a real AMIGA computer). It could just have been better.

UGE - Universal Game Editor + Stonekeep module

I am replaying an old videogame jewel, Stonekeep, and I recalled that back in time when I finished it around 1996 I had a savegame editor to play with some variables, so I wanted to see if I could still find a similar tool today. Some searches led me to the specific GOG forum of the game, and some people were also asking about an editor while others were mentioning UGE.

Universal Game Editor is a 1993 MS-DOS tool made by Jack Hartman that was really cool for its time, and is now also hard to find. I used it in the past but didn't keep the editor, so I've done some digital archaeology and found not only a working version plus the data files to be able to edit Stonekeep savegames:
UGE screenshot

Following the module instructions, the recommended maximum values to set for any of the characters are:

  • Main stats: 9
  • Hit points: around 900
  • Skills: 9 (but I have 11 on one with my main character and nothing broke)

Link to download UGE 1.0 + Stonekeep module. I've tested it with Dosbox and works fine.

Book Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One book cover

Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, virtual worlds with virtual reality (OASIS) have conquered our lives to the point of people just wanting to be online instead of living a mostly miserable life in a devastated real world. This virtual reality is monetized not only by selling virtual goods, but by charging for virtual transport, both inside and between planets of this "virtual galaxy", where both magic and science-fiction go hand-by-hand, and when the creator dies of old, he leaves a test: He who finds and opens three special gates with three special keys and gathers a special egg will inherit the full multi-billion legacy and would become the owner of OASIS company. Just that and a simple riddle. Years later, Wade, a "gunter" (otaku-like but obsessed with finding the price) just finds the first clue...

Imagine Second Life and Oculus were the biggest hit to ever happen to humanity. Imagine that the creator of the VR is the biggest geek you can imagine (80's movies, shows, music, RPGs, videogames and arcades), and then pour in a huge amount of geeky examples that range from iconic videogames to movie monsters, anime mechas, classical pen and paper roleplaying game character archeotypes... All mixed in what I'd call a nerd version of Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory: an awesome price and legacy to obtain, a crazy owner with "a crazy world built" with weird situations and where some youngsters have to complete challenges.

The result. is curious, to say the least. It hits really hard on the nostalgia part, so if you have memories from the 80s or early 90s it will probably hook you up. I read the first half of the book almost in a single sit, because all this MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online game) with wizards and plasma rifles, some cool VR ideas (like a teacher navigating with the class inside a 3D human hearth to explain how it works from the inside), the mystery of the first riddles and really tons and tons and tons of geek references make it enjoyable, at least for a while. The story itself is not brilliant but when starting, when learning about this virtual world and what happened until 2044, that discovery phase is great, and afterwards it like loses energy; At least for me, it started to be more "convenient", with some big speedups at certain times (e.g. so that bad boys catch-up with good boys) and other times slowdowns to detail fragments that were not so interesting, some obscure scoreboard update rules (again to better fit certain plot events). Having a magical sci-fi world means there are no rules and everything (that comes from the author) is valid. And finally. the geek references get overabused but not always fit well, and yes, is fun to find some not so trivial ones like aliases from Big Trouble in Little China or anagrams from The Sneakers but... one gets tired when it becomes the main drive of the whole book.

It is not that I didn't enjoyed the book, because I did, but I was hoping for a more complex plot in a more restrained "ruleset". It made me want to watch again some movies and play some videogames, though :)

Free password management solution: KeePass

For many years I've been using a commercial password management solution, and despite being happy with it, I've had some issues: pay for each platform (now free in read-only model, but wasn't always this way), major version changes rendering some old platforms obsolete, lack of Linux support... So after some hesitation and research I migrated to a free, Linux-compatible and as a bonus opensource, alternative: KeePass.

This are the tools around this solution that I use:

  • KeePassX: Multi-patform binaries
  • KeePass2: Binaries for Ubuntu
  • KeePass: Binaries for Windows
  • KeePassDroid: Android implementation without shady in-app purchases, etc.
  • MiniKeePass: iOS implementation, again recommended one without untrusted sources, in-app purchases, etc.

And a few tips:

  • The UI is functional but ugly, don't expect anything fancy. That said, it is fast to add new data, search works fine and you can customize a lot
  • For Android I just copy & paste the database file into the phone, for iOS is not that easy, but opening from Box/Dropbox & "send to MiniKeePass" does the job without needing iTunes
  • I haven't tried online synchronization as I prefer the DB file not to be moving around too much, but there are plugins and options to do it
  • There are some plugins for KeePass but I had really bad results trying to migrate existing data with them, so I transformed the problem into an opportunity to do a huge cleanup of old & unused credentials. But be wary of migration plugins as some only work with certain versions or might not even work

Book Review: Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

Using my commute time I've just finished reading another book, this time about people and team management. And after a nice example on the web of a review including side-notes, I've decided to copy the idea and also provide some notes when worth it. I just take screenshots from the tablet or mini-notes if is a Kindle e-book, so don't expect anything fancy or detailed.


Peopleware book cover

Title: Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

Author: Tom DeMarco, Tim Lister

The review is based on the 3rd edition, which about a book that was first written at 1987 is significant.
I was recommended this book and given that I now have to manage a small development team and interact more actively with the full organization of the company I gave it high priority on my reading list. Ther results are quite satisfying, I can't but agree on so many points about how things should be done.

Issues with traditional rules, with policies, with the furniture and office disposition, with noise, with methodologies, with people... Along the 39 chapters this book is a journey about the most common things that are handled wrongly, but also about solutions, good alternatives to those problems. Combined with quite a few real world examples (sadly usually about bad scenarios), this reading feels like almost radical because of how sincerely and plainly puts some problems.

Both the good advices and the listings of things to be wary or directly fight off are pure gold, and if I had to choose something as bad, it would be really hard... maybe that the authors' humour a few times is not of my taste (but usually it is). A more than recommended read!


Elements of a healthy organization:

  • Make a cult of quality
  • Provide lots of satisfying closure
  • Build a sense of eliteness
  • Allow and encourage heterogeneity
  • Preserve and protect successful teams
  • Provide strategic but not tactical direction

Quick cheklist of things to fight against:

  • Furniture Police
  • corporate entropy
  • teamcidal tendencies
  • no time to add quality to the product
  • Parkinson's Law
  • formal Methodologies
  • low E-Factor ( E-Factor = Uninterrupted hours / Body-present hours )

Management basics:

  • Get the right people
  • Make them happy so they don't want to leave
  • Turn them loose

The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment.

Top teamicide techniques:

  • Defensive management
  • Bureaucracy
  • Physical separation
  • Fragmentation of people's time
  • Quality reduction of the product
  • Phony deadlines
  • Clique control
Managerial addons:
  • Annual salary or merit reviews
  • Management by objectives
  • Praise of certain workers for extraordinary/fast accomplishment
  • Awards, prizes, bonuses tied to performance
  • Performance measurement in almost any form

Work to rule: Form of strike in which workers follow exactly to the rule every procedure, norm and step required for every task.

Open organization: Pushing all information to everybody instead of letting people pull for information they actually care about.
"Life is short. If you need to know everything in order to do anything, you're not going to get much done."

Unwritten (and bad) rule at work: Silence gives consent. If you don't object to things it is implied that you give your consent. This causes extra work having to make clear when you don't. Repeal this passive consent.

Need-to-know email test: Before sending any email, think about what you need for that person if really needs to know the information, or how to make him/her self-coordinate instead of depend on your emails.

Introducing changes: The introducer has all those who benefit from the old [...] as enemies, and has lukewarm defenders in all those who might benefit from the new. [...] The equation is unbalanced against change. People hate change. When we start out to change, it is never certain that we will succeed.

Naive model of how change happens:
Old status quo --better idea--> New status quo

Stair change model:
Old status quo --Foreign element--> Chaos --Transforming idea--> Practice & integration --> New status quo

Foreign element can be an outside force or the world changing.

Brainstorming facilitator ideas to restart participants' thinking:

  • Analogy thinking: How does nature solve this or a similar problem?
  • Inversion: How might we achieve the opposite of our goal?
  • Immersion: How might you project yourself into the problem?

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