The Blog of Ryan Foss

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Archive for March, 2008

What do you get when…

What do you get when you combine a 3 year old, tractors, Wii, and YouTube? A happy 3 year old.My son Nathan loves tractors and for the last year or so we’ve set him at the PC with YouTube and he surfs tractor videos, basically watching one and then clicking one of the next suggested. Now he’s able to do it with the big TV and the Wii remote. He was quite happy.

Soon after, my oldest Aidan and Nathan were grooving out to various They Might Be Giants toons. I was surprised that so many of the songs I dug as a kid were top billings in the searches.

Giant Pumpkin Seeds are a lot of work

As part of our promotion for my documentary film Bill’s Big Pumpkins we started selling packages of giant pumpkin seeds. We started doing it to help pay for the production and promotion of the movie. This, to my surprise, has been very well received. We’ve shipped more seeds than DVDs. I imagine we’ll keep doing it. We’ve met many interesting and exciting people in the process!

Here’s a picture of my last batch of seeds for the year. I lay out the seeds in lines, making sure each one has 10 seeds of the right kind, and then I package them up. This was something like 45 packages, two weeks ago. I’m down to less than 20 packages now! Not to surprising considering it will soon be time to put pumpkin seeds in the ground.

DS how I heart thee! Atari, why do you ruin a great game?


Wife calls me at work Friday, EOD (end of day) and says the five year old is gung ho Battleship. My first thought is the Nintendo DS. She goes on about how we should get electronic Battleship, but it’s like $50 I say, so I say I’m getting another DS. It honestly was part of my plan all along, to get another DS with games like Battleship. I leave work, tool around towns, grab a Coral Blue DS and eventually find the Battleship/Connect Four/Sorry!/Trouble game pack. Get it home, charge up the new DS and low and behold, it doesn’t offer DS download play. WTF? Seriously, here’s a game I paid $25 for (too much, but Gamestop, the last place I went on my 1.5 hr search, had the game), a game that’s all about multi-person play but to do that I’ll need to buy another copy! Crap. Atari, I’m quite disappointed in your product. Hasbro, shame on you too. I could go spend $25 and get the tactile versions of all the games and play with any number of people no problem.

However, on another note, I finished the Legend of Zelda, Phantom Hourglass. That was an incredible game. Very fun, I’d recommend giving it a shot.

I’m deadly (and geeky) too!


I spent the last four days in DC at the Navy League something or other trade show standing on the trade show floor, demonstrating our modeling and simulation to VIPs and other not-so-VIPs. Turns out the schedule I conned my co-worker/friend Brent into coincided with an interview. Brent got a stunning write up on the Popular Mechanics technology blog and all I got was an extra hour of sleep.

Pac Master Ryan

Pac Master, probably not. But Gail (wife) took it upon herself to buy me a book on mastering pac-man, ala 1981 baby! I was reading it when my son Aidan took this picture.

const Programming

Related to my last post about the professor calling out my sluff discussion tactics, it made me really gung-ho for week two. So much so I bothered a co-worker, a mastered programmer/computer science guy, about some the intricacies of programming. It happened to be one of the discussion topics, which I was gladly able to expand upon. The topic, const in relation to member functions of a class.

I’ve seen const used multiple ways, here’s a good example I’ll try to explain:

//assume this function exists in a class that contains an
// important formated message string and you want to get
// a specific argument (like the 10 entry) within that string
const char* getMsgArg(int nArg, const char* sCharString) const;

The first const means that any variable assigned to the return value of this function can’t be changed. For instance, say the object is called myMessage and you access this function by myMessage.getMsgArg(10);. The const at the front means you can’t change this. This may seem a little fuzzy, but what is really returned in a pointer. So the const means that the pointer that is myMessage.getMsgArg(10) can’t be changed (such as setting it to NULL or 0 or worse, a different pointer.)

The const on sCharString means that sCharString cannot be changed inside the function. The reason you would need this is because its a pass by reference, not by copy. In this case, the int is safe because its a copy, but the char string isn’t, its a reference, an address.

The const at the end means that the function cannot change member variables. Like Josh said, it stops unintended consequences inside the function. I think the compiler will warn/error if you try (purposefully or not) to change member variables.

Readers, please correct me if I’m wrong in anyway, I’m just a student after all.

DeVry online courses not so crappy discussions

Part of my reason for blogging here was to document my courses and coursework at DeVry as I go for a Game and Simulation Programming degree. So far, with two classes down, and two A’s, I haven’t really been challenged. This first session of spring semester is different though, the teacher/professor has his shit together and is keen on my sluff tactics, calling me out in the the first week.

I suppose I should explain my sluff tactics, but first some background about how DeVry online courses work. First thing you must understand is that you have your class online. Well duh right, but in addition to the professor presenting a textual lecture and a recommended reading (from the book for the class), there is an online discussion component. This is where the prof asks questions and the class responds, all via. a crappy forum. In my DeVry experience thus far, the discussion portion of class has been a portion of the grade. The first response/post is required by wed, with a three post minimum per topic per week. Usually there is two topics, so a six post minimum to earn the discussion grade points for the week. Typically, or as my experience thus far has defined me, the questions are asked by professor and answered quickly by more astute students. What needs to be defined is that 20+ students chime in all pretty mush saying the same thing, and some poorly/incorrectly mind you. The professor’s reactions are usually along the lines of “Good comments students, excellent! What about another question?” I won’t get into a rant about how inane this discussion forum concept has been, instead I’ll explain my sluff tactic.

My sluff tactic is to wait (not really wait, it just happens I’m lazy and/or late to the punch), read what others have said, and then regurgitate that information again in my own words. Fairly useless right? Right. This go around, the prof actually challenged the quality of my content and suggested I expand upon what others have said. I got a 15/20, a 75% discussion grade my first week. My first reaction was WTF? But really, the grade I got was generous and way more than I deserved considering my approach. Now I have a huge amount of respect for this prof, he’s actually paying attention. This is what I need.

End of week though, after the other portions are graded (there is a weekly online quiz and a lab in addition to the discussion forum), my grade stands at 93%, dangerously close to a B! I should mention the class I’m in is a programming class: CIS-247, Object Oriented Programming with Lab.

I can only imagine, with a slight shudder, what the discussion forums for a math class must be like.

Arcade Drain

Well, my heart sinks. I knew it wouldn’t be cheap, but I’m a little saddened by the estimated cost of building an arcade cabinet. I was hoping I could spread the cost out some by approaching it in a modular, piece-by-piece fashion. So far, just for the controller electronics, the estimated cost is in the $200 range. The cost for 4 8-way joysticks and buttons is also near $200; add a trackball and it’s up to $300. That’s $500 for the controller! Ouch! I was expecting the cabinet itself to be the most expensive part, but reality sets in.

Regardless, I’m going to go forward with planning the controls. I’ll sell blood, sweat, or maybe some 3D to raise the money to make this thing.

Arcade Cabinet, Paper Cutouts

I spent some time last night researching control schemes for a arcade cabinet. I came across a pretty detailed site that had almost exactly what I was planning. My intent is to make a four player arcade cabinet, similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or X-Men arcades that were popular in my youth. I was considering just a two player, and I think that will be the primary use, but I want more than two to play if possible. Maybe I’m dreaming/fantasizing, but I want to play this thing with my three sons some day.

Anyway, a gentleman by the name of LuSid’s has some great designs, which turns out have proliferated quite weill on the internets. I took his design schematics, printed out a couple copies and built myself a paper arcade cabinet. I’ve learned a little in the process.


Regardless, my first step is to order and build a controller box. Then hook use that to play on the PC. Then design and build the cabinet and just mount the controller to it. Easy… ha, probably not.

Chillin’ Amoxicillin

We’re coming up on day 10 of our a Amoxacillin regiment. Three kids, three doses. Strep throats, bam. Ear infections, bam. Taken care of.

The green one is also amoxacillin, but with a little green dye. My second born was beaing a bear taking his, so his dose was made John Deere green! Tractor freak.

TV, where have ye gone?

Sunday was good TV. Two awesome shows had their season finalies. The Wire, an amazing show on HBO concluded in typical awesome The Wire fashion, not missing a beat and wrapping up a thousand loose ends in a complex storm of political ties and buys. Simply amazing through and through. It’s too bad this show is over over. I mean, its the last season ever. What is HBO going to do now. I wonder if John Adams will be anygood. In Treatment is good too, but its just too much.

The other show that has impressed me to the extreme has been Breaking Bad. My wife says its crazy dramatic, to the point where she’ll leave the room because its built in such a make or break teater totter fashion that you’re seat edge gets plenty of use. Great show and its on AMC. They do swear on the show, but you can’t hear it (cut away) but still obvious. Makes me think this show was beyond AMC fashion. All I can say is I need more BrBa.

IGDA meeting, March

After a couple days of sick in my house, I managed to drag myself to work on Thursday. Luckily the kids got medicine and showed drastic improvements. Amazing what a shot of Amoxicilon in the morning and before bed can do.

Anyway, feeling better, I went to another IGDA meeting and it was awesome. Ham in the Fridge, a local Flash production house that does work for Target Corp. and some online flash apps and games. They talked about Fairway to Hell, a game built for Adult Swim. Their presentation was inspiring and very eye opening to the process, and cost, of developing a game. A game that if I had seen it otherwise, I would think would be an easy effort. I was wrong of course, my naivety of the design process.

Interviewed… Butter City?

On Saturday, March 8th, Quantum Petshop (myself and co-filmmaker Bill Nagel) were interviewed on a PBS talk show called Butter City, a show about independent film in MN. It went quite well we think. It was weird and fun at the same time. Unfortunately the show wont air (state wide airing FYI, in Minnesota) until May.

Dan Orozco, the host, is a pretty good guy. He’s fun and a supporter of our unique style and comedy.

Frustration Engine Rebuked


I finally got around to tearing the internals out of my expired Dell 420 and put them into a superior (note a degree of sarcasm here) Dell GX150. It took me most of the day, both because the OS freaked on being in new system, and because I was hold up sick, fighting runny noses and coughs across the house. I actually considered this part of my clean-up basement activities, getting these systems out of the way.

Anyway, in the end it equaled a working, Win 98, internet connected, 1.0 Gz 512 MB, MAME PC. I’m ready to rock some Donky Kong! Hopefully I’ll plan and order the parts for my custom controller soon.

Camera Nap Mission

My wife and baby are sick with strep. My other two sons have ear infections. I’m not sure what’s up with me, but I’m so tired. So tired that while wife and baby are resting this morning, I manage to get the older one playing some PS2 (Ratchet and Clank, one of his favorites) and the middle one playing sticker book, vehicles edition (he’s got some intense tractor fetish).

Anyway, I’m sleeping away and things are piling up on me (literally, my second born is showering me with art projects) when my oldest son, Aidan, comes up really excited. It appears he’s found an ice planet in game that has a mission we haven’t completed yet. He requests my urgent attention, to which I reply that I will observe it later, Daddy’s napping.

Aidan then takes it upon himself to grab his camera (actually my old Sony Mavica I bought back in 98, one of the original digital cameras, it uses disketts) and take a picture of the screen. He then brings the camera back to me to show me. Talk about easy.

Really good show, Brass Kings


On Friday night, my best friend Bill and I filmed the Brass Kings performance at the Cedar Cultural Center. If you’re wondering, the Brass Kings are a kick ass folkish band. They provided most of the music in our documentary Bill’s Big Pumpkins. It was an incredible show.

What’s really amazing about the Brass Kings is that they are three men. One plays guitar and sings, one plays washboard, and the other plays a gut-bucket, essentially a metal tub with a broom stick and a rope. Unique to say the least, but it sounds awesome.

I may not have mentioned it much in my other posts, but I’m an amateur filmmaker. This was our biggest shoot to date, using 5 cameras simultaneously. It went quite well. The only problems we had (that we know of thus far) were lighting, some camera settings (some interlaced, some 4/3) but nothing we can’t work around. Fingers crossed.