Monday, March 20, 2006

Computer Science Students program Atari 2600 games, using Batari Basic

I know that headline means almost nothing to most of you, but trust me it's cool. The 2600 is probably the most challenging programming environment around these days. The machine has no frame buffer, 128 bytes of system RAM and 4K of ROM space. Graphics must be constructed essentially line by line with the CPU and the overall code timing must in most cases be cycle perfect to sync with the Television for a stable image. No BIOS, just a cpu, some minimal hardware and that's it!

Fred Quimby recently managed to come up with a compiled BASIC language for the 2600 that allows people to program the machine without having to manage all the smaller details and timing normally associated with the machine. The resulting environment is minimal in terms of graphics variety, but runs real time. Programmers can mix 6502 assembly language with BASIC statements to program their game with a very limited set of graphical elements. Sounds messy and it is, but it's also quite fun to push your creativity on a video game icon.

Until recently, the 2600 authors club was fairly exclusive. A small, but talented group of assembly language programmers have continued to push the boundaries of what this machine could do, year after year. Amazing frankly. Batari Basic opened up the experience to others and it seems it's catching on with at least these students who programmed games for their computer science class. (How cool is that?)

Despite the limited environment, there are some good gameplay elements in these project games. If you are into emulation and classic games, IMHO these are worth a look.

Here are some screenshots of the games created!

You can find the student project page here.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Paper Ballots in New Mexico and Voting Fraud in Virginia

Regular readers know just how I feel about Electronic Voting machines. Our democratic process demands everyone involve respect it and take it seriously, or it's just not going to serve us as it should. Our requirement that a vote record not be personally linked to the voter really is the driver behind this. If we eliminated this requirement, which I do not recommend, we could use decades of innovation surrounding traditional banking systems for voting and have a system that is secure but scary to use.

New Mexico claims it's on the leading edge of election reform. While I think their effort to utilize human readable ballots for votes cast, I remain conserned that the counting will be all electronic. Perhaps the right auditing requirements are in place and this will prove to be a non-issue. Failing that, exit polls should shake out any counting issues. Overall, this is a much better scenario than we saw in '04.

The scenario playing out in Virginia underscores the importance of taking our civic duties seriously. For anyone that believes we don't have significant vote fraud, consider just what is at stake and how polarized the nation currently is. I want my party (Now Democrat!) to win as much as anyone else does, don't get me wrong on that score. However, I want the most solid leaders elected first and foremost. Debating various approaches to our problems and how well they might work in our best interests would be a very welcome sight indeed, given what we have seen this last few years.

Regardless of how you feel about things, tell your friends and loved ones to vote early and take their civic duty seriously. It's the only way we are going to get America back on track.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Teacher Suspended over hard hitting MySpace Video

From the AP story: (Linked to source)

"A lot of people are saying it is the best show they've ever seen the TV broadcasting class produce," student producer Neil Willoughby told the TV news. "It was really hard-hitting."

What! She was suspended for helping kids to not only think critically about their online environment, but also working hard to get the word out to their peers? You have just got to be kidding me. As a parent, I've been working hard to help my kids be safe online despite the influence of their peers. Getting kids to worry about these things is tough because they want to interact with their friends online. MySpace actually is pretty cool in this regard, but it's also very dangerous.

Another story has a statement from one of the students who produced this short 8 minute segment:

"The point of the presentation was to show that kids are being irresponsible when posting their profiles," said Neil Willoughby, 17, a junior at the school who helped put together the presentation.

I think this school needs to get the message loud and clear:

A local TV station, WDIV-TV has the story. Why not ask them to help out and get this video online where other kids can see it? There is no reason why this teachers struggle should be wasted. We can get this video online and make the students work worthwhile and let them know we value critical thinkers who care about others at the same time! This is a good effort from our future leaders that should be rewarded, not punished.

You can reach the TV station feedback page here. Take a moment to fill out the form, let them know you want to see the video and possibly help your own kids.

MySpace has been in the news quite a bit lately as well. A simple Google News search more than justifies this video, in my opinon.

Wanna blow some serious time?

Thought so, otherwise why would you be here right now reading OpenGeek!