Sweet Mappy Goodness

There’s been a massive amount of cool software and web development lately involving maps.  I just want to nail down what I’ve seen in one place.  I’ll try it as a timeline…

  • For ages there were the “classic web” map websites, which reloaded the entire page for every zoom, pan or other change. 
    MapQuest was one of the first (what, 10 years ago?), and has changed little since then.  In a word, “slooow”.
  • Eventually some sites like Yahoo Maps and MSN Maps evolved some, using DHTML to dynamically swap the map image, without reloading the entire page.  This was definitely faster.
  • More recently, there was Google Maps, which actually slices the map into separate map “tiles”, so that only the changed parts of the map are downloaded for each zoom/pan/etc (which is even faster).  Definingly-cool features include satellite maps, and the ability to “grab/drop” to move the map with your mouse just like you’d grab and move a real one.  This also put AJAX (aka “Remote Scripting”) on the buzz map as a web development technique.
    Update: Don’t miss the many amazing “remixes” of Google maps with other web apps, like phone books,
    housing ads, and
    crime stats).  Just Wow.
  • Then NASA released World Wind, a desktop application which does this same trick, but leverages DirectX to provide seamless zooming/panning — a true 3D app, and very cool.  It’s mouse-enabled much like Google Maps, but adds UI features like Tilting (which gives panning the sensation of a fly-over!) The focus is more educational/scientific reference than convenience (sorry, no driving directions to Wal-mart.)
  • Google Earth is the most recent, which is basically a combination of Google Maps with World Wind.  Its UI features are very similar to World Wind’s, but it has more practical user features like Google Maps (how about Flying directions to Wal-Mart!).  (It also has some business features like demographic information overlays and the like, which puts it in the arena of Microsoft’s commercial MapPoint software).
  • Update: A9 Maps is a new one.  It’s a different interface, and sports “curb-view” photos of addresses.  …Or says it does anyway, I can’t find any around me, so I’m not sure what use that is.

All of these are free, by the way.

If you dig this kind of map stuff and/or astronomy, I recommend Celestia, a free 3D desktop app (like World Wind and Google Earth) for extra-terrestrial (as in “off Earth”) virtual exploration.  It’s a great reference and learning/teaching tool, and my 5yr old and I love it.

Hack Lives!

Hack screenshot

So I played this game, half-a-lifetime-ago, called Hack. 
It was a ASCII-graphical game for DOS, where you explore a dungeon, seeking the Amulet of Yendor. 
You could play as a Wizard, Barbarian, or various other character types, and would of course fight monsters, gather treasures, and have various adventures along the way.

The user-interface was obviously very simple (even at the time), but the gameplay was amazingly rich. 
I loved it, and spent many days of my life “in the dungeon,” but eventually moved on to flashier graphical games.

So flash-forward 15 years to last week, I see this User Friendly comic mentioning “NetHack,” and then another random mention of the game got me curious and googling. 

NetHack screenshot

Lo and behold, Hack is still alive and kicking! (great history writeup here)  15 years of development (and enrichment) has added a simple GUI (mostly easier on the eyes) and richer (but completely faithful) gameplay.  I’m not at all disappointed. 

I am tempted to say I want some sort of multi-player version, tho.  Especially considering a favorite game of mine: BattleZone, an early 80s arcade classic, which Activision did an amazing (groundbreaking) job resurrecting in ~1998 as a multiplayer FPS.  I’m still playing it 7 years later.

But for now, it’s NetHack again.  It’s nice when old friends visit.

The new Windows Update v6

Trying out the new Windows Update v6 (now called “Microsoft Update”).  Cool that they’ve finally integrated Office Update and other products (SQL Server for instance).

A few observations, though:

  • It took several ActiveX installs, plus closing and restarting IE for it to actually load fully.
  • Windows Update has been slooow for me lately (before this version even). Dunno why, but it still is. 
        Update: same slowness on sparkling fresh XPSP2 and SBS 2003 installs.  It ain’t me.
  • Still a ton of French Spell Checker updates?? (2 for Office, 1 for Visio, 1 for Project) I saw this a lot with Office Update too. I have no French anything on any machines, so what’s the deal?.

About time to reboot…

My first 10 random songs

Hm.. mixed feelings about participating in a meme, and moreso since the last few posts have been borderline shirking.

(But wait, how can I shirk?  Did I made an regular-original-content-creation-committment?!)

Anyway, it’s a fun one via Ed Bott: load your entire music collection, randomize, and list the first 10 songs, uncensored. 

Here’s what I got:

Porcupine Tree – Every Home Is Wired
Spin Doctors – Someday All This Will Be Road
Blind Guardian & Iced Earth – The Whistler
Flower Kings – Rumble Fish Twist
Earth Wind and Fire – Shining Star
The Fixx – Red Skies
Andy Grube – I Surrender
Audio Adrenaline – I’m Not The King
King’s X – Mississippi Moon
Galactic Cowboys – Kaptain Krude

(Wow, rand()/fate was kind — nary a Raffie or bubblegum pop song in the lot!)