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»  March 29, 2004


Harry the Head Is Dead: On Friday, I heard through Roger Jones of Throbbing Media that one of the biggest names from the early days of Director development, Jim Ludtke, had died.

Ludtke was a pioneer in many ways. His work was not only rich and complex, but it was incredibly strange, as well. His association with the band The Residents led to one of the most memorable CD-ROM projects ever, the 1992 3D environment/art gallery/avant-garde rock experience called "Freak Show". For a couple of years, it was difficult to pick up an issue of "WIRED" or any other multimedia-oriented publication without running into a reference to Jim Ludtke.

He did amazing things with 3D back when that was a far more complex task than it is now. I'm sorry to see him go.


»  March 26, 2004


Scripting Xtras Updates: Developer Valentin Schmidt has freeware scripting Xtras for Windows that do things like create PDF files, manipulate MP3s, and more. He announced on DIRECT-L that he's made some modifications to them for DMX2004 compatibility and they're available for download.


»  March 25, 2004

What the...?  

Recommendations: I've always been a fan of the homage -- or parody.

Listening to the bumpers between stories on NPR can often be enlightening. I just about burst out laughing when I heard the Youngblood Brass Band's "Pastime Paradise", a horn piece incorporating the theme of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" (I hope he doesn't get as mad at them as he did at Wierd Al for "Amish Paradise"). You'll hear the chorus come up about a minute in. They're going to be in Europe most of April and May.

For the eyes, check out "Good bye, Lenin", a rather touching yet pretty funny film about a son's dedication to his mother. The trailer tells you pretty much what you need to know. There are a couple of Kubrick references, some Fellini, and other stuff I don't know, I'm sure.



Flash Lockdown: In a DIRECT-L post Tuesday (titled "FlashMX2004 List + DMX2004 = FREEZE"), John Mathis of Inplicity documents 11 steps to lock up Director on Windows:

  1. Open Flash MX2004, create a new flash document.
  2. Drag a List component out a List component.
  3. Populate the List component manually with 5-6 items.
  4. Adjust the size of the List box. Just make it a bit bigger.
  5. Export a SWF file.
  6. Open Director MX2004...create a new movie.
  7. Import the test swf file & place it on the stage.
  8. Play the movie. Click line items & observe that it works fine.
  9. Stop the movie, and set the sprite to Background Transparent.
  10. Play the movie.
  11. Click line items and the system becomes unresponsive.

John's results were on a Windows XP system. I was able to reproduce on Windows 2000 Server in both authoring and in a projector. Bizarrely — considering the Flash playback issues on the Mac in general — OS X seems unaffected.



Morph Demo: Anton-Pieter van Grootel wrote to the Director 3D list that he had a demo movie of a morphing terrain mesh. Peter Bochan has graciously posted it on his site for public consumption.

Drag the model to view it from different angles. Choose a new terrain by clicking on one of the images at the bottom.



Director OS X Field Ink Bug: Andrew Keplinger of Left Brain Games reports an easily-reproducible bug in Director MX 2004 with text fields under Mac OS X.

Basically, if you use the Darkest, Lightest, or Blend inks on a text field sprite, the visual display is garbled and stretched horizontally as in the image above (the lower sprite uses the Normal ink, the upper uses Blend.

Gretchen Macdowell of updatestage verified that this is not an authoring-only issue — it happens in projectors as well. And I, well, I found it in Director MX. No verified sightings under Windows or OS 9.

To find it for yourself, try these steps.

  1. Create a text field with at least a few characters in it (that's text field, not a text cast member).
  2. Put the field on the Stage or in the Score.
  3. Set the text field sprite ink to Darkest, Lightest, or Blend (Darken and Lighten don't cause any problem).


»  March 24, 2004


Index We Trust: In the spring of 1996, when I was writing my first book and the Web was young, I posed a question in WIRED magazine: "How are we going to find stuff?" Particularly, how are we going to be able to search multimedia formats like Java applets, PDF files, and Shockwave movies? (Flash movies hadn't made their appearance yet.)

Within a couple of years of my brief article, the better search engines had incorporated PDF parsing engines. For most other formats, the answer was to use meta tags in the headers of the enclosing HTML document that contained text for search engines to index. But — depending on who you talk to &mdash meta tags are obsolete, and their content is no longer indexed by Google or any of the remaining major search engines.

I don't know what the answer is. I've always thought the various people selling their "services" to "tune" your web site and get it ranked higher on search engines were a fraud, precisely because much smarter people at companies like Google worked to make their systems more efficient and less prone to "gaming".

But the question remains (and came up in a DIRECT-L thread titled "dcr, swf and google" initiated by Quixadá) of just how we can easily get text from our DCR and SWF movies into the memory banks.



Good Gripes: In one of those perennial discussions/comparisons of Director and other development systems that seem to stem from some college student's project, Brennan Young makes some pertinent points about writing Xtras, game development, the Havok Xtra, and more.



Now Where'd I Put that Application Data?: Daniel Plaenitz writes today on DIRECT-L (in a message titled "DMX2004 windows appData path quirk") that DMX2004 uses a hard-coded (English-language) path to place the configuration settings, rather than determining from the system where the appropriate place would be in localized Windows systems. (He doesn't address the Mac version.) His concern is that other modules use the correct path, e.g. the activation module. Good detective work, Daniel!


»  March 22, 2004


Eternal Darkness of the Spotless Mind: Doesn't anyone at the White House read? Or have they been using the Lacuna device?

Former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke went on "60 Minutes" last night and described the Bush response to 9/11 as "botched". In his efforts to discredit Clarke, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan questioned why Clarke is only now bringing the matter up, asking "If Dick Clarke had such grave concerns, why wait so long?"

I know Ari Fleischer was the press secretary in the summer of 2002, but McClellan must have been living in a political hole to have missed "Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?". It was just the COVER STORY IN TIME MAGAZINE for August 4, 2002, less than a year after the attacks. It's full of stories about Clarke's attempts to clue the Administration to the problem, like this one describing a meeting a couple of months after Bush took office:

By now, Clarke's famously short fuse was giving off sparks. A participant at one of the meetings paraphrases Clarke's attitude this way: "These people are trying to kill us. I could give a f___ if Musharraf was democratically elected. What I do care about is Pakistan's support for the Taliban and turning a blind eye to this terrorist cancer growing in their neighbor's backyard."

Vice President Dick Cheney told Rush Limbaugh (also referenced in the CNN article) that Clarke doesn't know what he's talking about because he "wasn't in the loop" on major decisions. Let's examine that for a second. Either Cheney's telling a lie in an effort to deflect Clarke's rather damning accusations, or he's telling the truth, and the adminstration was making their decisions on how to combat terrorism without consulting their counterterrorism chief. Not a good set of options.



Posterizing Images: A message on a Flash list posed the question of whether there was any way to dynamically generate a posterized version of a bitmap image in Director. My response: "Nothing could be simpler."

The following movie script takes an image object and applies the built-in Web 216 palette to the picture without dithering, which results in a fair amount of posterization. Using a more restricted palette would result in more dramatic effects.

on posterize imageRef
  memberRef = new (#bitmap)
  posterizedImage = image (imageRef.rect.width, imageRef.rect.height, 8, #web216)
  posterizedImage.copyPixels (imageRef, imageRef.rect, imageRef.rect)
  memberRef.image = posterizedImage

You can see the results of this script here (click to open up a larger version):

To execute the script, if you've got a bitmap image in cast member position 1, you just type "posterize member (1).image" in the Message window.

The first command creates a new cast member for the posterized bitmap.

The second command assigns an image object to a variable, using the size of the original image, setting the color depth of the posterized image, and specifying a palette to use.

The third command copies the original image into the image object.

Finally, the image object is assigned to the image property of the new member.

To make the third version of the original image in the JPG, I just substituted a 4 for the 8 in the third parameter of the image function, to make it 16-color instead of 256-color. For more control over the colors of the posterization, you can create a custom palette and substitute its member reference for the fourth parameter. There are all other sorts of effects you can do automatically using copyPixels, including things like inverting the brightness of the colors. If you're not in a hurry, it's certainly possible to do a pixel-by-pixel processing of the image.

You can download the source file (compatible with Director 8.5 and later) here.


»  March 19, 2004

What the...?  

The Netherlands Rock!: So I'm listening to a piece on the South by Southwest music festival on NPR's "Morning Edition" today, and they're talking about how the Australian and Scottish governments (among others) send their bands to the festival because they see them as another potential export commodity. Then they mention that eight bands from the Netherlands are there because of the "government-funded Dutch Rock and Pop Institute". Man, we gotta get one of those...


»  March 16, 2004


Who Won?: The cultural chauvinism of US pundits has been in full swing since the elections in Spain over the weekend. New York Times columnist David Brooks leads off this morning's opinion piece: "I am trying not to think harshly of the Spanish." Well, la-di-dah, Mr. Brooks.

In the minds of most of the pro-war opinionators, the Spanish "caved" (one of last night's banners from MSNBC's "Scarborough Country") to terrorists by electing José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as prime minister over José María Aznar, despite the fact that Aznar had joined the US "Coalition of the Willing" (COW) against the wishes of some 90% of the voters last year. Guys, that's democracy. Sure, Aznar's party was up a few points in the polls before the bombings last week, but so was Howard Dean before he landed in third place in the Iowa caucuses.

In the minds of Brooks and his ilk, the Spanish are now no better than the French; shameful sheep who can be terrorized into "appeasement". I have to say, he doesn't seem to have had a very high opinion of one of the primary partners in the COW. You have to wonder what he thinks of the Italians.

What I find intriguing is that at the same time Spanish voters are repudiated for supposedly letting a terrorist attack affect their elections, US voters are being urged by ads for George W. Bush to vote for him because -- wait for it -- of September 11.


»  March 15, 2004


Love to Hate Shockwave.com?: Eight years of wrestling with Shockwave installs got you down? Still sick at heart about how each install leads to some foreign site?

Mark Reijnders passed along the link to this delightful story about what happened when Shockwave.com gave a reported $2 million to "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to develop an online series called "Princess". Could be Stone and Parker pushing the limits of taste, could be they were out of ideas, but it never went live on Shockwave.com.

Cable channel Trio has made "Shocked", a short documentary about the series, and a couple of episodes of "Princess" available online. See for yourself what $2 million of venture capital can buy!


»  March 14, 2004


More Director Guys in the Media: In those hazy days back before the Web, the name Marvyn Hortman rose high in the Director community. Marvyn set up an FTP site where developers could post tutorials, samples, and information in an era (only a decade ago) when getting up-to-date material wasn't exactly easy.

Late last Saturday night, Marvyn and his neighbor came home late and just missed running into a bank robber who' been featured that night on America's Most Wanted. The fugitive, Terence Washington, stole the neighbor's Hummer and headed off into the night.

Marvyn reports that a camera crew from AMW was due to interview him and his neighbor Friday, and it should air as a lead story on Saturday, March 20.


»  March 13, 2004


Robert Tweed's Links: Robert Tweed of Killing Moon Software has updated his list of Director-related links. A good way to kill part of the weekend.


»  March 12, 2004


Director/Shockwave/Flash Game Developers at GDC: Haven't determined whether I'm going to make it this year, but if you're attending the Game Developers Conference 2004 -- or if you're just in the San Jose area on March 26 -- Brian Robbins announced the meeting time and place for the annual gathering of Director/Shockwave and Flash game developers.

Most of the show's oriented toward the big-time console and computer-based markets, but a number of folks from our community, including Brian and Gray Rosenzweig, regularly present at the conference (see my article at DOUG on last year's dinner).

Brian says to meet up from 4-5PM, Friday, March 26 at the IGDA booth outside the main entrance to the Expo hall at the San Jose Convention Center (you don't need a pass to get that far). It's a great way to meet people who love to play and develop (and sell) games!


»  March 11, 2004


A Few <P>s on HTML Display in Flash: If you intend to repurpose html-formatted text for use in Flash, you will be surprised by Flash's rather unique parsing. This can be a pleasant surprise [like when Flash skates over certain tags that you can then reserve for browser-only content], but this can also be a very frustrating constraint. A glaring case in point is Flash's parsing of the paragraph tag.

The standard browser method of displaying a paragraph is to block the text and follow it with a line feed. This provides a visual gutter between paragraphs and improves legibility of the text. In Flash, the paragraph tag blocks the text and follows it with a break, but not a line feed. The result can be a scrunched-up mess.

One possible solution is to add artificial ingredients to set the paragraphs apart. Unfortunately, this will also double-space these items when the source html is parsed raw to a browser -- not to mention how this will complicate editing the source via a WYSIWYG application such as Dreamweaver. You can try applying disparate CSS styles or a Flash TextFormat -- one or the other, mind you -- but you will be frustrated in finding an adequate solution.

A solution that I have developed takes the html source and parses it as an xml structure in Flash. Once parsed, you can then traverse the nodes and slip an empty <br> node into the end of each paragraph node and toss the result into the htmlText property of a TextField object. It works and it keeps your source pristine. Plus, this subroutine can easily be conditioned out if future players modify the parsing behavior.

Note, however, that If you do this it will be very important that your source be xhtml compliant, otherwise the content will "break off" when open or overlapping nodes are encountered in the source. Most notably, you must self-close all image and break tags, ie: <img src="pix.jpg"/><br/>. Do that, then do this ...

xhtml = new XML();
xhtml.ignoreWhite = true;
xhtml.load ("someSource.html");
xhtml.onLoad = function () {

  massage (this);
  someTextInstance_txt.htmlText = this;

massage = function (xml, node) {
  if ( !node ) { var node = xml; }
    for ( var pnode = node.firstChild; pnode; pnode = pnode.nextSibling ) {
      if ( pnode.nodeName.toLowerCase () == "p" ) {
      pnode.appendChild (xml.createElement ("br"));
    // recursively search through deeper nodes
    if ( pnode.hasChildNodes ) { massage (xml, pnode); }


»  March 10, 2004

What the...?  

Car Talk: Assuming they don't cut my question during the editing of the show, I'm going to be on NPR's Car Talk radio show the weekend of March 20/21, 2004), right after the Puzzler.


»  March 9, 2004


Lingo PDF Generators: Years ago, I thought I was pretty cool for knowing enough about PostScript to be able to write a tool to import simple EPS and PostScript files into Director as vector shape data (PS2VS).

Now that I'm old and all of my creativity has dried up, I can only look admiringly on as people move into areas I thought about but never managed to explore. Specifically, Daniel Nelson and Valentin Schmidt, who have both posted code demos and libraries showing how to generate PDF files with Lingo.

Check out Daniel's BlueJade demo page or download Valentin's latest PDF Class library.

P.S. Valentin also has a Windows-only PDF-creation Xtra!

P.P.S. Daniel's got a set of vector shape import scripts that beat PS2VS on speed, too.


»  March 7, 2004


Congrats to Phillip: He's not exactly Peter Jackson, but Phillip Kerman's entry (Stampede Cattle, an online live cattle auction using Flash Communication Server) in the Flash Film Festival 2004 San Francisco won the Application category.


»  March 2, 2004


Metal and Help: Christophe Leske's posted commands for giving MX2004 on OS X a metal look, and for opening specific help topics.



Circular Lingo: A thread on DIRECT-L came up wondering about a handler that could draw a vector shape circle of a specific size. This little knock-off script is just reverse-engineered from a circle drawn with the vector shape tools.

on createVectorCircle diameter
  vs = new (#vectorshape)
  radius = diameter / 2.0
  rhsqh = radius * sqrt (0.5)
  cpoffset = rhsqh * 0.5625
  vs.vertexlist = [[#vertex: point(-rhsqh, -rhsqh), \
                    #handle1: point(cpoffset, -cpoffset), \
                    #handle2: point(-cpoffset, cpoffset)], \
                   [#vertex: point(rhsqh, -rhsqh), \
                    #handle1: point(cpoffset, cpoffset), \
                    #handle2: point(-cpoffset, -cpoffset)], \
                   [#vertex: point(rhsqh, rhsqh), \
                    #handle1: point(-cpoffset, cpoffset), \
                    #handle2: point(cpoffset, -cpoffset)], \
                   [#vertex: point(-rhsqh, rhsqh), \
                    #handle1: point(-cpoffset, -cpoffset), \
                    #handle2: point(cpoffset, cpoffset)]]
  vs.closed = true



Lingo MD5 Encryption: Joni Huhmarniemi, one of the programmers of the HabboHotel, has published his source for various implementations of the MD5 encryption algorithm.


»  March 1, 2004


Director ROI: Over the past couple of months, I've updated a number of Macromedia products: Flash, Fireworks, Dreamweaver, Freehand -- and now Director -- to the MX 2004 level. In addition, I've gotten ColdFusion, JRun and Flash Communication Server developer editions and copies of Contribute for both platforms, as well as a year's worth of Developer Resource Kits.

What's annoying is that the Director upgrade cost me $399 per platform, while everything else cost only $599 as part of a DevNet Professional upgrade.

Flash underwent some major changes in MX 2004. The other applications in the DevNet upgrade didn't change as much (at least not in ways I cared about, apart from the greater incorporation of CSS in Dreamweaver), but Macromedia's push is definitely behind Flash in a way that you just don't see there for Director. It's clear that Macromedia sees a future in Flash.

That's not so obvious for Director. Yes, much has changed in DMX2004, but it's not getting the kind of overhauling that it needs for long-term development. We're still missing standard controls. Compare the text display engine in Director with the inlined graphics and style sheets text in Flash. Shockwave 3D, the thing that was supposed to save Director and which siphoned off development resources four years ago has been relatively stagnant for two versions; nobody's shipping new SW3D exporters.

I wish my Director dollars went as far as my Flash dollars do.


What the...?  

Happy birthday, Jon!: My younger brother celebrates his 40th birthday. If he'd been born a day earlier, he'd only be 10.


What the...?  

Antitrust: So, a few months ago, I filled out the form to join the antitrust suit against companies selling music CDs. Took a couple of minutes. Today I get a check for $13.86. Now I can buy another CD. Prices don't seem to have come down, though.