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The long, dark tea-time of the soul

One of the most frustrating parts of any kind of software development effort is the time between when an idea hits you and when you actually have something to show for it. It's even worse when I decide to make some kind of core system change to MAME because in the process I usually have to make some changes to basic structures that cause every driver in the system to break. The program won't even compile, and although the thought of putting everything back together is daunting, the overwhelming desire to put it all right again is an awesome driving force.

This sort of describes the last couple weeks with the sound system changes. The first changes I made broke every sound core, so I had to go through and update all the sound cores to the new specs. Some of the cores were fairly well-written and didn't need a lot of modifications. Others were written from the start assuming that only one instance of them would ever exist, and thus dumped all their information into global variables which I had to migrate into structures.

Once all that was done, I could compile everything up until the first driver. But the sound changes also necessitated me changing all the sound interface structures to remove items like 'number of chips', 'clock', and 'volume'. These types of items are now handled in a common way across all sound cores (this is a Good Thing). Furthermore, I had to introduce the concept of speakers and how each channel on each sound chip gets routed to what speakers. All of these changes broke every single driver in MAME.

Before proceeding with the ugly task of modifying all the drivers, I first wanted to make sure the basic system worked well. So I began working on building a "tiny" build of MAME with just the pacman.c driver (of course, if you know MAME, you know that pacman.c links to about 20 other drivers, so I had to bring them along for the ride as well). I went ahead and made all the necessary driver changes to these drivers and finally got them building early this morning.

Of course, nothing works the first time, and this was no exception. However, just a few minutes ago, I finally managed to fix all the glaringly obvious bugs and we now have sound in pacman, galaxian, and phoenix working correctly. The latter two are interesting due to their use of custom sound interfaces that speak directly with the (now defunct) mixer. So far it's looking like the basic system is going to work. I'll probably move a few more drivers over by hand, and then begin the task of bulk converting the rest of the drivers. Should be loads of fun! ;-)

The Day After Tomorrow

Boy, I should get my wisdom teeth removed more often: we managed to complete a Netflix trifecta this weekend, finishing all three movies we had sitting at home. I don't think we've managed to do that before — we just don't watch them fast enough in general. Today's entry was The Day After Tomorrow. Going in, we knew this was going to be a big pile of hooey, science-wise, but we were looking for something fun with big special effects and a doesn't-make-you-think-too-much plot. This movie definitely fit the bill.

It seems to me, this movie was primarily conceived as a sequence of "wouldn't it be cool if..." events. I mean, Twister was a big hit, wouldn't it be cool if there were, like, really big ass tornados in a major city, say LA? Or what if ocean levels rose and flooded New York City? That would be some cool special effects!

Of course, this is another Roland Emmerich dumb, big-budget, special-effects-laden film, so this was all pretty much expected. I mean, the guy directed Independence Day, one of the most mind-bogglingly stupid movies I've seen. By comparison, this movie was actually pretty good.

As usual with these types of movies, you tend to feel the material is below the actors they get to play the main characters. But money talks, and I probably wouldn't walk away from a big payday if I were a B-list actor asked to star in a film like this. Still, I've seen Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal in way better roles than these. At least Jake Gyllenhaal wasn't the big, bulked up hero they were portraying him as in the movie advertising. It's hard to imagine Donnie Darko as a big-budget action hero. Fortunately, it didn't really turn out that way.

In the end, yes, the effects were kind of cool, the science was a joke, the characters were pretty one-dimensional. Exactly as expected. 2/4 stars, exactly as expected. :-)

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden has always been one of Vera's favorite childhood books, which explains why we were watching this very kid-targeted movie on a Friday night. I was still feeling a bit woozy from medications related to my wisdom teeth removal, but no Vicodin was involved this time, so I can't claim any external influences. :-)

I had no familiarity with the story, since I was not much of a reader as a kid. (Vera, on the other hand, reads voraciously, so it's hardly a surprise to find out that she has read the book upon which a movie is based.) Things started out a bit badly for the movie, with Vera explaining that in the book, the main character is orphaned due to a cholera attack, not due to an earthquake, as portrayed in the movie. We agreed that an earthquake was probably easier to explain to people, especially given that this version of the movie was made in 1993. Heck, I barely know what cholera is, or how deadly it was.

Eventually the story settles down and becomes a reasonably pleasant tale of a spoiled little girl affecting those around her in extraordinary ways and eventually changing their lives for the better. There are the usual kid adventures, sneaking around in the big house and avoiding the adults. There's the imposing father figure who is away much of the time, and is rather intimidating when he is present and asserting his authority. And of course, the evil stepmother-like figure who is trying to thwart the children's plans and make everyone's lives miserable.

Overall, it felt very much like a movie about kids for kids. Since I don't have kids at the moment and am not forced to watch them over and over again, I probably don't have the appreciation for what makes a good kids' movie, but this one seemed ok to me. 2.5/4 stars.

The Ring

Try as I might, I've never been able to really get Vera hooked on horror movies. So whenever one comes in the mail, it gets reserved for a Thursday night when she is typically out at choir practice and I have the home theater to myself for a few hours. To make things even more fun this past Thursday, I had my wisdom teeth removed that morning, so I was hopped up on Vicodin and ready for a good, surreal experience watching The Ring, which is one of more hyped horror films of the past few years.

Unfortunately, I have to say it didn't really deliver the goods. I generally expect a horror movie to provide either lots of killing, some nice special gore effects, or at the very least some good, chilling scenes and some scares. This movie lacked all three. There were a couple of scenes that were mildly creepy, and the faces of the deceased were a little twisted, but it was all so ... PG-13.

I think part of the problem is that they had to overcome a premise that was silly to begin with: watch a videotape and die 7 days later. In theory, this should have added a lot of tension to the story, since several main characters watch it and receive the expected death sentence. But as things unraveled, I found the movie just played out as a fairly pedestrian mystery, with most of the film's running length spent watching a couple of reporters snoop around and figure out the past history of the videotape.

One notable cast sighting was Amber Tambyln who plays Joan of Arcadia in a bit part.

In short, color me underwhelmed. 1.5/4 stars.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

A good friend of mine was in town this past week, so we got to chatting over my DVD collection and I was surprised to find out that he hadn't seen Terminator 3 yet. Of course, I couldn't blame him, as I had passed on it in the theater as well, assuming that without James Cameron behind the camera, it just wouldn't be the same. But eventually, I relented, after hearing some positive word of mouth, and bought the DVD on a blind buy. I was glad I did.

Watching this movie for the second time, it's clear that it's not quite up to the first two parts of the series, but overall, it's a rocking good time. It takes a little while to get used to thinking of Nick Stahl as the "grown up" version of Edward Furlong from T2. And Claire Danes spends a bit too much time yelping helplessly to really take the place of Linda Hamilton.

In all other respects, it seems like the producers tried to up the ante over the previous films. Obviously, there has to be an upgraded Terminator to fight, and the T-X provides it, taking the shape of Kristanna Loken (much easier on the eyes than Robert Patrick, though not quite as menacing). Her ability to control other machines adds some nice surprises to the mix.

Even more impressive is that they managed to top the semi chase from the second movie. Suffice it to say, the crane chase in this film is probably the most extensive amount of completely gratuitous and fun destruction I've laid eyes on, and is definitely a great showpiece for your surround sound system. :-)

The thing that really redeems the movie is how the ending wraps up. Watching it for the second time, I saw how the pieces came together, and it's there where I really think they stayed true to Cameron's original tone of inevitability and despair. After seeing T2, I didn't think they could come up with a good plotline for T3. I have to admit, I was wrong.

Overall, a strong conclusion to the trilogy, and a lot of fun. 3.5/4 stars.