Game 4: Super Rainbow Reef

My fourth game, Super Rainbow Reef, is now complete and available. To be honest, if it had been left up to me I most likely would not have done this game. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. Yes, it is a little cheesy, and there are only six levels, but some of the mods that I did to the final game for my class assignment turned out to be relatively complex and I am rather pleased with the final result.

Super Rainbow Reef is similar in concept to games like Brick Breaker. There are a few differences, though. There is a gravity element in the game, so the “ball” (a starfish in this game) doesn’t travel in straight lines. Also, the aim of the game is not to clear all of the blocks off of the screen to complete the level (though you do get a bonus if you clear them all). Instead, you are trying to hit all of the octopuses (called Big Legs) in order to proceed to the next level. If you manage to make it to level six, have fun. I made that one particularly diabolical.

Once again, click the link, unzip, read the ReadMe file, then run the .exe to play the game. Nothing to install. Comments and critiques are always welcome.

Thank you again to The Game Maker’s Apprentice for providing the graphics and audio for the game. After putting the basic game together with the book, I modded the game fairly extensively to fulfill the requirements for my assignment. Go ahead and give the game a try. I was quite pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed playing it to test everything out.

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Game 3: Lazarus

My third Game Maker game, Lazarus, is now complete, uploaded, and ready for you to try. As with the two previous games, there is nothing to install. Just download the .zip file, extract it, read the ReadMe and run the .exe.

This game is a puzzle game. You are trying to stack falling boxes to help you get out of the various levels while avoiding having the boxes fall on your head. It is also fairly simple, and there are currently only five levels, but there are some elements in this game that were not present in my previous games.

As always, constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this game as I start working on the next one.

Another big thank you to The Game Maker’s Apprentice for providing the graphics and audio for the game, as well as the instructions to get the basic game created. Extra mods beyond what was covered in the book were done for my class assignment.

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Manufacturing in the US: Is It Really Dead?

Lately I have been hearing a lot of noise about how the manufacturing industry in the US is dead, thanks primarily to outsourcing of jobs to China and other low-cost countries. Being the natural skeptic that I am, I thought it might be worthwhile to dig into the question a bit. Where better to go than straight to the source, MAPI/Manufacturers Alliance.

A news release from MAPI/Manufacturers Alliance on January 13th, 2011 indicates that the industry’s composite index fell from 77% to 75% in December, 2010. On this index, 50% is the dividing line between expansion and contraction, “a leading indicator of the manufacturing sector,” and it was “the fifth consecutive quarter the index has been above the 50 percent threshold.” Right off the bat, things certainly don’t seem to be all that bad.

The report then mentions that a record low of 21% was recorded in March, 2009. That would seem to be a fairly large improvement in the manufacturing industry in just under two years, and right in the middle of a fairly sluggish “recovery” in the economy.

It doesn’t stop there, though. The report goes on to mention that the percentage of manufacturing companies operating above 85% capacity climbed to 33.3%, an improvement of more than 16% over the rate three months prior in September.

A number of other industry indexes are mentioned in the report, with most of them seeing modest improvements. But what does all of that mean? It doesn’t say anything about the actual size of the industry. Modest gains in a small industry don’t really mean all that much, right?

To answer that question, I had to go a little further back, unfortunately. The New York Times published an article in February, 2009 that asked much the same question I wanted to have answered. In the heart of the recession, The New York Times reported that 207,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in the month of January, 2009 alone, and that the industry was at a 28-year low (just two months before the low point mentioned in the MAPI/Manufacturers Alliance report).

However, the article quickly goes on to mention some surprising numbers. The value of goods manufactured in the US in 2007 was worth $1.6 trillion, and that “for every $1 of value produced in China factories, the United States generates $2.50.” In fact, the US is still the leading manufacturer of goods in the world by value.

So, what happened to the manufacturing industry? Where did all the jobs go, and why are so many factories sitting empty and silent? According to NYT, the manufacturing industry has shifted towards the high-end and high-tech. $80 billion worth of autos and auto parts were manufactured in 2007. “$200 billion worth of aircraft, missiles and space-related equipment.” Most of the “$16.5 billion worth of farming equipment” manufactured by John Deere was sold outside of the US.

The jobs that are being lost to “low-cost” countries are the low-end manufacturing jobs, like clothing and consumer goods. High-end manufacturing is on the rise, according to MAPI/Manufacturers Alliance. But what does all of that mean for the industry as a whole? According to NYT, US manufacturers accounted for 80% of what we consumed thirty years ago. In 2009, that number was down to 65%.

A 15% drop is nothing to laugh about, certainly. Consider this, though: In the last thirty years, how much has the American desire to consume increased? I would not be surprised if it far outstripped our ability to produce everything that we wanted (needed?) to consume.

Where would that leave the manufacturers? If unable to keep up with demand, prices would skyrocket and consumers would go to other sources for their needs. I do not find it surprising at all that when manufacturers found that they could obtain double, triple, or even more capacity in China for the same cost as they could in the US, that they would quickly take advantage of that opportunity. It not only allows them to meet demand in the US at a price that US consumers are willing to pay, but it also allows them to spread their brand and products into one of the largest markets outside of the US.

Outsourcing should not be viewed as a curse. Yes, it can be painful, but instead we should look at it as an opportunity to reinvent our country. We’ve done it before, and we can do it again. I don’t have the answers to help resolve the problem and get people back to work, but if we stopped focusing on where jobs are going and started focusing on how we are going to replace them, we might start to see some progress being made.

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Update on the Explosion at Moscow Domodedovo Airport

Several hours after an explosion ripped through the crowded baggage claim area of the international terminal at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, no one has yet claimed responsibility for what appears to have been the attack of a suicide bomber. With 35 victims dead and a reported 150+ injured, this senseless tragedy is one of the worst Russia has seen in recent years.

Even though no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, reports suggest that it may have been perpetrated by insurgents in the volatile Caucasus region of Russia. This attack may have been a ploy to undermine the Russian government’s appearance of a “secure society.” While a search is on for three suspects in the attack, increased security measures in Moscow and the Caucasus region to prevent further attacks could have the opposite effect.

Islamic militants in the Caucasus region of Russia have been fighting for the establishment of an independent state in that area for some time, and have recently resorted to using suicide bombs to undermine the Russian government. Both Putin and Russian President Medvedev have pledged to crush the insurgents, but the threat of violence in the area is now on the verge of spiraling out of control.

Is it too late for someone to bring everyone to the table and mediate a peaceful resolution? Possibly. The insurgents are unlikely to settle for anything less than an independent Islamic state, whereas the Kremlin would refuse to allow that to happen. Can a middle ground acceptable to everyone be found? At this point, probably not without things getting worse before they get better.

My heartfelt sympathies go out to the family, friends, and loved ones of those killed and injured in today’s explosion. I sincerely hope that the Russian authorities will be able to find out who is responsible for this senseless tragedy and see that justice, not revenge, is served.

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Explosion at Moscow Domodedovo

A few hours ago, an explosion ripped through the baggage claim area of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, killing 31 and injuring at least a hundred more. Initial reports suggest that it was the result of a suicide bomber, suspected to be associated with militants from the Caucasus region. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has increased security throughout the city of Moscow, and declared that the attackers would be tracked down.

As of yet, there is little solid information to go on. I will be keeping an eye on this situation throughout the day.

*Update* As of 1400 ET, the death toll has risen to 35, with up to 130 injured.

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Laser Beams in the Cockpit

This is something that has been a problem for a while, but seems to be getting worse every year. In ever increasing numbers, pilots have been reporting that they have seen laser beams being shone into their cockpits while on approach to land. There were 102 incidents reported at Los Angeles International Airport in 2010, the most at a single airport, while the total number of events nearly doubled from the previous year to hit 2,836 around the country. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport came in second with 98 reported events, and Phoenix Sky Harbor and San Jose International tied for third with 80 reported events each.

Part of the huge jump in the number of events reported in 2010 is due to the fact that the FAA is constantly asking pilots to report any events to ATC so that local law enforcement can be notified immediately. However, I cannot believe that is the only reason why the numbers have increased so drastically. The FAA attributes the rise to several factors, including inexpensive lasers being readily available, and green lasers becoming more prevalent, which are more easily visible than red lasers.

Why is this a big deal? Even with the large amount of automation present in modern aircraft, the pilot still needs to be able to see the runway in order to land. If a laser beam shines directly into a pilot’s eyes, it can disrupt his vision, cause temporary blindness, or even permanent damage. This is especially dangerous at night, when even an extremely brief exposure to a laser beam can cause the pilot’s eyes to quickly lose their night sensitivity and make it very difficult for the pilot to see anything outside of the cockpit for many minutes. This would be bad at any time during flight, but with the aircraft flying low and slow in preparation to land, it is especially so.

I have no sympathy for someone who would knowingly point a laser beam at an aircraft. If they are caught, and I hope more of them are, I think it would be fitting if law enforcement threw the book at them. According to the FAA’s press release, some cities and states have made it illegal to shine lasers at aircraft, and there may be federal penalties as well. Regardless of whether or not shining a laser at an aircraft is illegal, the individual with the laser is willfully endangering lives and property which is illegal pretty much everywhere. In my opinion, they should be charged with criminal negligence and attempted homicide (one count for every person onboard the aircraft), plus federal charges for interfering with the safe operation of an aircraft.

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Second Game: Galactic Mail

Well, my second game has been completed. Galactic Mail is a little more involved than Evil Clutches, which is a good thing. In this game, you play the role of a galactic mail carrier. Using your spaceship, you must deliver mail between a group of moons and planetoids, while simultaneously avoiding the asteroids that are flying around. It sounds simple, but I am sure you will find it fairly challenging (I certainly did while testing it). The game currently has four levels, with the level of difficulty getting progressively higher, though I have a few ideas that I may explore to add more levels (if I can find the time).

As with Evil Clutches, clicking the link above will allow you to download a .zip file containing a ReadMe file, and an executable file. The ReadMe file contains the game information and controls, and the executable file runs the game. There is nothing to install. Also, as I mentioned with Evil Clutches, you will see a banner add for the Game Maker software when starting the game. That ad will appear until I can get the pro version of the software at the end of the semester. The game should run on any Windows PC, it has not been tested on other operating systems.

Once again, constructive criticism is welcome. I hope you enjoy the game, and look forward to hearing your thoughts about it.

Thank you again to The Game Maker’s Apprentice for providing the graphics and audio for the game, as well as the instructions to get the basic game created. The additional mods were done as part of the assignment for my class.

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First Game: Evil Clutches

Yes, I know it has been a while since I posted on my blog. I apologize for that, and hopefully that will change. No promises, though. The reason I am putting this post up is because I have completed my first full game.

The game, called Evil Clutches, was an assignment for one of my classes this semester. It is very simple, nothing complex, but it is fully playable (on Windows PCs, it hasn’t been tested on any other operating systems) and is just a taste of what will hopefully be a number of increasingly fun and complex games throughout this semester, and beyond.

By clicking the link above, you can download a .zip file containing the game executable file (nothing to install), and a ReadMe file with a brief description of the game and how to play. When you run the game, you will see an ad for Game Maker. This is the software I used to create the game, and the ad displays because I am using the free version of the software. Once I am through with this class, I will be purchasing a full license and the ads will disappear. Until then, the ads will be present in all of the games I create.

As always constructive criticism is welcome. I am still learning the ins and outs of the tool I used to create the game, so there is probably a lot that can be improved on this game. As I learn more that can help the game, the game will be updated. I will not, however, be accepting suggestions for what could/should be improved on this game. As I said before, it is a very simple game, and the first fully playable game I have put together.

Thank you to The Game Maker’s Apprentice for providing the graphics and audio for the game, as well as the instructions to get the basic game created. The additional mods were done as part of the assignment for my class.

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Surviving in a Flat World

In between working on homework and projects for classes, I have been slowly making my way through Thomas L. Friedman‘s book “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.” Unfortunately the library only had the second edition available (release 2.0), and I am hoping to be able to get my hands on the third edition sometime soon. Regardless, it is an excellent book, though the subject matter may be a bit heavy for some readers.

I have not finished the book yet. In fact, I am just past halfway. However, I came across a paragraph today that I thought was very thought-provoking. In the section I am reading, the author is discussing what people, and their society, need to do when they find their jobs in danger of disappearing because a computer, or someone else, can do the job faster or cheaper. Throughout the book, the author repeatedly emphasizes how the “flat world” impacts the American economy, and jobs in particular. The constant theme is that a flat world is not a bad thing, as long as you can re-adjust your expectations and skills to continue to provide a valuable contribution in the changing world economy. In this paragraph, the author provides what could very well be the key to whether the United States will flourish in a flat world, or quietly suffocate itself to death:

It is essential that we stay as open and flexible as possible. America’s cultural willingness to tear things down and rebuild them anew gives us an enormous advantage in the age of flatness, when you are required to tear down and build up more often to achieve innovation and growth. We made the transition from agriculture to industry, and then from industry to services. Now we need to go to the next phase, which is services delivered globally. Each of these transitions was wrenching in its own way, but we were able to accomplish each faster and more efficiently than any other major economy because we were open and flexible and let the market do its work – which it did, though not without pain for plenty of people. The transition to the flat world will be particularly wrenching because it is likely to touch many more white-collar workers. Nevertheless, this is no time to freeze up.

The World is Flat, Release 2.0, p. 316

What does that mean? It means that the way to prevent yourself from becoming redundant in a flat world is by facing the changes head on instead of shying away from them or complaining that someone somewhere else can do your job faster or cheaper. In a free-market, the job will always go to someone who can do it better, faster, or cheaper, preferably all three. In order to remain relevant, you must reinvent yourself to offer something that isn’t available anywhere else. Trying to ignore the problem, or saying “Buy American!” won’t help, and will probably make things worse as the economy of the rest of the world gallops ahead and leaves us in the dust.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is probably a little heavy for some readers, but it is definitely worth looking into. Even if you disagree with the author’s premise that the world is shrinking and becoming flat (not physically, but in regards to an individual’s ability to access information and work from just about anywhere in the world), the arguments he uses to support his ideas are sound and worth thinking about.

I am thoroughly looking forward to reading the rest of the book, though I may switch to Release 3.0 if I get my hands on it before finishing 2.0. Having enjoyed this book so far, I will most likely look into reading some of his other books once I am done with this one.

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I just wanted to say “Welcome” to anyone who is joining me from my previous WordPress blog, as well as to anyone who is a completely new visitor. The old blog will remain in place until WordPress decides to take it down, but everything you can find there has already been copied over here, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

I am currently busy with full-time classes at Wake Tech, so please don’t expect copious amounts of writing from me. I will do my best to update whenever possible, though. Just sit back, grab a drink, and enjoy the show. Oh, it doesn’t hurt to say hello every now and then either. :)

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