Miriam Ruiz
random thoughts on technology and life

{May 01, 2015}   Sexualized depiction of women in SuperTuxKart 0.9

It has been recently discussed in Debian-Women and Debian-Games mailing lists, but for all of you who don’t read those mailing lists and might have kids or use free games with kids in the classroom, or stuff like that, I thought it might be good to talk about it here.

SuperTuxKart is a free 3D kart racing game, similar to Mario Kart, with a focus on having fun over realism. The characters in the game are the mascots of free and open source projects, except for Nolok, who does not represent a particular open source project, but was created by the SuperTux Game Team as the enemy of Tux.

On April 21, 2015, version 0.9 (not yet in Debian) was released which used the Antarctica graphics engine (a derivative of Irrlicht) and enabled better graphics appearance and features such as dynamic lighting, ambient occlusion, depth of field, and global illumination.

Along with this new engine comes a poster with a sexualized white woman is wearing an outfit that can be depicted as a mix of Native american clothes from different nation and a halo of feathers, as well as many models of her in a bikini swim suit, all along the game, even in the hall of the airport.

They say an image is worth more than a thousand words, don’t they?


{December 07, 2014}   Falling Trees, by Robert Fulghum

In the Solomon Islands in the south Pacific some villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it. (Can’t lay my hands on the article, but I swear I read it.) Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.

Ah, those poor nave innocents. Such quaintly charming habits of the jungle. Screaming at trees, indeed. How primitive. Too bad thay don’t have the advantages of modern technology and the scientific mind.

Me? I yell at my wife. And yell at the telephone and the lawn mower. And yell at the TV and the newspaper and my children. I’ve been known to shake my fist and yell at the sky at times.

Man next door yells at his car a lot. And this summer I heard him yell at a stepladder for most of an afternoon. We modern, urban, educated folks yell at traffic and umpires and bills and banks and machines–especially machines. Machines and relatives get most of the yelling.

Don’t know what good it does. Machines and things just sit there. Even kicking doesn’t always help. As for people, well, the Solomon Islanders may have a point. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts….

by Robert Fulghum (All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten)

{November 19, 2014}   Awesome Bullying Lesson

A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stamp on it and really mess it up but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty is was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. Now even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. That is what happens when a child bullies another child, they may say they’re sorry but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.

( Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/awesome-bullying-lesson-from-a-new-york-teacher )

{October 25, 2014}   Video game players and Gamers are different things

Even though the Wikipedia defines “gamer” as “someone who partakes in interactive gaming, such as (predominantly) video games or board games”, this doesn’t really gets close to that term means socially at the moment. Going back to Wikipedia, we find that the video game subculture is “a form of new media subculture that has been influenced by video games”, so it might be quite accurate to define gamers as members of that subculture. You will find that most of the uses of the term “gamer” in the social networks and in the blogosphere refer to that. Please notice that, even though it is quite likely that most of the gamers play video games, the other way round does not need to be true and, in fact, it isn’t. Not everyone who plays video games belongs to the video game subculture, shares their point of view, their values and aesthetics, or even know about it. Kind of like what happens with the word “hacker”. Not everyone who hacks around with a computer belongs to the hacker subculture.

Mostly everyone who has access to the technology plays video games now. From babies and kids to grandparents. And people play them in every possible technological system around, not only on video game consoles or personal computers, but alse on mobile phones, tablets, web browsers. And many of those people who use different kind of technologies to play video games are not gamers. Not in the sense of belonging to the video game subculture. It is important to acknowledge that: that the video game subculture does not have the monopoly over video games or the video game developing industry anymore.

As you can imagine, all this rand doesn’t come from nowhere. During the last months, we have been witnessing a fight between some conservative core members of the video game subculture and people who want to bring some fresh air into the sociocultural elements of that subculture. Namely, that women shouldn’t be discriminated inside it. As every time that a women raises her voice to complain about anything in the Internet, they have been subjected to insults, attacks, rape and death threats, etc. I’m talking about something called #GamerGate, and even though I’m not going to get into it, I will provide some URLs in case someone might be interested. Please acknowledge that not all the points of view might be represented in this list (in fact, they are not, as I won’t be promoting in my blog things that I severely disagree with), so search the web for more information if you want to get that.

I’ve never been a gamer myself, meaning part of the subculture I mentioned. At some point I was probably closer tho the core values they had then than I am now. In any case, video games have already consolidated themselves as an important part of current culture, entertainment, education and socialization, and are definitely here to stay. That will probably mean that the percentage of gamers (members of the video game subculture) will become smaller. as the number of non-gamer video game players keeps raising.

{January 18, 2014}   Löve is a changing project



I have just uploaded a newer version of Löve to Debian, 0.9.0. As usual, this version breaks compatibility with the API of previous versions. Literally: “LÖVE 0.9.0 breaks compatibility with nearly every 0.8.0 game“. It’s a hard to fix situation from a package maintainer’s point of view, at least until they agree on a stable API, hopefully in a 1.0 version sometime. Löve has been in Debian official repositories since 2008.

As major changes, we can see that it’s using SDL2 and LuaJIT now. Depending on where the bottlenecks were in some of the demos and games, the performance might have improved a lot. The improvements have been a lot, and the structure of the API is more consistent and clean. Congratulations to everyone that has made it possible.

On the bitter part, well, most of the previous games and demos will most likely not work any more without some changes in the code. As we don’t have any reverse dependencies in the archive (yet), this won’t cause any severe problems. But, of course, Debian is not an isolated island, and people might need to execute some old code without being able to migrate it.

I have prepared some packages for older versions of Löve that might make the situation more bearable for some, until code is migrated to the new API. These versions can be co-installed with the latest version in the archive (0.9.0). I’m not sure if it will be needed, but if it was, I might consider putting previous 0.8 version in the official repositories. I would prefer not to do it, though, as that would make me the de facto maintainer of the upstream code, as Löve community is moving forwards with newer versions.

{September 13, 2013}   Pink Pony: a 3D multiplayer Tron-like racing game, with ponies

The first time I found this cute game, was around 2009, but for a bunch of reasons I haven’t been able to get it into the archive until now. Pink Pony is a cute game in which you have to control a pink pony who’s main goal is to last in the game more time than the other ponies. You might remember the game Tron, or the film, in which there were light cycles who left a trace behind, with which the other cycles crashed. Well, this is the similar game concept, only with cute ponies instead of light cycles. You can see a video of the game in action, if you want to get a feeling of how it is.

Thomas Weber (Ginko), has published a newer version of the game (1.3.1) a couple of days ago, and that is the one that has entered Debian repositories (sid) today. Thanks, Ginko, for this lovely game!

Even though the game might not seem too appealing for some of the adult users of Debian or Ubuntu, maybe some of their kids will like it as much as I do. The game is quite quick, though, so very young kids might have trouble controlling the pony. I would suspect it might be all right for kids above 9 years old, but I haven’t been able to test my hypothesis, so if you find out, please tell me :)

{September 03, 2013}   pySioGame: Educational activities and games for kids

I discovered pySioGame for the first time in the first half of 2012, and even though it was still in a beta state, I liked it a lot. pySioGame is essentially a set of educational activities and games for kids.

pySioGame was initially developed by its author -Ireneusz Imiolek- for his son, but he soon decided to make it Free Software. And I’m glad that he did, because it’s a very cute application.

Even though -in it’s author’s own words- it’s hard to put age range on this kind of games, it is primarily targeted to children from as young as 3 years old, up to about 10 years old. The activities included, many of which are grid based, cover topics like maths, reading, writing, painting, and memory activities, among others.

I was finally able to upload pySioGame to Debian during the DebConf, and it has very recently hit the archive. I’m convinced that pySioGame is soon going to be one of the references among the free programs for small kids, among titles such as GCompris, ChildsPlay, PySyCache, or Bouncy. Or, even though it’s not in the archives, Omnitux.

Finally, to whet your appetite, here is the link to a video, and there go some screenshots:



{July 04, 2012}   Scratch in Debian

Scratch has finally reached Debian repositories. Scratch is a programming learning environment created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab designed to be accessible by young learners (over 8 years old). Scratch makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art through a visual interface based on blocks. Thus, beginners can get results without having to learn to write syntactically correct code first. It is powerful enough to have even been adopted as an entry-level computer language in computer science programs at different universities.

Scratch makes use of pieces of code embedded in different blocks that are shaped like puzzle pieces. That way, programming consists on putting different blocks together, which gives immediate visual feedback to the programmer about the correctness of the syntax: If the pieces fit together, then the expression is valid. Scratch programming system is so nice and easy that has been the inspiration of other systems such as MIT App Inventor or Google Blocky.

Scratch animations consist of sprites that are animated by dragging the corresponent blocks into the Scripts area of the Scratch interface. Multiple sprites can be created and interact with one another. Each of the sprites can have different looks (called “costumes” in Scratch). You can use built-in sprites, load them from files, or draw your own using a drawing tool integrated in the environment.

Scratch itself is coded in Squeak, a Smalltalk implementation derived from Smalltalk-80.

The Scratch 1.4 source went GPLv2 on March, but there were some incompatibilites with the Squeak Virtual Machine currently in Wheezy that had to be resolved first. Luckily we were able to solve them, with the help of the Scratch and the Squeak guys, so I’m happy to say that Scrach is finally available from Debian repositories.

Note: If any Scratch derivatives (such as BYOB or Panther) also need to be ported to the current version of Squeak, they should have a look at the comments in the Scratch ITP, and especially to the script uploaded by Bert Freudenberg, that replaces 90 indexed primitive declarations (removed in later versions of Squeak VM) with their named counterpart.

Note 2: This wouldn’t have been possible without all the great work and effort made by Amos Blanton and many others. Lots of thanks!

{November 19, 2011}   3D Puzzle Game: Phlipple

You might remember the action puzzle game Zaz. Well, we now have a new puzzle game from the same author (Remigiusz ‘mal1ce’ Dybka), called Phlipple.  The goal of the game is to reduce a 3D shape to a single square in each level, removing squares by flipping edges around, like you would do in a cardboard box. The Free/Open source version of the game, including 50 levels, is now available in Debian, in case that you want to give it a chance. You can watch the promo video in Youtube if you want to have a better idea of what the game looks like. I hope that you like it, I do :)

Here are some screenshots of the game:

Screenshot of the gameScreenshot of the gameScreenshot of the game

{October 04, 2011}   Periodic Calendar in Debian

Periodic Calendar, a GPL’ed GUI application, coded in Java that helps keeping track of women menstrual cycles and predict fertility periods, has just entered Debian. This information can be used as supportive either for conception or contraception planning.

This program (pcalendar in Debian) is by far more complete than mencal (a simple menstruation calendar that can be run in the console) or cycle (a windowed calendar that can calculate stuff based on the length of the cycle or on statistics of previous periods), and provides support for BBT and sympto-thermal methods, which have the highest reliability in fertility periods prediction. User can thus choose any subset of the features to be used or even fall to the generic calendar method (which if used alone is very unreliable).


Screenshot of Periodic Calendar

Keep in mind, though, that -as the authors of the program insist on- Periodic Calendar is NOT an equal substitute to the fertility planning consultants or doctors, and methods used are not 100% effective. It’s a useful program, anyway.

I’ve also translated the program into Spanish, made some cute icons and added MIME support so that data files can be easily open from the desktop.


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