Rolling Dice on iOS

This is a quick review of some dice rolling apps on iOS, specifically ones that let you make custom dice.

For this example, I’m recreating dice from Roll Through the Ages, an excellent dice game from Gryphon Games.  It’s a six-sided die (d6) with images on each side. In each app I will use the same 6 images and background to recreate these dice.

Here’s what the dice look like in Roll Through the Ages


The Apps

Dicenomicon ($4.99)

This is a deep program, that offers lots of options.  You can set up dice-rolling equations for the most complex and arcane dice math you could ever need.  However, it has so many features that it’s somewhat confusing to use.  It took reading a tutorial to figure out how to create a custom die. It is also not very stable, especially when creating custom dice.  It took me 10 or so attempts to finally get the dice created (when scaling my images to fit on the die face it would crash). The actual dice rolling works nicely, and has good physics. It requires a couple taps to “hold” a die


Photo Dice ($0.99)

The exact opposite of Dicenomicon is Photo Dice – almost no features, but what it does is very easy to use. Creating a new die (only d6, as opposed to Dicenomicon which can do any number of sides) is a couple taps, and assigning an image to each side is super fast and easy (and no crashes!).  Dice rolling is similar to Dicenomicon, but holding dice and moving them around only requires a single tap, so it’s quicker.


Mach Dice ($1.99)

The next step up from Photo Dice is Mach Dice, by the same developer.  It takes the ease of use of Photo Dice and adds the ability to create more than just d6 dice. It also has 5 playfields, so you can set each playfield with a different background image and dice configuration and switch between them.

Mach Dice does have more of a learning curve than Photo Dice, but nowhere near that of Dicenomicon. You create a custom die with a number of square images, then when you add a new die to a playfield, you specify the image set to use for it. The only difficulty here is that all image sets are square images, if you use those images to create anything other than a d6, the images will be mapped on the die face and masked to that shape, so for example a d8 will use a triangular section of the square image you have set.  Knowing exactly where the image will be cropped for any given die requires a lot of trial and error, this could have been made much easier by providing a template for each die face.

The die rolling area is similar to Dicenomicon – unlike Photo Dice, there is some space taken up by a header bar, so plan image placement accordingly for backgrounds.  Dice rolling itself is great, with the same system for holding and moving as Photo Dice.

Dice Forge ($4.99)

Similar complexity to Mach Dice is Dice Forge.  However, creating custom dice is a multi-step affair that you can’t actually do in the program itself. It will export templates (simple unfolded texture maps) that you then have to edit it Photoshop or your editor of choice, then re-import into Dice Forge. It’s not something you can easily do on the go, so you’re going to need your computer to make new dice. Once you import the texture, you add dice to your dice pool – which is an extra step compared to Dicenomicon or Photo Dice, where you just tap a die to add it directly to the table. The die rolling is lackluster, small dice fly across the screen when you click “roll dice” – rather than using the gyro to allow you to shake the dice like Dicenomicon or Photo Dice, Dice Forge uses a “shake” to simply re-trigger the throw animation, which has nothing to do with how you shake the phone. It makes the dice feel less physical. When you hold dice, instead of anchoring them on the table when you reroll, like the other apps, Dice Forge moves them offscreen to a “held” dice pool, so it’s extra steps if you want to view all the dice after rerolling some. There is also a “flyby” mode where the camera rotates around the table showing your roll. It’s pretty but serves no purpose. Overall, Dice Forge has the least satisfying rolling experience of the three. There’s also no option to change the background image.



Dicenomicon has all the features you could want, however it has a learning curve and hasn’t been updated in a while and has some annoying bugs.

Photo Dice is basic but fun to use and cheap – if all you want are custom 6-sided dice, this is the app you should get.

Mach Dice keeps the ease of Photo Dice but adds different die types. Not as many features as Dicenomicon, but also easier to use. Making dice other than d6 requires a little trial and error to see where the crops will happen, but overall this is my favorite of these dice apps and the one I’d recommend most.

Dice Forge has the flexibility to make custom dice of any type, but little else.  The dice are tiny and the rolling doesn’t “feel” as good. Overall it feels overpriced at $5.


On World of Warcraft and the Stock Market

Yesterday I sold some Apple stock I had purchased. It worked out well for me, I bought it when the economy was shaky and the stock market in shambles, it cost me $85 a share. Now, a year later, I sold it for $199 a share. So I made some money, not a huge sum, maybe $3K after taxes.

It got me thinking about the nature of money. After all, what had I done here? I had clicked a mouse a few times, waited a year, and clicked a mouse a few more times, resulting in almost doubling my money. It was very little effort, and a very abstracted process.

Now here’s the thing – the amount I made was based on the amount I had initially. If I had millions, I would have made millions. It had nothing to do with skill or work, it was based entirely on what arbitrary amount of money I had to begin with. There is a sort of snowball effect that happens, the more money you have, the easier it is to make more money.

It reminded me of playing World of Warcraft three or so years ago. When you start playing in WoW, you have a low-level character. Tasks you do and enemies you defeat don’t give you a lot of cash, so you earn copper and silver. For a low-level character, getting a gold piece is a big deal. I never played long enough or hard enough to build a high-level character, but built up to something like level 14 and ended up playing the auction house.

The auction house is essentially like an in-game eBay – you can put items you have found up for auction, set a price and an end time and then people can bid on them. I used a plug-in someone had written (legal in the game) which monitored the market, and tracked the going rate for each item. I would then look for items selling below market value, buy them, and sell them for a competitive but profitable price.

Out in the wilderness, my character had to fight monsters and save up meager coins to buy slightly better weapons. At the auction house, a little buying and selling made easily more profit than fighting monsters. And the more money my character had, the easier it was to get more. There was a leveling-up effect to trading – at first I could only afford to buy and sell cheap items, but then finally had enough cash to buy and sell some more expensive items. Eventually I moved from selling things worth silver to things worth gold. Suddenly, the gold that was hard to come by in the wilderness was flowing to my character with relative ease.

I eventually stopped playing WoW, as it was eating up a lot of time. But it had been fun while it lasted. What it had done is made true for me an old adage, “the rich get richer”.

Money these days is such an abstract concept – with direct deposit and debit cards, we often never even see it in physical form. What’s interesting is that there is little difference conceptually between money in WoW and money in the real world. They are both abstract representations on a computer somewhere. The difference is that people have agreed that virtual dollars can be exchanged for goods and services, while virtual WoW gold cannot. Even that’s not entirely true, black markets exist that sell WoW gold for dollars, allowing conversion of one virtual currency into another.

I think this is part of the mentality of the rich, being able to deal with money as an abstract, to treat the system as a game. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, not poor but not rich either. I can think of an investment as a game, but at the same time, I have a mortgage to pay every month, and food to buy.

People are always talking about some “get rich quick” scheme, but the sad truth of it is that most of the time, “get rich quick” schemes only work if you are already rich. Even if you can double your money, it doesn’t amount to much if you only had a small amount of money in the first place. Meanwhile, someone who is rich can earn an 8% return on an investment and make more than a pile of poor people do in a year.

It’s a disparity that’s a side effect of the capitalist system as a whole. The thing is, poor that decry this system usually support it at some level, because they see themselves as someday achieving wealth and getting their “piece of the pie”. It is often a complaint of envy, not of justice. They don’t object that the rich exist, they object that they are not rich themselves.

I find the whole thing very interesting, and sad in some ways, but don’t have any solutions to offer. Alternative systems like communism tend to fail for the same reasons, corruption and the rich using influence to get richer.

Anyway, just something I was thinking about the last day or so.

MSI Wind Hackintosh

A little over a week ago, Adam bought himself a shiny new aluminum MacBook, and when I went with him to BestBuy to pick it up, I bought myself an MSI Wind 100U. At $350, it was almost $1000 less than Adam paid for the MacBook. =)

(I peeled off the Windows sticker after I took this photo)

I hacked it, installing OSX on it, and for $11 (damn, RAM is cheap these days!), bought another gig of RAM, which maxes it out at 2GB.

I even found a method of installing that let me use my standard Leopard installer disc. When I upgraded my Mac Pro, I bought the “family” 5-license version of Leopard, so yes, I am using a legal copy of OSX – although installing on this hardware is technically in violation of the OSX licensing agreement, I don’t feel too bad seeing as I paid Apple for the OS.

For such a cheap machine, it’s not bad.

It’s got the Intel Atom processor, designed for low power consumption, but it still decently fast. It will run XCode, including compiling iPhone apps and running the iPhone emulator. Eclipse and MAMP run fine. The Flex SDK runs fine, too.

Battery life probably isn’t great – I haven’t tested it, but should be 2-3 hours.

It does have a slight edge on the MacBook in a couple respects – it has 3 USB ports over the MacBook’s 2, and has a built-in SD card reader, something lacking on the MacBook.

I had a couple Apple logo stickers which I stuck on the back of the MSI (one was too transparent and the MSI logo was still visible, so I put a second sticker on top of the first). It’s a bit off, the logo is larger than it should be, and the sticker has some air bubbles under it, but it’s close enough to be amusing and cause the occasional double-take.

How it stacks up to the MacBook:

Feature MacBook MSI Winner
CPU 2.0GHz Core2Duo 1.6GHz Atom MacBook
RAM 2GB (4GB max) 1GB (2GB max) MacBook
Video NVIDIA GeForce 9400M Intel GMA 950 MacBook
Screen 13″ 1280×800 10″ 1024×600 MacBook
Ethernet 1000bT 1000bT tie
WiFi 802.11b/g/n 802.11b/g MacBook
Bluetooth yes yes tie
Hard Drive 160GB 120GB MacBook
Video Out mini-DVI VGA MacBook
USB 2 ports 3 ports MSI
Card Reader none SD MSI
Price $1,299.00 $349.00 MSI

Yes, the MacBook thoroughly trounces the MSI in almost every way, but for the price, the MSI puts up a respectable showing.

I bet $2200 on black

With the economy unpredictable, unstable, and hazardous, I figured now would be a good time to try my hand at buying stock. =)

I ordered 25 shares of Apple stock… the market closed around $90/share, I’m not sure how it works, placing after-hours orders that are filled the next day… I think they are at the closing price… dunno, it’s the first time I’ve ever bought stock before.

But I figure, with Apple stock so low, and new laptops probably being announced next week, as good a time as any to buy some… I’m patient, I can wait a year or two for the share price to come back up… assuming there still *is* an economy in a year or two…

Guess I’ll see after I get out of surgery tomorrow if I have some shares of stock.

More Macs

Adam decided his Mac Mini was just gathering dust in his room, so I bought it from him.
I’m gonna hook it to my projector and use it with my wireless keyboard and mouse.
Dunno if I’ll use it much either, but it can’t hurt to have a lil computer in the living room.

Now I can check IMDB and Wikipedia without leaving the couch…

iPhoto Flaws

Apple’s iPhoto is a decent program for managing your photos.

Not fantastic, not terrible, but adequate.

There are a few glaring omissions, things that seem like basic features that are missing from iPhoto.

No MD5 tracking
This sounds complicated, but MD5 is a common method for “fingerprinting” a file. Comparing MD5 fingerprints can tell you if a file is a duplicate. iPhoto does some sort of basic comparison to prevent duplicates, but it fails so often it must be only looking at the filename or timestamp or something. It’s badly flawed, and essentially broken.
This means if you bring in a lot of photos you have built up, you will probably have tons of duplicates in there. There are third-party solutions for this, but nothing built in to iPhoto.

No way to merge Libraries
iPhoto stores all the images in a “Library” – which is essentially a directory structure with some XML data. But for some reason, iPhoto has no way to merge libraries. So if you had iPhoto on one computer, and then got a new computer with iPhoto, you can’t just combine the old Library into the new one. You can choose to view one Library or the other by holding down the option key when you start iPhoto, but you can’t combine them. Sure, there are hacks and third-party apps, but that just accentuates the basic flaw: when choosing “import”, iPhoto doesn’t recognize its own file format (the Library).

No auto-rotation of photos
Most modern digital cameras have a sensor to detect the orientation of the camera when the photo is taken. So if you tilt the camera sideways to get a vertical shot, the image is tagged in the metadata as being rotated. Yet iPhoto ignores this, meaning you have to manually go through all your photos and rotate them. Lame! The metadata is there, use it!

A couple of these things (duplicate detection and auto-rotation) seem to *sometimes* kick in (perhaps when you import from a camera, but not when you import from a HD?), but not with any reliability.

Honorable mention:

No Quicktime Quicklook
You can use space to view a photo in iPhoto, but to view a quicktime in iPhoto, you have to double-click it.

Microsoft and Apple Keyboards

I took my new Apple keyboard to work… I may keep it there for a while, since I like the feel of it.
I don’t really need it at home, since I mostly use my laptop, which has a similar keyboard built-in.

Here it is at work, side-by-side with my Microsoft ergonomic keyboard that I’ve been using for the past several years. I think I’ll take the Microsoft one home and clean it out, it has around 6 years of arm hair and crumbs in it. Should make for some good stomach-churning photos. =)

Apple Goodies

Today I got iLife ’08, iWork ’08, and the new Apple Keyboard.

The keyboard is nice, similar to the MacBook keyboard, but with a rougher surface on the keys that feels nice.

The keys have a nice smooth action and the design is sleek. My only complaint so far is that the spacebar makes a different sound than the rest of the keys, and it’s slightly annoying in comparison. But all in all, a solid keyboard.

iPhone breakup

My friend Chris is about the biggest Mac fan I know. However, after a week of use, he just returned his new iPhone.

He loved it, he just had two complaints:
* it was too quiet, and
* he couldn’t get reception.

AT&T is the only carrier for the iPhone, and ’round these parts at least, don’t have very good coverage.

Doesn’t bode well for the iPhone when a huge fan returns it. There are lots of good reviews, but they are from people who live in New York or LA, where AT&T probably has good coverage.