Monday, March 19, 2018

Personal Panoramic History, Part 1

With my discovery of Hugin back in January I've been combing through all the photos I've ever taken in an effort to find more that could be turned into panoramas. And I do mean combing; I've found several so far that my more cursory search in January failed to detect, including some made from as few as two photos.

I thought it would be interesting to go through my personal photographic history as seen through the lens (pun intended) of panoramas. I've been taking and making panoramas for quite some time now, and while I've put some up on this blog there are quite a number I've made that haven't appeared, either because they were made before this blog was or because I've only just made them recently from old photos.

I have a lot of panoramas, so this'll be a multi-part series. I'll try to link to posts where panoramas first appeared if they've already shown up. I've been going through and replacing the originals with the newly recreated ones, but leaving the original available by mousing over the image which makes for a really fun compare and contrast. We probably won't see those for a few parts, though.


We'll start off in 2008, two years before the start of this blog and the year after I got my Nikon D40 DSLR which is still going strong over a decade later. (I got it moderately late in 2007; the first photos I still have from it are from October 16 of that year.) In 2008 I went to Jordan to dig at the site of Tall el-Hammam for the second time, an archaeological site in the Jordan flood plain north-east of the Dead Sea. It's pretty definitely the site of Sodom, as well as possibly several other cities of some importance throughout Biblical history. I was dissatisfied with the poor quality pictures I'd gotten the year before with a rather terrible point-and-shoot camera I had at the time, so I got myself a DSLR with an idea that I might also be able to use it for astrophotography as well.

I took a lot of pictures from that trip that I may see about sorting through and putting up here another time, but for now we're only interested in panoramas. And I only have two of those, both of them created semi-accidentally. Casting my mind back, in 2008 I think I would have become aware of GIMP only recently (or not yet, even), and not yet grasped its potential for making panoramas. The two sets of photos I found were created as sort of proto-panoramas, series of images taken to capture a wide horizontal expanse but meant to viewed sequentially like a short video instead of being stitched together. This being the future, however, we can go back and do the stitching now!

The very first panorama I've been able to recreate, it's…suitably unimpressive for a first try. It looks like I took it from inside our bus whose shadow you can see on the ground. I'm pretty sure this is from a weekend trip we got to take to an old monastery that had been converted into a museum on Mount Pisgah, where Moses was shown the Holy Land and subsequently expired. From what I can tell it's looking west towards Israel over the Jordan river flood plain north of the Dead Sea (which you can just catch a hint of on the left). Too bad you basically can't see anything because of the dust and haze.

This second panorama, of Tall el-Hammam, comes from near the end of my stay. A quick language lesson: “tall,” in Arabic, means “hill” or “mound,” while “hammam” means “spring (of water)” or “bath”, so Tall el-Hammam is something like Hill of the Spring, named for a fresh water spring it has which is still active today (in the photo, it's hidden amongst that stand of bushy trees just left of center). In archaeology the word “tell” (basically just a slightly different transliteration of tall into English) is used to refer to the hills or mounds that make up most archaeological sites.

So Tall el-Hammam is made up of two tells, or hills: the lower tell, which is roughly circular, and rises perhaps 5-10 meters above the surrounding plain, and the upper tell, which is narrow, elongated, much taller (maybe 50 meters or more?), and projects out of the north-eastern part of the lower tell like the tail of a stingray, or a tadpole. This photo is taken from the upper tell at its highest point before it slopes steeply down to the lower tell, looking out over it to the south west. Keep going in this direction and you'd hit the Dead Sea, though again you can't see it for the haze.

This panorama is a mere two pictures (unlike the first one which has four), but it still works and at least it's a lot easier to see things and make out detail compared to my first one!

The next post in this series will cover 2009, when I moved to Hawaii, started making panoramas of what would turn out to be very common subjects for me, and made one of my favorite panoramas ever, never-before-seen on this blog! A hui hou!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Jumping up the Tech Ladder: A New Phone!

This week I got a new phone.

I've had a cell phone for over a decade now, so the novelty has worn off a bit and I like to think I've gotten over the urge to upgrade to the latest and greatest every two years. I've had the same model of phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, for four years now, and I'd have happily gone on using it if it weren't for a fairly serious issue with it that prompted me to finally get a new phone.

Although not as headline-making as its brother the Note 7's exploding battery problem, the Note 4 has a very aggravating issue where over time the battery degrades and cause the phone to randomly enter an eternal rebooting loop, from which the only way to recover is to plug it into a charger. At first it would happen on very low battery charge, but over time it would start to happen at higher and higher battery percentages.

How do I know it's the battery? Well, I've actually had two different Note 4s over the past four years. After two years the problem had gotten so bad with the first one that I got my phone replaced with another one (the month after I got laid off at the JCMT, actually). When the new one arrived, I switched batteries between the two phones on a whim and the new one immediately began displaying the same issue (it'd gotten so bad that it was triggering with over 90% battery charge) while the old phone with the new battery was fine.

Well, I went through with the phone swap and things were fine for maybe half a year or so, before I started noticing my new Note 4 beginning to exhibit the exact same behavior. By this time I was starting to begin the process of applying to Swinburne and working at the YTLA, so I was busy, distracted, generally never far enough from a charger for it to be a big issue, and not particularly flush with cash, so getting a new phone never really made it to the pile of things to worry about.

The problem hasn't gone away, however, and having moved to a new city having a reliable phone to help me navigate has become a lot more important. Once I'd worked out the route between the university and home it wasn't too much of a problem in my phone died on the train, but if I want to head out somewhere new I really don't want my phone conking out on me while I'm on an unfamiliar bus for the first time.

The long and short of it is, this week I pre-ordered the Samsung Galaxy S9+ and picked it up yesterday, a few days before it officially goes on sale in the stores. I note this merely because this is probably the one time in my life that I'll ever pre-order a phone and have such early access; I wasn't actually in that big of a hurry that I couldn't have waited to pick one up in-store this weekend, but Samsung had a promotion going on whereby pre-ordering netted you a free wireless charger, and I had just been musing about checking out wireless charging for the first time a few days earlier.

Having gone four years without a phone upgrade I've jumped several iterations and the S9+ feels quite new and alien. I've had a phone from the Note series for the past six years or so (two Note 4s, and a Note 2 before that) primarily for their large screen sizes, back when the Note line had the largest screens you could find in a cell phone. After looking at the current generation of phones however I realized that there was hardly a noticeable difference in screen sizes any more with the S+ phones, and it's not like I actually used the Notes' stylus (their other differentiating feature) enough to justify their higher cost.

With the S9+ I've also made the jump from physical capacitive buttons on the phone to purely software buttons on the screen. I'd been somewhat worried about this for a few years now and finally decided to take the plunge as it was clear that physical buttons on Android phones were fast becoming extinct. Yet after just a single day of using my phone I can say that it hasn't been nearly as disruptive as I'd feared—in fact, I barely notice the difference.

I think I'll call it…a “landline.”

This is also the first phone I've had with a USB Type-C connector, and it's quite nice for plugging in a cable. I also discovered partly by accident that by using a USB Type-C-to-Ethernet converter I can actually connect to the Internet over an Ethernet cable! (As shown above.) I don't know when that'll ever come in useful, but it's pretty amusing nonetheless.

There are some other features of the S9+ that I'm looking forward to trying out as well; for one thing, it's supposed to have one of the best cameras of any phone out there. Actually, it has two cameras: a wide-angle one and a second telephoto one that gets switched to when zooming in, which should allow for better zoomed-in photos than are normally seen on phone cameras. (And the wide-angle lens can swap between two different apertures which should allow it to take better photos in low light.) It can shoot video at 4K (a capability I haven't had before), and has a super-slow-motion mode where it can shoot at 960 frames per second for short bursts—probably not something I'll use often, but it might be interesting to play around with.

Anyway, it's getting late and I should finish this up, so a hui hou!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Unexpected Accolades

Something pretty incredible happened to me today, but to have any chance of properly explaining it I'm going to have to quickly jump back to…

…2012, when I was working at the Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea. Among the videos we had to play for the public was one starring an astronomer named Phil Plait, author of the popular Bad Astronomy blog, dedicated to debunking all the crazy ideas people come up with regarding astronomy, or just explaining astronomy to the public in general. In the video he engages in charming Myth Busters-esque hijinks, like trying to stop a scale-model comet of dry ice and water ice by shining a laser on it, or investigating whether shooting an asteroid with a nuke would be a good idea (it's not). He's written a book (called “Bad Astronomy”), he's been on TV, he's got over 600,000 followers on Twitter, the point is that he's pretty good at communicating science effectively.

Jumping forward in time to this past January, I wrote my first article for Astrobites. I picked a paper from 2016 about some astronomers who accidentally observed the wrong star, then discovered it was a previously-unknown solar twin. It made for a great story about serendipity in science, and it fit with my Ph.D. project. I wrote and re-wrote it for a period of several weeks, and was pretty happy with the result.

Fast forward to this afternoon, when I discovered (via a colleague) that Phil Plait had come upon the same paper, thought about writing about it on his blog, discovered my Astrobite, and thought it good enough to simply retweet rather than write his own post:

I don't really have much more to say about this other than: wow. This made my day. Soli Deo gloria! A hui hou!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Bouncy Burgers

While food-shopping on my way home from church this afternoon, I found this in the meat section:

The picture speaks for itself.
Naturally, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to sample an indigenous species. I picked them up and fried up two for lunch. Despite a tragic lack of dill pickle hamburger chips in this country and the necessity of slicing my own (it's the little things that make you homesick), I thought the resulting burgers came out pretty nicely:

I like how you pretty much can't see the burger patties in this shot. Great framing, me!
The verdict: …hmmm. I don't mind the flavor—in fact, thinking back I can barely remember a distinct flavor from the burgers. I was less thrilled with the texture. I'm not sure if it's a result of how I cooked them or what, but they seemed sort of…I guess “mushy” is the best word I can think of to describe it. Perhaps it's just that I was subconsciously expecting beef and that wasn't what I got that made it seem less than satisfactory; I'm still not sure. It was a rather confusing culinary experience. Luckily it was a four-pack of patties though so I've got four more to try to make up my mind. Maybe they just need cooking differently, or maybe I won't mind it as much if I'm expecting it. We'll just have to see! A hui hou!

Edit (3/16/18): I had the rest of the burgers a few days later, and definitely noticed the taste this time. I wouldn't say I really liked it, but it wasn't objectionable either. I've had some people tell me that burgers really isn't the best way to have kangaroo, so perhaps I'll have to try some other form of it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

EqualX: The Power of LaTeX in a Nicely Pre-Configured Interface

A few weeks ago while putting together my elevator pitch video I found myself in need of a few nicely-typeset equations to show in it. I knew the solution would involve \(\LaTeX\) (which I've written in praise of before), but many \(\LaTeX\) editors are geared towards writing substantial papers. There's a bit of boilerplate code you need to set up, and it feels like overkill if you just want a picture of a few equations, as I did. (It's much like setting up a webpage: it's not a problem for a substantial page, but if you just want to put a sentence or two on it then your boilerplate code will be longer than your content!)

Thankfully while looking around online I stumbled upon a program called EqualX which is dedicated to taking care of that initial busywork and letting you simply create equations and formulae and export the result to seven different formats, including JPG, PNG, PDF, and (most importantly for my purposes) SVG.

 The eagle-eyed may notice the presence of \(\tau\) instead of \(\pi\)…

This picture shows the exceedingly simple interface. You just write your math in the bottom box, and by default EqualX will compile what's written there every one and a half seconds after you've finished typing into what you see in the middle box (though this behavior is configurable, and you can turn off the auto-updating if you like and just update it manually). When you're done, simply right-click in the middle box to set your export format, then save your output it to an image. Easy as \(\pi\)!

Okay, even I feel bad about that pun. A hui hou, folks!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Fundamental Constants: Do They Actually Vary?

I can't remember if I've mentioned it on this blog before, but since the middle of December I've been planning on entering a competition among Australian universities for students or early-career scientists for videos that best showcase and explain your research. It's called the Pitch It Clever competition, and the idea is to make a one- to two-minute elevator pitch video. I decided on a live-action format as being easiest, finally got my filming done on Saturday, spent much of Sunday editing the resulting footage, and submitted it today!

I haven't written much here about what my Ph.D. research will actually encompass, partly (mostly) because I wasn't sure for a while. During the application process the idea was that I'd be working on fundamental constants, but looking at quasars. However, in the several months between accepting the university offer and actually moving here my supervisor came up with an idea of applying the same methods to solar twins instead, and offered me the choice to work on that when I arrived. Despite never having much interest in stars prior to this I found this idea more interesting (surprisingly), so that's what I chose.

The video says it pretty shortly and sweetly (I hope!), but just as a quick overview in case something I said wasn't clear:

All our modern theories of physics—known by the incredibly boring name of the Standard Model—rely on a number of quantities known as physical constants. Their values can't be calculated from within the theories themselves, but can only be measured. We call them ‘constants’ because we've never measured them to change but this is fundamentally an assumption, and one that has remained a niggling worry in the back of physicists' minds for around a century now.

The fine-structure constant, usually denoted with the Greek letter alpha (α), is one of these constants which characterizes the strength of electromagnetic interactions. It has a value of \(\alpha\approx1/137\) (but not exactly \(1/137\)!), and unlike some of the other constants is dimensionless meaning it has the same value in all systems of units. (Other constants, such as the speed of light, have units ‘built-in’ so to speak—the speed of light is, well, a speed, and has units as such: m/s or mph or whatever.)

Anyway, if the fine-structure constant were to vary, we can calculate the effects that this would have in the energy required for electrons to make quantum transitions between different atomic orbitals. (Well, we won't actually be doing those calculations, we have some collaborators who'll be doing that bit for us.) It turns out that transitions react differently—some require more energy, others need less, and some are barely affected at all.

The energy required for an electron to jump between orbitals is related to the energy of the photon of light it emits or absorbs when doing so. This means that we can potentially measure changes in the fine-structure constant by looking for changes in specific absorption lines in various spectra. By looking at pairs of lines that react oppositely, we can increase our confidence that a measured shift is caused by a varying alpha and not something else.

For the spectra I'll be looking at stars very similar to the sun, which are known as solar twins. There's no actual general definition for precisely what makes a star a solar twin, but intuitively it's just a star that's close to the sun in a number of ways. Since we can study the sun so well we can apply all that knowledge to solar twins too, again allowing us to have more confidence that any shifts we might see are truly due to alpha and not some other unknown process in stars very different from the sun.

And that's basically it. Actually measuring a change in alpha would be a truly remarkable undertaking (though it would likely take years to follow up on and be confident that it wasn't a fluke). Realistically, it's pretty unlikely to happen, but null results are also important in science. While alpha's been measured on earth and in various high-redshift quasars, it hasn't been measure very much on the scale of the Milky Way galaxy, and this would give us more knowledge about where this particular constant is constant, which is valuable in its own way.

It's been a late couple of nights working on this video so that's it for now (but feel free to ask questions in the comments if something I said was unclear)! A hui hou!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

New Frontiers in Panoramas

So those of you who follow this blog probably know by now that I love panoramas. There's just never enough of a landscape encapsulated in a single photo in my eyes. Within a few years of getting access to a digital camera I had figured out how to take multiple pictures of a scene and stitch them together in GIMP. This, however, is a long, painstaking process prone to errors. I think I've discovered errors in pretty much every panorama I've made sometime after making it, in the form of areas where two pictures were imperfectly blended. (The amount of work it takes to make one has always discouraged me from going back and fixing them, however.)

This weekend I discovered an amazing program called Hugin which creates panoramas automatically. Sure, I can create panoramas with the camera on my phone now that are quite high quality already, but Hugin allows me to go back and recreate ones from the pictures I already have, which is exactly what I spent most of Saturday afternoon doing. Upon loading in a set of pictures it can automatically analyze them to find matching points, assemble them, fix perspective issues, blend everything together, and spit out a finished panorama, all with a couple of clicks. It's incredibly fun to watch and see the finished output, especially comparing them to the ones I've made manually.

It's unfortunately a bit hard to see the differences (which are important, but subtle) without blinking between the images, so I don't think putting a hand-made and Hugin-made panorama up together would be particularly informative. However, I did find a few cases of images I'd taken with the intent to create a panorama that I never got around to, so have a few never-before-seen photos with this post:

This is a panorama from June 2011, taken from the summit of Mauna Kea at Puʻu Wēkiu on the one occasion I hiked there and remembered my camera. To the south, on the right, can be seen the summit of Mauna Loa, and not a lot else due to the clouds. (This might be why I never made a panorama out of it manually…) The view extends around to the north-east, where you can see some of the cinder cones (or puʻu) on Mauna Kea's north-eastern rift zone.

This panorama dates from November 2013. It's a view out over Kīlauea Caldera from near the Jagger Museum (where the people are on the left, including my friend Graham!). Within the caldera (which takes up most of the picture) can be seen the Halemaʻumaʻu pit crater, where the gas is rising from. I rather like this picture, so I'm not sure why I never got around to panorama-fying it manually. Another nice feature of Hugin that I forgot to mention is the way it can blend pictures pretty seamlessly, compensating for differently-colored sky in different images. This was always a big problem for me when making them manually and it's a super-useful feature.

This is another panorama taken at the same time as the last one, and from very nearby, but looking away from Kīlauea up towards Mauna Loa instead. Not much more to say about it, honestly—it's a different view of Mauna Loa than the panoramas I usually make (from the south-east instead of the north), and it does a nice job of showing off just how long and flat Mauna Loa is, but I can understand why I never felt motivated to spend the time to make this panorama manually.

Finally, this panorama comes from September 2014, from the time I visited Polulū Valley. I made one panorama from higher up at the trail head already but this one comes from further down the trail and I never put the pictures together. The color balance isn't particularly great on this one between the multiple photos, but I do like the view.

Anyway, I'm super excited to have discovered this program and I'm hoping to put it to good use with some more—and better—panoramas from Australia in the future now that I can make them in a few minutes rather than a few hours. A hui hou!

Friday, January 26, 2018

January Astrobite and Australia Day

Well this is a few days late due to a busy week, but I posted my first Astrobite this week over at the Astrobites site. It's on the accidental discovery of a so-called solar twin, a star extremely similar to our Sun, and is a heavily-edited version of my initial application submission (though it's much better now than it was originally!). I had some fun figuring out when to post it due to being pretty much the first Astrobites author in Australia as far as I know, but it worked out in the end.

I've also taken on the modest task of designing some new logo variations for the Astrobites store that I (and quite a few other authors, and not just the new ones) found out about a few weeks ago, so I may have some stuff to show off in that regard in a bit.

Other than that not much to say; it's a long weekend here due to today being Australia Day so I've got some more time to be creative. A hui hou!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Transit of Venus: Reloaded: Director's Cut

Remaking and rebooting things seems to be all the rage these days, so I figured it was time for me to join the bandwagon and take a shot at redoing one of my old videos from 2012 about the transit of Venus. Well, actually I was recently reminded of its existence and decided that I could do better now. The original video was from before I'd started really working at video editing, and was probably made in Windows Movie Maker. I wouldn't call it bad, and can see some of the hallmarks of my video editing style even back then, but I think this one's a bit better overall. I've gone back and replaced the old version from 2012 with this one, as Blogger's video hosting abilities have always felt a bit shaky to me—one of the reasons I didn't upload many videos prior to getting a YouTube channel. (Two, actually, one for gaming that I introduced in the previous post and a second more general one seen here for everything else.)

(Fun fact, the title in the thumbnail there was recycled from the original video.)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

2017 Retrospective: Making the World's First Let's Play of Dodge That Anvil!

Last year I created the world's first (and so far only) video Let's Play of Dodge That Anvil!.

The thought that I'd ever get to create the very first Let's Play of a game had never entered my mind prior to last year, but for those who have no idea what I just said, let me back up and explain. (I suggest listening to the game's soundtrack which can be found here in the background while reading, as it's great music and will help set the mood.)
  1. A “Let's Play” (or LP) is a fairly recent art form (stretching back perhaps two decades or so) that at its core involves playing though a game in order to share the experience with others. Typically this is done either in a series of videos of gameplay with accompanying commentary (with varying amounts of editing optional) or in the form of a mixture of textual commentary and screenshots, the type of game often dictating the best or most convenient format. Usually the person making the Let's Play does so because they love the game they're playing and want to share the joy playing it inspires with other people, and the love and dedication put into a truly great Let's Play can be a wonderful thing to behold (though actual levels of skill at the game and dedication to showing off everything in it vary).
  2. Dodge That Anvil! is an indie game made entirely by a single man named Jake Grandchamp that came out in 2006. I only discovered it sometime later—it must have been about 2007 or 2008, because I remember finding it and buying it around the time or soon after I started college. It has the humorous premise of a warren of technologically-savvy rabbits who grow their own crops but whose world is turned upside down one day when anvils begin raining from the sky, threatening all and sundry. The player is a brave “volunteer” who in order to feed the warren must run around harvesting crops while every few seconds an anvil falls out of the sky aimed at his head. (At least initially, later levels add more hazards of various kinds to avoid from exploding beach balls to anvils that come alive and chase you around like bulls to alien flying saucers from the Moon, who turn out to be the source of the anvils.) It's supported by a beautiful stylized art style, some amazing music, and a charming sense of humor in the writing that keeps it fun, but the real meat of the game is its gameplay, which is fast, fun, a little frantic, and utilizes the powerful Havok physics engine to create all kinds of hilarious emergent gameplay as anvils interact with the world, explosions, and each other.
After getting Dodge That Anvil! I played it off and on for about two years till moving away to college in 2009, often watched by my younger brothers. We all greatly enjoyed the experience, and the funny situations the game could come up with—I've got great memories of the three of us laughing uproariously at the latest foible of the physics engine. I then kind of forgot about it in the excitement of moving to Hawaii, and there things stood for almost a decade.

A shot from the first level, showing off an anvil trying to squish me as I gather crops from the tilled areas.
Last year I happened to remember Dodge That Anvil! out of the blue, and felt a nostalgic desire to see it in action again, so I typed its name into YouTube, and got…nothing. Well, not quite nothing, I found the original trailer for the game and a six-minute recording of someone playing the first level from the early days of YouTube soon after the game came out, but the point is that there were no Let's Plays. This is YouTube we're talking about here; if a game exists, someone, somewhere, has made a Let's Play about it. Usually more than one. But in this case, no one had.

After recovering from my surprise, I realized that this presented me with an incredible opportunity/responsibility: to make one myself. This immediately presented a slight problem, though: the game came out in 2006, the latest versions of Windows and Mac it officially worked on were almost a decade old by this point, and it didn't have a Linux version. The game's website was still up when I checked though, and even had the game download still working (the game allowed playing the first few levels as a demo before buying and unlocking the full game). I found my game key in an old Gmail chat nearly eight years old, installed Wine to run Windows applications, downloaded and installed the game, and to my pleasant surprise it ran on my computer (running Debian stable at the time). To my infinitely greater amazement, when I entered my game key at the appropriate screen, it thought for about two seconds and accepted it.

Here's a raging anvil trying to get me in a later level. Also note that it's now summer/fall instead of spring.
This is an indie game that had come out over a decade ago, and the key validation servers were still functioning. That blew my mind so hard that I distinctly remember sitting and staring at my computer screen open-mouthed for a few seconds in disbelief. Jake couldn't be making new sales of the game, not this long after the last supported versions of Windows and Mac were so many years behind, so the only reason those servers were still going had to be for people like me, who were coming back and installing the game again after so many years. That moment, right there, cemented my desire to make this the definitive Let's Play of Dodge That Anvil!—someone willing to spend money on keeping a key server alive over a decade after his game came out just so buyers could continue to play it deserved the very best I could give.

And so I did. Starting in March I steadily worked my way through the game I'd loved so much as a teenager. Unlike many of the games we look back on with rose-colored glasses, it lived up to my memories. The gameplay was just as good and frantic, the writing as humorous and charming, and I took just as many anvils to the noggin while distracted as I remembered. I did my best with every episode, explaining the many things I'd learned about the game, showing off all the secrets I could find, getting 100% completion on every level, all in pursuit of my quest to make a Let's Play that Jake could be proud of should he ever perchance come across it. I'd never been able to find out what happened to him after Dodge That Anvil! was published—he'd never released any other games that I could find and seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth, so I'd always wondered and this led me to push myself to share his wonderful game with the world lest it be forgotten.

Here's a later winter level, showing a multi-anvil strike called an anvil squadron. A split second later my hardhat makes the ultimate sacrifice to save me.
Dodge That Anvil! is actually a decently long game so I slowly worked my way through it at the rate of about one video a week, until August when the most amazing part of this story takes place. I'd finished the main story mode of the game (and was working on recording the post-game optional content) when a few days after posting the final story mode video I got one of the biggest surprises in my life: out of the blue, I got a message from Jake Grandchamp himself, saying that he'd randomly stumbled upon my Let's Play while searching YouTube to see if his original trailer was still up, and loved it! He explained that he'd long been a fan of Let's Plays and always secretly hoped that someone would make one of Dodge That Anvil!. He'd never expected to stumble upon such a good one over a decade after the game came out, he said, and it was worth the wait.

Needless to say I was thrilled beyond words that I'd succeeded in my mission of making a definitive Let's Play of a game which the creator himself could be proud of. We got to talking by email and as a token of his appreciation he sent me a package with a physical copy of the game (something I'd never had due to buying it online), the game's soundtrack, and an actual physical hard hat as a humorous reference to a running joke from my Let's Play of how many times I'd lose my hardhat to anvils and need to buy a new one. (I even did my first unboxing video ever with the package to capture my reactions upon opening it.)

Me wearing that hardhat at my job at the YTLA.
After that, I continued on with the game with renewed zeal. The climax of the game's story mode involves travelling to the Moon, but there's an optional Moon Mode that's unlocked after finishing the story that details the process of getting back from the Moon and involves playing on mirror-flipped versions of all the normal levels with low gravity and a space helmet taking the place of the hard hat to allow you to breathe. It starts to drag a bit near the end, but I've always enjoyed the feel of jumping around in low gravity and the usage of names of actual lunar landmarks for the levels.

Anyway, I finally finished Moon Mode (and by extension the story) near the end of November, a little over eight months since I started. It's been a long and sometimes arduous journey; the time I tried and failed one particular bonus challenge a hundred and thirty-eight times in a row comes to mind (Episode 12), or the time I forgot to record audio and had to add as much of the game's audio as I could back in by hand in editing (Episode 26), or the international move that happened two-thirds of the way through, or when I was two levels from the end of Moon Mode and upgrading from Debian stable to Debian testing wiped my save files, or…you get the picture. But on the whole it's been an incredibly rewarding experience and I'm very pleased with myself for having done it; it's something I can look back on and be proud of. It's definitely not a perfect Let's Play (though I like to think it gets better as it goes along), but I think I learned a lot about recording and video editing from the experience, and it pushed me to finally get a real microphone for vocal recordings and stop using my old phone as a makeshift mic.

Me fighting the final boss's ultimate weapon Anvil Prime on the Moon. It's a remarkably tense fight.
I'm not quite done with Dodge That Anvil! yet; near the beginning of January I put together a video of the game's soundtrack (linked at the start of this post) and I have some plans for a future video showing off some of the game's multiple game-changing codes (some of which I don't know that I've ever tried before, and the descriptions are quite intriguing!). For anyone who's interested and has survived this huge post, my full Let's Play playlist can be found here. I hope you enjoy it, and a hui hou!