Windows 11 Dark Patterns

I recently had to set up a new Windows 11 device, and I was increasingly frustrated by how pervasively Microsoft has added dark patterns to their operating system. The end goals for Microsoft are to gather information on the end user and put relevant advertising on their screen. For those purposes, they keep adding new, buried options to try to sneak in new ways to accomplish both.

Give Us Your Email Address

Right out of the box, one of the first steps is to create a login for the device. In Windows 10, you could follow some obfuscated steps to create a local-only user, where you do not need to provide an email address or sign into a Microsoft account.

Windows 11 has completely removed that option during setup. If you want a local-only user, you first need to provide a Microsoft account during setup and then add the local user after the setup has completed, through the Settings application. Microsoft really wants you to use an online account, so they can easily collect data on your device usage and tie it to your centralized online account.

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Upcoming Rurouni Kenshin Anime

Another classic anime is getting a fresh reboot; this time, it’s Rouroni Kenshin. A new anime version of Rurouni Kenshin was announced, slated for 2023, and a trailer was recently released to promote the new show.

The trailer’s visual style looks great, and hopefully the new series lives up to the quality of the original!

Disable Bing Search From Windows Start Menu

Note: this is more of a reminder to my future self when I need to configure any new Windows 11 devices. There are plenty of other resources online for details about this fix, or the Group Policy change for other editions of Windows.

On my new high-end gaming computer, the Start Menu in Windows 11 runs awfully slow when I type in simple strings, like “c:” to open up my File Explorer. I see a bunch of irrelevant Internet results show up in the Start Menu after a couple of seconds, before it gives me the option to select anything from my local computer.

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Rick and Morty Vindicators

Adult Swim still has yet to announce the premiere date for season 6 of Rick and Morty, but they released some brand new bonus content on their YouTube channel.

Today, Adult Swim premiered the short digital series, Vindicators 2: Last Stand Between Earth and Doom. The ten episodes are a prequel about the superhero team The Vindicators, introduced in episode 4 of season 3, “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender”.

Each episode is only two or three minutes, so catching up on the back-story of the Vindicators takes about as much time as a full episode of Rick and Morty. Enjoy!

Trigun Stampede

It looks like another classic 90’s anime is being resurrected! Vash the Stampede is getting a CG animated remake in Trigun Stampede.

The new series is expected to premiere sometime in 2023, which is 25 years after the original Trigun anime first aired in Japan. It appears that it will air on Crunchyroll in the US, with no mention of Toonami.

The original Trigun was great, and I have fond memories of watching it on Adult Swim years ago. But I have low expectations for remakes like these. Time will tell if this version is able to compare against the original, but I probably won’t go out of my way to watch the series unless it airs on Toonami.

Compiling the glTF to USDZ Converter

Google has a utility to convert glTF files (a 3D transmission format for the web) into the USDZ format (a 3D format released by Apple that is based on the USD format from Pixar). Unfortunately, if you want to use this utility you need to build it from the source code. This one is going to get really technical, but putting together all of these pieces took me quite a bit of time so I figured these directions would be useful to others! If you want to build the usd_from_gltf project on Windows WSL using Debian, read on!

Why?

I recently learned that Apple platforms (Mac, iPhone, etc.) can send and receive 3D objects and use them directly in Augmented Reality (AR) mode. If you have an Apple device, you can see what I mean by visiting the Apple Augmented Reality Quick-Look page; try clicking on one of the 3D models and allowing your browser to access your camera. The 3D model (and any associated animations) can be placed in-camera into the environment that you are viewing!

But of course, there is a catch – the file needs to be in a USDZ format. What is USDZ? It’s a format Apple designed that is based on another format, USD, which Pixar has made available to the 3D community. USD is gaining popularity and adoption as an interchange format for 3D pipelines, because it supports non-destructive editing, different views, opinions, and even allows different parts of the pipeline (modeling, lighting, animation) to be worked on independently.

But USDZ isn’t really compatible with USD, it just uses a subset of USD features and then packs the files into a completely different file format (ZIP files with custom byte alignment, so it’s not even really compatible with normal ZIP files, either – of course).

And I primarily use Blender for 3D objects, which only supports USDA and USDC (the formats defined by Pixar). So if I want to export an object to USDZ from Blender, I am out of luck – at least, if I want to directly export the files.

Fortunately, Blender also supports exporting to glTF, which is a format designed for 3D models on the web, especially mobile devices. The goal of glTF is to be the “JPG of 3D”, designing the format to be easily consumed by browsers with minimal processing.

And Google released an unofficial utility to convert from glTF to USDZ. So I decided to build it, figuring that it couldn’t be too hard to compile a simple conversion utility. After hours of trying different compile steps, I finally got lucky and hit the magic combination — here are the steps!

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Thousands of Donuts

Anyone trying to learn Blender 3D through YouTube has probably run across the donut tutorial from Andrew “Blender Guru” Price. It is a multipart introduction to Blender where you model, texture, sculpt, light, animate, and render a donut in the open-source content creation software. It is a fantastic way to learn the basics of many parts of the software, because along the way you learn about modeling, shading, texture maps, sculpting, texture painting, particle systems, modifiers, lights, simple animation steps, and probably a bunch of other concepts and tools I’m leaving out.

Over a year ago, Andrew Price made a request through his YouTube channel for the final blend files from anyone that has completed the donut tutorial, for a project he was putting together. Well, he finally announced the result of that project: a mosaic of a donut built from renders of all the 17,731 submitted donuts.

He released a short video explaining the process for rendering all the submissions and creating the mosaic, which uses some interesting techniques; especially the custom Python add-on for Blender to automatically render most of the submissions.

The full image is available as an interactive, zoomable mosaic on his website. Anyone that submitted a donut that ended up in the final image is also listed in the website through the searchable donut database (I’m in there!).

Also, he is going to auction off a NFT for the mosaic on April 21, and all of the money will go towards the Blender foundation to help fund continued development of the software. I’ll take credit for 1/17,731 of those funds, thank you very much!

Toonami Remastered Promos

Adult Swim celebrated the 25th anniversary of Toonami, which first premiered on March 17, 1997. As part of their celebration, they re-released a few of their old-school videos and uploaded them to their official YouTube channel.

Watching this remastered commercial for Gundam Wing stirs up some serious nostalgia!

And for fun they also re-released a bunch of original promos, such as one of my favorites, Mad Rhetoric:

The promos and trailers Toonami created in that era were works of art, and it’s great to see them again! They also re-released the Space Is The Place and Advanced Robotics promos, which include some great edits from Dragon Ball Z, Outlaw Star, Gundam Wing, and Big O, among other shows.

One other re-released promo worth a special mention is Broken Promise (Dreams), which I embedded below. Aside from being another fantastic creation, Toonami released a sequel in 2016, titled Dreams, which continued the theme of the original. I could not find the new Dreams on Adult Swim’s YouTube channel, but another user has the video so I embedded that version, too.

“Believe in yourself and create your own destiny; don’t fear failure.”

Fullmetal Alchemist Live Action Movies

A new trailer was recently released for the new Fullmetal Alchemist live-action movies. The two new movies are sequels to the original live-action movie released in 2017, and they appear to stay true to the “Brotherhood” anime (and original manga).

It has been a while since I watched Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and I don’t speak Japanese, but I immediately recognized almost all of the characters from the trailer, along with many iconic scenes from the anime.

On a related topic, the actor that plays Edward also starred in a live-action adaptation of Assassination Classroom, although the trailer for that movie does not seem as strong of a translation to live-action. Some of the facial animation for Koro-sensei looks off, for instance, and overall it doesn’t seem to provide value over the original anime.

But if you want to watch the first live-action Fullmetal Alchemist movie, it is streaming on Netflix, and you can even watch it dubbed into English!

Procedural Planets

I have been playing with Blender at least a little each night, although I haven’t dedicated as much time to it as I would like. However, I am happy that I am building a nightly habit of opening and using Blender.

During my sessions, I created a few procedural planets/moons. Then I created a still scene using the linked objects and rendered a 4K image:

Procedural planets (click for full size 4K image)

As I mentioned, all of the planets were procedural, which means I didn’t use any external textures in the scene.

The main planet uses a combination of Gradient, Wave, and Noise textures to achieve the banding. The rings are a very simple UV map combined with a Noise and Color Ramp.

The other two objects are also procedural. The closer one I modeled as a simple moon, with some Noise nodes to add variation to the surface. The further object is modeled as a habitable (aka “Class M“) planet, again using Noise textures to drive the different land/sea/cloud areas.

And finally, the background stars use a simple technique I’ve seen in multiple Blender tutorials, connecting a Noise texture to a Color Ramp in the World Shader.

Now time to decide on some new subjects to work on in Blender!