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December 30, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

One Link Per Child

Won't you think of the children?

  • The OLPC program is on a roll with its recent ad efforts (don't they have better things to do? Like, I don't know, not screwing up distribution?). First, they imply that their hardware will stop child labor, prostitution, and soldiering. Keep this in mind the next time that they claim that the project has been misrepresented as a poverty-fighting panacea. Then they digitally revived John Lennon to shill for them. Stay classy, Negroponte.
  • This a while back from Boing Boing: computer scientists devise a test to predict programming skill. Basically, the authors of the paper (which is pretty funny, actually) tested people on some simple statements of assignment and sequence. They found that the classes could be divided into three groups: people who applied a consistent (but completely arbitrary) model to the questions, people who tried to solve each question based on informal meaning, and people who refused to answer because the whole thing looked like nonsense. The first group, unsurprisingly, contains the best programmers.
  • Pandagon's Jesse Taylor comments on the Fear of a Black ISBN--i.e., the fallacy of a section for African-American literature in bookstores. "If James Patterson can write eight million terrible bestselling mysteries about a black protagonist, then actual black people can probably write equally terrible bestsellers about equally unbelievable black (or even white!) people."
  • A friend sent me this report from the WSJ: As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S. Be sure to scroll down for the map, which splits the country into four pieces between Canada, China, the EU, and Mexico. I, for one, welcome our 220-volt standardized overlords.
  • If you get the chance to see Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, take it. It's intensely structured, filled with a cast of great actors, and closes with a bang. Really ought to win a ton of awards.
  • Obviously, I've gotten sidetracked lately from reading about new media for social protest into their use for development. One cool initiative: Mobiles in Malawi tracks the use of SMS communications for coordinating community health workers.
  • I guess at the end of the year it's customary to make best-of lists. I don't really have anything for that. I will say that, in gaming, one of the high points for me was the sound design of Geometry Wars 2. The original game already used sound really effectively to warn players about spawning enemies. What the sequel adds is a fascinating use of filters and processing to deepen the relationship of the action onscreen to the sound of the game. For example, in King mode, leaving the safe zones muffles the sounds with a lowpass filter, and entering them opens it back up--it instantly reinforces the fact that the player is only secure and fully-powered inside the zones. The interactive music and time-stretch effects literally grind to a halt when the player dies in Deadline or Evolved. These kinds of effects are well-known in more "realistic" games, I think. But it's really nice to see them used to augment the abstract, arcade landscape of GW2, and a tribute to the power that good audio design can have.

November 21, 2008

Filed under: random»linky


Look: emo vampires involved in chaste romance, courtesy of a Mormon housewife! Who says symbolism is dead?

  • Michael Lewis, author of Liar's Poker (and don't think that wasn't my first thought for a blog title pun), has a couple of really interesting stories on The End of Wall Street's Boom and The Evolution of an Investor. Both ultimately stress the same point: the people running the market had (and probably still have) no idea what they're doing. It's the equivalent of Taleb's Black Swan theory, where if there are enough people playing the numbers, some of them will be successful merely by chance--but since people are notoriously bad at estimating odds, they will think they had a system that works. At what point does this not look like a rigged casino game, again?
  • Boing Boing Gadgets also linked to this Forbes profile of Honda earlier, which makes for good reading. It focuses on the astonishing number of experimental technologies they're always trying out, and notes that they've never had a layoff--very impressive. I try to be a market cynic, but there are some companies (Nokia, Ikea, Honda) where I still have a real soft spot.
  • Muse's "Knights of Cydonia" is still the greatest music video of all time:
  • Ever wondered what happened to the House Class of '94, they of the Gingrich Revolution and the Contract with America? Find out here. Although it is really just another list of dancing heads, similar to my Blue Dogs graphic (which I now need to update with post-election additions), I like the presentation. It also leverages several custom Flash classes that we're building in an effort to code in a more reusable fashion. So it's not completely frivolous.
  • On a related note, if you're doing any graphical Flash/Flex programming, something that was very helpful while working on that portrait gallery was Adobe's Color Matrix Guide. The ColorMatrixFilter class is used to sepia-tint the mugshots in my graphic, but it can be used for all kinds of other transformations. Adobe nicely provides a handy applet for testing different matrix inputs, including handy presets for brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation.
  • Working on the suspicion that, at some point, Good Old Games is going to get shut down for being way too awesome, I splurged on both Fallouts, Sacrifice, and Giants: Citizen Kabuto. Being a huge fan of Shiny's MDK (still one of the most joyfully bizarre games I've ever played), I started Giants first. Having a ton of other stuff up in the air, I haven't gotten very far, but it's striking how strong the MDK-ish design "voice" is: a combination of slapstick humor, disturbingly Geiger-esque graphic design, and over-the-top violence. I don't think anyone's made anything quite like it ever since.

October 29, 2008

Filed under: random»linky


Lots of video in this collection. I'm not embedding them, because the page is already heavy enough at the moment, and I just got it CSS'd the way I want it.

  • It's a little back-dated now, but Lance Mannion's look at Katie Couric and her conduct during the Palin interviews is dead on.
  • Tom Whitwell at Music Thing has put up 7 Things I Learned Building My First DIY Stompbox, modifying an off-the-shelf delay pedal into a weird, Tom Morello-sounding noisemaker. I'd love to do something like this, and his list sounds very familiar from when I've played with DIY in the past.
  • Now we start the video stuff: director Adam Green (Hatchet) makes a little horror movie every year for his family. This year it's The Tivo, starring Parry Shen. What really makes it is the sound clips--it's a reminder of just how good the sound design on TiVo really is.
  • Quake's been ported to the Silverlight runtime, and runs in a browser. Which is cool and all, but I miss the days when the standard "look what I've got running" app was Doom. Makes me feel old.
  • Also from MSDN's Channel 9, Bill Hill talks more about reading onscreen. It's interesting listening to Hill talk about the biological constraints of display technology, as well as font embedding. There's a lot of geeky-cool stuff about resolution-independence. Then he starts messing with multi-column blog layouts, and he kind of loses me, personally. There's a notable tension in Hill's conversations between the traditionalism of print, which is a strong part of his background, and the recognition that publishing for screen does have fundamental differences from publishing on paper. I also love his comments on the number of spaces after a period.
  • That said, have you noticed the incredible number of font geeks online? It sometimes seems like there are stages that tech people go through, and at some point that means obsessing over, say, the tiny differences in sans-serif fonts. People get into deep feuds over this kind of thing, seriously. I think it may actually indicate a deeper personality type. When doing design, I obviously pay attention, but other than that, I really couldn't care less whether it's Helvetica, Arial, or Verdana. What that means, I don't know.
  • I spent an hour the other day watching Tim Wise talking about racism and privilege, starting with comments on the use of Whiteness by elites and followed by his longer talk in Seattle. These are really fascinating anti-racism talks, but part of what caught my ear was his discussion of the terms used in speech regarding class, particularly the phrase "less-fortunate": "Here's fortunate," he says, gesturing with one hand at head height before dropping it a couple of feet, "and here you are, just a little less." It reminds me of language that the Bank uses, and which I myself used without thinking, dividing the world into "developed" and "less-developed" or "under-developed." As Wise would point out, we don't say the opposite of under-developed is "over-developed." But maybe we should.
  • Another terminology-related thought that I had while on our trip was inspired by seeing ads in Vancouver along the lines of "9 out of 10 Canadians..." Reading it with another country substituted for my own kind of accentuates how often we refer to ourselves as "Americans" when what we really mean is "people." I wonder if we would have better luck with global initiatives if there were a short, punchy term that described us as humans living on Earth, instead of tying our identities closely to our nationalities.

September 30, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

Link Default Swap

So I've got all this bad hypertext lying around. What'll you give me for it? Bids start at $700 billion.

  • Of all the Paul Newman obits I've read, and there have been plenty in recent days, Dahlia Lithwick's is probably the best, with its personal look at the man's love for philanthropy.
  • A while back, John Scalzi wrote something interesting about writing for licensed properties--stuff like the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels: if a writer announced that they were going to write an episode for a TV show, he said, we'd no doubt congratulate them even though it's basically the same situation. With that in mind, I found Karen Traviss's comments on her love for writing tie-ins to be really interesting.
  • The reporters behind the "Giant Pool of Money" piece explaining the mortgage crisis have done another story on the commercial paper crunch at NPR's Planet Money. Also in that program, hilariously, is an interview with a libertarian who thinks that the problem has been too much regulation. Thus proving that no matter what the story, American journalists can always find somebody completely insane and unqualified to comment on it.
  • The White African blog is one of my new favorite reads. Partially because of a series of posts on innovation (If It Works In Africa, It Will Work Anywhere", "Afridex: An Index of African Tech Startups") making the point that the continent is a vastly fertile zone for repurposing and inventing technology in cool ways, contrary to the typical Western perception. But I'm also grateful that it introduced me to Afrigadget, a kind of Boing Boing for Africa without the breathless tone or the endless Disneyland posts.
  • Also vastly cool is FrontlineSMS, which is not a text message-based heartworm treatment, but a free solution for NGOs looking to run information campaigns, polls, and other mass communication over cell networks.
  • The news went out the other day that Valve will start putting Source mods on Steam. I have to say, the most interesting part of the recent resurgence in DRM debate, precipitated by Spore, has been the redemption of Steam. When the service first came out, people were unbelievably upset that their copy of HL2 had to be associated with this buggy, bandwidth-hogging monster. Nowadays, the service has become the very model of how to do DRM and electronic delivery right, due in large part to a set of features--unified chat APIs, easy game reinstallation, discount weekend sales--that are pro-consumer.
  • Michael Berube, author of a number of insightful posts as well as the highly-recommended What's Liberal about the Liberal Arts? has resumed writing at his personal blog.

September 25, 2008

Filed under: random»comedy_and_tragedy

Of Two Minds

The designers at work like this one.

September 8, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

Party of Linkin'

Unsurprisingly, political conventions are apparently very boring places.

  • Adbusters has a short examination of hipsters as a demographic. It calls the movement "the end of Western civilization - a culture lost in the superficiality of the past and unable to create any new meaning." Ouch.
  • The mythology of Guns 'n Roses, excerpted.
  • The Futility of Flogging Your Own Music to People You Don't Know Very Well - Theoretically about the difficulties of selling music in a post-filesharing world, it's just as much about what music is "worth," what we value, and why people should play in the first place.
  • Before I left for the convention, and now that I'm back, I was playing Mass Effect--which, you may remember had a short-lived media scuffle over an optional sex scene. I don't have a problem with that. There's no reason that the storyline shouldn't have romantic elements--or indeed, that they shouldn't be preferable to, say, the tedious vehicle segments of the game. What I do find objectionable is the terrible way in which it leads up to said romance. There's nothing enjoyable about stiff, awkward flirting that takes place only during the designated between-mission dialogs, and vanishes during actual gameplay. It's the bloodless digital equivalent of watching You've Got Mail, except you're forced to direct. Less of this, please.
  • Audio Technology magazine (which I've never heard of--they're Australian) visited the Behringer factory in China and produced a short, thoughtfully-narrated video tour of their experiences. Behringer, as most musicians know, is primarily famous for their tendency to blatantly rip off designs from other companies, to the point that they were sued by Mackie (Behringer settled out of court). The magazine is cautiously impressed by the facility. Perhaps its ambiguity is best summed up by the author after speaking with the company founder about their mission:
    "It's all about feature sets and value-for-money propositions. There is no Behringer sound, nothing in the Behringer DNA that makes it different. There never has been. ... It's all about putting professionally featured products into the hands of people who previously had no ability to afford it."
  • I am aware of all your Internet traditions: John McCain gets Barackrolled. When I saw the blue/green backgrounds they'd put behind his speech, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone did something like this.
  • Gregg Easterbrook reviews Tom Friedman. Good move, Slate. Get a man who knows nothing about science to review a book about climate change by a man who knows nothing about anything. It's the event horizon of journalistic stupidity, beyond which there is only the unblinking eye of madness.

August 18, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

This American Link

I'm more of a Marketplace guy, personally.

  • The This American Life episode Giant Pool of Money has been getting a lot of acclaim as the finest explainer of the sub-prime mortgage crisis ever made. Considering that the entire sub-prime mess is probably a large part of what will drag us into the next depression, it's a good thing to understand.
  • So here's an interesting gaming question: I loved Braid, and finished it in only a few hours. I had, honestly, no real problems with the difficulty level. Other people, like Corvus (includes links to other parts of the extended conversation), seem to be having such a hard time getting past the puzzles and the platforming that they can't enjoy the story (or get to the ending, which is good enough to forgive a number of the game's sins). I'm not just writing this to gloat about how awesome I am, but also to ask: how much of a future can gaming really have as a narrative medium when its very mechanics can create such a high barrier to entry? If a great narrative is innately tied to a contentious play style, how do we evaluate its quality?
  • A blogger for Seagate takes a look at Batman's storage requirements from The Dark Knight. Fascism takes a lot of hard drive space.
  • My friend Jee from the Bank posted this video of a converation with John Lennon on Facebook the other day. It's an old interview that a teenager did with Lennon shortly before he died, animated in an incredibly elaborate fashion similar to Terry Gilliam's work.
  • Have you ever wanted to hear the theme for Mega Man 3 sung by Japanese voice synthesis software? Now you can.
  • Ethan Zuckerman linked this morning to two stories about reverse scammers--the guys who persuade Nigerian 419 spam authors to do outlandish things for the anticipated payment. The first, a story in the Boston Pheonix, asks whether there's not something more sinister about rich Americans taunting desparate spammers from developing nations. The second, Cory Doctorow's review of Scamorama, is notable for its comments. As Zuckerman says, it's "evenly split between people who think scambaiting is funny and worthwhile and those who find it cruel and loathesome." I'm tending towards the loathesome side, myself.
  • Anonymous posted another anti-Scientology video on 8/08/08, this time revealing employees operating illegally in the UK. It doesn't seem to have gotten much in the way of news coverage, this time around.
  • For the next week, Pitchfork is hosting Reformat the Planet, a documentary about the chiptune movement. It's a nice idea, but I get the same kind of feeling from watching it that I get from watching techno or drum-and-bass perfomed live--even if I like the music, it's a pretty silly show to watch someone acting like a rock star while fiddling with a Gameboy onstage. At least Squarepusher plays a bass in front of his laptop.

August 8, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

Takes an array of uninsightfulCommentary objects as its main argument, may throw fleeingReaderError. Which is about par for the course around here.

  • There's only so much I'm personally willing to beat up on singularitarians. But I thought this post on the impact that Vinge's bastard child has had on science fiction was interesting, as well as this protest against it. A more interesting question is the one posed to Iain Banks in an interview a while back: why so little SF/F without wars and violence?
  • The LibraryThing Unsuggester takes as input a book you've enjoyed, and spits back a bunch that you almost certainly won't. Topping my list is The Purpose-driven Life.
  • People actually have GameFAQs entries for Wii Fit? Why? I love that there's a cheats page too, but it should just contain an ad for pints of Ben and Jerry's.
  • Today is 808 day. Music Thing thinks you should celebrate the greatest drum machine ever made.
  • Last month's Webalizer stats weren't very interesting. But one search term caught my eye: "you are so smarty -notpron". Wait a second--A) what search engine offers a -notpron tag? And B) Was it really necessary when searching for "you are so smarty"?
  • I know Corvus isn't a big fan of BSG, but TiFaux's run a couple of posts on women in television with a great entry on the Women of Battlestar Galactica. The show has issues with gender sometimes, depending on the writer from episode to episode, but I'd also rank Laura Roslin up there with the great female television characters of all time.
  • Belle had never seen Batman Begins, so after I came home from seeing The Dark Knight we added it to the Netflix queue. What's striking now is just how much more comicky it is compared to TDK--after all, Begins features ninjas, lots of focus on bat-gadgets, and a superweapon straight out of Buck Rogers. That's all well and good, and I liked Begins. But Dark Knight is better--strikingly so--for its refusal to use those crutches, and instead concentrate on the bizarre psychology of the Batman and his proto-fascist vigilantism.
  • I've been spending a lot of time buried in Flash/Flex lately, and it's not likely to get much better. So it could just be personal myopia, but I found Google engineer Steve Yegge's talk on the rise of dynamic languages eye-opening. Most of what he says is about Javascript, but it applies to Actionscript as well--how scripting languages are overdue for their revolution. His comments on Execution in the Kingdom of Nouns, about Java's hateful tendency to wrap everything in objects, also goes a long way to explain things I never liked about the language, but couldn't quite put my finger on.

July 21, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

Link and You'll Miss It

So fast, we had to add extra anchor tags.

  • Farhad Manjoo's second look at the 'long tail' theory is a much-needed dose of skepticism about Chris Anderson's over-hyped economic theory. Indeed, it's a lot like the "1,000 true fans" that Kevin Kelly hyped up a while back--sounds very cool, but ignores the realities of both the marketplace and any externalities that crop up. I've never been terribly impressed with Manjoo's writing for Salon, but if he can write pieces as good as this on a regular basis for Slate, it'll be a good reason to stop in.
  • Years after they were thought lost, tapes of Dr. Who theme arranger and synth pioneer Delia Derbyshire have been found. The "dance" track is surprisingly forward-looking--or, perhaps, computer- and sequence-based music inclines its creators to certain paths, and Derbyshire simply discovered them long before Aphex Twin started twiddling knobs.
  • This is, in part, why walled garden models are unworkable for consumers. It may seem nice to have applications collected in a single place instead of scattered around the Net, as is true for Symbian and Windows Mobile. But if it's not run well, what you end up with is all the worst parts of the software marketplace combined with the worst parts of a (possibly abusive) bureaucracy. What I've heard about the iPhone app store so far (a few quality programs surrounded by loads of shovelware and barely-adapted web apps) has done little to alter this perception.
  • In response to the ruling against the DC gun ban, the Washington Post featured an article last week in its style section penned by Dr. Guns.
    [The gun] should be part of something larger: locks, lights, cellphones, safety rooms, whatever. It's not the only resort, it's only the last resort. But because that awful day can come, for God's sake, shoot it! Understand its textures, its traits, its problems, its issues. Teach it to your hands so that, in the dark with a boatload of adrenaline in your blood, it will feel like an old piece of soap and not a prickly, sharp-edged conundrum wrapped inside a riddle. You don't want to be thinking: What do I do next? You want the gun to be second nature, its mechanics a confidence-building given. If you're worried about the gun, you will not dominate the upcoming transaction.
    Seriously, I know I betray exactly the kind of unease he's talking about, but Dr. Guns freaks me out a little. And I don't think the answer for me is to go shoot something.
  • I was honestly a little upset by the news that the XBox was getting a new Portal title. Thanks to Bioshock my console FPS skills have gotten better, but my endless refrain is still that aiming with a thumbstick is like painting with a live chicken--painful, and it annoys the chicken. Luckily, it's just a rehash of stuff that we've already seen on the PC.
  • Inside Nairobi, the Next Palo Alto? - Very cool.
  • Here's a neat interview with game composer Tommy Tallarico by the Onion's AV Club. He's very gung-ho about using orchestral recordings to create interactive music. I'm personally more intrigued by the ideas of building synthesis into software for dynamic audio, the way that we can now do graphics dynamically.

July 10, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

The Link That Should Not Be

Avaunt, foul hypertext! Get back to the server from which you came!

  • In Paris, David Cronenberg has directed The Fly: The Opera. Yes. An opera, based on Cronenberg's body-horror remake of the 1950's creature feature, written in part by David Henry Hwang of M. Butterfly fame. The mind boggles.
  • Hack-A-Day is hiring. If you've never read Hack-A-Day, it's like Make but without the commercial polish. I'm tempted to apply, but I think they're looking for someone who does more welding and less Excel.
  • Speaking of Make, knowing that I am obsessed with kalimba, Jeff had sent me a link to this kalimba made from parts of a demolished house. And how did I repay him? By mistaking his message for spam and deleting it. I blame society.
  • Motorola apparently held a video editing for one of its smartphones--the resulting movie had to be made entirely using the camera and editing software included with the phone. The winner is here. Given the Internet, of course it's kind of a silly kung-fu fight. But cool to see the potential, and some clever ideas in play.
  • Lenovo's design head, David Hill, has been holding online surveys to get user feedback on Thinkpad design. This week, he's asking about keyboard configuration. One of the things I love about the Thinkpad is its keyboard, partially for the feel, but this survey made me realize how strongly I feel about the location of the PgUp/PgDown and Home/End keys. Upper right corner, two rows, Home and PgUp on top! Anything else is an abomination.
  • Submitted for my own future reference: The complete guide to hacking S60 phones.
  • Ethan Zuckerman complicates the issue of copyright, native art, and medical patents: Turmeric, pygmies, and piracy. It may be the influence of working for the Bank, but I think it's incredibly helpful to see how Zuckerman pulls the debate back into a global perspective, because so many of our policy issues operate in the same way: how do we discuss the farm bill without understanding the true nature of trade liberalization and crop subsidies, and how those are impacting global food shortages? How do we talk about climate change without mentioning the carbon impact of India, China, Brazil, and other developing nations (not to mention the catastrophes that will strike coastal zones around the world)? How do we debate terror without examining the conditions that created such discontent? In many ways, it's all development in the end.
  • I've hit a research question: 35 years ago, Gene Sharp wrote The Politics of Nonviolent Action. A few years ago, he published a follow-up titled Waging Nonviolent Struggle. There's no doubt that Sharp is a massive presence in the field, usually credited with organizing nonviolence in the first real systematic way. But once I finish reading his stuff, I'd like to read its criticism and/or development by other academics. It's easy to find preceding opinions to a scholarly work--just check the bibliography. But Sharp is the modern preceding work, or largely seems to be. How do I find the antecedents, publications that have cited what I've already read? This kind of reverse-lookup is something I feel like the Internet should be able to do, but if it can, I haven't found it.

Future - Present - Past