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."
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
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.
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 Portfolio.com: 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
scripting languages are overdue for their revolution. His comments on
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.
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
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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
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.