this space intentionally left blank

May 20, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

Link Tank

No kidding, it's a heck of a pancake.

  • Flash Player 10 adds support for PCM sound generation. The bad news is that the latency is bad, partially because Actionscript isn't threaded and so audio must be buffered. In a bit of a strong-arm move, Adobe's keeping people from pushing the limits of the buffer by randomly determining its length (anywhere from .2 to .5 seconds) at the player's launch. So, no realtime instruments in Flash yet, in other words.
  • Naomi Klein's article on Chinese privacy monitoring is more than a little chilling. Whether it's an argument for Little Brother-style vigilantism or David Brin's transparent society, I'm not sure.
  • If at first your ill-concieved techno-educational project doesn't succeed, try, try again.
  • Campaign ads are generally pretty stupid anyway, but this McCain ad is just unbelievable. As Crooked Timber says, you almost expect it to promise free ponies and perpetual motion machines.
  • The "snare" on our Rock Band drums went out a while back. You can still play by pressing the regular-sized gamepad buttons in the center of the unit, but obviously that lacks the mad joy of using the sticks. We've been waiting a week and a half now, I think, just for the box to ship it back to EA for replacement. Not impressed, guys.
  • Someone stole my car radio the other day. Seriously, who does that anymore? And what's up with the lack of standard wiring on the backs of car radios? I blew two fuses in the car when the caps came off my wire splices. I realize that people don't upgrade the radios often, but there's no good reason that anyone should be rewiring parts of an expensive item like a car by hand.
  • Since loading up VMWare to run Ubuntu, I've also found a copy of OS X (10.4.7) on Bittorrent to mess with. It doesn't include iLife, but I wouldn't have any use for that anyway, so I've ignored it. Instead, what I've been trying to do is figure out the big deal with Mac shareware, which seems to get an incredible amount of praise: take, for example, this fawning review of Delicious Library, a program that (as far as I can tell) is neat but not particularly mind-blowing. In fact, that seems to describe most of the "must-have" apps I've tried. Perhaps I simply have no joy in my heart.
  • I really dig this Lifehacker post on using a cameraphone as a to-do list. It reminds me of one of my favorite travel strategies: when entering a new city, make a point to immediately take a good, high-res picture of any subway/bus maps you run across. It's definitely worked for me in New York, Chicago, and Brussels.

February 12, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

We Don't Link to Ravenholm...

It never fails: the undead show up, and invariably the property values plummet.

  • I have a short article in The Escapist this week: Anomalous Materials: Half-Life and Science. It's pretty nerdy. But it was fun to write.
  • Josh's slow-loading link section today includes this Wired editorial on Ron Paul (with the amusing slug "st_ronpaul"). It's the usual lament: why does it have to be the fringe candidate who understands the Internet? But personally, I think he's got it backwards. Ron Paul's campaign didn't understand the Internet. In fact, it showed repeatedly that it saw the Web only as a vague, magical fundraising force. It would be more accurate to say that the Internet understood Ron Paul, with supporters crawling out of the online woodwork to put together flickr accounts and Youtube campaigns. It was a great example of self-organization--but note that none of it translated into on-the-ground machinery, which is the actual domain of an effective political campaign. If you want to see someone who really used the Internet effectively in combination with traditional political savvy, I think you'd have to look more toward Obama, not Ron Paul.
  • I picked up a Yahoo! mail account a while back when I needed access to some discussion groups. For kicks, I got a Yahoo! Canada address. But I started using the account to handle my webhost transition, and to follow Warren Ellis's Bad Signal. Then I noticed that the whole thing is in British English. What's up with that, Canada? There's no U in color, eh!
  • The Upside-down-ternet is a pretty neat hack. I forget where I saw this link--from an XKCD comic, I think. If I had a lot more time and a spare functional router, I'd have to give it a shot. As it is, I'm more likely to just change the name of our wireless network to something obscene.
  • Music Thing has the details on the Anarchy Cowbell: the cowbell that fights The Man! There's not nearly enough cowbell-related news out there.
  • Unfortunately, I didn't get to attend the Anonymous protest against Scientology in DC. The Scientologist headquarters for the city is up near Dupont Circle, in a building labeled the "Hubbard Dianetics Foundation." Flickr user MynameisAnonymous seems to have gotten some good snaps here. If you missed it before, the Anonymous video guide to protesting can be found here. It's quite sensible. I wish Bank protestors had been that smart.
  • Harlan Ellison hates writers who work for free. So please don't tell him that I donated a post to Rain Recording's upcoming Pro section.
  • I realized a long time ago that I was not cut out to be a good programmer--that, in fact, I was a very bad programmer. Not because I couldn't understand the logic or the frameworks. I was a bad programmer because I didn't care, and I just wanted to get whatever it was done. To my surprise, Flash is a pretty good fit for that.

December 17, 2007

Filed under: random»linky

We Link What We Must

...because we can.

  • Angry Asian Man links to 9500 Liberty's guest editorials in the Washington Post, plus a video essay that they've put together. Parts of the "interactive documentary" project are fascinating, and parts of it become tedious. It will be interesting to see what emerges when (if?) they take a more editorial approach to this footage and package it all together.
  • In the 1950's, information theorist Claude Shannon builds a robot mouse capable of learning its way through a maze. He used what he learned from this to build more intelligent telephone switching devices. The details make it sound very "steampunk," in a way.
  • Buy Strike Swag! Support the Writer's Guild!
  • I don't have a piece for Corvus's Round Table on gender yet (I'd like to do one on Tomb Raiders Legend and Anniversary, respectively, but would have to finish a game and a half before I could do so), but I'd like to toss this out there: here's a rule about movies and feminism that asks whether a film has two women in it whose conversation does not involve talking about a man. I like it because it expresses a problem of sexism in a pithy way. But to what extent is this useful for gaming? It certainly says something about Half-Life's Alyx Vance, who's a tremendously positive character in terms of being a smart and reasonably realistic female, but who still exists primarily to praise the player and flirt with Gordon Freeman.
  • We had our router go out on us this week. It started to repeatedly crash, and we'd have to pull the plug and reload it. Also, it wouldn't let us change any of the settings. So we went out and got the new Linksys model, for lack of better immediate options, and then I sat down with the old one and looked at replacement firmwares for a little while. See, you can load a new operating system on these things, due to some crazy GPL licensing reason. Which is great and all, but I couldn't get it to work--and more importantly, I couldn't think of a single good reason why I would want my router to do anything other than route, which is after all the reason that I bought it.
  • Line 6 has a new Pod out now: Pod X3. I didn't see a lot of fanfare about this when it was first released, but it's got some nice features. USB 2.0 is a plus (although the direct monitoring on the Pod tends to make that less important), but I think there are two more interesting draws. First, they've added an XLR port and models for vocal preamps, so you could theoretically record just with a Pod as your main interface. And second, they've added a dual-pathway signal chain, so that you can route two separate amps and sets of effects and mix between the two. That's a big deal for bassists, and the extra flexibility in routing is a welcome addition to the Pod. It's not enough for me to replace my Pod XT Live (at least until they add a looper), but it definitely addresses the weak spots of the last version.

September 6, 2007

Filed under: random»linky

Linky brunettes with wicked jaws

I've had that line from The Thin Man going through my head for days. Great movie.

  • SoS reports that Korg has recently sold its 20 millionth electronic tuner. Doesn't surprise me a bit. Every musician I know has at least one Korg tuner, usually something like the CA-30. They're small and cheap, they work well, and they last forever on a pair of AAAs. Cockroaches of the music world.
  • This is probably one of those things that you should never bring up on the Internet, plus it's very old, but author David Brin's commentary on the fascism of Star Wars is pretty great, in a very nerdy kind of way.
  • Also from Salon, but much more recent, I thought that this article on Guitar Hero as a gateway drug to real instruments was interesting. In my limited experience, musicians react in all kinds of ways to the game--some with disdain, others with amusement. I think it's a fantastic stress reliever, myself, and one that does (to some extent) use the same reflexes as the real thing. I'm sure that much of my GH skills are owed to my real-life bass playing. And I do think that it can serve as a goad toward learning to play the real instrument--as well as a buffer against frustration, because learning to play a real guitar can be a slow and painful process.
  • In other musical news, the Tenori-On was released a couple of days ago. Designed by Toshio Iwai, the man behind Electroplankton, and manufactured by Yamaha, it's a pretty cool little groovebox. CDM put up a great set of pictures, videos and impressions. In turn, I have a journal post up at Ars about it here.
  • Television site TiFaux has been doing profiles of their most personable commenters. One of them is John Walker, whom gamers probably know better from Eurogamer and the newly-launched Rock, Paper, Shotgun. I am really uncomfortable with different parts of my blogroll mingling this way. What's next? Music Thing contributes political commentary to First Draft? Brad Delong starts leaving troll comments about the Wii on Joystiq? Members of the bass forum appear in Warren Ellis's infamous don't-look-my-eyes-they-bleed links? If the latter, I may weep openly.
  • For the last week or so, I've been reading from Raymond Chen's blog The Old New Thing. Chen is a programmer for Microsoft who specializes in backwards-compatibility. It's really kind of fascinating. Very few companies do as much as the Redmond giant to make old software work on new hardware. New software on old hardware, not always so much. But it's a start.

September 5, 2007

Filed under: random»linky


A gem from the Bank's intranet page: HeroRat is a program by Belgian and Tanzanian researchers in which African pouched rats are trained to sniff out landmines. The rats, which grow to the size of a small cat (around 6 pounds), are too light to set of the landmines if they crawl over them. They've also got an 80% success rate of identifying tuberculosis, with 10% false positives.

None of which will make Belle feel any better about six-pound rats crawling around. This will be a real complication if I decide to get a job in a mine-infested region of Tanzania.

August 9, 2007

Filed under: random»linky

Interviews and Office Furniture

Guess what I'm working on today?

  • Joystiq reported yesterday on Sir Ben Kingsley and his partnership with Uwe Boll:
    What were you thinking when you accepted a role in Bloodrayne? It's so hard to imagine someone so gifted not realizing what a terrible film that would be!

    "I don't know whether to be upset or flattered by that question," read his response. "To be honest, I have always wanted to play a vampire, with the teeth and the long black cape. Let's say that my motives were somewhat immature for doing it."

    And honestly, while I'm no great fan of the flick, I see his point. If I were Sir Ben Kingsley, internationally-renowned thespian, it would be tempting to do anything that came along, if it seemed like enough fun. See also: Sam L. Jackson.
  • I don't remember why I was looking for it, but part of the special making-of video for Bad Mojo is on YouTube. Caution--contains cruelty to already-deceased animals in the name of adventure gaming:

    Now I really want to find a copy of Bad Mojo.
  • From Hackaday, this guide to no-tech hacking is a fun read. But it also leads to a video guide for opening Kensington laptop locks with only a pen and a toilet paper tube. Yikes. Guess I'd better find another way to guard my new laptop.
  • Speaking of the Thinkpad, I'm extremely pleased with it. It seems stable, although there are a few hiccups in the OS that I hope will be ironed out by SP1--going in and out of sleep mode is fast and flawless, but shutting down takes a while, for example. Other than that, Vista seems quite nice. Very keyboard-oriented, which is awesome. The hardware exudes solidity--opening the lid, there's no flex as one side moves a bit more than the other. I've had one crash, but I think it was related to F.E.A.R. Gaming performance is good: the Lost Coast Video Stress Test clocks in at an average of 40fps, and clearly goes past 60 at some points if the video tearing is any indication. I'm running F.E.A.R. with everything at maximum but with pixel-doubling on, giving it an effective resolution of 720x450 without stretching artifacts, and it spends 80% of its time over 45fps. I consider this sufficient for what little PC gaming I do, and I imagine it will be overkill for my audio work.
  • The Torzal Twist bass is odd: its fretboard literally spirals gently as it moves away from the body of the instrument. The idea is to follow the ergonomic position of a player's arms, so that the wrists aren't ever bent unnaturally (which contributes to RSI). On the long neck of a bass, especially for players who spend their time down at the lower positions, it's easy to see how this would feel much better once you got used to it. The always engaging (if slightly geeky) Ed Friedland did a video review for Bass Guitar Magazine.
  • Leftovers from a while back: China Mieville discusses fantasy with the International Socialism Journal.
  • The server's being a little weird today. I'm back to writing posts in notepad and then uploading them when I can get a solid SSH connection. This must be what Blogger feels like. BAZING!

July 3, 2007

Filed under: random»linky

Contract Limbo Links

The Bank's HR system has a bug in it, where they can't start my short-term contract until my long-term contract wraps up, and they seem to be having a delay with that. So it's just me and Wallace hanging out right now. Say hello, Wallace.

  • Look, I don't know if the iPhone is good or bad. I suspect that, like most Apple products, it would drive me nuts. Lots of people seem happy with it. All I'm saying is, for any tech product, you should never trust a review written two days after release. There's just not enough time for the new-purchase glow to wear off.

  • Someone has released a chiptunes album on an NES cartridge. Which is all well and good, but I'd be dubbing that off into WAV as soon as I could recover from blowing the dust out of my NES.

  • Here's the thing about this Washington Post article: it's a fact-checker's nightmare.

    At the nadir of his presidency, George W. Bush is looking for answers. One at a time or in small groups, he summons leading authors, historians, philosophers and theologians to the White House to join him in the search.

    Over sodas and sparkling water, he asks his questions: What is the nature of good and evil in the post-Sept. 11 world? What lessons does history have for a president facing the turmoil I'm facing? How will history judge what we've done? Why does the rest of the world seem to hate America? Or is it just me they hate?

    The whole thing is a fluffy, loosely-sourced collection of flattery that largely comes from Republican policymakers and hacks, all of whom seem to be worried sick about the tremendous pressure that Bush faces. He seems to be holding up so well! they marvel. Although the article carefully places all the dots, it does not see fit to connect them: maybe he seems oblivious to his poor perception and his disastrous war not because of his faith or his stubbornness, but because he's truly unconcerned with any of it.

  • The more relevant question, of course, is why the Washington Post felt like using its editorial power to write a puff-piece about how hard it is for poor President Bush, and how well he's doing despite all those inconvenient dead soldiers--not to mention his increasingly fascist legal stances.

  • According to a few of the bassists from the Lowdown, the UK put a smoking ban into place on July 1st. My understanding is that it's similar to DC's. Most people welcome it, but some are up in arms. Why not ban cholesterol, they ask, and Twinkies, and all the other harmful personal choices that someone can make? Which would be a valid point, if your second-hand Twinkie gave me cancer and made me smell funny. Although the Twinkie is a wonderful and many-talented thing, until it can do that there's just no comparison between the two. Smoking bans rock.

  • Virginia speeding tickets have just gotten an upgrade. Fines up to $2,500, and $350 taxes for three years is pretty hefty. I got a ticket on Sunday, actually, and the officer was kind enough to cite me for disobeying a traffic sign instead. The problem with traffic tickets around here, as far as I'm concerned, is that there's a lot of classism in action. When I was researching a story on DWI for NoVA Magazine, the traffic lawyers would come right out and admit that fighting a traffic ticket basically costs more, but wipes your record clean. People who can't afford the lawyer end up losing their driving privileges, which is no fun for someone who's already at the bottom of the employment ladder. I also tend to notice more "residential zone" signs and lower speed limits in wealthy neighborhoods. Must be nice to have the system looking out for your kids. Wallace just has to learn to look both ways.

May 25, 2007

Filed under: random»linky

Fabulous Links Were Revealed To Me

Now I have the He-Man intro speech stuck in my head. Thanks, Dan.

  • The Guitar Zeros are a band that plays rock music using Guitar Hero controllers hooked up to a synth instead of guitars. Which kind of adds a new layer to the whole "why don't you learn to play a real instrument instead?" question.
  • For $250, you can get a tiny Linux-based computer called the Zonbox. It would be a great live musical tool--if it didn't run Linux, which is just not a viable audio platform as far as I'm concerned, for a variety of reasons: poor driver support for pro-level interfaces, limited plugin variety, almost no MIDI support, and an audio infrastructure that's a usability nightmare. Maybe in a few more years, but I have my doubts.
  • Slate asked several award-winning writers what font they prefer. Most of them say Courier New, because they either learned on typewriters or wanted to learn on typewriters. Luckily, nobody says Comic Sans. I write everything in Notepad, personally, and so the font is usually either Lucida Console or Tahoma, but I specifically write in Notepad so that I won't have any options to distract me. When I work on this site, it's all in a terminal window, so I guess that's Courier. How about you?
  • You can hear one of the IFC podcasts that I edited on the World Bank's Private Sector Development blog, here. I think it's the one that the interviewer conducted over Skype, so the audio quality is not fantastic.

May 24, 2007

Filed under: random»linky

Invisible Link


  • You know that LOL Cats have become unhip when Slate does a slideshow on them.
  • Presidential candidates on MySpace should be careful with their template.
  • Musician David Byrne and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin discuss music and the brain.
  • Fair use doesn't mean what you think it does. In fact, it doesn't seem to mean very much at all.
  • Lucretius is heading off to college and needs money for a camera, a laptop, and a copy of Photoshop. He's selling his prints in a book form. $50 is a bit pricy, but it's a good cause. You can see the photos here. L., you might also consider selling singles or large prints.
  • Sound on Sound magazine is really good this month. There's an article on Dr. Who, an interview with synth expert and crazy person Ray Kurzweil, and a look at the $40 Reaper DAW. SOS also has the best online strategy of any magazine I've ever seen: subscribers get access to everything online, and then the magazine shows up in physical form a week or so later. I really can't recommend it highly enough.
  • And this one goes out to the World Bank Staff Association:

    Keep up the good work, guys.

April 2, 2007

Filed under: random»linky

Pretty As Homemade Sin

Developing photographer (and unfailing commenter) Lucretius wants more exposure. Ha! See what I did there? But seriously, Lucretius asked a week or so ago if I would help highlight his artwork, and I'm more than happy to do so. Here's his introductory statement:

My media is Digital Photography and Digital Image Editing. I chose this form simply because I do not like my drawing or other forms of art that require manual dexterity. I'm simply not good at it and cannot even draw a straight line. My drawings are childish, and not in that quaint, adorable way. More like the sad, man-child way that earns the wrong kind of "awww's." Only gets worse when I add paint and color. I find photography to be forgiving to the artists with a flair for mistakes, as I am. Photoshop is even more forgiving, allowing me to ruin an image entirely, yet still trace my steps back.

Early on, I started with, and often return to, the ever-popular form of digital art known as clones. From photo-shoot to Photoshop, you must have a substantial amount of control over what happens in the image. It can be hard and tiring, but it's worth the work once an image is completed. At the same time, I'm usually much more intrigued by side projects/series and other miscellanea, such as my recent series "His Last Few Papers," or my penchant for ghosts. Those are similar to the clones, yet much more satisfying and, to me, eye catching. In fact, I'm planning a new project based on the ghosts of inanimate objects.

Artists have a multitude of subjects with which to work. The world is full of things to draw, write, and sing about. And yet here I am taking self-portrait after self-portrait. For me, this is the purest form of art, because it's the most literal form of self-expression, and my most direct connection to the audience. I'm much more comfortable when that connection is made through myself, rather through something or someone else.

Be sure to check out those links to his portfolio. I think these are really very cool images that showcase a lot of potential, and I don't just say that to flatter a reader. Two of my favorites are here and here.

Future - Present - Past