My other blogs

If you want to see what I’ve been up to lately, here are the other sites I’m posting to:

http://games.matazone.co.uk/
This is where I post articles about games development and culture. I’m a university lecturer teaching games & narrative design, as well as diversity awareness, so the articles will usually be on those themes. I’m also currently collaborating with an alumni company, SassyBot Studio, to create a game called Fragments of Him, so there will be posts about that too.

http://comic.matazone.co.uk/
Trouble Down Pit is my bi-weekly webcomic. It’s been running for many years now, so there’s a huge back catalogue to go through if you’ve not read it before.

http://art.matazone.co.uk/
This is the site where I post my paintings and any other art projects.

Enjoy!

Digi Shakespeare returns!

I was hard to spot, but Digital Shakespeare has returned to my spambox:

Izumi and leave it gave abby. If terry set in life.
John smiled but terry nodded.
Sounds like izzy smiled at this.

Agreed, it’s not a classic, but it’s nice to see that Digi is still floating out there somewhere!

My argument against guns

Imagine the person of average intelligence – completely average in everything actually, average morals, average income, average relationship, average use of alcohol and other substances.

Then realise that because that is a true average, that logically 50% of the world are less intelligent, less moral, more desperate for money, in worse relationships, drink more alcohol, and take more drugs than the average person.

Then notice that it is unlikely that any one person is actually better than average in every one  of these areas, and they almost certainly won’t be better than average in all of these areas for their whole life.

Testing for suitability to own a gun will never take into account all of these factors, which are recognised to be associated with irrational or anti-social behaviour (even temporarily). Gun ownership increases the chance of suicide and death by shooting for the people around the person – given the list of risk factors, this shouldn’t be surprising. What is surprising is that many still believe that these things won’t ever happen to them.

The future may or may not be here – William Gibson, Google Glass, and wearable computing (Fitbit One review)

William Gibson wearing Google Glass. I’m not sure if this specifically is the future, but something like this is coming to a future near you.

 

If you look at this year’s CES, wearable computing is possibly the biggest trend of 2013. I thought I’d try some of this recently, to see if it affected my behaviour, so I got myself a Fitbit One (Fitbit One UK/Euro link, Fitbit One US link). In essence, it’s a really fancy pedometer. That’s it. But it’s more – it’s linked to a website so I can see my stats online… But the website is linked back, so if I tell the website I’ve been cycling for twenty minutes, the Fitbit on my waistband updates my calories burnt for that day. That’s quite neat. But there’s also an app on my phone, where it’s easy to add in the food that I’m eating, or the water that I’m drinking (and the alcohol I’m drinking), and it only takes a moment.

 

This mean that every day, at any time, I can check to see how many calories I have burnt that day, and how many I have put into my body.

 

Does this, by itself, make me more fit? Of course not. But, when I look down at my waist and see that I have climbed 23 flights of stairs that day, does it make me want to climb a couple more (because 25 is a nice round number)? Yes, it absolutely does. I’ve been using the Fitbit for around a month and I’ve lost about 5lbs (1.5kg). I’ve not been able to shift weight for years, but this feels easy. That is actually incredible to me: a tiny chip on my waist and a bit of networking has made me become more conscious of my health and improved my life.

 

A few days ago I looked at my waist and saw I had climbed 37 flights of stairs… Well. That’s close to 50 isn’t it? I put a TED talk on my mobile phone, and walked up and down the stairs in my house while I listened to an inspirational talk about technology.

 

… But when I reached 50 for that day, the talk hadn’t finished, so I kept on walking. But then when the talk did finish, I wasn’t at a nice round number on the Fitbit One anymore, so I put on another talk…

 

And so, that day, I ended up walking up 100 flights of stairs. This is something I would never normally have done before I got the Fitbit, and the strange thing is that it feels so unconciously natural now. Of course I want to improve my stats: it’s like a real world RPG where I need to grind a little to get to the next level.

 

I called this post a Fitbit One review, it is (you should get one, it’s fantastic and it has helped me shift stubborn weight in a way that nothing else has, and without any big changes in my life), but it’s also about the future. We see William Gibson, the man who changed the language of the future when he wrote about cyberspace in his short stories and novels in the 1980s (Neuromancer UK, Neuromancer US), and we see him putting on Google Glass, and the strangeness of the present comes crashing home. When he started writing, the idea of a universally accessible data resource was pure fantasy, and how he can have it in his glasses.

 

Is William Gibson the future? I think he would be the first person to say that the future will now be shaped by people we have never heard of yet, but he is an icon of progress into this weird thing we call modern life.

 

Google is an icon too, and nothing feels more like the future than what they are doing to us. I’m fairly sure that this version of Google Glass will not be the same form that we are using in a decade, but it seems inevitable that it will be something like it, or like this, or possibly (hopefully) this, or like something we haven’t imagined yet.

 

When it comes it will feel so obvious and so natural that we will wonder why no-one ever did it before.

 

Seeing Gibson and Google together is a taste of things to come. Even that phrase ‘things to come’ sounds like the 1950s ray-guns-and-rocket-ships kind of science fiction. We don’t have the language for the current-future yet, but it is here already, quietly walking into our lives in small ways.

Clever advert on YouTube

I really should learn how to do this. I don’t know why, but I think it would be handy. This is a brilliant little advert using some cool YouTube tricks that I had no idea existed. The years go into the minus numbers too – have a play, there’s clearly been a lot of effort put into this. This is the kind of advertising that I can live with – warm-hearted, amusing, and not so confrontational that it makes me despise the product on sight!

Clever Tipp-Ex YouTube advert

Moebius (Jean Giraud) died this week

Moebius was an artist who began drawing a cyberpunk future before punk existed. His ideas illustrated steampunk decades before William Gibson and Bruse Sterling wrote the first authoritative steampunk novel The Difference Engine. In the same way that Gibson’s ideas changed the way that the world relates to technology, Moebius changed the vision of technology and the future. His work influenced Blade Runner, Alien, Tron, and countless other films that are genre masterpieces, and he inspired a generation of comic book writers to try to reach an audience beyond teenagers.

He will be sadly missed, but his influence will live on.

Here is a good tribute and summary of his work, also, here is Neil Gaiman’s tribute.

Pizza is officially a vegetable

Or so the American Congress thinks.

In the first review of school lunches in 15 years, Congress has backed down from insisting that a pizza needs to have half a cup of tomato paste to be called a vegetable (compared to the current two tablespoons):

Corey Henry, a spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute, said the proposed rules simply did not make sense, especially when it came to pizza.

The industry backs the current rules which say that about a quarter-cup of tomato paste on a slice of pizza can count as a vegetable serving. The Agriculture Department proposal would have required that schools serve more tomato paste per piece of pizza to get a vegetable credit, an idea the industry thought would make pizza unappetizing.

Apparently adding more tomato to a pizza would make it less tasty, and if an impartial judge like the American Frozen Food Institute believes this then who are we to argue?

“It would basically be swimming in tomato sauce,” said Corey Henry, vice president of communications at the American Frozen Food Institute. “No school kid in his right mind would want to eat that.”

(source)

We’ll ignore for a second that tomatoes are actually fruit, and that the tomato paste on pizzas has a massive amount of added sugar in it (around one and a half teaspoons of sugar for a pizza’s quarter cup of paste), and just look at the simple truth here: pizza is not a vegetable. It is dough, a thin spread of something vaguely derived from tomatoes, with melted high-fat solidified dairy produce on top. I love pizza, I really do, but I’ve got no illusions about them.

Calling pizza a suitable source of vegetables for growing children is not only a lie, it is harmful to their health, their future wellbeing and relationship with food, and evidence of corruption by politicians bowing to industrial pressures. That’s just one small choice that we know about. At what point is good sense going to kick in and fix this, how long will it take?

Real life Quidditch

Yes, apparently there really is a real life Quidditch World Cup these days. It is run by the International Quidditch Association (which is American, if you hadn’t guessed) and, among the hundreds of teams in the league, there is one from Iran.

I’m all for sport being a unifying activity, but I’m still a bit surprised that Iranians are interested enough to get involved. Nonetheless, there they are.

Sadly, there is no actual flying; instead the players run around with a broom between their legs. There’s a promotional video for the 2011 World Cup here.

Expressing your PhD in the form of dance

Readers with good memories will recall the revelation of the snake fight part of your PhD defence, but a number of PhD students are now learning to express their theses in the form of dance.

Unlike the snake defence, which possibly might not be completely accurate, this actually exists. If you’ve ever thought to yourself ‘I wonder how someone might express Mechanisms for Maintaining Ploidy in Somatic Cells in the form of rhthymic movement’, then you’ve come to the right place.

[Thanks again to Val for the link/]

AIDS cured in an exceptional case

In the world of strange up-sides, a leukaemia patient has been cured of AIDS. The treatment for the leukaemia patient had undergone radiotherapy, killing a lot of the cells that HIV attacks, and he was given a stem cell transplant from a donor with a genetic mutation that prevented new versions of those attackable cells from regrowing – instead, new healthy cells with the mutation were formed.

There were many complications with the treatment; the consequences of radiotherapy are not trivial, but he is recovering slowly from those with good support and it is likely he will return to a relatively normal life.

This is not the cure for everyone, but it is a major step – curing one person shows that it can be done.

Sometimes you’ve just got to follow your heart

Vancouver has had a riot in the wake of some sporty people doing something better than some other sporty people. In the midst of all of this chaos, some people managed to have a very special moment.

This is either one of the most specific fetishes I’ve seen, or perhaps the most memorable kiss those two people will have in their entire lives. I’m not sure if it can quite be classified as ‘romantic’ but it’s definitely got style (and it’s a superb photo too).

No Rapture yet…

It was predicted that today would be the day that the Rapture occurred. This came from an American preacher from http://www.familyradio.com/ named Harold Camping. He’s a chap who claims to follow the Bible very closely, suggesting that it consistently and explicitly supports his views on things such as liberalism, homosexuality, etc.

For a person who has studied the Bible so closely, you think he might have read the Gospel of Mark. In chapter 13, verse 5, Jesus starts talking:

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.

In verse 31 to 34 Jesus says:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

So, Harold Camping thought that he could name the day of Rapture when Jesus himself explicitly said he didn’t know it and that certainly no man could. Whether or not you believe in the Bible, this is clearly a case of a person using only the parts of his holy book that agree with his views.

This Rapture fuss has brought him a lot of attention and likely made him a lot of money, but it is also clear evidence that he has ignored the teachings of his own spiritual leader. If he, and others, were content to accept this blatant falsehood as being the truth, it is sad to think of the chances of more controversial subjects being resolved in our lifetimes.

Wet weather precautions

After all the snow this winter, there is a high chance of flooding. Fear not! The web provides answers for all occasions! If you have been thinking to yourself ‘Hmm, it’s about time I gathered up a load of animals in a big wooden boat’ then here’s how to go about it:

How to build an ark.

Oh, and happy new year!

The snake fight part of your PhD thesis defence

When you complete your PhD thesis, you have to complete what is called the ‘defence’ of your thesis. This is also sometimes called the ‘viva’. This is where specialists in your field of study who have read your thesis ask you a series of questions to ensure that your argument is both your own and suitably solid. A PhD thesis must be a significant contribution to its field of study, and these people are there to ensure that this is true.

However, many people have been taken by surprise the snake fight part of your thesis defence. As explained clearly in this informative page, the stronger your thesis the smaller the snake that you must defeat in combat. All people with PhDs have done this but many do not speak of it, usually due to feeling that this is an old-fashioned tradition that they would rather not speak about. Check out the link for more information. Personally I can only suggest that you wear very think gloves and a sturdy pair of boots.

[Thanks to Val for the link.]

Ecletic interesting links and articles collected by a painter, teacher, writer, and ex-PhD student