New Orleans server to stay online

Those DirectNIC people must be insane. You may remember I mentioned them a little while ago. The plucky server admin decided to remain running his server on backup power despite a hurricane, flooding, violent looting, and now massive risk of disease from the raw sewage, rotting food, and bodies of victims. They’ve set up a diesel generator to keep their server running, and have been given exemption from the forced evacuation of the city.

How weird is that? Why make an exemption for a server crew?

As The Register observes, this does seem like a story that could easily turn into a movie very soon, but how comfortable would we be with a movie based on a real and recent event in which (tens of?) thousands have lost their lives? After Sept 11th the media have dealt with terrorism mostly in metaphorical terms, Star Trek: Enterprise being a classic example of this: a supposedly evil alliance of species was trying to destroy earth, but it turns out that there was really a minority who had been misled by evil transdimensional beings. The metaphor simply being ‘don’t assume that everyone different from us is intent on destroying us, and even those that are are usually misled by a tiny group’. The series contained some quite direct criticism of the gung-ho guns blazing approach to tackling terrorism, but remained enjoyable.

How enjoyable could a film about Hurricane Katrina be when we know the death toll and with the lack of clear responsibility? The greenhouse effect probably made the storm as severe as it was, and industrial polluters should be held responsible for the way that their business effects the environment, but there isn’t any real enemy here, just lessons that should be learnt before this happens next year, and the year after, and the …

This said, there have been many films about real disasters, such as the sinking of the Titanic. With the rate that the media is consuming ideas in the constant search for the Next New Shiney Thing, baubles to attract the public, how long before this devastation becomes commodified? Will a year be long enough? Five years? People are already scamming donations from the public, but individual low morals should not be a guide to the morals of larger groups that have a responsibility to reflect public opinions. I think that we are the ones that will decide when ‘Katrina: The Film’ is made, and we may well damn ourselves with the speed that we are ready for it.

Hello Swedes!

(All 30 of you.)

In case anyone’s interested, here’s who’s reading this:

UNITED STATES (US) 20934 (taking over the world)
UNITED KINGDOM (UK) 8668 (I’d be disappointed if no-one from the UK was visiting)
SWITZERLAND (CH) 2843 (how do you make a Swiss roll? Sneak up on him with a bap…)
Indeterminable 1536 (I know the feeling)
AUSTRALIA (AU) 1205 (G’day, barbie, shrimp, tinnie)
TURKEY (TR) 1010 (This rather surprised me. I have never in my life thought ‘Ah-ha! This will appeal to my Turkish visitors!)
SINGAPORE (SG) 790 (‘Ello you lot! It’s nice to see the far east comes here too)
UNITED KINGDOM (GB) 731 (and this is different from ‘UK’ how? Did the software mean to say Ireland? I doubt the Irish would be very happy about being lumped in with us.)
NETHERLANDS (NL) 640 (I heard this week that ‘sucking a monkey’ is slang for drinking beer in Dutch. Is this true?)
CHINA (CN) 587 (You mean I’ve not been blocked by your goverment yet? I really must try harder…)
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO (CS) 556 (‘Nice to have you on here. Again, not a country that I’ve really had in mind, but I’m happy to see you here)
GERMANY (DE) 502 (Guten tag… Oh dear, I really can’t remember much German, clearly you all know more English than I know Deutsche)
CANADA (CA) 380 (See you aboot. Gawd bless yer cotton socks. Canada: the sane bit of North America)
JAPAN (JP) 313 (Konichiwa! Okay, so everyone that I know has visited my site from Japan has been living on US military bases there, but it’s nice to be known in the country that inspired me with its comics back when I was a tiny little boy)
ISRAEL (IL) 277 (Sorry to be political, but I hope that all the unsettling has been worth it for everyone’s sake. It wouldn’t have been my solution, but it’s happened, so I really hope it works and there will finally be peace for everyone.)
RUSSIAN FEDERATION (RU) 256 (huuuuuuuge country, feeeeeeeew people. Hi Russia!)
ITALY (IT) 256 (Bounjourno! I did learn a little Italian for a recent trip there, but it’s rapidly vanishing again)
IRAN, ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF (IR) 199 (More from the middle east. It’s great to have you here. If the world can’t get together to have a laugh then we’re really in trouble.)
BRAZIL (BR) 161 (Ah, the first country listed from South America. I’ve spent a long time looking at you on Google Earth. You have a very beautiful country. I hope we can all find a way to keep it so green!)
THAILAND (TH) 117 (I hear online gaming is big in Thailand, so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising to see visitors from them to my website, but again it’s not one that I anticipated)
BELGIUM (BE) 108 (How strange that you tie with India)
INDIA (IN) 108 (How strange that you tie with Belgium)
TAIWAN (TW) 98 (I’m running out of comments)
COLOMBIA (CO) 83 (Woo hoo! More from South America!)
FRANCE (FR) 61 (61. 61?!?!?! Is that the best that my neighbouring country can do? I have three times more people visiting from Iran than France, and it’s probably a capital offence to visit my site over there!!)
EUROPEAN UNION (EU) 40 (Err, I didn’t realise this is a country these days…?)
SWEDEN (SE) 30 (Netherlands 640, Germany 502, Sweden 30. Apparently I do something that most Swedes don’t like.)

So, as I said at the beginning, hello Sweden, all 30 of you!

Support my site while shopping

As you’ve no doubt seen, I have an associate’s account with and .com . I’d really appreciate it if, next time you go to buy something from them, you use one of the links in the ‘buy this’ section of my blog or use a search box (at the bottom of the animation pages and every page on my forums) to start your shopping session. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and I get around 5% of what you spend, helping me afford hosting, software, and other things that I need!

Thank you! search box:



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Programming, animation, and the observation of nature

A reader of this blog, Nieh, has commented that s/he first learnt about inertia by playing Asteroids when s/he was young. I think this is a great example of how games can serve to some educational purpose. It is possible when playing games to get an intuitive feeling for the way things work. Bizarrely, they can teach you about the physical world around you in ways that are enjoyable and intriguing. It seems strange that virtual spaces should teach us things that we take for granted every day, but I think that it is precisely the lack of physicality in the medium that gives players perspective on the astonishing range of things that they take for granted every moment of their waking lives.

Sometimes it’s not always the times that the games are working perfectly that are the most educational either. I’m sure most experienced gamers have managed to get something stuck, suspended in mid-air at one time or another. I managed this very recently in the superb PS2 game God Of War (UK link US link) when I dropped a huge stone onto a statue then pushed the statue out from underneath it, leaving the stone hanging in the air. Rather than countering knowledge of the world, this kind of event encourages us to think about the reality that we live in and the way that things work.

Games are built on their own systems of logic. My Monkeys In Space game is built entirely of statements saying ‘if *this* is true then do *this*’, and all the action is defined by the complexity of the conditions by which the programmer describes those ‘if *this* is true’ statements. When you interact with a sufficiently complex game you often wonder ‘I know this would work in the real world, but will it work in the game?’ and it you are right you feel a burst of respect for the programmer, but you also have applied and tested your knowledge real-world physics.

Things jump up to a new level when it comes to creating games. Suddenly the world around you turns into a huge Newtonian arrangement of levers, gravity, and interia. You begin to work out how to use a sine curve to describe the motions of a knee joint, or analyse the distribution of branches along the trunks of different species of tree, noting the height they begin from the ground and the angles they take from the trunk. I’ve still not worked out fully how to simulate something dangling on a solid rod from another object in motion, but it’s something that’s ticking away inside my head and I’m sure I’ll work it out if I ever really sit down and think about the maths of it all.

The creation of games forces you to think about the maths of nature. Back in school I often would wonder when I would ever need to know about trigonometry, but now I find myself using it regularly for the calculation of distances between objects on a two dimensional grid. I’ve not tried three dimensional spaces yet; I have been tempted, but I’ve never been altogether happy with the different control systems…

Anyway, programming games really makes you examine the world around you and the processes that make one thing relate to another. Animation does this too, because you’re always trying to simulate a natural relationship between objects. This does not mean that the objcts themselves have to be natural, only that the connections between them appear logical. There is nothing that spoils immersion in an animation more than objects acting in ways that appear illogical. I’ve always tried to simulate natural movement in things to the best degree that I can in my animations. Of course, being able to do this for all objects all the time is a task that Flash is not suitable for; I couldn’t make the cloth dangle convincingly on every character, but I might be able to make a few things billow in the wind, or sway when coming to a halt. These elements are things that are recognisable from the real world and putting them into an animation conveys a level of realism that is beyond the normal limits of cartoon figures. As with anything, you can use these rules to make a joke, using a mouse to pick up an elephant is so unnatural that it becomes amusing, but, for the majority of the time, animators and programmers need to use the world around them to inspire them to work in ways that are instantly recognisable to users. By reflecting reality we can create scenes that are immersive beyond their media.

$1,000,000 to prove that Jesus isn’t the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster…

We are willing to pay any individual $1,000,000 if they can produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Rather silly? You might think so, but it nicely gets to the crux of the issue. I’d be fascinated to see someone try.

Do you think that they would accept an evolutionary argument stating that no direct jumps between different species is possible?

Crikey – New Orleans hosting company still online

Yes, it’s another thing from The Register, but still… Blimey. What silly people!

In essence, despite the hurricane, lack of mains electricity, complete absence of law and order, and now potentially violent looters, the company has maintained web-hosting servers throughout the whole thing. I’ve got a lot of respect for their tenacity, but it does seem that they have strayed into the realm of stupidity… Still, it’s a stupidity born of a noble idea and it’s from such seeds that civilisation grew.

Monkeys In Space!

Everyone loves monkeys, right? And everyone loves spaceships, right? So monkeys in space should be universally popular and I will unite the online world in love and harmony.

Or something.

Monkeys In Space!

I’m dead chuffed with this game, give it a try. As usual, if you like it then please email it to your friends!

Have fun!

Fancy supporting some artists?

Pinholecamp is a group of artists who go out to the Burning Man festival each year and take some beautiful images with a room-sized pinhole camera. Like pretty much everything at the festival, they do this for free and for the spirit of the thing; however, it does cost them a lot of money, so if you fancy buying an interesting print for US$20 and supporting a great group of people then visit their site and participate in keeping a great thing going. I’ve just sent them some money because I think that they’re a very worthy cause.

I can’t afford to get the to Burning Man this year. I’ve been twice in the past and I will go again in the future. There’s nothing else like it on earth, and it starts (officially) tomorrow.

Competing theories for creation

Given that apparently there is some doubt about the theory of evolution, I feel it is wise to highlight a couple of alternatives that should be covered when the Kansas curriculum (and later probably the rest of the US states) is opened up to suggest different approaches to creation.

First up we have the sound and reasonable belief that the world was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. The author of the website explains in his open letter to the Kansas School Board:

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

We have evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. […] a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artefact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artefact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.

Read more about the reasonable request here

The second theory, that it is of the utmost importance that should be presented with equal seriousness to other competing interpretations, is that of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

The IPU’s great appeal is described in a brilliant and undeniable piece of theo-logic:

The Invisible Pink Unicorn is a being of great spiritual power. We know this because she is capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorn is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that she is pink; we logically know that she is invisible because we can’t see her.

You can’t argue with that.

More here

So, along with Intelligent Design I hope to see these equally valid and scientific proposals on the Kansas syllabus next year.

Do you know any others that I should be aware of? Put a link in a reply!

New Portishead Album!*

*not really.

I’ve been waiting ages for the long-rumoured new Portishead album, so in the meantime I’ve found an album from a couple of years ago by the lead singer Beth Gibbons and someone called Rustin Man. It’s called ‘Out Of Season’ and, while not being slow trip hop (drip hop?) like the Portishead songs, it certainly has some really good moments. Beth Gibbons’ voice is very distinctive and it’s nice to hear something from her that I’d not heard before.

UK link US link

The Days of Perky Pat

How strange. I was looking for some information about an obscure old Philip K Dick story and stumbled on this site Have a look through the pictures section. For some reason I found it very disturbing. There’s not a lot on there, and I can’t read the text, but I’m not really sure that I want to be able to…

XBox 360 – no unlicensed peripherals

Is this a good thing or a bad thing: Micro$oft have said that they are putting some sort of security system into the XBox 360 (to be released later this year UK link) which means that only products that have been licensed directly by them will work on it. Anyone who wants to make a peripheral for the 360 will have to have it quality checked by M$ before it’s available to you. So… That seems good. Sort of.

The alternate reading of events is that this also means that M$ will be charging manufacturers to have a license to produce for their machine, meaning that the peripherals will likely cost more to cover M$’s costs and will probably be just as good/bad as they were before M$ examined the technology. This is without going into the litigation minefield of M$’s history of ‘getting inspiration’ from their competitors.

In the best possible world this will mean great add-ons for everyone, but, being cynical like I am, I suspect it just means more costs for the consumer for exactly the same devices.

As a thought: do you think that someone would be able to take M$ to court if a peripheral that they had approved wasn’t very good? After all, M$’s sign of approval should be a signifier that the item is a high-quality product and if it’s not then is that misleading to the consumer? I’d love to see someone try that!


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