All posts by Mata

The boss.

Partying like 1999, music, and books.

It’s amazing how a piece of music can really remind you of old times.

In 1999 I went to The Burning Man (warning: link may contain images of nudity!) festival in Nevada. It seemed that almost every camp there was playing a track with a wonderful soaring string section. I found out that it was a band that I’d barely even heard of at the time but who were huge in America, The Flaming Lips. Last year The Flaming Lips finally made it into the public consciousness when ‘Yoshimi Battle the Pink Robots’ (UK link) (US link) eventually got some more coverage.

A few days ago I tracked down their album ‘The Soft Bulletin’ (UK link) (US link) and so many memories of that trip came rushing back to me. I wonder where the people I met then are now?

I’m also making new memories. I’ve been listening a lot to VNV Nation‘s new album ‘Matter & Form’ (UK link) (US link) . It’s got some great thumping tracks on there; I especially like ‘Chrome’, but I still think that for stomping industrial dance their second album is the best, ‘Praise the Fallen’ (UK link) (US link) .

I’ll do some more recommendations in the future, but here’s a quick book suggestion before I go:

If you like sci-fi, especially in a post-Blade Runner/cyberpunk/ultraviolent style then you will absolutely love ‘Altered Carbon’ by Richard Morgan. In Morgan’s book people can be digitally backed-up, so that if they die they can be ‘resleeved’ in a new body. The body way to really kill a person it to destroy their chip, and the rich make automatic back-ups every day, so when an immensely rich man apparently destroys his own chip before back-up his resleeved-self wants to know what happened. Enter Takashi Kovacs, a highly trained agent capable of incredible focus and self-control. He’s also a complete sociopath who is not averse to killing and destroying the chips of every person in the building. Frankly, it’s brilliant. Almost certainly one of the best books I’ve read for years, and the novel and its sequel has been optioned for a film so read it now before Hollywood destroys it completely! (UK link) (US link)

Too much information!

After all that time spent using the Mind Manager software I was very well prepared to finally begin writing my thrid chapter of my thesis this weekend, but now I’ve hit a problem: I’m actuallly doing a bit too well on the chapter at the moment!

I was planning on putting down about 400 words for each subtopic and stringing them all together, but I’ve only got the first three done and I’m nearly 3000 words… I’ve no idea how I’m going to fit it all in.

It’s funny. I always thought that the max limit of 70,000 words was going to be really hard to reach, but I’m finding that with the right kind of preparation it would probably be really easy to shoot way over that. I was going to write seven chapters of around 8,000 words each. Then it became six chapters of around 10,000 words each. Now I’m on five of around 12,000 each and I can’t cut down the numbers anymore!

I had about 24 subtopics to write about for this chapter. On the current state of things, I could easily write around half my thesis on this one chapter topic alone!

Oops…

Still, it’s nice to be stuck with too much to say rather than too little!

Optimism, gay penguins, realism, and more junk-mail poetry

I was told today on my forums that I am an optimist. I don’t think I was in the past, so I’m not quite sure when this transformation happened, but now I think about it more, I’m not even sure if I am.

The reason for this was that I believe that people’s basic instinct is to do the best thing in their circumstances, whether this is being polite to strangers, holding open doors for others carrying shopping, or leaving some money in the hat of a busker whose song you’ve enjoyed. I don’t hold with ideas that say that mankind has a basic intent towards sin or rivalry. Humanity has become the dominant species on the planet (well, except for mosquitoes) because we work together. I think that the people who worked together in the past were the most successful, and that the genetic traits for social existence are programmed into us on a very deep level.

To go off on a tangent for a moment, a few years ago, I read a very interesting article about the role of homosexuality in preserving early societies. It’s one of the common arguments against gay people that they aren’t ‘natural’, but this article put forward a very interesting perspective. Basically it had investigated homosexuality in small tribes in Africa and came out with an interesting perspective. It argued that in hunter/gatherer social structures the men would go out hunting for one or more days at a time, but homosexual men would stay in the village. They would be the ones that gave the paternal figure to the children, and they would be the ones in the role of shaman. Admittedly, this article didn’t mention female homosexuality, but it suggested that homosexuality was a product of the needs of a society to have a figure that could straddle the divide between the absent hunting men and the needs of the children for masculine figures. Some people might laugh at the idea of gay men being described as masculine, but in some cultures gay men are regarded as more masculine than straight men because they do not have physical relations with women. Obviously there was no conclusion about whether homosexuality was produced through a genetic response to a certain population or from spontaneous adaptation to the needs of the tribe (like some species of fish that have the ability to change sex in response to the need for a male among the group if there are only females there), but either way it’s certainly an interesting proposition, and might explain why groups of people who are staunchly against homosexuality always seem to end up with at least one member being gay… Or is that just Murphy’s Law?

While checking out some background for this I stumbled on this site about a pair of gay penguins in Central Park zoo. They had built their own nest and were sitting on a stone instead of an egg. The keepers replaced the stone with a fertilised egg and the proud gay penguin fathers “did a great job” at raising it, says one of their keepers.

When I woke up this morning, I really didn’t think I was going to be writing ‘proud gay penguin fathers’ today.

Anyway, back on track: So, I believe that we are programmed to want to work for a better society, so why don’t we do it? I think a lot of it comes down to laziness. Being nice takes more effort. Maybe it’s because the societies that we now live in have reached such a critical mass that it seems unnecessary to us to do anything to help that society survive. Maybe this too is programmed into us, because a population the size of most cities certainly wouldn’t have been able to live off of the local land without rapidly stripping it and starving to death. Maybe we’re all being lazy because the conflict in us is telling us on one hand that we should help those that need us, and on the other we’re being told that the society is too big and a bit of a cull wouldn’t go amiss!

I’m an optimist, because I really do think that our basic natures are good, but I’m a realist in that I don’t expect that everyone, or even many people, will live up to my hopes. So why should I bother hoping? Because someone has to.

We are now the ones that are responsible for the way that the future will be shaped. There’s no use in waiting for other people to change the world for us, or for them to make it a better place. I don’t think that we need a revolution; I just think that it would be as simple as everyone trying a little bit harder. Don’t be rude to staff in restaurants and shops. Hold open doors. Recycle whatever you can. Treat everyone fairly and try actually listening to them and realising that they are an individual who is just trying to get by in the world and that maybe you can make their life if not better then certainly don’t make it worse. Smile at people.

Heh… There goes any credibility that I ever had with goths! 😉 Actually, people who feel that society doesn’t give them the chances that they would like might understand the need for this better than anyone, but there’s no point in waiting for other people to start it. We have to take control of our lives to create a quiet revolution, and we have to do it now. The change will not come through pushing against the world. If someone pushes you then your instinct is to push back. All change must come from the inside of organisations. We have the power to do this. Each of us is hidden away in structures and organisations, from schools, through shops, into the governments of the planet, and we can all make that difference. It’s only a little effort, and it feels good to be doing it. Do you know why you feel good? It’s not because you should feel proud, it’s because you know it’s right. It feels right.

So I’m an optimist. I have belief in us all.

Moving on: here’s today’s junk mail poetry:

already meant surely
spoke commit taken
opposite certain knows however one find

I love these things! Admittedly I might love not being on junk mail lists more, but you don’t run a website for this long without turning up in a few places. ‘Glad I’ve got a good spam blocker. I am beginning to suspect that there’s a digital Shakespeare hiding on a mainframe somewhere. Am I alone in thinking these things are great?

Guess when this was written…

He would be a rash prophet who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its dominant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise.

Okay, that’s a pretty decent comment about the current state of American politics. Guess when it was written? (No Googling! That would spoil it!)

Junk mail haikus… Sort of

I got this as a junk mail with some junk attachment (probably some spyware, forgive me if I don’t bother opening it to check):

your favorite
did fail meant i with black
situation worthy dark garden circumstances very

I know that’s probably created by a machine somewhere, but I think that’s quite poetic. I think it’s rather charming.

Yes I know haiku.
That is not one, nor is this.
It is a senryu.

You want an haiku?
Not likely around here mate
Senryu is all.

Technically a senryu is a poem about human affairs whereas haiku are about nature. More here, for the Japanophiles among you.

Here’s my best ever senryu. It’s about Kylie Minogue:

Antipodean
Keeps on looping in my head,
Make it stop now please.

Back to the point of all this. I like the idea that the random generation of junk mail might one day prove that old adage about an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters. Maybe a digitial Shakespeare is being dismissed by your junk-mail filter as you’re reading this. You never know. Sometimes creation appears in the strangest of places. We’ll just have to keep our eyes open.

It has been suggested that if we ever manage to make an artificial intelligence that we might not even recognise it. It makes you wonder what else might be lurking on the web…

Bright sunlight
Burning the leaves after rain
Green turns to deep gold.

There you go: a haiku in the end.

Banners

Right, long-time visitors will know that I held out on getting banners on this site for about four years, so at least three of you might be interested in what the score is.

The banners will hopefully provide a steady income that will offset the trickiness of trying to pay rent and buy food when I’m self-employed. Simple as that really.

It all works on a system of impressions. Each banner gets one impression each time you load a page. After 1000 impressions I get something like 50p (that’s around US$1 these days). Not a great deal of money, I grant you, but it mounts up. This is why it’s good if you can tell your friends about my animations. The more hits means that there’s more chance I’ll be able to buy Heinz rather than Sainsbury’s economy beans for my toast 🙂

I also mention that clicking banners is good. This isn’t because I get money for clicks, it’s because if my site generates clicks from people then maybe I’ll be able to charge more money in the future.

So is this just corporate whoring? Well… That depends on the way you look at it. I prefer to think of it as a way that I can actively take back money that corporations have probably twisted out of me at some point or other anyway. If AOL foots a small part of my rent each month then that makes me a happy man. Do I expect you to buy any of the things linked to on the banners? Well, that’s up to you, as it always is with banners and all forms of advertising.

I think I’ve just won the award for ‘the most dull blog entry ever’. Thank you and good night.

Free stuff and hackers

Since this seems to be my theme at the moment here’s a quick note about Ad-Aware which you can download for free here.

Adware, spyware, Trojans… If you’re relatively new to the net you might not know much about them. Basically they’re little malicious pieces of code that at best will keep track of the websites you look at then send that information out to advertising companies. At worst they’ll email your keystokes out to unknown people, including things like credit card details that you may have typed in to a website. In other words, it’s a good idea to protect yourself from this stuff.

You might be thinking ‘but the person in the shop told me that Norton Anti-Virus’ would protect me from these things. The problem is that these bits of code aren’t actually virii. In general terms, a virus will spread itself to other machines (usually by emailing itself to everyone in your email address book) then begin to destroy your information, eventually making your machine unusable until you have to wipe the disk. The kind of thing that we’re talking about here isn’t like that: it doesn’t want to destroy your information because it wants that information for itself, and the longer it can sit on your computer the more info it reaps. You’d be surprised how much information can be worth!

I also don’t rate Norton very highly over the last couple of years, but that’s another issue…

So, you need anti-spyware software as well as anti-virus software. Ad-Aware is very good and free for personal users too! Hurrah! While I’m here, the third of the holy trinity of essential web-ware is a firewall. If you haven’t got all three then you need to seriously look into getting them.

If you haven’t got a firewall either then I’d suggest downloading the Sygate personal firewall. Again, it’s free for individuals to use on their machines and very good at what it does (which is stops people from getting onto your machine through open internet ports and doing nefarious deeds).

You may have noticed that I don’t use the term ‘hacker’ for any of these people. That’s because I like the old use of the term. A hacker is, to me, a person who likes working out how things function and generally takes things apart to make them better. In computer terms this might be a person who writes code with the purpose of improving functionality over existing code, but I think it applies to any enterprise. I think that Picasso and Braque were hackers of the visual world. When they invented Cubism it permanently changed the way the world saw reality and for the better. That’s what good hacking is all about. Hacking is a bit like the term ‘kung-fu’: it’s usually applied to one activity but actually just describes a person who is really good at something. Hacking doesn’t have to be destructive, so I think lumping true hackers in along with destructive script kiddies is offensive to some of the smartest people in the world.

Play nicely with the hackers; they’re the people who are working on the cure for cancer.

Blair to reshape Britain!

Another election, another Labour government. Still, ole’ Tone has a greatly reduced majority this time, so at least that means that there might be something that can be regarded as opposition to slow his desired transformation of the British Isles into the shape of George W. Bush’s face. I kid you not, that was going to be the next bill that he was going to easily pass through government before the election got in the way.

Tony Blair planned on dredging the English Channel and using the material from the bottom to reshape Britain into the shape of Bush’s profile. In a leaked memo he said ‘We might as well get rid of Cornwall altogether, they’re all hippies down there anyway. And I never liked the Welsh, I can’t understand a word they’re saying. Is there anything we can do about them?’ Cornwall and Wales voted mainly for the Liberal Democrats, so maybe he’ll go ahead with his plan after all.

You heard it here first!

RSS feed now available!

Okay folks. I’m pretty new to this stuff too, so for beginners here’s what RSS is about:

Essentially it is a system of keeping track of information from sites that you like. You get a small summary scrolling along the bottom of the page telling you what the new stuff is on the site. In other words, it’s quite handy.

I keep mine scrolling on The Register, which is a great site for slightly techie news and usually fairly liberal ideas. It’s a bit UK-centric, but picks up on stories from all over the world. One that’s caught my eye today is this Dino missing link about a link in the evolutionary chain being filled. Ya boo sucks to evolutionists, or whatever it is the Americans say… My point is that I probably wouldn’t have visited the site and found a story that I’m actually very interested in, and that’s the point of RSS.

So, I know you’re begging to know, how do I get RSS working?

Well, I use Firefox to browse the web (more on that in a future post I’m sure) so I use this extension:

InfoRSS

They even provide it at a nice https domain too. Aren’t they good? It runs along the bottom of your browser window. Here’s one for your weird Internet Explorer people:

RSSreader

I have no idea if that’s any good because, like I say, I use Firefox so don’t need it.

Anyway, while looking at my blog, click whatever you need to to add RSS feeds and they should automatically pick up the options on my page. With the Firefox extension that I linked to, the way to do this is click the little orange square with white swooshes at the bottom of your screen near the RSS feed. You’ll get a few options; I suggest using the RSS 2.0, which is the feed of posts I make, but there’s one on there for comments too, and another one using Atom, which I have no idea about but it came with the software so I’ll leave it on 🙂

So, that’s RSS. Isn’t it nice?

Three posts in one day. This blogging thing could be addictive.

[additional note: while writing this I have drunk a very tasty bottle of ale, and only now noticed that it was 6.4% alcohol, so now my fingers have gone slightly tingly]

Vote damn you!

Apparently only one third of under-25s in the UK are planning to vote today. That’s pretty stupid. Go and vote for someone at least. If you don’t then you rennounce your right to complain if someone you don’t like gets elected. Again. Not thinking of anyone in particular…

On a more fun note, everyone should go and download Copernic. You may have heard of Google desktop, well, Copernic is like that but without the ‘sending your data to Google over the web’ bit.

Basically, what it does it build a database of everything on your computer. How exactly it does this I have no idea. Surely we’re into territory here where a truly accurate map should be the same size as the place that it is describing? … Anyway, somehow or other it analyses your files and stashes this info away. If you want to find a quote from an essay you were writing last year you could type in the name of the person who said it and Copernic near-instantly finds every file on your computer that has that name in it. It also catalogs all your music and images for you. It’s customisable so that it can file extra data-formats by name too, so I’ve got it set up to log all my Flash files.

Why is this useful? Well, apart from the obvious ease of use, if you’re like me and have about three hard-drive’s data on your machine from where you’ve shunted it across everytime you upgrade your PC then you probably are stuck with several different filing systems. Copernic means that you can immediately skip through all the system stuff and get right back to the file you’re looking for without having to remember where you put it or wait five minutes for the Windows search to give you a result.

Yes, I know I’m going on about this, but I really do love this software and I never really realised before just how useful it would be. It’s also free, so that’s a huge plus 🙂

Shok’s been busy doing radio shows on http://www.sillygoth.com so the Mittens music isn’t here yet, but you got an animation yesterday so don’t be greedy!

Clive the Giant Amoeba

This was actually going to be just a short picture of an awkward situation. The idea initially was to illustrate the problems of multi-species alien ballroom dancing.

Now I put it like that, it sounds very odd. It made perfect sense when I was thinking about it in the shower this morning.

Anyway, I worked with the idea for a while, trying to work out the best way to get the situation across as fast as possible in one image. I then decided that perhaps it would be better to have a few frames, those frames then led to the short poem, which led to the very silly animation. Have fun with Clive the Giant Amoeba!

Busily studying…

The best quote of the day: “Luck is the residue of design.” Branch Rickey

It’s actually quite appropriate. Today I’m using Mindmanager X5 to put together a mind map of the latest chapter of my thesis. It’s pretty cool software. Basically, it’s a system for creating mind-maps. These are branching diagrams that show the relation of ideas that you have. I’ve put the central idea of my chapter in the middle, then arranged the main subtopics and their smaller aspects around it. The Mindmanager software lets me move things around easily so it’s simple to create new connections and organise things before I start writing. At the moment I’m adding loads of notes to the topics, then when I’m done I’ll just publish it as a Word document and fill in the blanks with my interpretation… Easy… I hope… I’ll let you know how I get on.

Mittens: It’s been ages since I made a new Mittens animation. There is one waiting in the wings, it’s just on standby until Shok gets the music to me, which hopefully will be in the next 24 hours-or-so. It’ll be ready soon!

I’m off to continue piling through the books. See ya!

Hello world

So, I’ve eventually decided to get up to speed with the whole blog thing. Is this a good idea in the last year of writing a PhD? Meh… Who knows?

What is likely to be turning up here:

  • Occasional silly pictures that I make
  • Stuff about animation, and using Macromedia Flash in particular
  • Maybe some things about trying to write a thesis
  • Things that might be of interest about the background workings of this kind of site
  • Anything I think might be interesting to anyone else
  • Anything I fancy, because I can.

So, current top things that have been of interest to me: this blog! It’s using WordPress 1.5, and frankly was very easy to set up… I mean, it was seriously easy to get going. Put up a database, tell the config where to find it, then upload the files… And that’s pretty much it! I’m using a customised version of the Tridarkness template, which I’ve obviously altered to make it match the format of the rest of my site. You’d need a bit of CSS knowledge to fiddle with the templates, but there are loads around if you don’t fancy making your own.

I’m interested to hear what anyone else thinks should be on here, so login and drop me a comment. I should probably mention now, all comments will be moderated before appearing on this site, so keep it clean and use your common sense about whether I’ll put it up! If I end up getting loads of comments then I will eventually start only approving the best comments, but I seriously doubt that’s going to be a problem for a while!

For anyone out there interested in new things happening with Flash, check out some of the new features that will be turning up in 8ball and Maelstrom, the next versions of Macromedia’s Flash authoring software and Flash player. Frankly, it’s amazing. I can’t wait to get my hands on it! It really looks like the web is finally catching up with animator’s wish-lists.

Don’t forget, if you want to ask questions and have a discussion then the forums are still the best place to reach me, there’s a link on the right under ‘links’->

See you around!