All posts by Mata

The boss.

Mass Moonwalk in London as a tribute to Michael Jackson

Like most people, I never met Michael Jackson, but there’s something curiously touching about seeing a thousand people’s arms go up in the air when the chorus of ‘Billie Jean’ kicks in at the flash mob-esque ‘mass moonwalk’ tribute to Michael Jackson at Liverpool Street Station in London last Friday 26th June 2009.

With the number of people there, I doubt many could actually manage to moonwalk, but I think that Jackson would have been very happy to be remembered this way, with people dancing to one of his greatest tunes and having a bloody good time.

Goths in hot weather

I remember walking across the desert, the sun beating down on the parched and arid mud flats. It was Nevada, and just around the corner (geographically speaking) from Death Valley. In the distant heat haze I saw two shimmering figures strinding across the desert in enormous boots, dressed head to toe in black, and huddling a black umbrella. It was great.

I love the tenacity of Goths to wear utterly impractical clothing in the most severe conditions, and now there’s a blog to celebrate their excess. Go visit Goths in hot weather, for all your sweaty Goth needs.

Obama’s inauguration in very high detail

Let’s play spot-the-FBI-sniper-squad!

President Obama’s inauguration in enormously high detail

This looks like it uses the same technology as Google Maps, except with a photo instead of a map. Pretty cool. You can use the on-screen controls to zoom or the mouse-wheel.

Personally, I think one of the dark shapes on the White House pillars is a sniper cover. Oh, and check out the journalist’s seating – I think about 1 in 40 faces isn’t caucasian. President Obama being elected is a huge step, but we should never forget that there’s still a long way to go before all skin colours are represented proportionally across all areas of society.

Fantastic photos from the Burning Man 2008

For a change, this gallery of photos from the Burning Man in 2008 doesn’t appear to have nudity so should be safe to browse at work. The photographer is particularly good, so I highly recommend spending a bit of time browsing through the weirdness that Waldemar has lovingly documented.

Click here to see Waldemar’s photos of Burning Man in 2008.

My favourites?

The Pooh ball
Spread Eagle
Basura Sagrada
The End.

Great stuff!

The moment that changed a man’s life

It’s not often that a person can point to one thing that gave them confidence to follow a dream, and even less common when it’s a professor who wrote to the British children’s TV program Blue Peter.

I did what all sensible children do when in need of practical help with an idea. I wrote to Blue Peter

If there’s a moral here, it’s that you never know what will be the future impact of a word of kindness or dismissal, especially with kids. Aww. I feel all fluffy inside.

Read about Professor Anthony Hollander’s letter to Blue Peter here.

Photos of President Obama’s inauguration

President Obama’s term in office will doubtless be difficult. The world is in a bad state in many ways, but there seems to be a near unanimous sense of hope that he might make better choices than lesser leaders. Skin colour shouldn’t be an issue, but it still is, and it makes me proud to live in the times when the first black president was elected.

There are some excellent photos of the inauguration of President Barack Obama here.

That last photo though… A folder left by president number 43 for president number 44… Just how much would you love to know what’s in there?

The lost cameras of Burning Man 2008

Fancy being nosy? Here’s a selection of photos from cameras that were lost at 2008’s Burning Man festival.

General trends:
Everyone seems to be good looking
Face paint never goes out of fashion in the desert
Furry leg warmers might be impractical in 40 degrees C temperatures, but that doesn’t stop people wearing them.

Go, browse, enjoy the guilty pleasure of looking at things that were never intended for public viewing. They’re posted with big codes on them in the hope that the owners will see them and get them back, but it’s weirdly fascinating for the rest of us!

Don’t know what the Burning Man is? I’ve posted about it before. Have a browse of those posts here.

Spore, DRM, and DLC

Before we get going, here’s an intro for anyone new to all this:

Spore is a computer game recently released by EA and made by the same people who did The Sims.

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. Essentially this means systems that limit the ways in which a customer can use things that they have purchased. The main idea is to prevent piracy.

DLC stands for DownLoadable Content. This usually refers to extra things that can be downloaded for games, often for a small price (e.g., a more powerful gun, or a different track to race on).

That’s the basics out of the way…

Spore has been getting a lot of attention recently from the gaming press and public. The game consists of five sections that fit roughly onto a wide view of evolution, starting with your creature as a microscopic lifeform and following it all the way up to becoming a race of space-faring beings, at which point you can go off and conquer the galaxy (which has been populated by the creatures belonging to other players).

You can create your creature to look and move in many varied ways, with some incredibly clever animation technology making almost anything capable of walking around. Needless to say, the first things that many people attempted to create were walking penises. That’s gamers for you. Will Wright, the main and most public creator behind the game, said to the AP that some of them are “amazingly explicit, especially when those creations are animated”, but does go on to talk about making sure these don’t spoil anyone else’s fun… No screenshots are attached, before you go looking!

Reviews of the Spore have been generally approving, but player reactions have been more mixed when they are discussing it. Many players have had issues with the DRM on the game. This software, provided by SecuROM, installs itself on your machine without asking for your permission and attempts to ensure that the software is not installed more than three times before a new copy is required to be purchased. Many players have said that they frequently clear their harddrives and would be annoyed that after a year they would be expected to buy a new copy of the game.

Some people have been driven to piracy by DRM: I’ve not had this confirmed about Spore, but I do know of other DRM-heavy titles where people have purchased legitimate copies of a game then downloaded illegally shared and hacked copies from the internet to install on their PCs. Why? The hacked versions don’t have the DRM on it. Clearly, this is an issue that some people feel very passionately about.

I can’t help but wonder if the games industry is setting itself up for trouble here. For how long will people be prepared to do the honest thing and purchase a copy of a game when they intend to download a hacked version to install? Will it take much longer before they get frustrated with persistent DRM issues and decide to not spend the money at all? With the international market and instant online price comparisons, some people in Europe are getting understandably angry about paying twice the price that American gamers pay for the same product.

From the perspective of the games industry, especially companies specialising in PC games, DRM seems essential. When Crysis was released earlier in the year it was reputed to be one of the most pirated games released for a PC, forcing the company into deciding to not make PC exclusive games in the future. Estimates range between 4 and 7 times as many copies of the game were downloaded illegal when compared to legitimate purchases. Yikes!

What can the games industry do about this? Consoles such as the Xbox 360 and Playstation3 provide some part of the answer. Their operating systems are less customisable (exceedingly so for the 360) than a PCs, so pirated games are harder to get working, but there still remains the second-hand market on eBay and through high-street retailers, where a single copy of a game can make the retailer £100+ during its shelf life through sale, exchange, and resale, but the manufacturers only get a percentage of the initial sale.

The best current answer is DLC. By selling small downloadable items for games that can’t be transferred between systems or user accounts, the manufacturers can continue to get revenue from games, even if they have been pirated or sold second-hand. Advertising in games is downloaded to online consoles and computers. When you drive past a billboard in a game you might notice that it’s changed since the last time you played: that’s a new image downloaded onto your machine, and a tiny bit of money added to the bank balance of the game maker. DLC has many advantages for the manufacturers, but the balance isn’t so equal for consumers, who end up with limited use of the things that they have paid for.

While DRM on games like Spore is reacted to strongly (even provoking one unwise moderator on the game’s forums to threaten to disable people’s game accounts if they don’t stop discussing it), it doesn’t seem to be denting the popularity of the title among people reviewing it online. Both expert and user reviews still rate Spore highly despite the problems, and EA claims that a lot less than 1% of the game’s owners will be likely to encounter a problem with the DRM. It could be the usual case of a few people on the internet shouting loudly about views that don’t reflect the majority of the population, but I do wonder where it’s going to end…

Recently I was trying to put CDs onto my mp3 player, something which I am legally entitled to do, but I could get the disk to rip to my harddrive. I tried all kinds of things, and eventually discovered that the software refused to rip because of DRM restricting the use of the CD. I know my rights, but I couldn’t use the disk the way I wanted. I still wanted the music, so I downloaded an ‘illegal’ copy of the music I already owned because it was the only way to use it the way that I wanted.

I think that some form of DRM is going to have to come into place eventually because people will always try and take things for free if they can, but we’re a long way off from it being a solution that is beneficial for the manufacture and sufficiently flexible for consumers.

Photos from The Burning Man festival 2008

There’s a whole bunch of images from this year’s Burning Man festival filtering onto the main website.

Click here to go to the 2008 Burning Man photo gallery (some nudity is likely to be in the galleries, although no sexually explicit images are probable). If I see any really good personal galleries I’ll also be linking to them from this blog, so why not add it to your RSS feed using those links on the left.

For those who don’t know, The Burning Man festival is a art and improvised living… Thing. It happens in the Black Rock desert in Nevada, just around the corner from the famous ‘Death Valley’. The ticket says that ‘you voluntarily accept the risk of death in attending this event’ and they’re not kidding about. The desert can kill you, and the only thing provided by the organisers is toilets. Strictly speaking, they also provide a layout for the city, some vague safety nets, and naturally the man himself. The man is a huge structure of wood, around 5 stories tall, which sits in the middle of the city and that is burnt in a huge party on the last night of the week-long festival. During that time you see and, importantly, participate in bizarre and wonderful works of art. Check out the pictures for a taster!

I went to the festival in 1999 and 2002, and I’m going to go back there next year. I can’t wait! The theme for 2009 is Evolution: A Tangled Bank. Read more about it over here. The design for the eponymous man also looks fantastic. I’m excited already! Only 357 days to go! Woohoo!

Has the LHC destroyed the world yet?

In case you’ve blanked news out for the day, the Large Hadron Collider, the LHC, was turned on today. It’s taken 30 years and some silly number of billions of pounds to make a really big ring so boffins can make streams of protons hit each other at light speed then see what happens. I did write in with a suggestion that they shine two torches at each other, but they never wrote back. I would even have supplied the batteries.

Anyway, apparently the amount of energy used is likely to create a Higgs Boson particle, which somehow gives all other particles mass (although exactly how or why I really don’t know). Then again, it might not. What this boils down to is that a load of guys underground in Europe are going to perhaps make a very small black hole. They insist that this is completely safe, which it probably is, but that doesn’t stop everyone else wondering if they are about to destroy the world, which brings me to the point of this..

In case you need to check if the LHC has destroyed the world, there is now a convenient website that is monitoring the situation and allows you to check:

http://hasthelargehadroncolliderdestroyedtheworldyet.com/

It’s a good joke, but the real comedy will escape 99.9% of viewers. Check out the source code for the page:

[script type="text/javascript"]
if (!(typeof worldHasEnded == "undefined")) {
document.write("YUP.");
} else {
document.write("NOPE.");
}

[script type="text/javascript"]
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." :
"http://www.");
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost +
"google-analytics.com/ga.js' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));


Comedy gold for web techy people.

[I removed the email address from the code to try and prevent him getting spammed by bots that may scan this page, but it’s there in the page’s code if you want to find it yourself.]

Hipsters of the world unite!

Did any of you ever flick through the awesome book of Japanese street fashion called Fruits? (Incidentally, there’s a sequel, UK link, US link) A chap is doing a similar thing for the western world, focussed mainly on London, over on his blog. Face Hunter is a chap looking for ‘eye candy for the style hungry’, and it makes a very nice collection of street styles and pretty people to browse.