Interesting things round-up – today’s theme is ‘weird’

Let’s start with something smart…

What is ‘freedom’ in a society? How should we judge what this is, and whether a society is achieving it? What are the contradictions that freedom produces? Well, Daren Epstein, writing for The Foreigner – Japan does a very good job of answering those questions in a short essay about Harajuku called An Idea of Freedom. The whole site is very interesting and well-worth a browse, but that article did a better job of saying what’s worth fighting to preserve than anything I’ve seen so far. Amusingly, it’s the parts of society that are considered weird by the majority that Epstein thinks truly represent the idea of freedom.

Continuing on the thoughtful theme, here’s a great article looking back at the works of Philip K. Dick. You’ll have to sign up for a free NYTimes account to read it, but they have some interesting pieces in there so it’s definitely worth the small effort. Their daily news email is very good too. Anyway, Philip K. Dick was definitely a bit weird.

Onto something silly…

Microsoft are now saying that they might support the Blu-Ray drive in the Xbox 360. I joked about this at work a few months ago and was told by someone to not be so silly – for those who don’t know, Blu-Ray is Sony’s idea for getting high definition DVD-style media into the home. Microsoft and Sony are arch enemies because of the Playstation and Xbox brands, so this news was highly amusing to me. Maybe not weird, but pretty odd.

You have twenty seconds to comply! Samsung (of all companies) along with a Korean university have fitted up a pattern recognition rig with a 5.5 millimeter machine gun and a set of speakers… The result is just as disturbing as those images in your head right now. As if this wasn’t weird enough, halfway through the promotional video they use the music from the Pirates of the Carribean! What was going on in their heads? Surely they should have used the theme from Robocop? (UK link US link)

Probably quite a lot of you have heard of smart drugs – chemicals that make you smarter. This idea has been around for many years, but it seems that we’ve actually cracked it (crack… drugs… suit yourself…). The implications of this are really quite odd, so this could be the start of a very interesting time for humanity.

And finally… It’s not weird, but American SWAT teams really need to learn how much explosives they need to blow a door without taking out most of the hallway too.

The ZX Spectrum is 25!

25 years ago today the ZX Spectrum was released and many people’s destinies were written in silicon. It was the first computer that I had regular access to (after my uncle had bought it, didn’t know what to do with it, and promptly passed it on to my brother and I).

The power of those 48k was astonishing. Games makers packed in dozens of hours of gameplay, graphics, and music. When I started university we were ‘taught’ about computers. The ‘teacher’ (I use the word very loosely because it was clear that the instructor believed that all computers were evil, possessed, and of course utterly irrelevant to art) was demonstrating the scanner:

‘This page is blank white,’ she said ‘so it only takes up 22k.’ 22k? 22k! I remember when you could fit whole games into 22k, and now all you can do is tell a screen that the whole page is white? Have we completely forgotten how to code efficiently already? Then again, this was ten years ago, so it’s probably 3MB to have a white screen now…

Tonight I shall be drinking a toast to Sir Clive Sinclair and the computer that changed my world.

Random names

I’m in the planning stages of a novel at the moment. Whether it’ll ever become a reality is another question, but I’m putting a lot of groundwork in to make sure that I feel confident later down the line. Anyway…

I was looking to character names and found a good site for explaining the meaning of names, but I was really tickled by the random name generator. Almost every suggestion sounds incredibly cool and interesting. I bet that people could overcome writer’s block just by picking a random name then working out what kind of person would have it. Fantastic fun, and a great mental agility game to play when you’ve got a spare moment.

Who is Nicostratus Terrius? Or Wakefield Layton?

Cool art I can’t wait to see

Coming to the Burning Man 2007: OrbSwarm (also known as SWARM).

SWARM is a funded large scale kinetic art project for Burning Man 2007. It consists of a number of rolling spherical vehicles, actuated by a non-rolling interior with a counterweight. With GPS guidance and computer control, the spheres can execute motions evocative of animals and dancers.

Huge ball things dancing in patterns across the desert, guided by GPS? Damn, I hope I can afford to go, just to see that!

Also sounding very fun is Burninator X:

The Burninator X is a very large scale fire installation currently under construction, for installation at Burning Man 2007. It will be a 2-dimensional set of flame towers arranged in a cross, in an area of approx. 1/2 million square feet. It will produce 2-D patterns and sequences of flame, visible for miles.

On a slightly more environmentally friendly note, Apocalypse Stagecoach is ‘bicycle powered stagecoach theatre’ who will be performing ‘Puppet Shows For The End Of The World’. That’s my kind of entertainment… And it’s nice that it’s not completely destroying the environment while it’s doing it.

A proper way to steal

Years ago I heard about a gang that broke into a jewellers and stole a lot on things. They didn’t use guns, or go in and threaten people, they came in at night, abseiled through a sky-light, cleaned out the display cabinets and left in a black cab (a slightly posh taxi to US readers). That’s style. If you’re going to be a theif, you should always try to include abseiling in your criminal plans.

This guy has gone one step further: he’s stolen £15 million (around US$35 million) in diamonds using charm and a box of chocolates. He got an original set of keys, the location of the diamonds, and took the lot. He’s obviously put a lot of work into the plan, it would almost be a shame if he got caught.

Oh, and I bet there’s a film version coming soon!

God wants you to own guns.

He does. It says so on an odd Christian answer to Wikipedia:

Gun control refers to all laws enacted at the federal, state, and local level with the intent of placing restrictions on the right of individual private citizens to keep and bear firearms. This right is a natural right which we are endowed by our Creator with.

I wanted to link to this for two reasons. Firstly there is the absolute absurdity of the claim that God gave man the right to carry guns, which I find so dumbfoundingly bizarre that I’m not sure I can fully comprehend it. The second reason is just to share that abysmal example of sentence structure. Yes, that’s English geekery at its finest, but look at how awful it is! That second bit should read ‘This is a natural right with which we are endowed by our Creator’. If God gave us the gift of communication (which I think is a far safer claim than the right to carry guns) then that writer is going to hell… Well, that might be a bit harsh. Maybe they’ll stub toe in heaven every second Tuesday, or something like that.

Check it out for yourself here.

If you feel like getting up a good head of rage, then flick through random pages. I’ve noticed an average of 1:1 reasonable information to bigotry. See what you think!

Thoughts about the new-gen consoles

Before I get started, if you’ve got a Xbox 360 then you really should buy Crackdown (UK link US link). It’s a remarkably good game.

For those new to this stuff: The Playstation3 (also known as ‘PS3’) is Sony’s new games console, released 11/06 in the US and Japan and next month (03/07) in Europe. The Xbox 360 (a.k.a. ‘360’) is MicroSoft’s (a.k.a. ‘Micro$oft’ and ‘M$’) sequel to the Xbox games console and has been out for about 14 months. The Nintendo Wii games console was launched globally in 11/06. Until recently these were all referred to as ‘next-generation’, or ‘next-gen’ machines, but now they’re here they must be ‘new-gen’.

The PS3 is a very cool machine, but it’s had a troubled start and people are putting the boot in over it’s backward compatibility issues. Backwards compatibility (b/c for short) is the ability to play games from earlier machines by the same manufacturer. It’s not surprising that they are receiving criticism about this because b/c was one of the key features that Sony was boasting about a year ago when insulting the Xbox 360. I get the impression that Sony would, in an ideal world, have waited until March 2007 to release the PS3 globally, but they needed to prevent Micro$oft getting another Christmas season ahead of them in the key markets of America and Japan.

Part of the reason that I think this is the case is that there’s going to be a big update in March that should be fixing a lot of the issues that people have with the PS3. The NTSC backwards compatibility is around 98% after the January firmware update, so the PAL b/c should get to that level eventually too. It’s quite an important thing for me, because I love some of my PS1 and PS2 games. The b/c on the 360 still isn’t particularly good: I was really looking forward to having access to some of the great games for the Xbox that I missed out on, but the ones I want haven’t been certified yet and consequentially won’t work. Updates to the 360 b/c list are few and far between, so I guess I’ll just keep on waiting until I can play Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath

Also mooted for the March update is ‘extending the media functionality in ways that our consumers really want’, which I’m taking to mean will enable the PS3 to stream media from a PC. Currently, despite the built-in wireless, the PS3 won’t actually do much with other devices on your home network. It’s rather annoying – the Xbox 360 can stream from a PC but is hobbled by Micro$oft insisting that users can only stream .wmv format movies (and who, seriously, uses .wmv as their preferred format?). The PS3 supports the .avi format for video, but currently won’t stream anything from your PC. Aargh!

For the really geeky, there’s already a Sony built-in capability to install the Linux operating system onto your PS3, so there are big possibilities for wireless networking about the house there, as well as the chances of people making their own games. The PS3 currently seems to have a wider range of possibilities than the 360 because it has been opened up by Sony for people who want to hack around in it – this is completely counter to MicroSoft’s controlling approach – but whether it is a wise or foolhardy approach is something that only time will tell.

To me, it doesn’t bode well for the 360’s software support that after a year it’s only just got a title that is truly exceptional game (Crackdown). Everything else has been a bit bland, or is multi-format already. Then again, does the PS3 line-up look more exciting? Maybe… But it’s too early to say for sure. Resistance: Fall of Man is a good first-person shooter, but there are so many unknowns: Heavenly Sword, Metal Gear Solid 4, Tekken 6, Killzone 2, and the European release of Motorstorm. Any of these could prove to be astonishing but they all could simply be more of the same kind of play that we’ve already seen, and how many will be exclusives? Then again, it’s a more exciting schedule than the 360 has managed in the last year. Yes, that’s because the manufacturers have decided to bet on the PS3 branding winning consumers… And they may be right yet. The PS3 is slightly harder to work on than the 360, but if it gets the better games then the hardware becomes irrelevant.

It looks like M$ had the chance to run the field and get a massive head start, but I just don’t think they’ve managed it. Even Nintendo, who have a very cool little machine in the Wii, still only have two games that are worth getting – Wii Sports (which comes free with the machine) and Zelda: The Twilight Princess (which is only good if you like Zelda games… Which I don’t particularly). The Wii still has a chance to make a huge difference to the market, but the new-gen Eyetoy from Sony has buckets of potential and may yet become the family toy that the Wii wants to be.

Despite my doubts of a few months ago, I am really beginning to think that Sony might dominate this generation of consoles once again. Their machine is expensive, looks like a George Foreman grill, tricky to develop games for, and uses the Spiderman 2 font for its logo, but in the end it’s always only about the games, and on this basis I currently think that Sony are going to win again.

The monkey army arises! And other Friday things.

Beware! They’re coming for us all!

Apparently playing The Sims keeps you sane (if you’re at war). Personally, making Sim replicas of your brothers in arms sounds like a short walk to insubordination, but who am I to argue? (They have guns, after all, so I won’t disagree.)

Playing computer games is good for your visual accuity! Specifically, playing action-based games (such as first-person-shooters like Halo) trains the brain to be significantly better at discerning visual patterns than non-action-gamers and non-gamers. The study doesn’t take into account the potential for eye-strain from too long staring at the screen, but it’s interesting stuff anyway!

And finally… New York is trying to ban people from using portable gaming devices, phoens, and even mp3 players while walking:

The legislation will be introduced today to ban the use of electronic gadgets, including portable game machines, BlackBerrys, mobile phones, and iPods, while crossing the road. Those who ignore the ban could face a fine of $100.

Apparently too many people are walking into the road while engaged with other things. While it’s nasty that anyone should die that way (and horrible for the drivers) I’m sure I’m not the only one that wonders if they aren’t doing the species a favour…

Don’t forget to drop by my webcomic! It’s updated every Monday and Friday.

PS3 available for pre-order on now!

Amazon in the UK have finally put the Playstation 3 console up for pre-order. If you want one at release then I suggest ordering one now – here’s the link)! If you are going to be getting one, please remember go to Amazon using a link from my site (such as that one just now, or from a search box on the other pages on my site) then 5% of what you spend goes to me to help with server costs and occasionally more interesting things like graphics tablets to draw more comics and animations with. Hurrah!

Explosions and knitted jubblies!

What do people do in offices? Many people have wondered this, and the answer is find videos of huge explosions.

This really is incredibly huge. I really hope that the area was cleared before it happened.

This one is funnier, firstly because no-one was nearby (a lack of fatality always helps joviality, I find) but also because the explosion was rather larger than they were expecting due to a ‘sunken WWII barge which they didn’t know was there’.

This is something else that a friend sent me: knitted chesty-bumps that are being used in hospitals. How odd!

Don’t forget, Trouble Down Pit is still being updated twice every week, Mondays and Fridays.

I’m turning 30…

Blimey. How did that happen? Suddenly I’m about to turn 30 (this Sunday, 4th Feb). It’s really quite peculiar, but things could be a lot worse.

My thesis is done – it’s been passed by the examiners, so all that remains is for the university’s review committee to approve the examiners’ decision (which should happen on 12th Feb) and I’ll be a doctor. I’ve just got that out of the way and now I’m straight into a pretty cool job doing design-y stuff for a major computer games publisher.

Apologies for not posting anything for a few weeks; we’ve been having major troubles with the internet connection at home so I’ve not been able to get online to blog, and it seemed rather cheeky to do it from work (although this is being posted during a break). (Ab)normal service should resume in about a week.

I’ve been managing to keep Trouble Down Pit (my webcomic) running while I’ve been mostly-offline, so if you’ve not read that recently then now’s a good time to go and catch up.

So… 30? How did that happen? Age must be addictive or we’d all stop doing it sooner.

Mmm, yummy!

What do you do when fluffy dies? Try some mouth-watering guinea pig recipes. You’d be surprised how few recipes for guinea pigs are easily available on the web, considering that the Peruvians munch through around 65 million of the cute little rodents each year. Why am I linking to this? Mainly so that when you go home today you can tell other people that you spent the afternoon looking at recipes for guinea pigs, of course.

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