Category Archives: Stuff

It’s all gone a bit Hercules

When Hercules died he was put into the night sky as a constellation, so the story goes. Well, now we have a debate going on about Xena.

Those of you who’ve been paying attention to this sort of thing will know that I’m talking about the arguments in astronomy about whether Pluto counts as a planet and whether another astrological body, recently given the name Xena, is actually a planet instead.

Fair enough. Pluto was always a bit of a silly sounding name, because it made everyone think of the Disney dog which came later, but Xena? The warrior princess? UK link US link That’s a pretty strange choice… But they weren’t content to stop there. Oh no. They’ve found that Xena has a moon.

Can you guess what it’s been called?


Oh dear.

More info.

The politics of mind-control and Mr Snaffleburger

I’ve had an email about the comparison of the Mr Snaffleburger to Fahrenheit 451. I thought I’d put what I wrote in here because similar topics often come up in emails to me.

My Mr Snaffleburger animations are a satire on corporate policies that attempt to restrict the thoughts and expressions of the general populous. By controlling the language that people use you can control the way that they think, and corporate advertising tries to do this all the time. McDonald’s current slogan in the UK (possibly in the US too) is ‘I’m loving it’. That’s not ‘You’re loving it’ or ‘You’ll love it’. By using the first person and the present tense there is the implication that a friend is telling you this information (indicated by the carefully chosen desirable people in the adverts) but also the text will be read by viewers in their own heads. The use of the present tense creates a kinaesthetic reaction in the brain, triggering a strong emotional connection to the advertised product. Think about eating a burger, now think about love, now think of product name X. The resulting combination is ‘Mmmm, tasty Snaffleburgers!’ even if you think that the food is pretty average (at best!). Every person who sees the adverts recites to themself ‘I’m loving it’ even when they know that this blatantly isn’t true.

There’s a system of positive thinking called Neuro Linguistic Programming (usually referred to as NLP for obvious reasons!) which teaches people to think good things as a way of getting the rest of the mind to believe it and make it become true. When you tell yourself something repeatedly the rest of your mind works out ways to make it happen. When McDonald’s get viewers to repeatedly read ‘I’m loving it’ they are programming the unconscious mind of the viewers to feel more positive about McDonald’s products.

The short version: corporate advertising is often pretty evil.

If you like Fahrenheit 451 then you really should read 1984 by George Orwell. It’s full of superb ideas about the use of language for domination of the masses. Books are one of the key ways that we can ensure continuity of learning between generations and are essential for our intellectual survival. Equally, we need to take control of our own media to highlight the things that are being done to us and to create our own messages. The internet has levelled the playing field a bit, so we now have a tool for mass communication available to us that we have to use to counteract messages that are not always in our best interest. We don’t have the advertising budgets to get our message out to people in the same way that large corporations do, but we are still in a stronger position to take back the media than we probably have been since the invention of the printing press!

I’m not saying that all corporations are bad, or that they are bad by their nature, only that individuals need to keep in mind their own goals and not bend to those that they don’t want. I enjoy watching films. I like science-fiction and comic-book heroes. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to go and see the Fantastic Four just because it’s been aggressively marketed at me because frankly it just didn’t strike me as being any good, but I have enjoyed the Blade films (UK link US link) so I’m happy to pay for them. We live in a society where we need to find a balance between keeping that capitalist structure running and ensuring that our own mental well-being is best served by our actions and feelings. We can’t trust everything we are told by those with interests in taking our money, but there’s nothing wrong with spending it if it’s on something that you genuinely do enjoy.

The end of US controlled DNS?

A bit of beginner’s info: whenever you type a name of a website into your browser, such as, your computer has a look at what is called the DNS list. This list links together names of websites with their IP address. The IP address is a series of numbers telling your computer where the information for that domain is stored. In other words, it’s the way to find the server where the website resides.

Since the beginning of the internet DNS has been run by the US. All of the DNS admin, and I assume the money charged for it, occured in the US for every country around the world. Understandably, with the internet being of massive importance to almost every nation on the planet, for commerce in the west and for communication in developing countries, quite a lot of places would like to have some more say about how DNS is run.

Guess what? The US isn’t very happy about this idea, but it looks like it’s going to happen anyway.

Nevertheless with just one day remaining, the pressure to seal a deal is intense, and it looks increasingly likely that by 5pm Swiss time on Friday 30th September 2005, the Unites States will be negotiated out of control of the internet.

This is actually a very important event in the history of the internet. It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens next.

Full article here.

Giant squid!

It’s been a week for huge things, firstly Pac-Man, then the bunny on a moutainside, and now the first pictures of a giant squid in its natural habitat.

small pics
bigger (but less) pics

When I was a child I wanted to be a deep-sea diver. Then I read about giant squid and changed my mind.

These pictures are massively important to the study of the creatures because no-one has ever seen one alive before. Okay, so this poor creature spent the entire time trying to rip itself off a hook and eventually lost an arm to escape (I’m pretty sure they grow back though), so it’s not a completely natural example of giant squid behaviour, but they do show that the squid actively hunt rather than drifting, as was previously thought. This also lends some credence to the old stories of giant squid attacking small vessels… Not much credence admittedly, because giant squid aren’t generally seen out of the deep ocean, but it does show that they can hunt when they want to.


They still creep me out though. There’s something very scary about squid and octopi. I think it’s a very instinctive fear on two levels: fear of something so utterly different, and fear of something intelligent and strong. Octopi are among the smartest creatures that we know of, with unusually large brains. No-one’s quite sure why they need such large brains. Some have suggested that it’s to control all the limbs, but I think they’re planning to build sea-water containing robots to come and destroy us all.

Oh, if anyone can find a better source for the pictures I’d be happy to see them, these were the best I could find. Some news sources told you about the great new pictures and didn’t even include a single one of them!

EDIT: I’ve found some decent pictures:

National Geographic

Giant Italian bunny!

Yes, this is precisely as it sounds, the Italians have made a huge bunny. Hurrah!

It’s 200 feet long and has been placed by a group of artists on a mountainside in the Piedmont region of Italy where it is intended to remain for the next twenty years.

The thing that troubles me about this is that it’s knitted. Do knitted items usually survive for 20 years on the side on mountains? The artists want people to climb onto it and relax, but surely it will get wet pretty easily and take a long time to dry out at an altitude of 5,000 feet? I’m not sure that they’ve thought this through.

There is also the possibility that human civilisation will end before the bunny is removed, prompting future archaeologists of the next earth civilisation to wonder what bizarre end-times cult tried to stave off the end of the world by building a huge bunny.

Am I the only person who sees things like this and wonders what future archaeologists will make of it all? We’ve probably destroyed the chances that decent written records will survive through the adoption of computers for nearly everything, so all they’ll have to go on is a multitude of plastic bags and giant bunny fibre remains.

It’s a strange world

Apparently there are 650 mountain gorillas left in the wild.

Given the number of gorilla costumes in the world, especially those used by gorilla-gram messengers, that may mean that at any one point there are more people impersonating gorillas than there are real ones alive outside of zoos. How strange.

Giant Pac-man spotted in middle-America

Oh those wacky Japanese, now they’re making American crops look like their characters! What will they think of next?

Or something.

But seriously, there’s a huge Pac-man in the middle of the US, check it out on Google Earth:

36°58’25.88″n, 101°32’49.54″W

(Or get a satellite photo from Google Maps).

I will be disappointed if farmers don’t start cropping their fields into the shape of Space Invaders next year.

Maybe there could be a new advertising market for adverts designed to be visible in satellite photos? You could park a van with an advert on its roof next to a monument, wait until the satellite photo is updated then move on somewhere else… Of course you could be waiting a long time unless you worked out how to predict when the photos are being taken. Even so, as an idea I think it’s got potential!

Blogging as therapy?

About 50% of people blog for therapy. Weird.

It may be relevant that the poll was made in the US, but that’s still a startlingly high amount of people.

Rest assured that I don’t treat this blog as therapy. I’m really not sure what it is… I guess it’s just a way of keeping something new happening on my site between animations. Animations take lots of time, but blogging is quick and easy. I suppose that means that this blog counts as entertainment, suggesting that I do this for fame, which is equally odd, because I’ve got rather strange tastes in topics if I’m trying to get famous off of this. Hmm.

Swedes are nosier than Brits & virtual identities


Another gem from The Register for you.

Almost two-thirds of Swedes secretly read their partner’s SMS messages

Almost half of British women, 45 per cent, owned up to secretly checking their partner’s messages, compared to 31 per cent of men

I’m not sure what any of this proves, other than I find pointless surveys interesting. I’ve never secretly checked anyone’s SMS log, and frankly the idea had never even occured to me. I figure trust breeds trust. It’s a strange world where people will go to bed with people that they don’t trust, where mobile phones are considered to be better representations of a person’s true self than the words they say to you. The world of digital identity is something that is appearing all through mainstream people’s lives with modern technology and no-one is noticing a thing. I’m really not sure if I like that or not… Somehow I feel that maybe we should have a more integrated identity, so we don’t need to be someone else online, in text messages, on the phone, in emails, on forums, etc.

Maybe we just need more honesty. Ann Kaloski wrote an essay in 1997 called Bisexuals Making Out with Cyborgs: Politics, Pleasure, Con/fusion in which she looked at the way that virtual identities mean that sex-play online may be, for example, allow heterosexual women to have sex with other women, but those other women may be a man pretending to be a woman. There were two things I found very interesting in the essay, firstly that people usually didn’t actually care what the physical sex of their partner was, only their virtual sex, and secondly that many people found that their online personalities gave them confidence to be more assertive in life. I don’t have time to get into the full details of the meaning of these findings, but they certainly gave me something interesting to ponder on.

Plague in the World of Warcraft!

World of Warcraft, the online multiplayer game, is in serious problems.

Last week they put in a new quest for the game involving a big baddie who could cast a very nasty spell on your character that gave them a disease. This spell would instantly kill most characters, but not quite all. Survivors of the spell finished the quest or escaped and have now gone out into the general world and are (probably non-intentionally) infecting other characters controlled by players all over the world. For anyone who isn’t strong enough this means near-instant death, and the survivors then become contagious.

It’s all pretty nasty stuff. Some people spend a very long time building their characters, and now it’s like an outbreak of air-transmitted Ebola has hit the game, decimating the population.

It was once observed about computers that the more intelligent and complex they were made, the less possible it became to predict precisely how they would react to all circumstances. The World of Warcraft game has become sufficiently complex that disease has spontaneously found a way to escape the predictions of its programmers with devastating consequences. It’s just another case where our technology has escaped from our own control.

All this, coming to a Michael Crichton plot near you soon… (US link UK link)

More info here.

The Mystery Spot

A friend of mine in the US mentioned this place to me, and it sounds extremely peculiar.

The Mystery Spot.

Apparently gravity leans in a different direction there. No-one is sure quite why this happens, but it seems to be a reliable effect. Very odd. Has anyone been there? I’d love to hear some first-hand reports of the place.

30,000 volts of static – the jumper of doom

A chap in Australia was wearing a particular combination of man-made fibres and managed to generate 30,000 volts of static electricity, causing serious problems for the place where it discharged itself:

I don’t know about you, but this has huge potential to me. We could all wear this stuff then syphon it off into the national power supply. Wear it at the gym and then use the electricity to watch a bit of TV when you get home… Alternatively it could become a bizarre form of industrial espionage: banks could employ people to innocently discharge 30,000 volts into the cash machines of competitors. The possibilities are endless!

Didn’t his mother teach him anything?

Yes, Mr Bush, you really should go before you leave the house. President Bush wrote a note during a UN meeting asking Condaleezza Rice if she thinks he could take a toilet break. Good grief. Yes, we’ve all needed the toilet at inappropriate times, exams, interviews, and suchlike, but he’s the president of the most powerful nation on earth; you’d think he’d be in enough control of his body to be able to grin and bear it.

Also of note, apparently he’s not so hot on joined-up writing, but on the plus side at least he didn’t write that he needs to go pee-pee.

HOLD THE U.N.! Hell, they were only discussing the future of the entire organisation and the threat of global terrorism, who cares about that? PRESIDENT BUSH NEEDS TO PEE!

I believe I may have mentioned this before, but we are all doomed.

The Burger of the Gods

Now, usually I wouldn’t post on here about what I’ve eaten, but last night I created The Burger of the Gods.

Two slices of decent wholemeal bread
Mature cheddar
Jalapeno peppers (quite a lot of these)
Anchovies (the ones in olive oil with garlic and herbs, not preserved in salt because that kills the flavour)
A decent low-fat burger (all the taste of beef but without the nasty fatty taste in the mouth afterwards that you get from the cheap burgers)
A load of salad on the side.

You might wonder how I knew that this was The Burger of the Gods, but when I created it a beam of sunlight came down through the kitchen window (which is impressive at that time of evening in an east facing kitchen) and a holy choir descended from the clouds. Between the lowest angels a banner unfurled saying ‘this is The Burger of the Gods’. That last bit was a real giveaway that I’d made something special. And lo, I did it eat, and it was good.

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.

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.