Category Archives: Stuff

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!


Google gets Googled

Or, more specifically, the Google boss got Googled and isn’t happy about it. ran an article demonstrating how easy it is to find personal information on Google, and as an example found some info about the Chief Executive. Google wasn’t very happy and complained to CNet about the use of the their CEO’s private information in the article and has now decided that it won’t talk to CNet for a whole year!

It’s just another case of a corporation not being happy about the way people use its tools, and I always find these kinds of things amusing.

Adobe threw a similar sort of strop a little while ago about people using ‘photoshop’ as a verb, such as ‘that image has been photoshopped’. Apparently we are supposed to say ‘that image has been altered using Adobe® Photoshop® Image Manipulation software’, and, yes, you are supposed to put those ‘registered trademark’ symbols in every time if you are typing that. Aww, poor ickle Adobe are getting in a stress that their company’s products are so good that everyone uses the name as a verb. Diddums.

I can understand that the Google boss might not want his personal information available online, but it’s the situation that the rest of the world is in because of Google, so either they need to work out a way to prevent this or they will have to learn to live with it. I suspect that it’s going to be the latter (but if it is they won’t be telling CNet about it until next year).


Next version of Windows in pre-release virus shocker*

*may not involve actual shock.

I’m quite impressed. Before Microsoft have even released their ages-in-the-making new version of Windows, previously known as the entendre-creating ‘Longhorn’ but now officially dubbed ‘Vista’, there have already been viruses demonstrating security such vulnerabilities that Microsoft has had to remove an entire tool from the software. Ouch. That must have hurt.

What sort of name is Vista anyway? Vista is suggestive of a grand expansive view to the horizon, with majestic possibilities available to you. Then you put a Window in the way of it and you can only see a tiny portion of the view and maybe you can see more if you press your nose up to the Window, but then you just leave a smudgey mark that takes ages to get rid of, and your Window never quite works as well again.

Actually, maybe Windows Vista is the right name after all.

Anyone for juggling?

I’ve been going to the Crawley Juggling Festival for well over ten years now and they really are a lovely lot. This year’s festival is on the 13th-14th August in Crawley, near Gatwick. Most people turn up on the Friday night to wander, get set up for the weekend, and mingle with everyone else. They’re really a very friendly bunch, so if this sounds like your thing then maybe I’ll see you there!

MSN’s google, sorry, ‘search’ for Apple is fruitless, but the WTC can be found

The Register, one of my favourite websites for their rather odd blend of abject paranoia, cynicism, and good reporting, has pointed out something rather odd.

Micro$oft have decided to get in on the Google Maps game and so have launched their own version, but it appears to be missing the headquarters of Apple Computers, instead showing a plain field. That’s a bit odd…

The World Trade Center is still there too, which is odd and bordering on insensitive. It’s strange to see the towers casting their shadow down towards the river. From the angle of the sun you can tell that the satellite photo was taken during the morning, and the green of the parks suggest it was during the summer, so probably around breakfast time. It feels slightly strange to see this insignificant moment of history resurfacing so many years after the event that changed so much of the political landscape of the world over the last four years. I once read the entry for Hitler in an encyclopaedia written in 1934. There was a strange sense of ‘if only you knew then…’

On a less philosophical note, it would appear that if you want a map that’s at least vaguely recent then Google is still the place to go. Let’s face it, we ‘google’ for things, we don’t ‘MSN’ for them, and there’s a good reason for that. Still, a bit of competition always helps keep people on their toes.

The source article.

More on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas


The developments could spell trouble for Take-Two, but they also reinforce the company’s bad-boy image, a reputation that has made it a darling of gamers seeking raw, violent content.

The New York Times is rightly questioning the value system that says ‘violence is okay but sex is not’, but in this quote they show just how far there is left to go for the games industry to be understood.

The real reason that the Grand Theft Auto series has been so popular is simply that they are excellent games. GTA: San Andreas has a great storyline, better than many films; it shows the value and strength of friendship across class, racial, and age gaps. There is even some questioning of the morality of the previous games in the series as the lead characters struggle to make as close to a legitimate business as they can with the resources available to them. In the violent denouement to the game they fight against the oppression of abused authority to try to free their families and old friends from corruption in the police force… But still, such a great story with strong acting wouldn’t have been enough to make the game sell if it weren’t for the simple fact that it is really a very good game indeed.

I have never bought a GTA game ‘seeking raw, violent content’ and, while I admit that it has been an excellent promotional tool for the games, no-one would play them if there wasn’t a rock-solid game behind the crimes. When the NYT argues that the reason for the series’ success is the violence they are missing the point entirely. They are brilliant pieces of modern design that call on the social meme for excessive violence that happens in every other artistic genre from books to films. Gamers, like anyone else, enjoy good design. This controversy has simply highlighted how far developers have yet to go before their products are understood by the wider media.

Update on responsibility for hidden material

Well, the US Entertainment Software Rating Board has decided that the sexually explicit content that can be unlocked on GTA: San Andreas, despite not being part of the game without a hack being applied, is still part of the game and so have reclassified the game as being for ‘Adults Only’, AO.

More info:

So this means that in the eyes of US ratings a developer is responsible for every piece of code in games that they release.

How exactly are they going to enforce this? The adult scenes were removed from the flow of the final game, so they don’t feature unless you use the mod, so how were the ratings office to know that it exists? And how are they going to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future? Maybe ‘Play With The Teletubbies’ has a hackable set of scenes with the fur off but no-one’s found it yet…

This is very much a new-media problem. If you buy a book you’re not likely to discover hidden pages after you’ve read it a few times, and this only confirms the status of electronic media as being unlike previous industry models. People are constantly comparing games to the film industry, but the level of interaction and the ability for players to change the events means that developers are going to be increasingly out of control of the content.

I don’t know whether the unlocked scenes are in any way interactive (‘press alternate keys to pump’…?), it’s more likely that they are cut-scenes, premade but then left on the cutting-room floor. And there again we have the film industry metaphors leaking through.

It’s entirely possible that there is code lurking in many games to make the deaths of enemies more bloody (except perhaps in the case of the brilliantly enjoyable God Of War UK link US link where it’s unlikely that they could make the deaths of the mythological creatures any more violent!) but instead a toned-down version was eventually used. If these could be used instead, by applying a mod, does that mean that the game should have been rated differently?

I use the example of violence here on purpose. Partly because I’m British and our rating system views sex as natural, although still adult, so doesn’t go insane if a nipple accidentally slips out on national television (we all giggle and feel embarassed for the performer), but sees violence as something to be kept away from children where possible. I also use it as an example because it’s easier to draw a line between mild and extreme violence.

Beside the point of levels of acceptable sexual content (is flirting sexual? When does something become ‘adult’?) we also have the decision about the responsibility of developers to examine the ways that their code can be used. Clearly in this case explicit scenes were simply unlocked, but this was still not available to your average user of the game but the really big question raised by this case is how much modification does a mod have to make before its results are no longer the responsibility of the developer? I think that this is going to be an increasing problem as the gaming industry grows and the games become ever-closer to being photorealistic.

Iraqi civilian deaths increasing

Around 800 people a month are dying in Iraq from attacks by insurgents and it’s getting worse. The figures for the numbers killed in military operations haven’t been released apparently. If this doesn’t put the London bombing into perspective I don’t know what does.

“The Americans have to be smarter – to hide and lay traps for the insurgents,” Mr. Summaidai said by telephone in early July. “Not just to terrorize the community. That will not work.”

There’s the T word again. Terror. Apparently the US military are scaring the hell out of the population (no mention is made of other nationality forces). I’d love to say that this is a situation with a simple solution that the leaders are overlooking, but it just isn’t. The soldiers are scared, and that will always lead to them attempting to regain control by scaring the population. You can’t take the soldiers out now because that would leave a power vacuum which would likely result in even worse conditions for the country’s population, but leaving in there isn’t helping anyone either.

There’s no happy ending to this post, because at the moment I just can’t see the situation getting better any time soon, but it does reiterate that a four bombs and around 50 dead in London is nothing compared to the suffering that is going on in Iraq and that Britain is partially responsible for. It’s a tragedy for the families, and a terrible event all around, but it is not anywhere near the scale of suffering that is happening right now in Iraq.

There is a difference between Britain taking blame for these events in Iraq and taking responsibility, I don’t blame our government for being there, and there’s no point in going over old mistakes at this point; that doesn’t bring anyone back to life. We now have to take control of events as best we can and face up to the fact that the coalition is now responsible for trying to make Iraq as safe or preferably safer for its population than it was when we got there. We broke it, but all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s cannot put Iraq back together again.

Are you responsible for what remains hidden?

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has explicit sex scenes in the code… If you hack it

So here’s an interesting situation. The developers, Rockstar North, put these scenes into the code of the game, but then they decided not to use them. The code is sitting hidden away, and completely inaccessible to anyone playing it normally. However, a chap has programmed a mod that allows access to the unused scenes.

Now there is a problem with the rating: do you rate the game on what it does, or what it could potentially do? In the US it is rated M, meaning you have to be aged 17 or over to buy it, but adult content would be rated more highly. The game doesn’t actually feature any of the footage but should the developers be responsible for things that are hidden away from public view?

I can see the developer’s defence: it’s a bit like saying that because many painters work from a unclothed figure up when they paint then if a person is given access to an X-ray machine they could see the naked original sketches so the picture must be pornographic.

Does this mean that if I call variables in one of my game by offensive words then they would only be suitable for older viewers in case someone mods the game to display the variables on-screen? (I don’t, in case anyone could be bothered to check.) There have been countless mods for PC games to re-skin the characters as being naked. I guess the difference is that the code already existed in GTA, but the fact remains that it is the action of the individual that allows these scenes to be witnessed. Surely the fact that people choose for themselves to see these things would imply that they have knowledge of the content that they are unlocking and therefore they take responsibility for their own actions?

Maybe those scenes shouldn’t have been in there in the first place, but you can’t blame Rockstar North for having untidy code, I can think of a certain operating system manufacturer who would be in a great deal of trouble if you’re going to start doing that! Let’s face it, the unplugged security holes in Windoze have probably resulted in far more children being exposed to porn through Adware than will ever see the explicit content on GTA. To me this sounds like a combination of a nanny state and a lack of comprehension of the realities of coding. Sometimes my games have whole functions that I cut out because I change my mind mid-way through, but I leave them in the code in case I change my mind. Rockstar North probably did the same, so are they to blame if someone finds it?

Then again, I wouldn’t put it past them to have released details of the existence of the scenes deliberately to drum up some controversy…


Now here’s a bright idea:

It’s a search engine that donates 50% of their revenue to charities. Google will still reign as king of finding obscure things, but I’ll be using Everyclick for my everyday stuff. What a great idea. If you create a user-account there then you can choose what charity you would like to support too. There’s not big money rolling through there yet, but it’s a really good idea and one that I think deserves support.

Franekenstein and modern horror

I was watching a little bit of a Frankenstain movie from the 1950s tonight. It was basically rubbish, but the opening sequence made me think about the current political approach to terrorism.

The monster was lumbering after a nimble young woman, who was constantly screaming, fretting about being chased, and generally not doing a very good job of dealing with the business at hand (running away). The frankly rather rubbish and desperately ineffective monster slowly dragged his limbs along and eventually caught up with her after she had managed to corner herself in a lake (damsels in distress never choose good places to run to in movies, but retreating into waist deep water ranks pretty highly among the more stupid places to go).

This type of slow monster had been around for millenia, transferred from zombies and ghosts through into the modern technological beast that is Frankenstein’s creation, but why are they scary? Certainly there is some existential doubt evoked by them, after all, if inanimate flesh can be brought to life then what is to say that we are any better, maybe this means that we have no soul and that we are similar to the monster chasing us, simply going through life eating, excreting, and reproducing. This doubt is real enough, but I suspect that what the monsters evoke is something more primal than that, it’s a simple fear of ‘I don’t know how to stop this thing, and no matter what I do it still keeps on coming’. Like bad weather, a good monster is a force of nature that seems unassailable and immensely powerful. I think it’s also a feature of a good monster that it is somehow limited, often in time (appearing until dawn, for example), geographically (cannot cross running water, must not leave the haunted house), or simply in reach and ability (lack of speed, lack of numbers).

So what does this have to do with terrorism? I think that terrorism has been turned, by politicians who want a tool to keep the population afraid, into a lumbering mythic monster; capable of striking at the times of ease, implacable, lumbering, without personality, reason, or faces, but also capable of limitation, resources, and being fought. But what are the methods of fighting such a hydra? Cut off one head and another grows elsewhere. I stand by the reasoning I’ve held for several years: you have to combat this not by killing the monster but by tackling the forces that create it. I don’t mean simply apprehending Osama Bin Laden. While I would be as happy as anyone to know of his arrest I also seriously doubt it would make any difference to the level of terrorism in the world. I suggest that you tackle terrorism by disposing as quickly as possible with inequality.

Those are simple words for a massive task, but a good start would be to provide water, food, and shelter for the world. Even a tiny portion of what the US spends annually on the military could solve the world’s water problems in one year, and how much easier would it be to deal with a country that knows it cn drink because of your generosity? How much more stable would a country be if the people all had enough to eat and places to sleep? These are not things that are beyond our capability to grant.

I may be an eternal optimist, but I believe that if people can drink, eat, and sleep under a roof then this makes them substantially less likely to become radicalised into violent action against another country. In partilcular, such provision must be done without strings and for the good of the people, not for economic gain. The scrapping of selected third-world debts is intimately tied to the governments’ ability to permit first-world countries to exploit the new, cheap workforce. I don’t think that it can be a coincidence that in the seven months since China has finally been rumbling and realising that it is one of the most powerful economies in the world that the west has suddenly become determined to promote economic stability in Africa. Scrapping the debt is great, but turning the new populations into sweat-shop workers is not. I may be being overly cynical. We’ll see.

By contrast to my optimistic model, forcing governmental changes, killing families, and destroying basic facilities seems like a perfect method to create an army of dedicated to soldiers against you. Given that terrorist activity appears to be on the increase as a result of the ‘war on terror’ then it would seem that spraying Frankenstein’s monster with bullets is just making it angry, to make it stop you need to go back to the source.

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Zombie dogs! The world just gets stranger

We live in odd times.,10117,15739502-13762,00.html

Scientists have managed to keep dogs ‘dead’ for three hours before reviving them with no apparent side-effects for the animals and they plan to do the same to humans soon.

They switch the blood for cold saline solution which creates a state of hypothermia before death. Brain functions and the heart stops, effectively rendering the being dead by all modern definitions. The body then can be kept like that for a few hours before the blood is replaced and the body restarted with electric shocks and pure oxygen. I am the only one who finds this all rather freaky? What happens to the hypocratic (EDIT: oops, I mean ‘hippocratic’) oath when a doctor has to kill their patient for a few hours to stabilise them?

So, what happens after death? I guess we’ll be finding out soon. I can’t imagine that various religions are going to be very happy about this, but it’s certainly a very interesting development, albeit a very, very creepy one. I think the dead rising is pretty much the definition of the uncanny, so it’s not surprising that I find this more than a little spooky.

Mozilla and z-index in CSS – help!

I’ve been away for a few days, hence the lack of posts on here.

At the moment I’m a bit stumped. As with all web-designers, there is a problem with trying to get everything to work the same way on every browser. Currently I’m having problems with Mozilla.

The problem is that some people are seeing the side banners appearing over the top of the animations when they are viewing the web on a low-resolution screen. Statistically you’re probably reading this blog entry using Firefox or Internet Explorer (IE) and so if you were to look at one of my animations using a small browser window you’ll see the side banner sticking out from underneath the right-hand side of the animation. Obviously I don’t want the animations to have adverts on top of them, so I have used a system called CSS to define a z-index value for the animation and animation sections of the page.

The z-index is like 3D co-ordinates. On a graph you start from 0,0 on the X and Y axis, then the values change depending on where you move in relation to this, up or down, left or right. If you bring in the third dimension to your graph then that is referred to as the Z axis, and that is what you can set using a system called CSS.

CSS is simply a method of defining how various things look on a website. It’s a bit complicated to get your head around and less intuitive than simply drawing out a table, but it does allow you to do fancy things like layering when you need it. It’s very handy for making swift changes to the look of your whole website with only one file. Nice stuff.

My problem is this: the Mozilla browser doesn’t render the z-index the same way as the two main browsers, Firefox (hooray!) and IE (boo hiss!). Instead of the adverts nicely slipping away behind the animations on low-resolution screens they end up on top of them. That’s a bit annoying isn’t it?

Well, it’s not the end of the world: only .9% of my visitors use Mozilla, but if Mozilla is being grumpy then it’s possible that the other 5% of people using non-standard browsers are also having problems. I’ve looked around on the web, but can’t find a simple answer to this issue. Does anyone know a method of defining z-index values in CSS that is compliant with Firefox, IE, and Mozilla?