Archive for April, 2004

Off now

I’m off to Boston for the weekend now, possibly to watch whales.

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Bollard Sheep

bollards on the run

You know, this has already been suggested in the Halfbakery, as flocking road cones. (I see someone else there has already thought of this reference and added a link to the BBC story, as well as this much more complete but pictureless New Scientist story.) The real bollards are actually a lot less interesting since they’re not really very autonomous, but what do you expect for $700 each, even at prototype? I bet you could still reprogram them to spell out rude words or do the conga.

I love this sort of robot, the “distributed intelligence” or “ant” model (you may also have seen the jumping land mines recently which is another good example). It’s not just that they produce a good robust system for dealing with the real world, which is what robots should be about, they’re physical entities, I can’t remember the correct term for this, “embodied” I think… I dunno, they’ve got more character than Mars rovers. Perhaps this is because they mimic evolved solutions, so their behaviour seems more natural.

Proposal: Things have less “character” the clearer it is that someone else has built them.

I can see this needing graphing.

Anyway, I remember all the talk about how we’d be exploring and analysing the Moon and Mars with big gangs of tiny robots, and did we? No. We still shoot old-school single units out there, like they would have done in the 50s. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps they wanted it to travel long distances when it was on the ground. Perhaps it’s for PR purposes; they’ve decided that only geeks like me think distributed robot systems are interesting, the public wants a clear, identifiable Thing-That-Lands-On-Mars.

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Shoes Number One

Here we have some pictures of the “shoe hanging from cables” phenomenon.

I’m planning to make a list of all of the locations where it occurs, and take pictures at each place. #1 in the series is Underneath The Bridge Just Down From Manayunk Station. You will notice a total of four pairs of shoes, in two separate locations

pigeon.jpg (28K)

plus a free bonus pigeon. » Continue reading “Shoes Number One”

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Interactive response

The answers to questions previously posed, a day late, yes.

» Continue reading “Interactive response”

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…post three questions you’d like to ask me, and I’ll answer them tomorrow. Well, if you can’t think of three, fewer than that is fine.

As requested from Unravelling the Enigma, though I’ve been remiss in not following the rules. Y’know. I’m just a rebel.

(As a totally unconnected aside, I think there’s something rather suspicious about an edition of Fear Factor that only involves models as competitors, though as yet they haven’t actually had to do anything particularly disgusting or degrading, just things that involve them being in bikinis. Not that I have it on TV or anything. But don’t let that distract you from the question thing.)

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Why is it always the idiots who spam me?

This appalling man has left me voicemail telling me that he is a conservative pro-life candidate for Attorney General, and I should vote for him because he once got an abortion clinic shut down. And he’s conservative. And did he mention he was pro-life?

Voicemail spam (high quality Ogg Vorbis – much larger WAV if you can’t play that)

Well, you know what, Bruce Castor? I don’t like spammers full stop. Secondly, I don’t like spammers who are fucking stupid enough to spam entirely the wrong people – i.e. those who can’t vote in the first place. Thirdly, I don’t like people who say things like

as Attorney General I will vigorously oppose taxpayer-funded abortion and physician-assisted suicide


last month I spoke out strongly against same-sex marriage and my opponent Tom Corbett strongly criticised me


I’ve always staunchly supported the pro-life movement and our traditional values

without any apparent shame on my voicemail, as if I should be impressed by that, like he was a toddler proudly showing you his poo.

Bruce Castor

Now, I have no idea of who his opponent Tom Corbett is and quite possibly he’s an asshole too. However, following the approach dictated by my own traditional values, I am saying Vote For Anybody But Bruce Castor, Because Bruce Castor Is A Spamming Asshole.

Admittedly the vote is taking place tomorrow but if you’re planning to vote, don’t vote for Bruce Castor, whatever you do. You don’t buy things from spamming companies and you don’t vote for spamming politicians. Full stop, or period, depending on your dialect.

Actually, even if he hadn’t spammed me, I would have advised you not to vote for him anyway. This is simply an overwhelming reason not to. Only you can stop spam.

Edit: I’ve just switched on the TV and seen two of his bloody attack ads in the same break.

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Livejournal, organic social networking

If you’re a Livejournal member you will have noticed how increasingly common it is to refer to people in posts about real life events by their LJ usernames. Instead of “I went out to the gig with Andy and Bethan” we have “Met up with [info]triggerboi and [info]oldbadger, went over to [info]christyfoo‘s house”. (For the uninitiated, that’s what it looks like when you refer to other users in Livejournal entries.)

Now, in more traditional blogging circles, you might link to someone’s blog when mentioning them, but their username doesn’t take the place of their name, nor is it that common that the people you are talking about have blogs at all.

One could sneer and say that other bloggers have friends outside of teh intarweb. But it’s gone a bit too far for that. It’s not like LJers are a particularly unusual subset of the real world; I count a number of widely different people amongst my LJ friends, and the only thing they have in common is that they have an internet connection. They’re not (all) geeks, they don’t necessarily use the internet for anything else, they’re in the majority not as much of an obsessed netizen as I am. Moreover, Livejournal actually creates real-life meetings – organising social activities on it is common, and even mentioning what you are doing can mean that someone who is in the area says something about it. (I went to Seattle for a conference last year and met up with [info]kitanaor and [info]lurker; if there are any LJ people who are in Boston next weekend, or Montreal in a couple of weeks, I’d love to see you.)

What this says to me is that Livejournal is a far more effective social networking mechanism than any of the services that exist for that purpose. How often do you hear people talking about people they met on Friendster? » Continue reading “Livejournal, organic social networking”

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I would very much hope not

On TV just now, I have seen an advert for Buick that repeats its tagline, “The Epitome Of American Style”.

Were I American I would hate to think that Buicks were the epitome of American style. I mean, look at this thing. Is that stylish? Christ no. It’s an appalling lumpy piece of oversized SUVism. Even their more normal-sized vehicles are uninspiring and dull.

I know that I don’t own or drive a car, but I like to think that I have some aesthetic judgement regarding the things. I don’t own any buildings either but I feel able to comment on architecture. I judge that this is yet another illustration of the US car industry delving enthusiastically inside its own colon.

Incidentally, I saw my first Scion xB the other day, many months after I first wrote about it. I guess I haven’t been hanging around in enough areas occupied by “information rich, time poor, and highly technology savvy” consumers.

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“The only winning move is not to play”

Kuma Reality Games builds re-creations of real-world events using advanced gaming tools. KumaWar, the first Kuma Reality Game, is a first and third-person tactical squad-based game that provides multiple updates monthly to the consumer’s computer to reflect unfolding events in the real world. Each month KumaWar subscribers will receive playable missions, video news shows, extensive intelligence gathered from news sources around the world, and insight from a decorated team of military veterans.

I thought this was interesting in contrast to the 911survivor simulation/art piece, which I wrote about a while back. Again, we’ve got FPS mods. The intentions are entirely different, though, perhaps opposite. 911survivor took the “first person” component of a “first person shooter” and used it as a mechanism for giving the user an experience based on a real-life event. It was a mechanism to make an event more real for the user.

KumaWar does not do that. For a start, the primary purpose is entertainment, in the same way as any other wargame, be it based on history or fiction. Moreover it fictionalises a real-life event. Reality is modified into a game-friendly, enjoyable environment, by both careful subsetting of what is portrayed and also, I’m sure, distorting the actual situation in-game, misrepresenting the details (how could they not? Also, and I don’t want to prejudge them, but I imagine they’re going to be going by government press releases concerning the events, rather than independent sources) and using game mechanics (getting shot in a game doesn’t have quite the same effect as it does in real life).

It’s not a tool to bring greater understanding of what it is like to be in a certain situation. At best it’s a wargame like any other. At worst it’s a psyops reinforcement tool, helping the player maintain the Politically Correct version of events in their own mind – by reducing the conflict to a few strictly military set-pieces without consequence, it helps you abstract the situation to one of military jargon, conflicts, engagements, hostiles. The media have consistently proved that military terminology helps viewers avoid difficult questions like “what the hell are we doing there?” It’s easy to block out things that might cause cognitive dissonance by concentrating on technical details.

Now, if you were going to make a game based on invading Iraq, you could always make it a strategic-level one, where you had to balance your actions based on the orders you were getting from on high vs the risks to your troops from causing mass unrest. (Reviews criticise the game for having no balance – there doesn’t seem to be an effective strategy, everything you do or don’t do causes problems.) The criteria for winning the game are arbitrary, and you don’t know them. There may be no win conditions. You won’t know until you play all the way through; you might never know.

Or, you could go the opposite route, and have a role-playing game centred around the experience of actually being a soldier, where you create a character with a certain background and reason for joining the Army, and negotiate that person through day to day activity, trying to maintain not only physical but psychological health. See one too many friends killed, have one too many people spit on you in the street, and you start losing control of your actions – manning a checkpoint, the game suddenly takes over and you shoot a car full of refugees that didn’t stop in time. Maybe it could play with your perceptions, showing people as armed when they’re not.

Neither of these would be what we call fun but then, you know, it’s not a fun situation.

Incidentally, I hope this game isn’t seen by anyone who’s actually experienced the reality.

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The sun’s out

I took a picture of myself reflected in a black SUV. Now in the bus, where of course the air conditioning isn’t on.

Everywhere is exploding with blossom.

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