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March 05, 2006

Live action Simpsons credits

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Love this – the Simpsons credits redone as live action.

The actors don't look exactly like their cartoon counterparts (too many fingers, not yellow enough) but otherwise the accuracy of the copy is uncanny – the bit that cracks me up is the skateboard on the roof of the car.

March 03, 2006


Writing about web page

Interesting idea; a web site where universities or academic departments can publish details of public lectures and other open events. is a place to announce or find out about public lectures, seminars, debates, conferences and exhibitions going on in your area or subject field. is intended to promote active learning and academic collaboration; it is aimed at students, lecturers and anyone with an interest in learning or networking.

It's the work of one man, Steve Cooke, and his reasons for doing it are themselves interesting:-

A few years ago I was unable to work for nearly a year due to injury. To pass the time I attended a number of public lectures run by the politics department at Portsmouth University. In 2005 I realised that I could do something positive to promote these kind of events, which are often sadly under-attended. It's taken me a few months to put this site together, but I hope it will encourage many more people to enjoy the world of public education.

I'll be going back to the site over the next few months to see what volume and type of content ends up being published there.

February 20, 2006


Writing about web page

500KV switch opening, Nevada

Thanks to Max, here's an explanation of what's going on.

February 19, 2006

Writing about web page

Click to visit Despair.comYou know those supposedly motivational posters that say things like "You will never know what you can achieve unless you try" and "If you are not living on the edge, you are taking too much room"? At best they're irritating, at worst a waste of space.

Fortunately there is an antidote: makes posters and other stuff with what we might fairly call demotivational messages which are much more appealing. As well as the example shown here, some other quotes I enjoyed included:-

  • Incompetence: When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there's no end to what you can't do.

  • Meetings: None of us is as dumb as all of us.

And in a nice pop at the market that they're satirising:-

  • Motivation: If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.

Amusingly, I notice that this brand of anti-motivational material is now so popular that if you do a Google search for motivational posters then rather than any of the designers that they're lampooning is the first result.

February 08, 2006

Frame crazy?

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Bike with S-shaped frame

Insanely great? Or just insane? I wouldn't want to be hurtling downhill when one of those bends gave up the ghost.

Marshall Oak, Starfleet Captain

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Marshall Oak, Starfleet Captain

Marshall Oak has used Photoshop to digitally insert himself into 184 scenes from Star Trek. Everyone needs a hobby…

January 26, 2006

Online graph paper

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Click for graph paper PDF generatorThis is a clever and potentially useful idea – a web site where you can create PDF files of your preferred style of graph paper. Now if you happen to live near a stationers which stocks a wide range of graph paper then this might not be so appealing to you – buying graph paper is always going to be cheaper than printing pages on a laser printer.

But if you don’t have ready access to supplies, or you want something out of the ordinary, then this might be what you need; you can specify line thicknesses, colours, square size, paper size, and so on – and the range of styles goes far beyond just squares, including:-

  • Lined paper
  • Accounting and financial ledger paper
  • Graph paper
  • Asymmetric graph paper
  • Brick graph paper
  • Hexagonal graph paper
  • Axonometric diamonds
  • Tumbling block trapezoids
  • Dots
  • Cornell note-taking system paper
  • Calligraphy guideline paper

Worth bookmarking in case you ever need a page of 2mm graph paper with 1cm semi-bold and 2 cm bold, or a page of pale blue dots 2cm apart and 2mm in diameter. You never know.

January 25, 2006

Brain training

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Brain training Nintendo DS gameCabel Sasser writes insightfully about a new game for the Nintendo DS called Brain Training. Actually, I say "game" but I'm not sure if that's really the right word; it's a way of using your handheld console to do mental exercises.

What's slightly surprising is not that such a thing should exist but that it seems, in Japan at least to have been a runaway success – it sold nearly half a million copies in a single week, and has been the best-selling game in Japan since Christmas. As Cabel observes:-

Most importantly, though, Brain Training is doing what Nintendo said they would do but nobody really believed them on: opened gaming up to a whole new generation of players. Seeing grandmothers on the train holding their Nintendo DS like a book sends an instant signal "brain training in progress".

I'm looking forward to the US release of this so I can try it for myself (and hooray for non-region-locked devices!).

(As an aside, Cabel's blog is a thing of beauty; look at the subtle glow effects when you mouse over the "About" link, and the elegant pop-up you get when you click on it. Very nice.)

January 13, 2006

Car chase

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This is an eight–second video of an impressive piece of quick thinking. But is it real? It seems too good to be true.

Like the basketball link I posted a while ago, the fun part of it for me is figuring out whether it's real or fake, and if it's been faked, how?

Any of our regular driving maniacs enthusiasts have an opinion?

December 21, 2005

Image manipulation

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This is an interesting site which shows in reasonable detail how photos are manipulated prior to publication. It lists twelve separate changes to the original photo to arrive at the magazine cover version:-

  • Eyes
  • Teeth
  • Lips
  • Nose
  • Facial creases
  • Jawline
  • Cheek shadows
  • Hair
  • Shirt creases
  • Breasts
  • Waist
  • Shirt colour

You can see in detail what the before and after results of each change are, and the cumulative effects are both startling and depressingly familiar; isn't that just exactly how the covers of magazines look?

But the reason the site is particularly interesting, I think, is the rationale behind it. There are lots of sites which show how photo manipulation is done; some of them are just technical how-tos for Photoshop novices, others are just more gossip masquerading as authenticity. But the intended audience for this site is people who might be adversely affected by comparing themselves with digitally altered images:-

Bear in mind that many photos claiming to show reality don't do so. Be critical and do not compare yourself to someone who has gone through twenty hours of retouching.

The client for this piece of work? The Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. Kudos to them.

December 14, 2005

The day the sky fell in

Writing about web page,3605,1655273,00.html

Laurie was just 13 when he was killed by a rare and aggressive cancer. His father, Matthew Engel, describes losing his best pal.

I'm generally not a big fan of weekend supplements; their fashion, motoring, cooking, homes sections just seem like watered down versions of the magazines devoted entirely to those same subjects, and in more or less the opposite way to how I enjoy the New Yorker, their features and interviews somehow just never engage me.

But this is one of the most moving, heart breaking pieces I've ever read. Matthew Engel writes unflinchingly and honestly about an almost unthinkably awful sequence of events. It's an extraordinary and brave piece of writing, and I quote nothing from it because it needs to be read as a whole.

December 13, 2005

Copulating deaf couple unaware of own volume

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Monday night, a record number of noise complaints were received by Residential Security Officers in Roger Revelle College. Officers responding to the calls found the sexual activity of a deaf couple to be the source of the noises, which were described as "cacophonous" by witnesses.

Is it just me or is this hilarious?

December 09, 2005

Rocket Bob

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Fun diversion for a Friday afternoon. In this very cartoonish Flash game, your job is to launch Bob from one platform to the next. You give him a direction and speed and set him going, and he flies in a beautiful parabola, ideally landing exactly where you want and picking up some stars along the way, but more often hurtling into space or plummeting off the bottom of the screen.

There are a few tricks you can use to make life easier, though: Bob bounces off the left and right hand edges of the play area, so you can overshoot and bounce back. And you have a limited number of airbrakes, so if you miscalculate horribly, you can tell Bob to abandon his graceful arc and drop like a stone straight down from where he is this instant.

Eminently suitable for the older, slower gamer out there who needs a few seconds to plan his next move (cough, Tilbury, cough). But lots of fun for everyone else too.

December 02, 2005

The Stella Awards

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Via Popbitch: The Stella Awards are named after 81-year old Stella Liebeck, who spilled coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonalds for millions.

This year's runners up are:-

  • Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas. Won $14,500 after being bitten on the arse by his neighbour's beagle. Mr Williams was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun at the time.

  • Amber Carson was paid $113,500 by a Philadelphia restaurant after she broke her back from slipping on a soft drink… which she had just thrown at her boyfriend.

  • Kara Walton of Delaware sued a nightclub and won $12,000 after falling from a bathroom window and knocking out her two front teeth. This occurred while Ms Walton was trying to sneak through the window in the ladies room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge.

But the winner is:-

  • Mrs Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma who purchased a brand new 32-foot Winnebago. On her first trip, she drove on the freeway, set the cruise control at 70 mph and went out back to make a sandwich. She crashed. Then sued for the manual not advising her not to do this. The jury awarded her $1,750,000 plus a new motor home. The company then changed their manuals on the basis of this suit.

November 21, 2005

Winter Tales

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Update: seems the web site owners don't want people to link directly to the game, so you now have to go via their home page; the link is at the bottom right of the page.

I have a soft spot for these games where you lay down pieces of pipe or track to make a workable route for water to flow or a train to run or whatever. In this case, appropriately enough given the weather, you're making tracks through the snow for a snowman on skis to travel along. Cute.

My soft spot stems from the fact that way back in nineteen eighty something, I invented (as far as I know) the original one of all these, called Pipe Mania. Since then, the game has appeared on just about every platform known to man in one guise or another, including an arcade game, which is something I'm quite proud of; not many games start out life on home computers and make the transition to the arcades. (It also gave me a surreal moment in Weston-Super-Mare when I walked past an amusement arcade and heard my own music echoing out of the doorway as if to summon me to come and take a look.)

It's a very simple game, requiring little in the way of fancy hardware and even less in the way of programming skills, and for that reason it's a popular choice for people who are just starting out writing games, or for platforms which have limited functionality – PDAs, mobiles, web browsers, etc. There must have been a hundred versions since the original came out, some with cool new features of their own, some just straight copies. It's nice to see something done so long ago having such a great afterlife, and since it made a ridiculous amount of money for me, it seems churlish to begrudge other people their crack at it too.

November 18, 2005

Blue Balls Machine

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The Blue Balls Machine is a wonderful Rube Goldberg contraption that serves no purpose except to move, well, blue balls from one place to another. It's not a game, and not exactly a work of art; I don't know what I'd call it, exactly, except that it's mesmerising.

A quick look at how it's done reveals that the whole thing is one large (2.4MB) animated GIF, which is impressive enough by itself, but it's even more impressive when you realise that (a) it tiles (try resizing your browser window as big as it will go), and (b) the movement of the balls wraps around the image like asteriods in the old arcade game. The effect is to make a seamless, infinitely big machine, and if you can look long and close enough to see where every ball starts and ends up, then I don't believe you. (Pop quiz: how many balls are there?)

October 12, 2005

McSweeney's lists

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If you're looking for something to make you laugh, but you've only got about ten seconds to spare, then (a) You are Christopher Hinds, and I claim my five pounds, and (b) you should have a look at McSweeney's lists. The style and quality of the lists is a bit variable since anyone can submit one, but they're generally good for a chuckle, and some of them are outright brilliant. Some favourites:-

Never fails to cheer me up, no list takes more than ten seconds to read.

October 06, 2005

Mercedes–Benz mixtape

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For a while now, Mercedes-Benz have been making "mixtapes" available for free download. They're a collection of a dozen or so tracks which you can either listen to online at their web site, or download as a ZIP file to play on your own PC or iPod or whatever. The latest volume, number 9, has just been released and it's eclectic and fun – well worth a listen, especially since the download is completely free, completely unencumbered by any sort of dumb DRM and requires no sort of registration or otherwise handing over any personal data to MB.

It's a shame that they don't keep the earlier volumes around once they release the latest one; I only started collecting them at around volume 6 or so, so there's a fair few tracks I've missed. And it turns out that I only actually like about a third of the tracks in each collection. Nevertheless, it's still a cool and slightly unexpected thing for MB to be doing. They even provide a stylish PDF for a CD jewel case cover if that's how you want to use the files.

September 28, 2005

Gerin Oil

Ho ho ho. I thoroughly enjoyed this article by Richard Dawkins on the perils of Gerin oil (or Geriniol to give it its scientific name) and its intoxicating effects. Dawkins suggests that this powerful substance is both addictive and hallucinatory, and is responsible for many tragic acts of violence. He's puzzled, therefore, about its largely unregulated status, and the fact that it's not just tolerated, but supported by governments, often enjoying tax-free status.

That Dawkins, he's a card. I sometimes find him a bit ranty, but this piece goes in as smooth and sharp as a rapier. Elegant.

Gaiman & Whedon: Together at last!

Writing about web page,8599,1109313-1,00.html

If you're a fan of Buffy, Firefly, Sandman, Good Omens or any of a pretty long list of great fantasy work then this interview with Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman is a good read. They're both erudite, witty people, so their views on their own work and on pop culture generally are interesting and entertaining. Joss Whedon on the upcoming Wonder Woman movie he's working on:-

TIME: You're working on Wonder Woman now, right?
JW: I am.
TIME: How's that going?
JW: In my head, it's the finest film ever not typed yet.

And Neil Gaiman on the endless rewrite process that Hollywood insists on going through when adapting original work for the screen:-

JW: I find that when you read a script, or rewrite something, or look at something that's been gone over, you can tell, like rings on a tree, by how bad it is, how long it's been in development.

NG: Yes. It really is this thing of executives loving the smell of their own urine and urinating on things. And then more execs come in, and they urinate. And then the next round. By the end, they have this thing which just smells like pee, and nobody likes it.

I can't remember whether Time is one of those magazines that puts articles online for about a week and then moves them into a subscriber-only archive, so if you're reading this in 2008 and the link doesn't work then, you know, sorry.

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