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September 26, 2005

Million dollar home page

Writing about web page http://milliondollarhomepage.com/

Picture this: You're 21, you're about to start university, and you don't want to leave with a hulking great debt in three years time. Not an uncommon picture, I think you'll agree. So what do you do? Get a job at Tescos? Live frugally? Hit your parents up for as much as you think you can get away with? If your answer was any of the above, then compared with Alex Tew, you're a loser. He's going to be starting university with, as of this writing, 144,000 dollars (which is currently about £81,000). And he's accomplished this impressive feat with something which if you'd described it to me, I would have said can't possibly work: he's selling off pixels on his home page for a dollar a pixel.

Now if your reaction is anything like my reaction then you're thinking this can't possibly be true, and maybe it's not – maybe it's an elaborate hoax. But if it isn't, then I take my hat off to the guy; he's managed to persuade plenty of people that they should buy space on his home page for no better reason, apparently, than that he guarantees to keep it around for a while.

It's one of those slightly circular ideas that only works because it works. Clearly you don't need to buy space on this home page in order to get an advert on to the internet. But if enough people buy some space, it becomes interesting enough for other people (like me) to notice it and write about it. So more people go and take a look which in turn means that more people decide that maybe this is a novel way to be seen by lots of eyeballs, which means that… and so so, and so on. This weekend, the national press got the story and interviewed him, which in turn, I bet, means that still more people will buy some pixels and, as his site puts it, "be a part of internet history". It's a bit like being whats-her-name, the first person who figured out that you could leave a webcam running 24 hours a day in your apartment and people would want to come and watch. My guess is that once he'd sold twenty thousand pixels, the thing was more-or-less bound to take off. I've no idea, though, what motivated the people who bought the first ten thousand pixels or so.

But if it's true, then it looks perfectly plausible that he could clear half a million dollars before he starts his first class. Don't you wish you'd thought of it?


September 20, 2005

Pinkerton's internet quiz results

Writing about web page http://www.jaypinkerton.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=767

Apparently I'm not the only person who thinks that internet quiz results can be, well, kind of silly. This is just one of a dozen or so Photoshopped quiz results from the funnier-than-I'll-ever-be Jay Pinkerton. They're pretty much all good (I also enjoyed "What piece of furniture are you?" and "Which sex are you?") and for a little while at least have served as a refreshing antidote to seeing quite a lot of real quiz results.

September 12, 2005

Blackboard Jungle blog

Writing about web page http://blackboardjungle.blogspot.com/

My son Cameron started school last week. Apart from being dizzying proof that time is a construct, and a pretty feeble one at that (he's four years old yet I vividly remember his birth since it was no more than three months ago), the other side-effect of this event is that it's taken me back into schools for the first time in twenty years or so. All the schools I went to look at seemed pretty good; well managed, children enjoying themselves, teachers teaching. But this blog is heart-rending proof that schools aren't always like that:-

There's a small figure at my elbow, as I listen to eleven year old Jody haltingly read through her work. He hovers, uncertain, a three and a half foot high shadow just out of peripheral view.
An age passes. I look up, and see old eyes in a tiny, young boy's body.
"Miss, can I tell you something?"
Is it about school, Michael?
He can stray a little from the subject on occasion. I've learnt the dividends this question can offer. Serious nod. Tears forming. Nervous lips ready to speak, but not wanting to say.
Is it something you want help with?
"Miss, I'm being bullied."
The drama of the statement belied by the whispered delivery.

This is a great blog, one that takes you right into somebody else's life and leaves you (well, me, anyway) staggered at just how well people can do a job that I couldn't begin to contemplate, and how those jobs contain both tragedies and triumphs.


September 05, 2005

Casual fortunes

Writing about web page http://www.escapistmagazine.com/print/8/14

I hadn't come across The Escapist before but it's an interesting read on the subject of (video) game development. I particularly enjoyed this article on the subject of why developing smaller, indie games is a better bet both financially and as a career than working for (say) EA.

If I went indie and worked for myself creating casual games:-
  • I could make two or three games each year instead of one every two years, for a cost of thousands, not millions.
  • I'd work alone or with a couple of others, not on giant teams rife with politics.
  • I could be my own boss, pick my own projects, own my own intellectual property, set my own hours, and do the marketing right, instead of coping with my idiot publisher.
  • I could do something weird and innovative instead of just tweaking ten-year-old gameplay, and reach an audience ten times as large.
  • My games might sell for years, not months, so I could actually polish them instead of shipping an untested beta in time for Christmas.
  • People might play my games obsessively for months or years, not blow through them in ten hours and move on.
  • And if I do absolutely everything right - which is under my own control - I could eventually earn two or three times my current salary. Or more. Personally.

Of course, these are all "could" and "might". But there's something in it, I think.


June 13, 2005

Linux, beer, paintball and Wolverhampton

Writing about web page http://www.lugradio.org/live/2005/

Are you sick of Linux Expos being all corporate and boring? Do you like drinking beer with Linux people? Then LugRadio Live is for you!

LugRadio Live 2005 is the expo for people who like some fun with their Linux. Taking place in Wolverhampton on Sat 25th June 2005, we've got beer, some cool speakers, lots of Linux, and no corporate salesmen. If you like LugRadio, you'll love LugRadio Live.

Speaks for itself, really. I can only conclude that this is a conference which really, really knows its audience. Check the feature list:-

  • All day bar
  • Two speaker stages – the main stage and the lightning talks stage (lightning talks managed by MC Sweet)
  • LUGRadio: Live and Unleashed – first ever LUGRadio recording in front of a live audience
  • The Mass Debate – a panel of guests will answer questions from the audience
  • Community meet and greet
  • LAN gaming with Enemy Territory
  • Paintball the day after.

Beer, gaming and paintball. It's only barely a conference at all, for god's sake.


June 10, 2005

Escher Photoshopped

Writing about web page http://www.worth1000.com/cache/contest/contestcache.asp?contest_id=3447

I've always loved the perspective-bending art of M C Escher, so the recent Worth1000 contest inviting readers to produce their own, Photoshopped takes on Escher's style is a treat for me. It's interesting to see which of his famous images gets re-used the most; I'd say it's a toss-up between the apple peel image and the self-portrait in a glass globe (making the M C Hammer self-portrait particularly droll).

But if we ignore the obvious reuses (although some of them are extremely well done, like the Escher apple peel balloon – not four words you see next to each other every day) then my favourite, because it's relatively subtle and understated, is the "Escher Nights" mockup of the glass, the bottle and the impossible perspective.


June 06, 2005

The Monster Engine

Writing about web page http://www.themonsterengine.com/openingpage.html

This site springs from a simple premise:-

What would a child's drawing look like if it were painted realistically?

It turns out that they'd generally look sort of Tim Burton-esque rather than photo-realistic or in the style of any more classical artists. But the real charm of the thing is seeing the child's original side-by-side with the artist's interpretation of it. There's a reduced-size sample here, but the full-size originals, and their transition from child's drawing to painting, are about as charming and appealing as scary monsters can be. I can easily imagine from showing my own son this site that it'd be such a thrill to see your monster realised in this way. His favourite, and one of mine too, is the Pizza monster – he likes the monster, but I love the wonderfully sympathetic backdrop that's been painted in too.

There's also a cute and on-the-money interview between the painter and one of the children who provided an original.


May 26, 2005

Store Wars

Writing about web page http://www.storewars.org/flash/

This is awesome. Star Wars remade in a supermarket, with the plucky organic produce fighting against the evil empire. I wonder if it's an authorised reuse of characters, music, etc.? If not, see it while you can, since the C&D can't be far away.

"Thai Fighters", indeed. Ha.


April 13, 2005

Microsoft Good Judgement

Writing about web page http://www.jaypinkerton.com/blog/archives/001156.html

We could do with one of these for WB. Only its rule list would be a lot longer.

April 10, 2005

How to destroy the earth

Writing about web page http://ned.ucam.org/~sdh31/misc/destroy.html

Destroying the Earth is harder than you may have been led to believe.

You've seen the action movies where the bad guy threatens to destroy the Earth. You've heard people on the news claiming that the next nuclear war or cutting down rainforests or persisting in releasing hideous quantities of pollution into the atmosphere threatens to end the world.

Fools.

The Earth was built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you've had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy.

I don't know whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that there are people prepared to expend this much intellectual effort on something that's impossible, disturbing, and impossibly disturbing. But it's fun, if you scored more than, say, 95% on that geek test thingy that did the rounds a month or so ago (and with 100,000 hits it seems that there's a sizeable audience of whom that's true).


January 24, 2005

Iced–out belt buckle

Writing about web page http://www.icedoutgear.com/BB58.php

Thinking of nobody in particular, it seems to me that this belt buckle would be ideal for some Warwick bloggers.

Six messages, 256 characters per message, control the brightness, control the scrolling speed. Awesome.


January 06, 2005

How well do you know how much you know?

Writing about web page http://roughly.beasts.org/

This is a quiz with a clever extra twist: as well as asking you to answer some questions, it also asks you to estimate how far out your guess might be – so your answers take the form of a plus or minus b. Thus you're indicating not just your knowledge but your degree of confidence in your knowledge, and when you've done the quiz, you can find out not just whether you were right, but how self-aware you are about your areas of expertise.

There's also some commentary by the author of the quiz, together with some graphs showing the spread of responses to some of the questions. Fun.


October 27, 2004

Cornell note–taking system

Writing about web page http://people.ucsc.edu/~mwax/resume/write/rubric/cornellnotesys/

I had no idea that there were methodologies for improving one's note-taking. Why did nobody tell me about this, er, 21 years ago? Wonder if there are other, competing methodologies for better notes; research needed.

September 11, 2004

Change this

Writing about web page http://www.changethis.com/

The web site Change this is quite interesting. It's apparently not-for-profit, has no adverts or sponsorship, was created and is run by a small group of US interns, and publishes a range of articles (they call them manifestos) contributed by various authors, some well known, others not. Some of the focus is on business, but other articles cover science and personal issues. They also have an interesting model for future articles; they invite ideas from prospective authors, then publish them on the site and ask their readers to vote for the ones they think look interesting. And their copyright position is imaginative too; anyone can host any of their manifestos on their own site, or redistribute it to others in any way they wish, as long as they don't alter the content.

Some quotes from some manifestos that caught my attention:-

You need to make it both possible and profitable for employees to help customers. That generally means reviewing your operations to find the bottlenecks and disconnects that seemingly transform well-meaning employees into naysayers that refuse to help customers. (http://www.changethis.com/3.Less )
Fact No. 1: We all have 50 genuine priorities. Fact No. 2: If we get even two Big Things Done in a six-year tenure on the current job, we will have had a… Great Ride. Axiom No. 1: Therefore, what we choose not to do is at least as important, or more important, as what we choose to do. But effective "To-Don't" lists are far, far, more difficult than effective "To-Do" lists. (http://www.changethis.com/2.ThisIBelieve )

The other thing that I think is interesting about the site is that the manifestos are published as PDFs. I'm not generally a big fan of PDFs unless the document is intended specifically to be printed, so when I first looked at the site, this seemed like a big downside. But to my surprise, the PDFs they've created have gone some way towards making me think again about what PDFs can be good for, because they've done some smart things:-

  • They've chosen an aspect ratio for their PDFs that's well-suited to the screen, rather than well-suited for printing. So their PDFs are roughly 4:3-ish, and as a result, when you open one, it fits well into your browser window rather than leaving acres of empty space to its left and right.
  • They've set a sensible viewing default, "Fit to available space". So if your browser window is a reasonable size, the PDF fills it and the text is immediately a comfortable size.
  • They've hidden all the PDF toolbar cruft away so the document feels more like a regular web page.
  • They've put simple controls actually into the footer of the document, and also on the keyboard. So left & right arrow keys step through the document one page at a time, no scrolling needed.
  • They've designed the layout and typography to work well on-screen. The documents look good, use colour, space, fonts and imagery elegantly, and of course, as PDFs, they are pretty much device-independent.

I don't know much about how PDF files in this style are created, but it almost makes me wonder if files like these couldn't be used as simple learning objects.


May 31, 2004

Prime excitement

Writing about web page http://www.mersenne.org/24036583.htm

On May 15th, the new largest prime number was discovered. It's 224,036,583-1 (so it's a Mersenne Prime – the 41st such, in fact), and it is 7,235,733 digits long.

I don't know why this pleases me so much. As far as I understand it, new prime numbers have no special mathematical significance (any mathematicians know any different?), yet it seems strangely pleasing that they can be discovered in this way.

(And this posting has also let me experiment with superscripts, and discover that they're broken if you don't put a space before them, which you almost never do with superscripts. To Jira forthwith! (Sorry, Kieran.)


May 29, 2004

Talkin' trash

Writing about web page http://www.retrocrush.com/

If this list appeals to you (and if it doesn't, then why not, dammit?) then you're wasting valuable time reading to the end of this sentence when you could be visiting Retrocrush:-

  • 80s denim acid wash explosion
  • Bad-ass ballin' bedrooms from the 70s
  • My favourite robots
  • The 50 coolest monkeys of all time
  • The black students of Hogwarts
  • My female action figure collection

May 28, 2004

Daddy types

Writing about web page http://daddytypes.com/archive/2004/05/27/where_all_the_decent_cupholders_at.html

If this isn't a spoof, it ought to be. A blog by a new dad, deeply concerned with (and I kid you not) issues such as "Which buggies have cup-holders on them", "Where are the changing tables in NYC?" and "What's a cool Rocker T-shirt for my baby?".

(Actually, it's not all as bad as that; some of it is reasonably insightful. Sort of. A bit.)


Baby names go mad

Writing about web page http://www.notwithoutmyhandbag.com/babynames/5.html

As hard as naming babies actually is, some of these extracts (and the harsh – but fair – responses to them) make you wonder just what some people are thinking.

May 26, 2004

Duckomenta

Writing about web page http://www.duckomenta.de/

This is strange, compelling, and just brilliantly done. Artworks from all periods of history redone to replace their original subject with one Donald Duck. I'm not going to link to any of the images because seeing them as a collection (nay, a gallery) is a crucial part of the effect. But I urge you to take a look. Someone is both good with PhotoShop a talented artist and has a sense of the surreal that you could throw a stone into and wait a long time for it to hit bottom. The Magritte and the Raffael are particular favourites.

May 22, 2004

Ultimate blog system?

Writing about web page http://mpt.phrasewise.com/2003/05/02

Matthew Thomas describes the set of features that he believes the ultimate blogging system should have. How close are we? Not great, though not too bad, but then of course we're not trying to make a system to be adopted beyond Warwick. (Not yet, anyway ;-)

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