Saturday, January 26, 2008

Art for Geeks

[Edit 2/1/08: This has been taken down. Link below now leads to somebody else's posting of the pic. Too bad.]

Just awesome. See the whole Flickr set. I could lay down some pseudo-intellectual crap about mash-ups and the convergence of technology, culture and past culture. Something about zeitgeist and... nah. Just enjoy 'em 'cause they funny.

Free... and now, easy

I love open source stuff. Who can argue with free? And with the idea that a community of users can work on something they love and make it good and, in some cases, better than a corporate version. Good stuff. Unfortunately, sometimes the price of "free" is that you have to be an enthusiast in order to get stuff to work. And while that can be fun if you are, in fact, an enthusiast... the difference between "not worth my time" and "whoa! cool!" can be measured in frustration.

Two new services (new to me, anyway) help put the "easy" into "free."

WinLibre bundles some of the best open source, desktop softare for Windows into one complete, customized download and install routine. You download one (pretty big... 151 MB) WinLibre setup file, choose the components you want, and BLAMO! they all get installed in one swell foop. Optional installs include Open Office, Firefox (and other free browsers), creativity software (Audacity, InkScape, Blender, Gimp), multimedia utilities and helpful Windows tools . A Mac version, MacLibre, is available, too.

On the Web front, JumpBox creates virtual machines that do easy installs for a number of popular, open source applications. I've installed a number of these "by hand" over the years (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, TikiWiki, PmWiki, MediaWiki and others), and it can be a royal pain. Others on the list I have tried... but couldn't get past the steep learning curve for installation. JumpBox promises to make the process of installing web-side software that much easier. I haven't tried it yet, but if I do, I'll come back and let you know how it goes. It can't be any harder than some of these installs (ahem... MediaWiki) are without support. There are currently 22 applications in the JumpBox library.

Previous post on open source, with list of additional free stuff.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I can't wait...

This looks awesome. Video below.


The first version is cool... Deluxe looks like a hoot-and-a-half.

Monday, January 21, 2008

O-Cubes: Objective Oriented Objects

Hey! It's been at least a year since I coined a new, ridiculous term. So here it is: O-Cubes (as in O's-to-the-third): Objective Oriented Objects. As per usual with the new term coinage, the aether fairly rings with the sound of, "What you talkin' about, Havens?"

Anyone mildly familiar with programming (I qualify as "mildly" in the most mild interpretation of the word "mildly") will know the term "Object Oriented Programming (OOP)." The basic idea behind OOP is that it's easier to have chunks of code that can be fitted together in various ways as opposed to writing all programs from scratch. See? Mildly mild familiarity... The "objects" in OOP are code routines. Not actual objects, of course. For O-Cubes I'm using the term "objects" with reference to rendered, 3D objects for use in games, virtual worlds, design, architecture, art, etc.

I had read somewhere else, but was reminded today, of a new 3D program called Dryad out of Stanford. The purpose of Dryad is to allow users to create virtual 3D trees using an intuitive, "game-y" interface. If you've ever done any 3D design, even with great programs, you know that designing 3D objects is, at best, a delicious pain.

In OOP, the assumption is that programmers want to start with reasonably discreet, meaningful chunks of programs, rather than from first-order tools. With something like Dryad, the assumption begins with, "Users want to create a tree that looks something like a tree, but with lots of options." That's a good assumption. I can't ever remember wanting to create a 3D image of a tree and thinking, "I hope it comes out looking like a Swiss Army Knife."

In standard 3D programs, you often start with what are sometimes called "prims." Which is short for "primitive," meaning "primitive geometric shape." Depending on the program, there can be lots or a few prims, and the tools to modify them range from simply (grow, rotate, stretch) to complex (combine, extrude, bevel). But, in the end, anything you build is made from lots of wee cubes, toroids, pyramids, etc., all woven together carefully over a loooong period of time.

What many users (me) often do, is search for a finished 3D object (from a royalty free collection, of course) that is close to what is needed, and then modify (mod) it. You want a blue, 1940's style sports car? Find a green 1960's style one and mess around with it. Much easier than primming a car from scratch.

Which is, essentially, what Dryad is doing: providing base forms to mod. They're just doing it on purpose, and with a specific end form in mind. I would call this a basic O-Cube: you have an objective ("I want a big, bushy red tree"), and the objects presented to you are oriented towards that.

Users of Second Life will be familiar with the in-game tool that lets you create very specific, highly customized avatars. You can change, simply by manipulating a couple dozen sliders, body shapes and sizes in an endless variety of ways. One slider, for example, will control leg length. Move it to the left, longer legs; to the right, shorter ones. The same goes for, as I said, dozens of other features: head, shoulders, knees (you can make them knocked or bowed) and toes (big or small feet). Further manipulation is possible by layering flat images (textures) on your avatar, both for clothes and "skins" (basically, clothes that are under all the other clothes). So, with almost no training, a player can create an avatar that looks like... well, just about anyone. This kind of avatar is another example of an O-Cube, of course. And I'm going to call the tools that allow you to create avatars (SL) and trees (Dryad) "O-Cube Extruders." Yeah. That's really odd and unsexy. Should catch right on.

But then, in Second Life, if you want to create anything else... it's back to pyramids, blocks, spheres, etc. In 20 minutes a design novice can create a person-figure that looks a lot like Albert Einstein. But in 20 hours, an Albert Einstein couldn't create a decent looking boat. Or car. Or shoe. Or tree.

Making the design of 3D objects *part* of the game is the next step in creating more interesting, compelling virtual reality spaces, I believe. I'd love to build my own wonderful, specific, creative house in Second Life. I just don't want to do it from blocks.

Is this the "dumbing down" of design? It depends on what level you examine the term "design." I haven't ever made my own paint from minerals and oils. But I have painted. Is that a dumbing down of the painting process? Same for graphic design: I use programs like Photoshop and InDesign. They are highly object oriented, in many cases.

Imagine a virtual world where there were "Dryads" for hundreds or thousands of objects. You want your in-game house to be a giant aquarium? Great. Rather than design 100 different fish pets from scratch, start with the Fish-o-matic.

What someone should design is a virtual world where the tools to make O-Cube extractors are provided. Sliders to control what the sliders control. That way non-programmers (and non designers) can create the things that they (and others) can then use to create things. Which will then populate the virtual worlds.

If that sounds far-fetched to you, try Second Life just long enough to mess around with the avatar creation tool. It feels very intuitive and is a bunch of fun. Now imagine being able to have that much control over all kinds of stuff.


Friday, January 18, 2008


I'm watching the 2nd season of "24" on DVD. I watched the first season recently, my wife having given me the two boxed sets for Christmas. For any of you who don't know, it's basically TV-crack.  If you watch the first two episodes of either season and think, "Enh. This isn't for me." You'll be fine. If you watch through three or more... it becomes very difficult to stop. It's not that they're fantastically great TV -- they're good, yes... quite good at times -- but that the show does a genius job at pacing, keeping the action going in nice rolling waves that almost peak at the end of each episode.

In an episode in the 2nd season (I won't spoil, don't worry), a character blames herself for things another character did, saying to Jack Bower [paraphrase], "It's all my fault. I should have seen that something was wrong. I should have stopped it."

Jack's response is beautiful and true. He says [exact quote], "There are things in this world that are just out of our control. Sometimes we like to blame ourselves for them so that we can try to make sense out of it."

Beautiful, true... and scary. We would rather believe that we have some effect on circumstances -- even a negative, harmful effect -- than that we are powerless. If we are responsible, there is, at least, some order. I know from having a shrink for a dad that this happens an awful lot.

I am a big fan of creating Meaning out of UnMeaning. Poetry, nonsense, humor... all these things are ways in which art and fun and knowledge can come from the creation of meaning where before there was none. But, in this case, I can't see a positive result. Yes, we should take responsibility for our actions. But assigning responsibility where there is none is less than helpful.

Making me glad, once again, that my alignment is "chaotic/good." My guess is that those in the "lawful" column are the ones that want to find connections where none existed in order to prove that justice and consequence flow in sensible streams.

Poetry is chaotic. Mercy and grace are chaotic. Just because you can't make sense of something doesn't mean it isn't true.


So, I sat down to read to my son last night. And in getting comfortable in a low chair, I start to make the old man noises. "Er... Umph... Mggg..." etc. But, for whatever reason, I ended with a hearty, "Choocachoomunga."

"What's 'choocachoomunga' mean, Dad?" he reasonably asked.

Not wanting to go with the truth (it means nothing, and was a set of meaningless syllables I popped out as part of my descent), I thought for a moment, and went with:

"Choocachoomunga... is the noise people make when they say, 'Choocachoomunga.'"

He was greatly amused. I admit, I amused myself a bit on that one. He immediately said, "That would work with any word you don't know. Ask me what something I don't know means!"

So I asked, "What is 'Barsoom?"

"Barsoom," he replied, "is the noise people make when they say, 'Barsoom.'"

He catches on fast.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"You'll think you have experienced it..."

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
-- H.M. Warner (Warner Brothers), 1927

Let's agree on one thing: different is different. Fine. That's pretty straightforward. But to say something is better or worse -- without giving some context -- because it's different... is ignorant.

Recently, David Lynch had a little video moment about how watching a movie on your ("fucking") phone is, in his words, "a sadness." He says that you can't "experience" the film on your phone. "You'll think you have experienced it, buy you'll be cheated." The video's been around the 'net and parodied, etc. Here's my favorite version:


Now... if you watch this YouTube video of an iPhone playing the video, rather than the original, and you think you've seen it, you're wrong. You may think you've experienced the 30 second interview with Lynch, but you're being cheated. My appologies.

If Lynch's obvious point is that films are created with an original intention that they be watched on a large screen, and that watching them on a much smaller screen is different... well, ok. That's fine. The experiences are, clearly, different.

But couldn't we say the same thing about watching films on TV? Or on the 8-of-12 screens at my local multiplex that are, frankly, way too small to be considered movie screens? The ones only about as wide as 10 seats. That's not a movie; that's a really big TV. You wanna see "Lawrence of Arabia," you should have to turn your head a little, even from half-way back in the theater.

Couldn't we say the same thing about eating while watching a film? The creators didn't write, direct, produce and perform the film with the thought, "I wonder how this will look and sound while someone is slupring Diet Sprite and mawing down a 2 lb. bag of Goobers." We could say the same thing about seeing the movie while drunk, stoned or tired. I've seen hundreds, if not thousands, of films in theaters, and I've fallen asleep for a moment or two a few times. Have I been cheated?

What if I don't understand the references in a movie? Either actual ones (vocabulary, history, geography) or tangential ones (art, cinematography, culture)? Am I being cheated if I don't "get" all the funky allusions in a Tarantino picture?

Follow this out far enough, and I don't think I can experience a David Lynch film uncheated... unless I'm David Lynch. He seems like a nice enough guy, sure... but I think my wife would be surprised if he showed up in the kitchen at 7 am tomorrow.

Who decides? In the creation of art, the author does, obviously. A writer or director or actor makes innumerable decisions about what to edit from any moment of a piece. You (often/usually) can't go back and ask for the early drafts or takes. You get what is put forward as the final piece.

But from there, it's up to you to decide. Do you power-read a book of Yeats' poetry so that you have a vague familiarity with it? Or do you spend some good, quiet time with each piece? Or do you read some background history on the work so that you can put it into a biographical and cultural context? That's up to you.

"You'll think you have experienced it" may be the most egotistical remark I've heard thus far this year.

Update: Another iteration. Thanks m_m:


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Dumb-ass hats

So, when my Dad was my age (early 40's), and I was a teenager, he'd embarrass the heck out of me by wearing a pith helmet while mowing the front lawn. Yes. A pith helmet. He had it left over from when he was in the Air Force. Not that they issued it to him. He just had it from back then.

He'd fire up our nasty, smoky old lawn mower and grudgingly hit the green. I inherited my loathing for yard work from my Dad. Not gardening; gardening is a lovely pass time. But the care, feeding, watering, cutting, raking, etc. of a patch of crappy, homogeneous weeds is truly noxious to me. If it was culturally OK to have a sand/rock garden in one's front lawn in Ohio, I'd do it.

Out Dad goes! Wearing the pith helmet; a short-sleeved, white, button-down shirt; plaid Bermuda shorts; dark socks; and sandals. You can imagine that I was somewhat... chagrined.

Until I got to be about...well, my age now. A few years back, I took to wearing a Tilly hat (see pic) because we found one that fit my great, huge noggin'. It keeps off the rain, the snow, and the sun. It floats. It has a secret inside pocket. It has a drawstring inside that can be worn three different ways. It is an awesome hat.

And, last summer, I went out wearing that hat, and a pair of cut-off sweats, and dark socks with sandals (cause the sandals chafe, but I didn't have [couldn't find] any clean white socks, and I had a window-of-opportunity of 30 minutes to mow before the rain was going to hit) and began to mow.

And then realized I'd become my dad. Cursing while mowing the lawn, wearing a dumb-ass hat. And it occurred to me why men of a certain age and type -- men like my dad, and now me -- wear dumb-ass hats: because we like them, and don't give a crap what other people think anymore.

God bless the moon, god bless me, and god bless my dad. Who taught me, silently (except for the cursing) to be myself.

[Note: I'm posting this in the winter because I feel like it, dammit!]

What (or *who*) counts as a distraction?

Ars Technica has a recent post featuring a study where "distractions" are blamed for US $650 billion a year in lost productivity in the United States. Intel's Nathan Zeldes is quoted as saying,"...the impact of information overload on each knowledge worker at up to eight hours a week." Ars also links to an earlier report from Pew (I heart Pew). In that study, 10% of Americans are described as, "Connected but Hassled," in that they, "have invested in a lot of technology, but they find the connectivity intrusive and information something of a burden." Another 11% are "Indifferent," who "despite having either cell phones or online access... use ICTs [information and communication technologes] only intermittently and find connectivity annoying."

I remember back when I worked in the cellular industry, and one of my co-workers once got really, really pissed at a friend who took every opportunity to tell him (and me, when we were together) how much his cell service sucked. It wasn't just the occasional complaint; this guy seemed to regard my buddy as the blotter for all his wireless woes.

So my friend eventually got fed up and said, "Look. If the service sucks so bad, next time you're stranded by the side of the road with a flat tire, or you're out of gas, or if you need to order a pizza from your car... try opening your window and hanging your head out and hollering. No matter how bad your cell service sucks, and how annoying you find the phone, I bet that living without it would bug you even more."

Now, to be fair, this was in 1995 or so, when dropped calls and bad connections were pretty prevalent. But my friend had a point; if you don't like it, lump it. I feel like a lot of the anti-connectivity sentiment stems from folks who either haven't read their manuals, or haven't really thought about what it would be like without their "distractions."

Do I find the technology distracting? Not at all. Not ever. Nope. Why? Because the tech is a tool. I can put it down. I can use an alternative. I can find a way to do things differently or more efficiently if I want. But saying that "connectivity" itself is annoying is a bit disingenuous, I think. Or, it's people being rude to technology, in order to spare the feelings of actual people. Which is fine, in the specific. I'd much rather have a good relationship with my family than my gadgets. But in the aggregate, it may be a bit hypocritical.

Why? Because when you are annoyed at "connectivity," or pissed at being "distracted," it's not really the tools that are troubling you, is it? It's the folks on the other end of the pipe. If you get 300 emails a day, it's not because your email service hates you and is trying to make you slit your wrists. It's because you've got some hundreds of people, departments, companies, etc. who have included you in conversations that you don't necessarily value.

Early on in the Age of Email, I had a boss who instituted, and insisted upon, a "no email while on vacation" rule. Whenever anyone in our group took at least a week off, he required us to remove them from emails, cc., etc. "If you need something, wait until they get back and call them. Odds are the issue will be resolved by then anyway."

He wasn't just shielding the vacationer from a ton of emails when he/she got back; he believed that cc:ing folks on email when there was no chance of them answering in a reasonable time was, simply, bad business. It gave the sender, and other recipients, a false sense that Mr. NotHere was somehow "in the loop," when the reality was exactly opposite.

That's the kind of rule you need in your life if you find connectivity to be an irritant; manage the voices, not the tubes.  Make sure your friends, family and coworkers understand your priorities, and how/when you can (and can't) be reached.

It's only a distraction if it's not wanted. And the technology just makes both wanted and unwanted communication easier.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


I go back and read W.B. Yeats now and then. His stuff exemplifies a term that I've grown to love; creepy-cool. I recently read this by him:
The Dolls

A DOLL in the doll-maker’s house
Looks at the cradle and balls:
‘That is an insult to us.’
But the oldest of all the dolls
Who had seen, being kept for show,
Generations of his sort,
Out-screams the whole shelf: ‘Although
There’s not a man can report
Evil of this place,
The man and the woman bring
Hither to our disgrace,
A noisy and filthy thing.’
Hearing him groan and stretch
The doll-maker’s wife is aware
Her husband has heard the wretch,
And crouched by the arm of his chair,
She murmurs into his ear,
Head upon shoulder leant:
‘My dear, my dear, oh dear,
It was an accident.’

And it reminded me of something I wrote. Though I hadn't remembered his when I wrote mine:
No pressure

Jenna collected bleak, broken dolls.
Snatched back from dumpsters, yard sales, consignments.
Blind socks full of rags.
Bare, pink plastic torsos.
Porcelain tea-cup heads, mapped with vein cracks.
Hair torn out, fingers chewed,
faces bleached, headless.
Smelling of powder, soap, sweat, paint and dirt.

She put them on shelves
in the light of her window.
Paired them up. Match-made them.
Gave each a place.
Made sure they were dusted
and nestled in families.
Sang them to sleep at night.
Smiled them awake.

Easy, so easy, to love what is broken.
No fear of failure.
No future of doubt.

They're already ruined,
her cracked, shattered babies.
Do anything to them,
she'll still be
their saint.

What is it about dolls...