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Monday, April 30, 2001

Imitation Meme
Heromachine is another nice little avatar maker (remember that whole storTrooper craze a while back?) that is themed more towards fantasy and superheros. Once again, its a lot of fun and I made myself a rather bland one, but it'd be pretty easy to make a really wierd one. [Thanks Drifter, via the 4degreez boards.]
Posted by Mark on April 30, 2001 at 01:43 PM .: link :.

Thursday, April 26, 2001

Disjointed, Freakish Reflections™ on the Dark Side of Blogging
DyRE's Guide to Minimising Exposure to Intellectually Deficient and/or Damaging Acts of Blog is quite the handy (and humerously verbose) guide to avoiding those certain blogs that tend to drain your brainpower. While this is an excellent primer for what to avoid in the dangerous wasteland of bad blogs, there are some things I'd like to add. They aren't as foolproof as DyRE's rules, but I think they are important to note. First is the "lack of emphasis" type of blog; a page with no links, no bold text, no italic text, and very few line breaks - just solid text. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this one, probably a lot, but its something that irks me. If you are familiar with the regular A-list blogs, you'll note that there are many impish imitators who will do nothing but post links lifted off of MetaFilter, kottke, megnut, etc... I don't know how these people expect to gain legions of loyal visitors when all they do is recycle links everyone has already seen!

Ok, enough complaining about bad weblogs. Its easy to complain without providing a possible solution. So how does one actually go about creating a smart, compelling, readable blog? Here are Ten Tips for Building a Bionic Weblog. Its probably the best advice anyone starting a weblog could read and I wish more blogs would contain the sort of qualities that article speaks of. If you were to read my archives, I think you could possibly pinpoint the first day in which I read that article (well, maybe not, I did have some relapses, but I think I'm doing ok - aren't I?)
Posted by Mark on April 26, 2001 at 09:17 AM .: link :.

Monday, April 23, 2001

Vertical City
"Bionic Tower": A 300-story supertall building originally proposed for Hong Kong is now being considered by China's leaders for Shanghai. Its European designers describe it as a "vertical city". It would house 100,000 people and contain hotels, offices, cinemas and hospitals, effectively making it possible (not necissarily preferable) to live an entire life in one building. "Dwarfing Kuala Lumpur's twin Petronas Towers, the world's tallest buildings at 1,483ft high, it would be set in a gigantic, wheel-shaped base incorporating shopping malls and car parks." The designers have devised a root-like system of foundations that would descend 656ft, surrounded by an artificial lake to absorb vibrations caused by any earth tremors. Amazing stuff; it reminds me of the gigantic cities of The Caves of Steel, where cities spanned hundreds of miles and were ultimately self-contained (which caused a nasty fear of open spaces). Such an undertaking is an engineering nightmare. If attempted, it could quite possibly fail miserably - there are so many factors and pitfalls to be avoided, that there are bound to be some unforeseen consequences...[via /.]

If this venture is successful, however, it seems like it would be the world's first successful arcology. From the Arcologies egroup discussion:
Arcology is Paolo Soleri's concept of cities which embody the fusion of architecture with ecology. The arcology concept proposes a highly integrated and compact three-dimensional urban form that is the opposite of urban sprawl with its inherently wasteful consumption of land, energy, time and human resources. An arcology would need about two percent as much land as a typical city of similar population. Arcology eliminates the automobile from inside the city and reserves it for use outside the city. Walking would be the main form of transportation inside an arcology. The miniaturization of the city enables radical conservation of land, energy and resources. Arcology would rely as much as possible on the sun, the wind and other renewable energy so as to reduce pollution and dependence on fossil fuels. Arcology needs less energy per capita thus making recycling and the use of solar energy more feasible than in present cities.
Posted by Mark on April 23, 2001 at 09:42 AM .: link :.

Friday, April 20, 2001

File this under "Corny"
The Collective Unconsciousness Project is an interesting attempt at creating a non-linear experience based on chance and the user's interactions. Users can contribute to the site by logging their dreams, then they can explore the dreams, which will be an environment that will allow you to travel from dream to dream in a non-linear yet interconnected way - without being made aware of what those connections are, and without being in control of the path you take. The flow will be based on things like the dream you are currently viewing, what you've viewed in the past, what dreams you've entered into your dream log, what emotions are related to that dream, etc. Unexpected connections will be made, with hopefully interesting results. Its not functional yet (not enough people have entered dreams yet), but once it is, I think it would be worth viewing... Go and enter your dreams now (no registration required).
Posted by Mark on April 20, 2001 at 04:41 PM .: link :.

Thursday, April 19, 2001

Opera 5.11
What a wonderful browser Opera 5.11 is. The mouse navigation by gesture recognition, though hardly a new thing, is well implemented and clever. Theres lots of other nifty features (session storing, skins, command line switches), my personal favourite being the new web spider. Simply click Ctrl+J and you'll get a list of all the links on a given page (which can be exported to HTML) Another great feature is the much improved download manager, which allows you to resume downloads. I've always liked Opera, but I've never used it consistantly... until now. For all you fellow Opera users, here's a page by one of the Opera developers that has skins, customisations and user style sheets (among other things). Thanks to grenville for posting the info on the DyREnet Message Board!
Posted by Mark on April 19, 2001 at 10:52 PM .: link :.

Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Houston, we have a blue screen of death
Commander William Shepherd kept a mission log during the initial 136-day shift aboard the International Space Station. The log is fun reading, and you can't help but sympathize with many of the frustrations they are constantly facing. As the Laboratorium notes, many of the problems were computer related, and funny as hell. Its a fairly comprehensive list of computer problems, and its quite funny.

While many of those computer systems did have problems, it's important to note just how well NASA's aerospace applications work:
This software never crashes. It never needs to be re-booted. This software is bug-free. It is perfect, as perfect as human beings have achieved. Consider these stats: the last three versions of the program -- each 420,000 lines long-had just one error each. The last 11 versions of this software had a total of 17 errors. Commercial programs of equivalent complexity would have 5,000 errors.
Which is really how it should be for something that pilots a space shuttle, but then, writing software for such an focused set of criteria makes things somewhat easier to implement:
Admittedly they have a lot of advantages over the rest of the software world. They have a single product: one program that flies one spaceship. They understand their software intimately, and they get more familiar with it all the time. The group has one customer, a smart one. And money is not the critical constraint: the groups $35 million per year budget is a trivial slice of the NASA pie, but on a dollars-per-line basis, it makes the group among the nation's most expensive software organizations.

And that's the point: the shuttle process is so extreme, the drive for perfection is so focused, that it reveals what's required to achieve relentless execution. The most important things the shuttle group does -- carefully planning the software in advance, writing no code until the design is complete, making no changes without supporting blueprints, keeping a completely accurate record of the code -- are not expensive. The process isn't even rocket science. Its standard practice in almost every engineering discipline except software engineering.
The shuttle software group is one of just four outfits in the world to win the coveted Level 5 ranking of the federal governments Software Engineering Institute ( SEI ) a measure of the sophistication and reliability of the way they do their work. [Thanks to the Laboratorium and norton for all the info]
Posted by Mark on April 17, 2001 at 09:58 AM .: link :.

Monday, April 16, 2001

A.I. Internet Mystery
It seems the marketing guys at Dreamworks/WarnerBros have been hard at work setting up an intricate web of sites that pertain to the world of the upcoming film A.I. in the mid-22nd century. Apparently this has "set off an entire underground of researchers who are uncovering more and more of this web of mystery. There are entire layers of plot centering around the murder of one Evan Chan involving affiars and various humans and A.I.s. There are real phone numbers to call, emails which send back clues, places people have left there phone number and may be called back, and passwords and access codes etc to uncover new pages in the mystery." Wow, while those marketing fellows are most likely evil, I have to admit, they are running quite an interesting show over there. There are even rumors that this internet mystery is not limited to a static, linear flow; that the marketing fellows are actually altering the websites as needed based on progress made. Theres a bunch of interesting discussion dedicated to the A.I. game, including a yahoo group, CA's thread and AICN's. Much of this is most likely the work of a bunch of evil ad agency trolls who are pushing and manipulating the discussion ("these guys made that kick-ass game called Majestik"), but its interesting nonetheless.
Posted by Mark on April 16, 2001 at 01:07 PM .: link :.

Friday, April 13, 2001

The Book of Five Rings
Miyamoto Musashi is an interesting fellow. A ronin (masterless samurai), he roamed feudal Japan in the early 17th century regularly fighting scores of men alone, and winning. Late in life, he dictated the secrets he had learned throughout his travels, calling it The Book of Five Rings. Each of the first four rings (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind) deals with a different aspect of overcoming adversity, while the last ring reveals what he saw as the innermost tenet of his philosophy. I was introduced to this subject by a rather elegant 5k entry. Vote here.
Posted by Mark on April 13, 2001 at 12:41 PM .: link :.

Thursday, April 12, 2001

Wu Xia Pien
The Mandarin term wu xia pian originally referred to the genre of martial arts films. "Wu xia" means chivalrous combat, and "pian" means film. It�s China's version of the Western, but instead of six-shooters and saloons, its swords and kung-fu. It's arguably the first form of martial arts film, with its origins dating back hundreds of years (in the form of literature and theater).

Which is probably why the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon flopped in its homeland. To us Westerners, CTHD embodied a different culture with a familiar edge and it was a refreshing change from the typical Hollywood action flick. Critics and audiences alike hailed it as an original blurring between eastern and western cinema, but these types of films have been around for decades back in China.

That being said, CTHD is a particularly good example of the Eastern and Western combination that will hopefully improve both sides of the equation. I, for one, will certainly investigate the genre further, as doubtless others will, but CTHD is definitely going to be the standard by which the others will be judged.
Posted by Mark on April 12, 2001 at 04:48 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Why high speed access was invented
by DyRE:
It wasn't directly to give people a faster Internet connection but I think it was created because of some geek's sister. See, this sister, she had a very active social life. Whenever she was home, she got phone calls out the wazoo. She wasn't home much though, because her callers usually invited her somewhere. She was popular.

She had a very active social life. She was popular.

Then her geeky little brother, who was petrified of social physical interaction, started going online via a dial-up connection... all the time. Soon this girl never got any calls because the line was always busy. Her parents didn't want to pay for another phone line and she couldn't afford one herself. Luckily, her father was a some sort of technician at [insert phone or cable company name here]. One day, he was brooding over his recent troubles concerning his daughter's attempt to dismantle the computer to find which part was the modem and beat his son with it. As he contemplated this situation, he inadvertantly began staring at the phone line. Or the cable TV line. Whichever came first (DSL or cable modems). Suddenly, the idea hit him and he rushed off to the company offices to present this new high speed idea to his superiors. All of them having one popular child and one geeky child themselves thought it was wonderful. Thus, the phone line was free (until the girl began getting calls again) and the bandwidth was used like nobody's business... and all were happy.

The end.
I honestly wouldn't be suprised if thats how it actually happened. [originally posted at 4degreez.com]
Posted by Mark on April 11, 2001 at 12:45 PM .: link :.

Tuesday, April 10, 2001

You want to be a filmmaker?
Wrong! You are a filmmaker. So am I. And it only took 10 minutes to learn everything I needed to know. Thank you, Robert Rodriguez. Once you're ready to make your movie, you might want to take this Filmmaker's Exam.
Posted by Mark on April 10, 2001 at 01:12 PM .: link :.

Monday, April 09, 2001

A monumental decline
I know I've talked about this before, but I'm going to do it again, because this article is good. Just what is up with the Simpsons? When I saw Mike Reiss speak, I was somewhat suprised at his thoughts on the quality of the show. He basically agreed that the show's quality was declining, and he stated that even the current "young" writers agree. As the shows became more rediculous, more one-sided, and basically less substantial, I'm still hoping for a resurgence. A fresh infusion of humor from a young up-and-comer might be able to salvage something. Then again, as Mike said in his lecture, the show has been on for 12 years, way longer than any show can sustain a good quality... He also said that since the ratings are higher than ever, the show won't be going off the air any time soon...

At the end of the article, the author mentions another animated program that has taken the place of The Simpsons as TV's most enjoyable half-hour of edgy satire. I assume he is referring to the currently defunct (but coming back!) Family Guy, which I found to be very entertaining. I can not wait for its (hopefully) triumphant return. Heres another article by the same author that captures the essense of That 70s Show quite nicely. That 70s Show has really grown on me, in a I-don't-mind-having-it-on-in-the-background-while-I-fiddle-with-my-computer kind of way. I remember joking about it with my roommates when if first appeared ("Hey Dan, which 70s show is coming on?.... Ohhhhhhhh, thaaat 70s show..."), but that was over 2 years ago. Go figure.
Posted by Mark on April 09, 2001 at 01:20 PM .: link :.

Friday, April 06, 2001

Elements of Phyle
In an effort to continue the mindnumbing posts about genetic mutants and the letter X, I found the Elements of Phyle, a clever jab at both the X-Files and the infamous Elements of Style. Its a handy guide to proper grammar, spelling, and style with X-Files themed examples:

Could have and could've are good.
Could of is bad.
(Ditto with would and should.)

"How strange," Mulder thought, reading the fanfic. "Scully would never say 'could of.' Not even in an internal monologue."
Posted by Mark on April 06, 2001 at 09:23 AM .: link :.

Thursday, April 05, 2001

The Legacy
It seems that the latest premise 20th Century Fox is considering for X-Men 2 concerns the Legacy Virus, a man-made disease that is only infectious to mutants, eventually resulting in their deaths. I'm assuming this was a story arc that originally appeared in the comics, as Michael Chabon's proposal (see below) also used the Legacy virus as a major story element. It is only a treatment and could very well be passed over in favor of something else. Of all the rumored story lines, I think the most interesting is the Wolverine Solo pic which focuses on the Logan character and a search for his identity (fitting in perfectly with the ending of the first film). There are several advantages for Fox:
  1. Not having to reassemble the massive cast dealing with schedules, negotiations, etc would free up time and allow the shoot to begin sooner.
  2. Wolverine's massive popularity among fans would ensure a good box office and omitting the other 5 or 6 X-Men would streamline the story and keep the budget down.
  3. When execs see the possibility of expanding the franchise while keeping the budget and cast concerns to a minimum, they try and do so.
Not to mention how much Hugh Jackman kicks ass as Wolverine. Whether or not that would make a good movie, I don't know. I would be really worried about their explainations for Wolverine's past, so maybe we'd be better off with another ensemble film.
Posted by Mark on April 05, 2001 at 12:43 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, April 04, 2001

A Brief Bout of Mutant Madness
The X-Men and I: Michael Chabon's thoughts and proposal for the X-Men movie. It never saw the light of day, but its interesting to note that Chabon's 4 elements that are essential to the X-Men are present in the version of X-Men that did make it to the screen. Chabon's actual proposal is a good read, but I don't know if it would have been any better than the filmed version. Chabon wrote last year's Wonder Boys, a movie friends have been hounding me to see; I shall have to do that.

Special thanks to Metascene (Meatscene?), which has been updated more times in the past few weeks than it has this year. Good work Fred!
Posted by Mark on April 04, 2001 at 10:53 AM .: link :.

Monday, April 02, 2001

The Science Behind
The Science Behind the X-Files is quite well done. Several episodes are broken down into their various scientific elements which are further explained with referenced resources. Fun, informative, and geeky. Thanks to Nothing for pointing that site out. Nothing has a circuitry themed design similar to (and much better than) one of my first designs, except mine had NAND and NOR gates.

The Science Behind Merla's Cosmatron is also interesting. Remember Voltron? Who knew they were teaching me about sub-atomic particles... Those who examine the fake webcam pictures carefully have observed a Voltron-like object in the background...
Posted by Mark on April 02, 2001 at 07:44 PM .: link :.

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