The Spork FAQ: Sporks and the alt.plastic.utensils.spork.spork.spork newsgroup.
Unnovations is truly inspired today. "Your lifelong quest for a loyal, compatible sex partner has come to an end". The last line is simply beautiful.
Social Translucence: An Approach to Designing Systems that Support Social Processes [via Peterme; thanks Nick] is a long but fascinating discussion about how to include unconscious interation in computer communications that allow people to work and communicate better together. Interesting examples of how to introduce social cues into the virtual world are MUDs (which don't work so well) and an activity-based messaging system (which does).
Passing Glances [via NotSoSoft] starts as a forum for people who pass each other on the street to get in touch. See also i saw you: send "zonagrams" (ugh) to people who caught your eye. Basically a location-based message board. (Nice idea, but not well implemented, and suffers heavily from scaling problems: works well if everyone in an area takes part, and progressively less well the fewer people use it. Obviously going to be very bad to start off with then, so no incentive for people to start using it. Therefore will never take off.)
Easier: Take a photo of your stalkee and have it printed on a postcard with your (temporary) email address at the bottom. Drop the card on the pavement just before your victim comes along, and hope they pick it up. Or have the picture printed on a t-shirt with "Talk to me, I'm desperate" in big writing underneath.
(I've provided today's essay for Upsideclown.) I remember the last time I wrote about capital-L "Love", many years ago when I still battered out reams of text on an almost nightly basis (virtually all of it makes me cringe to read. What doesn't, I'd published -- and even some of that is painful). I got a few paragraphs in and my treatise on love and the human condition was sounding like a cheap vampire horror paperback, so I gave it up as a bad idea and moved onto the general themes of good, evil, and nuclear holocaust -- more typical subjects for a 16 year old.
Anyway, so I've had another crack at it, and maybe it's a little trite and a bit obvious, but if I'm addressing a topic billions of people know from personal experience it's not going to be easy to come up with anything original. But it's okay, I think, and I reckon you'll enjoy this most clownish take on Truth in Advertising.
Is this a joke?
Yes. But we're collecting donations anyway. Like most websites, we abide by the dot com creed: Just because it's a stupid idea doesn't mean it shouldn't be published on the Internet.
A motto I can live by.
Baby, baby. The Abandonware Dungeon collects all those old classic PC games that nobody cares about any more, and makes them freely downloadable. Like, f'instance, Frontier: Elite 2. Wow. And loads of links to abandonware 'sites too. The Dungeon is active too, so there shouldn't be any of those pesky 404s you usually find in places like this. Beautiful. (Thanks Jamie.)
Ah, excellent. The Devil's Dictionary is available online. Very funny.
PlacesNamed.com is a hypertexted database of geographic placenames and other reference material. I've never seen such a vast quantity of such concisely written useless information. (Webb is the "125th most popular last name (surname) in the United States; frequency is 0.072%". And Most is hyperlinked too: it's the 22,781th most popular last name.)
This is an interesting (well-written and basic) maths poster about networks, mazes, and the London Undergroup map. The maths behind networks and moving through them is fascinating.
phpAds is a free banner ad system written in php, including multiple clients, stats, and remote access to ads.
If you ever need random black and white old photos of people and fantastic factories (and I know I do), have a look at the Heritage North Museum Online, which has over a thousand photos of Thompson, Manitoba.
Bugger. The Forest skin appears to be broken in version 4 browsers (and below, I presume). Bah. I've switched the default skin back to Stripes pending a fix, but if you're on MSIE5+ (I haven't checked with Mozilla but my html's quite clean so it should be fine), you can switch to the new skin with no problems at all.
A new week and a new Upsideclown:
Put your ground flour (see Step 229 for grinding, Steps 25 through 37 for planting, growing and reaping) on a clean flat surface. Form it into a volcano shape, i.e. with a deep crater in the middle of the mound.
James explores that middle ground between effective government, and making lasagne (from scratch): The Future And The Pasta.
Redesign! Welcome to the Forest skin. A few things you might like to know:
Well, there you go: my first redesign since the big one. No deliberately unpopular colours this time, no asymmetrical stripes subverting the rigour of columns. Just a deep, dark and late night look. You can tell it's winter here, can't you?
Ah-hah, that should do it. The url hidden behind those linkmes (on the default skin, the orange stars on the framed skin) lets you deeplink to this weblog to your heart's delight.
Can't quite remember who I was talking to about this, but it's called a Zamboni, a Zamboni dammit.
A few random elsewhere links to thing that I think are worth reading:
I've recently been thinking about online games -- not the player versus the machine type, but players versus players. One player versus machine game is Technosphere in which you create a creature which roams an environment eating, shagging and killing other player's creatures (you're emailed all updates). I don't feel this can be classified as player versus player because you can't interact directly with other players: it's be heavily mediated by the game engine. What's more, the calculations that the game does makes it essentially unpredictable, and playing it basically the same as watching a marble bounce down one of those pyramid-of-nails games you get at a fair. You know basically what's going to happen, but you can't predict what exactly will happen and there's no cause and effect. A game with a similar premise is Terrania.
I feel that a game won't feel like players versus players unless cause and effect is clear, and the inner mechanics of the game are simple and intelligible. This very clockwork game system is used in the most successful of single-player games (Tetris, Boulderdash), with an added spice of randomness (but only in clearly defined places, like: which brick will come next). Online, self-evident game mechanics should also be used, the randomness coming from the interaction of individuals. All avenues of interaction between players should be clearly marked, with not too many options: cause and effect must be clear. It is to these attributes I place the success of Planetarion, an addictive space game where the objective is to gather asteroids, and the simple avenues of interaction are attacking, donating, defending, and voting.
And voting brings me onto another quality of these games: A successful multiplayer game will make you feel you're playing against people, not just a clever computer program. The best way to do this is to force community -- in Planetarion's case by providing the infrastructure for players in the same game locality to vote for a leader and discuss issues, like joint defence. Suddenly the game gets more complex without increasing the new-user difficulty hump. Providing the infrastructure for many communities within the game solves the scaling problem, ensuring that it's as fun to play with 50 as 50000 people. (Another aspect that makes this game addictive is that it's in real time, but carefully balanced so that time-spans of less than about a day don't really matter. Also the learning curve is very smooth: complexity increases because you gain resources and can do more in a time unit; you find your own level.)
So why this sudden interest in what makes a good game? Firstly, I'd like to make one. Secondly, because the Labour government wants to put in place the infrastructure along which local volunteer communities can grow: Local involvement - that's the new prescription. How to make this work? People feel alienated from the decision making process. It's too complex, there's no cause and effect, new volunteers will be dwarfed and intimidated by old hands.
But what if the infrastructure consisted of mediated routes of interaction? Of codified ways of suggesting ideas, of voting, of raising money? Of simple one-click routes to involvement that flattened the learning curve? It doesn't limit the amount of power these groups can have, but limits the flexibility in return for more cause-and-effect and more involvement. People interesting in making greater, more fundamental, changes can get involved in local politics. I believe that those designing systems to encourage the growth of small groups could learn a lot from multiplayer game design. So that's why I'm thinking about it. Comments, as ever, are welcome.
I've mentioned internet encyclopedias before; add this to the list. GNUpedia [via slashdot] is a just-started project for a free (non-restrictive license, free to access), distributed (not stored on central server, mirrored) reference source. Check the project announcement for more. It sounds to me like an open directory (eg dmoz) specialising in documents, and pulling in the indexed content. A good idea, but I'm not sure whether it'll fly. The "celebrity" backing and publicity will certainly help.
Monday's fresh Upsideclown is brought to us by Jamie: "As I was rounding off my weekly ablutions in the bath today, I reached for the pumice stone to scrub my soles. It wasn't long before I realised I had mistakenly grasped a small, deceased grey rodent, whose beneficial effects on my verrucas were disappointing to say the least. As I rubbed harder, it began to fragment, suggesting it had met with mortality considerably longer than a few hours previously. Perhaps it was time to change the water".
Unpleasant, yes. Today's clown: Full to the brim.
Unfortunately I can't get through to Doreen Virtue's homepage Angeltherapy.com, but it seems that the deeper I look the more interest I find in angels (much like when I investigated bestiality on the www a couple of days back). The motivations of the creators of these 'sites are quite clear. The three major sections of Angel Haven are: Links to other 'sites (free content); forums and chats with angel experts (cheap community-provided content); and a massive Angel merchandise store. Business plan: Find existential crisis. Monetise.
Calling All Angels: "Angels want to surround us and help us. Here are some ways to call the angels in". What the fuck? How can people believe this? We live in an age where it's seen as a good thing to believe indiscriminately, and to encourage others to do so -- which completely undermines the quest for knowledge by shared endevour. I really want to know whether "Doreen Virtue" really believes what she writes, or if she justifies it by saying it's a metaphor, or If It Helps People Then It's Okay. This is taking advantage of people searching for meaning. At least give them something solid, with foundation.
On another note, the article interface is quite impressive with a right-hand frame reserved for comments. Of course, the comments themselves are just as crazy: "I think, that Michael Jackson is a real Angel. I do believe that he was sent from god to protect and care for children". Ooookay.
Temptation Island looks like one reality tele series too far. Lead us not into Temptation explains the premise: "Temptation Island features four unmarried and childless couples spending two weeks in a Caribbean paradise being enticed to abandon their "committed" relationships in favour of up to 13 flirtatious members of the opposite sex employed to seduce them". Um. Um. Um. Can this be ethical? Well, it sounds interesting. Phew.
A couple of 'site issues:
That is all. Further announcements will be made as necessary.
Odd facts: A collection of strangeness, including "Birds do not sleep in their nests. They may occasionally nap in them, but they actually sleep in other places".
Ah, another Thursday. And yes, another Upsideclown, from George this time:
For you, dear reader, are not one of my gaggles of hormonal charges, and thus I may give you full knowledge of the inspirations behind each and every one of my manifold publications. It's really very simple, but somewhat unusual and possibly unpalatable. I sold my liver to a tele-vision celebrity chef when I was a youngster, and have never looked back.
George explains where ideas come from, in A Thought on Morality.
Anti-feminist Laura Doyle says that "women should submit to sex whenever their husbands wish, and should not demand satisfaction for themselves. They should also forgive indiscretions away from home": Some Wives Surrender All to Cult of Obedience. "Surrendering", by the way, is the technical term for being bloody stupid.
Dan B points out that it's true, surrending would work. Lowering your standards to that point makes anything perfect.
What is ZigZag? It's a way of storing data -- what you'd do with a rows and columns spreadsheet if the rows and columns didn't exist. It's a way of storing data in an interconnectedness type of database. And of browsing it too. No hierarchy, no lists: A new kind of hypertext. The ZigZag tutorial explains the axioms behind the program. Ted Nelson's (ZigZag came out of Project Xanadu, of course) article on the system covers it in a quick and introductory level and explain why it would be useful. Oh, and it's extensible with Perl. Wow. Now, to figure out how to install it...
From the archives: Ted Nelson links.
When I talked about face space at Upsideclown back in July 2000, I had no idea that I was talking about something real and that "face space" was a well established term. And when I talked about the basis vectors of face space -- I mean, yes, I knew that people were doing research here, but I didn't really expect to find pictures of faces constructed from eigenfaces [from Shape Analysis in Computer Vision].
Steve DiPaola in Investigating Face Space explains the concept very well: "Imagine an n-dimensional space describing every conceivable humanoid face, where each dimension represents a different facial characteristic". Then you can reduce this space along dimensions of similarity to, say, only 25 basis vectors -- that is, the eigenfaces, which can be added together to produce new, different, faces. And what I really didn't expect is that said concept would be used in a game, to wit The Sims, as a face generator.
Sylloge talks intuition, and in the process covers the origins of order, and the possibility that maybe order comes from free, emerging as complex structures are constructed. Hm. Hmmm.
It's Monday, and time for fresh Upsideclown.
here's something else - when they said cardboard coffin, I'd sort of assumed that it would be your regular coffin, but made of a slightly more lightweight material - more environmentally friendly, sure, but essentially a black thing with a little bit of dignitas and when I arrive here's something that looks like it was last used to transport bottles of wine for fuck's sake it didn't even have that angular entasis, the outward swell to make a proper coffin shape, it was just rectangular
Dan assumes the position with a wandering and touching piece on crematoria, funerals, and all the rest: Smoke Signals.
Never visit this page again. Really, I mean that. If you sign up for the Interconnected mail list, you'll get the latest weblog content sent to you daily in one handy-sized email. And it's a discussion group too, should you feel the need to say anything back. Here's an example mail for 5 January 2001. If you don't want to sign up now, you can always find a form to do so on the left hand side of the default skin of this page.
...I have to say, this is the most pointless project I've ever done on this page (um, with the exception of the web-accessible speech synthesiser in my room last year, that is), but maybe there's someone out there who would find this useful.
I signed up on CO2e.com, the "Global Hub for Carbon Commerce", to see if I could buy up carbon credits to stop people using them. That idea came to a pretty swift halt when I didn't understand even the first part about trading options and that. But flat James found me a good explanation of options and futures, so perhaps I should go back.
Two user-interface links via Camworld:
I'm also reading The Inmates Are Running The Asylum (Alan Cooper) about the danger of letting programmers control UI design and the management culture that's encouraging this behaviour. It has some hints about how to drive towards good design too (using a detailed representative user, with a name and everything, instead of just referring to "the user". It makes sense, trust me). I'm not sure I agree with all of it, and it's not the best written book I've ever read. But it's good.
A big list of dumb facts.
The Mole looks like an interesting game show: Ten people do tasks to win money, which goes into a kitty. One of the team is a mole, planted to disrupt proceedings and stop the team winning. The person who guesses which member of the team is the mole takes the entire kitty. The 'site says it's won the Golden Rose of Montreux, which apparently is the top tele award in Europe.
So I was thinking about this, and about Dares for Dollars, and then I chucked in a bit of delayed punishment (like, would you do a deal with the devil to have a rich and exciting life, but go to hell for all eternity in twenty years time) -- and I came up with a new game show. The premise is this: A number of people stand in a chest x-ray machine, and radiation blasts continually through them. The last person to leave wins the jackpot. How long will contestants stay in there given they won't have any effects of the machine until terrible illness afflicts them a decade or two down the line? Who will crumble first? It would be gripping. And only a teeny bit unethical.
It's all very well making all these pictures, but if you want to actually participate, where would you start? Dolphinsex.org is good as a quick faq if you live by the sea, but you have to look a little further afield if you want guides to shagging most animals. Handy hint, from How to Geese: "You can seriously injure a goose if you penetrate it. The tissue inside is very thin and if it ruptures, the goose will die within 24 hours. I know from first hand experience". No, no but it's okay see, because "Geese are very cheap and can be bought for 20 dollars full grown". Yeah, and in case you've got any doubts: "Nothing is more glorious then hearing the trumpet of a goose when he orgasms!"
Omigod. This can't be right. This really, really can't be right.
Premise: You create documents, and templates. Documents are simply text or html, with a title, author and summary. All information is typed into text forms through the browser. Templates pull all this information together and output html: You can choose any template for your document.
You can also choose sensible filenames and directories for your html pages (nice and flexible, yes?), which are ftp'd to your server. An archive and front page are automatically created.
Contributors to your webzine can have variable permissions -- they can edit only their own documents, not templates or overall settings.
So I like Organizine. It feels simple to use, and takes many hints from Blogger about ease of use (if you've used one, the other will be obvious). I've a feeling document management could get difficult with many files, and I'd like to see templates being editable outside the text form, but both of these are easily added features; the foundations seem sound. But would I use it? I don't think so. I know enough html and server-side processing such that it's fairly easy to set up and automate almost anything I want. I'm thinking about it though. For collaborative 'sites I imagine it could be very handy, and I certainly hope this results in an explosion of independent content and magazines in the same way Blogger et al helped with narrative.
You go out in your car, drink, ScooterMan [requires Flash] arrives on a moped, and drives you home in your car, with the moped in the boot. London, within M25 only.
Apparently (Claire here at work tells me) there's a company One for the road who do the same thing. She says the scooter's tiny and looks pretty stupid but the bloke on it was nice enough. And it costs more than a one way cab, but it's cheaper than that and also getting a cab back the next day to pick your car up. I'm told it's worth it just to see the scooter.
Some php/xml resources:
Moving to php from perl, I'm amazed at the speed, and it's opening a lot of doors that weren't open before -- especially with xml, which is where the real speed gain is.
Now the masses have returned to aimless interweb browsing (also known as work), it's a good time for me to remind you that we at Upsideclown published as usual during the winterval, and there are now four more articles for your delectation that you may have missed:
And of course Upsideclown will continue with articles fresh every Monday and Thursday.
Nofrontierans is good fun, if only to see what you can make out of three coloured polygons and a pair of eyes.
PageRank is the technique Google use to order their search results. Essentially, it works by ranking higher pages with many other pages linking to them, each of these pages contributing a score which is higher if they themselves are more popular. Fair enough (it explains why Google has all those cached pages available. It's a side effect of having to keep them for calculations). But what I didn't know is that instead of following every link on every page, a randomised typical usage pattern is used. From a given page, the "surfer" follows a random link, and then another random link on the new page, and so on, until they get bored (typical surfers only link click a short distance) and start with another randomly selected page. The overall ranking is the same, but much easier to calculate (there's no state information to maintain, and the ranking program that runs can be much smaller in memory and less processor intensive). The original paper by Google cofounder Larry Page is extremely interesting and has an easy-to-follow presentation: PageRank: Bringing Order to the Web.
Thought the first: This explains why weblogs rank so high in Google. The integrity of PageRank relies on the fact that you only own your own page, so you can't force much linking to your 'site to up your rank. The weblog community has several features that break this model: The tendency for links lists to be on every weblog page (and there are often many pages of archives too), and the large amount of reciprocal linking. The community appears as a very highly connected network, and this effect is magnified because of the large amount of the links on weblog pages compared to other 'sites on the web.
Thought the second: Could I use this technique with Dirk? Currently I rank objects by second degree connection. I wonder if there is a way to rank connections that would depreciate the less useful ones?
Oh, very cool. There's a Speak and Spell simulator (Windows only; slightly flakey) [via unxmaal] complete with scary robot voice and on/off buttons. I never had one myself, but my sister had a Talking Typewriter with the same kind of voice. It was a weird mix of mechanics and electronics; it meant you had to use paper to play the built in games. A product of extraordinarily modern synthesis, now I think about it. Although, at the time, we just stopped using it when the ink ribbon ran out.
The Multiple Store commissions contempory British art and sells it through their shop on Charing Cross Road, London (their catalogue is also browsable online). I'm not terribly impressed by most pieces, but "www." is stunning (from a technical and aesthetic point of view rather than an artistic one, however). A luminous network of lines, floating in three dimensions in a crystal glass cube. Beautiful.
Among the ideas Labour are considering for the manifesto is one in which £1000 is paid into a savings scheme at birth for every child. I can see how, properly managed and tied into the welfare state, this could reduce the impact of mistakes from the previous generation on those growing up. I like the idea of not automatically assuming the "family unit". And if this sum was the initial payment into an insurance policy that replaced disability allowances, unemployment benefits and so forth -- so much the better.
Have you ever thought of the things you could have done, but never did? I Could Have.
I don't feel I've made any decisions, as such. At each obvious fork in the road I thought about what to do, and did it. I couldn't have done otherwise, or I wouldn't be me. Isn't that right? As for the nonobvious forks, the Leave Five Minutes Late Miss The Bus Walk To Work And Meet The Love Of Your Life kind of forks, they're chaotic. I don't have any power over them, so they don't count. Thinking... No, there isn't anything. I don't decide, I just do what feels right. And things just turn up. Anyway, while it's fun to play What If, if you're not careful it can turn into If Only. And I try to live so If Onlys rarely occur.
It's roughly how I'm feeling in 2001.
they sentenced me to 20 years of boredom/
for trying to change the system from within/
i'm coming now/
i'm coming to reward them/
first we take Manhatten/
then we take Berlin
By Leonard Cohen (although I've been listening to the Jennifer Warnes version), First We Take Manhattan. Oh yes.
Secret Government papers at the Public Record Office (UK) from 1970 are released today under the 30-year rule. There are some good ones about Europe, Thatcher, and nuclear holocaust in Scotland.
Welcome to 2001, would you care to come in? It's Monday, and Mondays always (without fail) mean spanking fresh Upsideclown. Not only is there a new article on this the first day of the new year, but some last-minute rota shuffling meant that I got to write it. Fantastic. So in the spirit of the time, I've picked up some common predictions for the future, and pulled them to shreds. For example:
1. In the future sex is free and easy
I'd contend this isn't even a prediction, given the same is true today so long as you ask politely. And sex isn't difficult so long as either (a) you have a reasonable percentage of the full complement of limbs; or (b) your accomplice is on top.
I'm very pleased with it; I hope you'll be pleased too. So from today at Upsideclown you can read the new Six predictions for tomorrow (and why they're wrong). Enjoy.