Thing I Bought And Would Recommend: Fun Club
The webcomic “Cat and Girl” was originally recommended by me in Things 1, which I wrote so long ago the obscure Japanese game show video I linked to in the same edition has already spawned a UK version that in itself is now old news.
Cat and Girl is written by Dorothy Gambrell, who I’ve also mentioned in earlier Things as the author of Very Small Array, a sort of hybrid blog of data visualisation and cultural-critique.
What I’m trying to say is that Dorothy Gambrell is awesome, so when she makes a thing called Fun Club in which you buy a year-long subscription to receive monthly random things she makes, you should probably check it out. 2012 was the first year it ran, and included a diary for the year with complete-it-yourself personal data visualisations, a set of useful stickers that say ‘Bad Decision’ in large block capitals, and some postcards featuring combination bread/sausage creations she baked in the style of the electrical standards of various countries:
So if you like that sort of thing, you should probably sign up for the 2013 edition.
Video: The Spider
Here we see the fascinating results of confronting a spider with the Mirror Test. If you’re scared of spiders, you may find it worth gritting your teeth through to around 46s when the spider completely freaks itself out [note, the audio is not essential, but is quite apt]:
Link: Booksby Robots?
I’m assuming that it’s some combination of things like Amazon Mechanical Turk and the recent developments in economical on-demand book printing that mean you can now buy this amazingly specific book on Amazon:
Imagine you were an aspiring bagel maker. How could you possibly resist such a perfectly titled book?
Well, you might be suspicious. If there’s a book like this for bagel-makers, how many other careers have they covered? Do a bit of searching, and you find further unlikely variations on the theme, including books on how to land ‘Top-Paying’ jobs as a Binding Worker, Conservation Scientist, or Roughneck.
At this point, you might assume they are all essentially the same book with generally applicable advice on careers, interviews and the like, just with different covers.
Each book has a different author (so must be different), and thanks to the ‘look inside’ feature, we can see that the bagel book includes information specific to the baking industry:
We can’t be certain how much of this content was harvested automatically, but based on current trends I expect to see robots of the future writing arbitrarily many of books in this vein, and whole ecosystems of robot arbitrage emerging in the second-hand market for those books. Don’t let anyone tell you the future isn’t bright.
Game: Frog Fractions(via Dom)
This is a really fascinating flash game which you should definitely play if you like… games. I don’t want to say too much about it, but be advised that there is more to it than first meets the eye. Much more.
Events–Sandpit this very weekend (25th August), Weekender later (Fri 14th-Sun 16th September)
Hide & Seek are running one of their curated ‘Sandpit’ game events, taking place on Saturday and Sunday afternoons this weekend (25th and 26th August), unusually but awesomely located at the Natural History Museum. NHM page is here; a longer article about what’s happening can be found on Wired.
Then, from Friday 14th through to Sunday 16th September is Hide & Seek’s Weekender (facebook event here), mostly in the Clore Ballroom in that Royal Festival Hall place, this being as usual a whole festival of games, largely drawn from Sandpit events from the last two years.
This happens to include Competitive Sandwich Making on the Friday, which Clare and I will be running (here’s what happened last year when we ran first), this time featuring a secret rank beyond Earl of Sandwich, if people are competitive enough to discover it. There’s also lots of other amazing things happening, including two of my favourites: Die Gute Fabrik’sJohann Sebastien Joust and Viviane Schwarz’s Treasure Maze.
Tim Link –You’re In A Room I finally wrote up the game Clare and I made for a more recent Sandpit: You’re In A Room, a sort of Whose Line Is It Anyway version of Knightmare; you can find out what on earth that means here.
Video – Puffin Webcam
In the exciting new world of putting webcam streams onto my TV for background entertainment, now that the Miranda’s Kittens feed is no longer live, I’ve had to find something else. It turns out there’s a whole range of great feeds available on explore.org, including a puffin cam.
Bonus video – via Clare while I was writing this
Dog swims with dolphins!
Quote – Lilith
I recently wondered what really is the deal with the biblical (or is she?) character of Lilith, so I turned to Wikipedia on the subject, and found it fascinating – here’s just the section headings to give you an idea of the span of cultural records she appears in:
In the Bible
In Western literature
In modern occultism
The highlight for me was discovering that Lilith only appears once in the bible, and even then arguably so, in Isiah 34:
(13) [Edom] shall become an abode for jackals and a haunt for ostriches. (14) Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another; There shall the lilith repose, and find for herself a place to rest. (15) There the hoot owl shall nest and lay eggs, hatch them out and gather them in her shadow; There shall the kites assemble, none shall be missing its mate. (16) Look in the book of the LORD and read: No one of these shall be lacking, For the mouth of the LORD has ordered it, and His spirit shall gather them there.
This makes “lilith” (in the bible at least) a hapax legomenon, a word only occurring once in the source and therefore challenging to decipher – given only this context, is she a demon, or just some kind of regular animal with sinister associations?
I also recommend reading this translation of Isiah 34 in full (it’s only ~400 words), as it’s use of hyperbole puts our modern tabloid newspapers and comment trolls to shame.
Pictures – Abstract Animated GIFs
I’ve seen some interesting abstract animated GIFs floating around the internet, and tracked them down to two artists: David Ope, and Mr Div. Here’s one example of each, and do click through to view the rest of their work:
Puzzle –The shrinking empires
Here’s an unfortunately small version of a fascinating visualisation of world history (which we bought as a poster for the office from Stanfords, although they don’t seem to have them any more), with time running from left to right, and rough location on earth from top to bottom, with identifiable countries/kingdoms/empires marked out:
You can just about see the Roman Empire as a big blob of orange in the middle, the Ottoman Empire in blue towards the right, and the British Empire stretching wide in patches of red before retreating back home by the time we reach the right-hand side representing the present day.
Even at this scale, one pattern is apparent: they just don’t make empires as big as they used to. The closer we get to the present day, the smaller the tribal groups become. Why is this?
Tim Game Thing If you ever watched Knightmare and wanted to be the kid in the vision-restricting helmet asking “Where Am I?”, or if you wanted to be the team responding “You’re In A Room” and then frantically shouting “Sidestep left”, or perhaps if you wanted to come up with your own ideas for dungeons for those players to explore, then I recommend you come along to Hide & Seek’s free Sandpit event this Friday 25th May (6.30pm-10pm at the Royal Festival Hall near Waterloo), where I’ll be running a game that gives you an opportunity to do exactly those things.
There will also be a lot of other games going on, which sound pretty amazing, so read all about it, and come along.
It turns out that even though the latter sounds superficially cooler and more engaging, it’s nowhere near as good as high-resolution kittens.
Link – Jason Rohrer’s Chain World
Jason Rohrer has made some very interesting games (I particularly like Sleep Is Death (or at least the idea of it – I haven’t played it yet), Inside a Star-filled Sky, and Passage is apparently pretty amazing (and very short) if you don’t play it stupidly the first time like I did), so it’s not particularly surprising that he came up with the winning concept in a competition to pitch an idea for a game that in some way represented the abstract idea of religion, and which, when actually released into the world, generated some pretty fascinating results.
Heavily Caveated Film Recommendation The Green Hornet is a Seth Rogen action/comedy vehicle directed by Michel Gondry. If you analyse that sentence you may realise that this was recipe for disaster. With Seth Rogen starring and also writing (with long-time friend and collaborator Evan Goldberg), there was inevitably going to be some creative conflict with a director as idiosyncratic and driven as Michel Gondry (the man behind some of my favouritemusic videos).
Trailer: (2’06” is the moment that screams “Gondry!”)
Refreshingly, listening to the commentary makes this very clear, as Gondry, Goldberg and Rogen frequently reference the arguments behind almost every good idea in the movie, and occasionally break into new arguments about them (“We had to convince you that this would work!” “No no no! This was my idea! You guys didn’t want to let me do it!”).
This conflict doesn’t particularly damage the movie, but I ended up wishing Gondry had had more things go his way, because all the really weirdly brilliant parts are unmistakeably his. For example, at one point, the bad guy wants to send a message out through his criminal network, and this is how Gondry represents it:
It’s also great to hear his enthusiasm for his own ideas in the commentary, as when this scene starts: “This is awesome, look! Two cameras from one camera! How… did… the hell it happen?!” (Answer: they got the actors to stay in position while shooting one part, then came back to them and picked up shooting from the same position, then forced the shot to match in digital post-production, which is fine, but just count the splits and think about actually pulling that off).
The real problems with this film (to save you the trouble, it’s a 6.0 on IMDb and 44% on Rotten Tomatoes) are I think twofold:
1) Goldberg and Rogen consciously chose to reverse many of the staples (some would say clichés) of a superhero movie, which is admirable, but as is so often said, you need to be very familiar with the “rules” of any art form if you want to break them and still have the thing work, so this sentence ends in just the way you would expect.
2) There’s a fine art to crafting an action movie in which the audience can root for the protagonists, even when they’re harming or even killing bad guys. I don’t know how you pull this off, and apparently neither did anyone making The Green Hornet, because these moments frequently feel wrong.
All of which was fascinating, and I don’t regret watching the movie at all.
Answer 2A and 2B – Temperature/Pressure Pairs Do there exist a pair of points opposite one another on the earth with exactly the same temperature and pressure? I say yes, and here’s my hand-waving explanation for that.
Let T(x) and P(x) denote the temperature and pressure of point x.
Choose two opposite points, A and B (if T(A) = T(B), do this stage with pressure instead of temperature). Consider a path from A to B (blue arrow in Fig 1a) and the corresponding opposite path from B to A (red arrow in Fig 1a).
In Fig 1b, we chart the temperature of the opposite points as we move around these paths. Just as with the Joss Whedon ascent/descent puzzle, since each line of temperature is continuous, they must cross at least once, and this represents a point at which the temperature is equal on opposite sides of the globe (points C and D in Fig 1b).
Stage 2 We now imagine rotating the circlular path we’ve considered about points A and B (Fig 2a). As we do this, the lines of temperature move continuously (Fig 2b), but since they always start and end at points A and B, the end temperatures remain fixed, and so the point at which the lines cross also moves continuously.
This starts to trace out a line of equal-temperature-opposite-points on the globe (turquoise and purple lines in Fig 2a).
Stage 3 If we continue that rotation all the way around, we trace out a continuous wiggly line of equal-temperature-opposite-points around the globe (Fig 3a, purple and turquoise lines).
We now consider two opposite points on this line, C and D (Fig 3a). We consider the pressure as we trace out a path from C to D (purple line) and the corresponding opposite points on the path from D to C (turquoise line). We can now apply exactly the same argument as in Stage 1 – the two lines of pressure (Fig 3b) are continuous and so must cross at some point, X. At that point, both the temperature and pressure are equal on opposite sides of the globe.
While this is not a proof, it’s reassuring that the Borsuk-Ulam theorem does prove that the result is true, although that’s no garantee that this reasoning is completely sound.
Dom Camus supplied a similarly hand-waving explanation but with a much more audacious line of attack, so if you liked the above, you should definitely check it out.
Phil has a pretty elegant approach, although he didn’t sound that convinced by it. He points out that “On any closed curve (not just great circles), the same sort of argument [as in Fig 1 above] holds […] I claim you can always construct a closed curve containing all its own opposite points and along which the temperature is everywhere equal at opposite points [like the turquoise/purple path in Fig 3]. Otherwise there would be some closed curve containing all its own opposite points, along which the temperature was never equal at opposite points, a contradiction.” You can then repeat Step 3, as above, to reach the same conclusion.
Puzzle Level 3 – The Crumpled Map
The final level in this series (suggested to me by Tarim) is one I don’t have any kind of hand-waving proof of, but I would love to see one.
Imagine you are on a lovely desert island with a selection of your favourite music, a pencil and paper, and an uncannily perfect map of the island. Actually, only the map is important.
If you lay the map on the ground and align it perfectly with the island itself, it’s quite easy to visualise that there must be a single point on that map which corresponds precisely to the bit of the island directly below it.
Now imagine folding and crumpling the map in any kind of way (but not tearing it) and throwing it anywhere on the ground. Wherever it happens to land, will there still be a point on the map that exactly corresponds to the place on the island directly below it?