Things 123: Game weekends, Puffins, Lilith, Abstract Animated GIFs

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’s Johann 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, including a puffin cam.

Bonus videovia Clare while I was writing this
Dog swims with dolphins!

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:

Mesopotamian mythology
Siegmund Hurwitz
In the Bible
Jewish tradition
Greco-Roman mythology
Arabic mythology
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:

David Ope:

Mr Div:

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?


Things 51: Beatles Rock Band, Google Squared, Ingenious Comics

(Originally sent June 2009)

Things now returns after a brief hiatus during which I revised for and took my IDM Diploma exams. They seemed to go okay.

I saw Terminator Salvation, which I can’t particularly recommend, and Blue Velvet (on DVD), which I can.

The intro to the Beatles specific Rock Band game is a wonderfully conceived and animated potted history of the band.

High quality video on the dedicated site:

YouTube quality if your PC isn’t up to it:

Link Google Squared is like Google’s approach to what Wolfram Alpha does. For example, if you search for planets, it tries to understand what you are looking for and what useful things you might like to know about instances of that thing, using Google algorithmic magic.

When Wolfram Alpha has an answer, it’s right – when it doesn’t have an answer, it has nothing. Google Squared lives in the fuzzy space in between.

As a side effect, this means you can use Google Squared as a kind of I-Ching / astrology / random fortune generator.

Try the following:

1) Go here
2) Put in your surname
3) If you get results, use ‘add items’ at the bottom to add the first names of your family – if you don’t get any results you will be given some blank fields in which you can enter the first names directly
4) In the top right you can add additional columns. Type in ‘awards’ and press ‘add’
5) Find out how much your family members have won according to the Google Squared lottery!

Personally I was found to have won HK$0.00, whereas my mum got $517,115.00.

You can see what it thinks about you in other ways – for example, add a column titled ‘orbital period’. Turns out my sister has an orbital period of 1,975.4045670 days!

‘Newsarse’ [Now NewsThump – T.M. 1/7/11] is like a less polished, UK version of The Onion, providing a satirical take on current events from a UK perspective.

I quite liked their take on YouTube comments:

YouTube’s spokesman states “we are pleased to offer not only graphic images of canine dismemberment, but also a platform for viewers’ irrelevant comments and violent outbursts of racism.”

In the past couple of weeks I saw two fascinating ways of doing something different with comics.

Choose-your-own-adventure comic based on reading speed:

One character going left to right, one top to bottom:

This week’s puzzle – paper
Why do people generally prefer to read writing on paper than on a screen?

Last puzzle – buttons
The puzzle regarding why buttons do up the way they do (one way for male and the other for female) is a difficult one, since answers cannot be proved, and as such it is all too easy to come up with one theory and feel the matter to have been resolved.

Here’s how I broke it down in reply to some suggestions on the CC list:

There are actually two questions bundled up – why is buttoning consistent, and why is it the way it is for the two genders.

– Buttoning requires both hands to perform a fairly dextrous action and has no particular handedness bias
– Being familiar with buttoning one way will tend to make clothes that button the other way less desirable
– People will tend to wear clothing items for their gender, not so often clothing of the opposite gender

Under these assumptions, we can expect consistency of buttoning to emerge for each sex (but not necessarily opposite to one another) from random starting conditions, and a slight bias one way or the other at the start is likely to have a strong effect on the final outcome.

Arguments could be made in each direction, as it would only take a small effect to tip things one way or the other.

I found an interesting viewpoint on why it should be the opposite way for males vs females in a seemingly well-informed article on a period costume site.

From the last paragraph:

“Since female clothing took on more and more features of male clothing in order to express emancipation […], it became necessary to establish a feature that signalled that an item of clothing was, despite its male appearance, nevertheless female.”


Things 88: Out of Sight Animation, The Past of Advertising, Ultimate Blackboard

A great concept, brilliantly executed, well worth carving 5 minutes out of your day for. For the impatient among you, you need to stick with it at least until 1’26” when the magic really starts.


Fast Company published an article on The Future of Advertising, which combined with AdLab’s curation of 15 similarly-positioned Fast Company articles from 1995-2005 raises the question of when a revolution actually starts. Given that you can spin a plausible-sounding article just by gathering together a few examples of something (and disingenuously cite economically driven contraction of traditional players as evidence of change), this kind of historical perspective is very useful for reminding us that in reality you can rarely pin down a single revolutionary moment.

I got an even greater sense of perspective taking a look at Hide and Seek’s highlights of a large collection of ‘cinema advertising tricks from the 1920s’, which include such techniques as interactive cinema, conversation-seeding, and ARGs.

Why do bedsprings occasionally make a ‘poing’ noise, seemingly without provocation?

A great screenshot from The film A Serious Man. I’m proud to say I attended lectures that looked a bit like this by the end, although never with so many diagrams so well executed. (Click for full, use-in-a-presentation size)

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last week I asked why people playing Tomb Raider felt compelled to direct Lara to jump from a great height after they had saved their game. Doug suggested the following (numbering mine):

1) Because the game has just spent the whole playing time frustrating you as you fly off the ledge. Flinging yourself of the ledge then turning off is reassertion that it’s you in control, not the game.
2) It’s nice to do something easy with gusto as relief to hours of trying to do something difficult and complex through careful control and concentration.
Either way it’s got something to do with liberation.

I think both of these no doubt play a part, but similar factors are at work in many other games, so the results only manifest thanks to at least two other additional factors that are at work here:

3) Jumping from a great height itself has a mysterious, mesmerising appeal.
Standing on a precipice, I’ve had to resist the nagging thought that jumping off is an action available to me, and it might be quite interesting, at least for a short time; others I’ve spoken to have had similar thoughts in similar situations. As videogames let us try things out in a risk-free way, it makes sense that we play out this urge in that environment.

Supporting this idea is a personal observation that once I’ve completed a game and am no longer concerned about death, if on a replay I find my character in a precipitous situation that I didn’t fall victim to before, I will often have them jump off just to see what it is like.

4) The architecture of the game and the save mechanism.
Games that have save points typically ensure they can only be used far from danger, presumably to avoid a player saving while in an unsurvivable situation. Tomb Raider had very few such scenarios and so permitted saving at any point. At the same time, death-by-falling was a near ever-present threat. As such, any given moment in which you saved the game was likely to be very close to just such an opportunity.

The icing on the cake was that through an undocumented combination of controls, you could execute an elegant swallow dive.