Tag Archives: photo

Things 124: Puzzles & Polaroids, Bond is now Bourne, Cooking Tips

OctopusFruitbat Game Write-upPuzzles & Polaroids at the British Museum
Clare and I were asked by Stubble & Glasses (who I also happen to work for) to design and run a company game event in a professional capacity, because some of them had enjoyed some of our earlier game events. So we formed a company called OctopusFruitbat, came up with something that combined puzzle-solving with creative instant-photo-taking, and it went a bit like this. If you’re ever looking for someone to come up with a similar event, of if you want advice on doing something yourself, please do get in touch!

Also don’t forget, this Friday I’ll be running Competitive Sandwich Making (which last year went like this) as part of the amazing all-weekend festival of gaming that is Hide&Seek’s Weekender at the Southbank Centre.

I’ve been nurturing the idea that films that follow the “They Made Him, Then Tried To Kill Him, Now He Must Fight Them” storyline are rising to such prominence that it must be some kind of Hero’s Journey for the modern age (I’m thinking Bourne, Hitman, Grosse Pointe Blank, Kill Bill, Blade, Ultraviolet…). The closest I could find on TV Tropes was Contract on the Hitman, which doesn’t quite nail it.

On metafilter, wuwei draws it out more explicitly by contrasting James Bond with Jason Bourne:

Who is our generation’s James Bond? Jason Bourne. He can’t trust his employer, who demanded ultimate loyalty and gave nothing in return. […] Bourne survives as a result of his high priced, specialized education. He can do things few people can do […] and like the modern, (sub)urban professional, Bourne had to mortgage his entire future to get that education. They took everything he had, and promised that if he gave himself up to the System, in return the System would take care of him. It turned out to be a lie.

(You can read the post in full here).

Is there any evidence that there really has been such a transition, that corporations are now violating the social contract in some way that they weren’t before? The three charts in this article do seem to actually endorse this idea – Corporate Profits Just Hit An All-Time High, Wages Just Hit An All-Time Low.

Here are some pictures with captions that have some amazing food-preparation tips, for example:

Previous PuzzleThe Shrinking Empires
Last time I asked why Empires seemed to be getting geographically smaller. I’ve actually asked this question when interviewing analysts, and get two kinds of answers.

The most common answer is that population density is increasing, and apparently human political power tends to stabilise around the 10m-50m range. For example, the Roman Empire was pretty big, but probably only covered ~60 million or so people, ten times fewer than those living in the same geographical area today (according to Citation Needed, but hey, it sounds about right).

A more interesting idea is that it has something to do with technology and inequality. I once heard it said that technology is not politically neutral – for example, Nuclear Power requires greater centralisation of government power than, say Wind Power – and I find this an appealing idea. Perhaps, for example, improved forms of communication give greater power to the people, who are then better able to resist tyrants with aspirations of empire-building through war.

But the more I dig into this, the more it starts to look like post-rationalisation, because I can imagine giving examples to prove the opposite. If everyone can manufacture guns cheaply, is it easier to terrify your populace with asymmetric power you can give your enforcers, or is “a well armed population the best defense against dictatorship”? If you improve transport, is it easier to avoid conscription, or easier to wage war? If you combine Moore’s law with the internet to create continuous public surveillance, do you end up creating a single global culture with no crime, or do you permanently enforce the power structures that exist at the point of implementation? Well, that’s a question for another day.

PuzzleGoogle Correlations
Google Correlate lets you find closely correlating Google search term trends, which sometimes gives silly results by coincidence, and sometimes reveals something very interesting. The question is, how many of these correlations can you explain?

Things 113: Next Thursday, Learning to Cheat, Bullet Time

When someone says “next Thursday” on a Monday, which Thursday do they mean?

Tim Link
Playing a trading/smuggling game at the recent Sandpit event at the National Maritime Museum, I did something more evil than I knew I was capable of. That got me thinking about the ethics of lying, what games taught me about that, and exactly how rules-based games can enable people to learn about breaking rules. The post is illustrated with playing cards, since I had some to hand.

Two advantages of eBooks are that book size hardly matters, and you can easily link from one page to any other page. Now think about what this means for the choose-your-own-adventure genre. Jon Ingold found you could take a totally different approach, and produced a playable murder mystery that would be as tall as a house were it printed physically.

A nice way to remember confirmation bias:

Tolstoy: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Bullet time

Things 103: Troll Hunter, Algorithmic Price War, London from Above

I just got back from Edinburgh International Film Festival, which had some problems this year, but as an individual punter I nonetheless carved myself out an even better time than last year, thanks mainly to Clare’s choices from the programme and also to Twitter for alerting me to a few late-announced events. A full write up will naturall follow, but for now, I will simply recommend this, which will apparently see some sort of UK release in early September:

I suspect we will start to see more and more of this kind of thing: algorithms written to handle clever tasks in a not-perfectly-clever way, interacting with one another in ways their creators did not forsee since they did not anticipate the other algorithms theirs would be interacting with, to produce bizarre results like this Amazon marketplace book being listed for $23m. Hilarious and terrifying at the same time.

A bunch of sci-fi stories (most recently some Dr Who episodes) confront us with the question: if you encountered an exact copy of yourself, how well would you get on? Very often in these scenarios, the duplicates end up fighting one another. Does that seem realistic for most people? For you? (I have a slightly tangential self-test for this one)

For those of us that live in the UK, it’s hard to imagine that for some people London apparently has the same kind of Destination Appeal as New York, Paris or Tokyo. These pictures of London from above help me to start to see their point of view.

Things Christmas Special 2008

(Originally sent… okay, you can probably guess)

It’s Christmas and Things has been running for over a year. I’m taking that as an excuse to break with the usual format, and also to highlight what I (and some others) consider to be the best of the year’s Things.

Urgent matters first
I bought 10 tubs of Celebrations chocolates, discovered the average distribution of the different types, then created tubs of each kind and put them on eBay for charity to determine their value. I wrote up the initial results in my new blog:


The auctions end AT LUNCHTIME TODAY!

Check out how they are doing, or bid if you are so inclined, here:


[It’s long over now, read the final results here – T.M. 22/1/11]

Here are some videos that I like.

1) Tim ‘Speed’ Levitch is an extraordinary fellow that speaks in paragraphs that would take most other people hours to come up with. In the following video he holds forth on the New York grid plan and builds to a brilliant conclusion.

To sell you his style just a bit more, here’s his spontaneous introduction to a comment on a homeless person he passes while walking down the street: “[that person], under the white comforter, cuddled up with 34th street and Broadway, existing on the concrete of this city, hungry and dishevelled, struggling to crawl their way onto this island, with all of their machinated rages and hellishness and self-orchestrated purgatories…”


2) Somebody put a few frames of an anime featuring a woman spinning a leek around to a brilliantly loopy sample from an obscure band. A massive internet meme was born. Here’s where it all started (reposted).

Wikipedia article on the phenomenon.

3) This is my favourite tune and music video right now, and the intro guy is awesome too:


This guy makes armour for cats and mice. Or perhaps more accurately, scale sculptures that resemble such things:

Best of Things 2008

Worst translated menu in the world

XKCD on dreams and possibilities.

Acoustic Resonance – rice is used to illustrate standing acoustic waves on what I presume is a metal plate:


Analemma (click for big):

If you don’t know what an Analemma is, try to work it out from the photo.

The rainbow paradox, remains one of my favourite and (as far as I am concerned) unresolved puzzles:

Soundwaves can vary in frequency across a vast range, part of which we can hear. The lowest part we perceive as a deep bass, the highest as a high squeak.

Similarly, the electromagnetic spectrum consists of a vast range of frequencies, a small range of which we are able to see. The lowest frequency we can see is what we call red, and the highest frequency is what we call violet.

However, while we perceive the ends of the audible sound spectrum to be very different, the ends of the visible light spectrum, red and violet, seem very close to one another, and we even have a colour we call purple that is a mix of the two yet does not actually appear anywhere in the spectrum between them. In fact, we can draw a circle of the colours we perceive and it is not at all clear where the ‘ends’ are.

Why is this?

That’s it for Things until 2009.

Happy Thingking!