Tag Archives: production

Things August 2017: Archive Adventures – part 2

Last time I shared the first half of the exciting archive of historic unused Things. In this second half, I’ll cover music, games, writing, and some data visualisation. Enjoy!

Video/Audio

I was collecting examples of music where I felt the production process was the main contributor to the quality of the song (rather than the songwriting or performance), examples being Britney Spears – Toxic, Mark Ronson – God Put a Smile on Your Face, and the Space Channel 5 theme tune. Then I wondered if actually I just like crisp brass and distorted orchestral sounds, and have no ear for production at all, so wasn’t sure whether I could meaningfully comment. But listen to those songs as a set and see what you think!

Putting a record of important sounds from earth in a spacecraft and shooting it out of the solar system is pretty speculative (although I’d argue we don’t know enough about the parameters in the Drake equation or the full potential of technology in this universe to know just how speculative) – but is also a profoundly optimistic and beautiful act, so I’m really glad we did it.

Some trivia that hilariously undermines the beauty of the gesture: EMI refused permission for The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” to be included; and the engravings showing what humans look like (naked) were actually censored and therefore inaccurate.

Copyright issues have always made it challenging to listen to the full Voyager track listing on earth, but the copyright-subverting hydra that is YouTube solves this problem, and I highly recommend making time to appreciate the playlist.

And this just in, with a title that sets expectations perfectly, another candidate for music-to-share-with-the-galaxy: Duel of the Fates on Trombones

Games

I previously wrote about game-maker Jason Rohrer in Things 121 (specifically on Chain World, a game intended to become a religion). In 2014 he released The Castle Doctrine, a game about gun-ownership through the medium of PvP house-security design and burglary. Players design a secure ‘house’, with the restriction that it must be possible to break into without tools; they then try to break into other player’s houses to steal loot, and then store that loot in their own house and hope their design keeps other thieves out. Total loot owned is public, so a nice feedback loop emerges where a more successful player will attract more burglary attempts.

The challenge for such a game design is you need to come up with creative opportunities and restrictions that will emergently lead to players creating a huge range of fascinating house-designs. I particularly enjoyed the systems-design reasoning at work in Rohrer’s post on some of the design changes he had to make in response to players converging on clever (but boring) solutions.

In mobile games, the mind-bogglingly successful Clash of Clans (and its many clones) operates on a similar basis with (very) light real-time-strategy gameplay, but the strategic variety seems ultimately quite weak. I’m more impressed by King of Thieves, also operating on the same idea but with single-screen platformer gameplay. It’s free, so if that sounds at all interesting you should check it out (on iOS and Android). Unfortunately the late-game becomes about pixel-perfect jump timing which is a bit less fun.

Self-improvement

I can’t remember what I was thinking when I added this link, but perhaps that in itself is telling: Kottke’s extract from an Adam Phillips interview, “The need not to know yourself“.

I suspect that procrastination is a challenge for a large number of people, and found that Quora has a collection of highly upvoted answers. I personally found the best approach is a mixed strategy: trying lots of things in sequence. So this is a good place to go to find lots of ideas.

Writing, Data Visualisation, Everything Else

A good long read is, these days, the closest I get to the escapism of a good novel: a chance to inhabit and explore another world-view. If you’re the same, you’ll probably enjoy this long article on novels, tragedy, comedy, and religion on two levels. Sample quotes:

“the invention of the novel privatised myth, because the novel, invented after Aristotle, did not have a holy book. The novelist was on his own. Sometimes he’s even a she. There were no rules.”

“As they became professional, writers began to write about writers. As they became academicised, writers began to write about writing.”

“You may think that to praise The Simpsons at the expense of Henry James makes me a barbarian. Well, it does, but I’m a very cultured barbarian. The literary novel has gone late Roman. It needs the barbarians.”

There was an article about a trend online to use “?” where formal writing used a hyphen, for example:

“The greatest pleasure of all – the categorisation of minutiae.”
“The greatest pleasure of all? The categorisation of minutiae.”

I felt that captured something I’d seen and been annoyed by, and figured I would collect some examples. I guess shortly after that I just started to accept it and didn’t collect anything, and then couldn’t find the original link, leaving this a bit of a non-thing. Although I think the fact I abandoned it is at least somewhat interesting.

Unremembered by present me, and unexplained by past me, the Things archive includes a link to the Tableau product support page.

Here are some fascinating maps on the distribution of blood types.

And finally, a superb example of giving insight into long-term trends using well-designed data visualisation: The Great Prosperity (1947-79) and The Great Regression (1980-2009)


(Click for full version)

- Transmission finally ends

Things 66: ChatRoulette piano, Tube Door Challenge, Free Will

(Originally sent March 2010, maybe)

Video
ChatRoulette is a fascinating site whose mission is simply to connect you to a random person to video chat with. This is just as good and bad an idea as it sounds. I don’t recommend visiting (particularly if you have a webcam active as it will attempt to throw you into a random encounter immediately) but I do recommend reading about it.

It turns out to be a great environment for improv performance as shown in this video (sound essential, 5’28” long but the first 40” gives you the idea):

I’m fascinated by the extent to which people respond silently – and contrast this with how we usually provide feedback to a musical performance. There’s some very interesting human-machine-human interface stuff going on here.

Link
Sometimes an aesthetic is a byproduct of technology – high contrast in over-reproduced 6”x10” glossy star photos, inconsistent speed in old black and white film, the depth and colour range in Polaroid photos, or the way 80s TV series look rubbish. Digital processing grants a whole new level of control over colour and the ability to choose from a vast range of possible palettes, but the result seems to be that everyone is doing the same thing. This is quite likely how films made in the last ten years will reveal their age when we look back on them ten years from now.

Quote
(via Tim Connor)

Marin Alsop: “Tradition is simply the last bad idea”

Picture
Free Will
.

This weeks’ puzzle
Many years ago Nick challenged me to work out how to tell where the doors of a London Underground tube carriage would stop on the platform so that you could optimise where to stand to improve your odds of boarding first and so getting a seat. I came up with an answer that didn’t work terribly well but assumed that was what he had in mind (without ever confirming it). Only now after 5 months of catching 4 tube trains every workday have I realised a much better solution.

What do you think my first and second solutions were?

Last week’s puzzle
Why are calculator and phone keyboards laid out oppositely? There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer, but there are a few very likely suspects.

The original decisions that led to 123 being at the bottom for calculators are unclear. Thomas suggests it’s a matter of “where your attention is coming from” – combined with Benford’s law I suspect this could be a key factor driving the layout of the first common mechanical number-entering devices, cash registers, and how devices evolved from there.

When it came to phone pads, it seems (remarkably for this kind of thing) that AT&T actually did some user testing and found the 3×3 grid with 123-at-the-top was the easiest for people to master. As letters were also a consideration in those days, putting ABC with 1 (and so on) made most intuitive sense, and would have looked pretty bizarre had 123 been at the bottom.

My preferred write-up of possible answers comes from The Straight Dope.

Various other attempts to answer this question are curated here.

Richard also points out the following (my summary of his words [my comments in square brackets]):

Handedness is a consideration for other aspects of the layout; in particular computer keyboard number keypads, which sit on the right-hand side, are supposed to be operated with the left hand [a revelation to me after years of feeling slightly odd using my little finger to press the return key], and an interesting challenge emerges when one keyboard is used for both data-entry/calculation and telephone operation, as with Skype today, or the over-prescient One-Per-Desk in 1984.