Never Say Die

Scientia potentia est

Posts tagged aroundtheweb

1 note &

Around the web XXXX

*blows off cobwebs* 40th roundup of links arrives a little late. Nonetheless; today marks the first ringing of Big Ben (in 1859), the initial publishing of To Kill A Mockingbird (in 1960) and the Los Alfaques Disaster (in 1978).

Sci/tech:
  • Time zones are a complicated business (as anyone who’s worked with software localisation in particular will know). This BBC feature goes into some detail on their quirks and history.
  • Banging some electricity into your brain seems to improve performance at tasks and learning, based on several studies, although the reasons aren’t fully understood. This New Scientist article describes such a research project, using electrical stimulation to bring about a “flow” state of focus on a task.
  • In WWII, PoWs in prison camps sometimes created improvised radios from scavenged parts and junk. John Graham-Cumming decided to try and reproduce one, and ended up with a working radio created from a toilet roll tube, a pencil, razorblades and other parts. See his blog post for details and photos.
  • An 83 year-old woman has had her lower jawbone replaced with an artificial one made from titanium, with working joints, guides for nerve and blood vessel development, attachment points for muscles and replacement teeth, etc. Once designed, the replacement jaw was created in a 3D printer in a few hours, apparently the first time this has been done. See BBC article.
  • Over the years, many scientific treasures have gone missing or been lost under mysterious circumstances. This New Scientist article collects the stories of nine of them, from a Soviet seed bank captured by the Nazis, to missing moon rocks from the Apollo missions, to the secret of ancient napalm or “Greek fire”. On a related note, this BBC story looks into the fate of the moon rocks that are missing around the world (one sample is buried deep in a Dublin dump, amongst other strange stories).
  • In this article, the Seven Days news blog profiles Jerry Manock, one of Apple’s first industrial designers, who designed the Apple II and later Macs. He discusses his history with Apple and reminisces about working with Steve Jobs.
  • In Portland, Oregon, there’s been a vast amount of tunnelling and construction work carried out for a city sewer system upgrade. Wired has a photo gallery demonstrating the scale and technical challenges of the project.
  • Dutch scientists are trying to produce artificial hamburger meat in a lab by growing strips of muscle tissue from stem cells. This would take a considerable weight off the environment if successful, as the BBC reports.
  • Glass eyes provide at least a cosmetic return to normality for folks injured badly enough to lose an eye. There’s quite a bit to their history and manufacture - which is a dying art, as modern replacement eyes are usually made from plastics, not glass. See BBC story.
  • This is an odd one. It seems there’s a fair bit of historical and scientific evidence that, up to a century or two ago (i.e. pre Industrial Revolution), people used to sleep in two different periods, waking for night-time activity in between, instead of the continuous 8 hours we aspire to now. BBC has the story.
  • James Cameron recently made it down to the deepest point of the Earth’s oceans - the first time anyone’s done that since the 60’s. This BBC feature shows the science behind it all, and details Cameron’s and others’ attempts to reach the bottom of the Marianas Trench (including an interactive scroll down to the bottom).
Business:
  • Thinking of opening a bookshop? This blog post has 25 tips and lessons learned from the experience.
  • Joel Spolsky still blogs from time to time; here’s a great new post from him about the perils of “software inventory”, and how you can still have pallets and barrels of stuff clogging up your business and costing money, even if you only work with laptops, whiteboards and servers. Oh, and if you haven’t seen Trello, his new project/task management product yet, check it out. This is how software can be.
Dev
  • Massive scalability is tough, especially when it has to be developed to keep up with massive growth. Here’s some links offering insights into how scaling and tech stacks work for Tumblr (hundreds of millions of views a day, terabytes of new data generated every day), StackExchange (via Nick Craver’s blog) and Instragram.
Gaming:
  • There have been various novel features added to Skyrim over the past few patches and the new expansion - kill-cams for ranged combat, Kinect voice commands, flying vampire characters, etc. Most of these originate from a week-long hackathon that Bethesda held after the game was done, where devs threw together whatever weird and wonderful features they wanted. This hectic video from DICE 2012 demos a good few - mounted combat, an epic mudcrab, flowing water, seasonal foliage changes, etc etc.
Writing:
  • Chuck Wendig delivers a rundown of 25 bad things writers shouldn’t do, in his usual inimitable style.
  • If you’re self-publishing e-books with Amazon’s KDP or similar from outside the US and need to sort out tax withholding issues (that 30% Amazon have to hang on to for the IRS unless you’re registered) with tax numbers and all that madness, you’ll want to be reading this blog post.
Misc:
  • Sticking up one’s middle finger is a pretty universal gesture of insult (and has been for thousands of years). Where does it originate from? The BBC takes a look.
  • The Atlantic magazine’s In Focus photography blog has posted a fascinating collection of photos from the US Civil War - see Part 1 (The Places) and Part 2 (The People).
  • In a Manhattan basement, there’s a vast arsenal of weapons created and stored - prop weapons, supplied to a wide films and TV shows. Gizmodo took a look around.
  • Here’s a gallery of amazing looking animal sculptures created from chopped-up CDs and other waste computer parts.
  • Also on the art front, this sculpture depicts a torrent of thousands of books gushing from a building - see photos. Pretty cool.
  • If you need somewhere to chill, this blog collects images of remote cabins of all shapes and sizes.
  • Giving fruit as a gift is a common custom in Japan. It also gets taken to some pretty extreme lengths when it comes to growing and buying the perfect fruit - an apple for $25, a dozen strawberries for $83 or three perfect melons for $420. See fascinating BBC story and gallery.

Filed under aroundtheweb

0 notes &

Around the web XXXIX

*puff of smoke* Two posts in less than a fortnight? For sure. Anyway, today marks the first issue of paper money in the United States (in 1690) and the death of Buddy Holly and two other famous rock & roll musicians in a plane crash (AKA “The Day the Music Died”). Speaking of anniversaries, id Software celebrated their 21st birthday two days ago.

Sci/tech;

  • Graphene has demonstrated yet more miraculous properties - this time, it appears that it acts (in one particular derivative form) as a super-filter that will block anything,except water. Applications may exist in filtration and industrial processes - amongst other things, the researchers used it to distil super-strong vodka. See Gizmag article.
  • Scientists have managed to decipher words that people are thinking about, via brain scanning. Mind reading ftw; see BBC report. This could lead to better means of communicating with comatose and “locked-in” patients, amongst other applications.
  • NASA and others have come up with a variety of design concepts for space stations over the years; Wired round up a gallery of some interesting examples.
  • This very cool video shows small robot quadrotors (helicopters) flying in formation and performing coordinated manoeuvres. Very impressive work from researchers at the GRASP Lab in Pennsylvania - worth a look through the site, they have a lot of other interesting robotics research going on.
  • Conspiracy folks have some lurid and ludicrous theories about the world ending in 2012, but there are various rather more scientifically plausible ways life on Earth could come to an end (and in fact will, eventually). Wired gather up a selection, from the standard asteroids (possible, but unlikely for now) and super-plagues (not actually very likely) to less well-known scenarios like supernovae (anyone’s guess) and the eventual expansion of the sun as it ages (inevitable, though very very far off). At that point, we’ll either have to stick an outboard motor on the planet, or find a new one.
  • You know those cool but improbable-looking scenes in the likes of James Bond films and the recent Batman epic, where characters make their escape by being hauled up into aircraft in mid-air, using a “skyhook” contraption? Well, such things actually exist and have been used in the field (occasionally) since the 50’s, by the CIA amongst other folks. See Wikipedia article.
  • A paper ball may not look very impressive, but the shape and behaviour of crumpled paper balls actually involves some very complex maths and physics mysteries, as New Scientist discuss. For instance, seeing how a ball of paper is structured internally is very difficult - computer simulations haven’t been able to model such a structure, and paper is transparent to X-rays and most other scanning technologies. Crumpled paper balls also exhibit a lot more strength than you might expect - e.g. in their use in packaging material and for tossing around the place.
Gaming;
  • Eagle Dynamics have announced the next entry in their state-of-the-art DCS series of study sims (following titles featuring the Russian Ka-50 Black Shark attack chopper and the US A-10C CAS aircraft). They’re switching to historical aircraft for this one, featuring the iconic P-51 Mustang of WWII fame. See Rock, Paper Shotgun article.
  • Valve launched the final release of a Steam app for iOS and Android a few days ago. This (free) app will let you chat with Steam friends, browse and buy from the store and keep up with news, achievements, etc. Handy for jumping on Steam sales in particular.
  • Classic gaming site GOG.com has a few notable new entries in their catalogue. Iconic additions include Syndicate, Thief, Deus Ex and, just added, Trilobyte’s seminal early CD-ROM adventure game The 7th Guest (and sequel The 11th Hour). They also have a half-price weekend sale on classic early adventure series Police Quest, King’s Quest and Space Quest.
  • Speaking of classics brought back from the past, here’s a bunch of screenshots and combat commentary from the new X-COM strategy game.
  • CD Projekt (creators of critically-acclaimed The Witcher 2) sure do a fine line in trailers. Here’s a new one to accompany the announcement of The Witcher 2 for XBox.
Dev;
  • Microsoft have just released Kinect for Windows, along with SDK; see blog post. Channel 9’s Coding4Fun site has plenty of articles on the topic too (along with lots of other Microsoft-based hardware and hacker projects).
  • How do Facebook manage to scale MySQL to run their systems? This Gigaom article from a Facebook TechTalk gives some insight - amongst other crazy stats, they handle 60 million DB queries a second.
Misc;
  • A chap in Leicestershire in the UK built himself a Star Trek themed apartment a while back. I’m not sure whether to be impressed or feel sorry for the chap, but he certainly packed in the work. See Telegraph gallery, and BBC article on how he unfortunately looks set to lose the flat.
  • On a similar note, an Irish artist built a house with millions of Euros - literally; it’s made of (€50k) bricks of shredded notes. See BBC article.
  • Also on the art front, artist Brian Dettmer produces amazing 3D sculpture by cutting layers into the interior of books, revealing different words and images from the pages inside - see pictures. Beautiful.
  • There are a variety of popular myths and msiconceptions around medieval arms and armour - that knights could barely move around in full armour (actually it was probably less cumbersome than modern body armour), that Vikings wore horned helmets (they don’t appear to have ever gone in for that fashion), etc. The Metropolitan Museum of Art discusses some of these myths in an educational article.

Filed under aroundtheweb

0 notes &

Around the web XXXVIII

Back again. Aside from the Apple landmarks gushed over in my previous post, today marks the deaths of Ira Hayes (one of the Marines photographed raising that flag on Iwo Jima) and Winston Churchill (whose father also passed away on the same date 70 years before, incidentally).

Sci/tech;

  • A British project to drill into an ancient and pristine lake hidden two miles under the Antarctic ice sheet is well under way, as the BBC report.
  • The folks at Twitter have a blog, Twitter Stories, where they post various stories of folks whose lives have been affected by Twitter in one way or another. Some interesting bits and pieces in there.
  • The Royal Society recently made its historical journal available online, all 60,000 papers of it. The BBC round up a few of the more bizarre bits of science to be found in the collection - death by lightning, early attempts at blood transfusions, etc.
  • A cure for the common cold may some day be possible, thanks to advances in antiviral research, as the BBC reports. An antiviral is a drug that can deal with many different viruses at once, instead of the current highly (and laboriously) targeted types. A broad-based antiviral is a holy grail of virus treatment, needless to say.
  • Against all the odds, physics legend Stephen Hawking recently celebrated his 70th birthday. To mark the occasion, he answered some reader questions for the BBC; see here.
  • If Segways are too bulky or not eccentric enough for you, you could try these motorised shoes; see BBC report.

Dev;

  • Why was SQL Server never ported to Linux/Unix server platforms? This blog post from a former Microsoft engineer goes into some detail on the historical and technical reasons.
  • Speaking of Microsoft, they’re planning a new file system (an improved version of NTFS) for Windows 8 server versions. PC Pro have some details.
  • In this interesting blog post, the folks behind Fog Creek’s very impressive new task management web app discuss the technology stack that powers Trello.

Business;

Gaming;

  • Great news; aside from the shooter spin-off, a new version of XCOM has just been announced - a real XCOM strategy game. PC Gamer have some more info and screenshots. Also a story from GameInformer describing how the original XCOM project came to be.

GameDev;

  • From the AMD website, an interview discussing some of the tech behind the Battlefield 3 engine, FrostBite 2.

Misc;

  • Near Beijing, there’s a giant abandoned theme park, a half-finished casualty of China’s rapid growth. The Reuters blog has some photos.
  • A rare blast from the past; this video records a drive through Dublin city centre in 1976.
  • In this BBC piece, a North Korean poet who defected to the South describes some of his sometimes surreal experiences in the Communist state.
  • If you haven’t seen Deadwood, it’s a very impressive western series from HBO which doesn’t exactly go easy on the language and the violence. The writing and acting is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and in this MIT lecture, you can hear the thoughts of the show’s creator, David Milch.
  • An association of explosives experts celebrate their trade in this montage video. Some pretty amazing feats of precise building demolition going on there, complete with improbable pan pipe soundtrack.
  • Clothes made entirely of spider silk? The BBC have some photos of just such a thing, produced over seven years with the aid of eighty people and over a million spiders. Amazing.

Filed under aroundtheweb

0 notes &

Around the web XXXVII (finally)

Well, that took a while. This is apparently now one of those intermittent blogs that struggle out a post once a month or so. I’m sorry, but I make no apologies, etc. Distracting you with notable anniversaries; today marks the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour (1941) and the launch of the last Moon mission - Apollo 17 (1972), the crew of which took the iconic “Blue Marble" photo as they left Earth. Today also marks the birthday of linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky and the deaths of ancient Roman politician Cicero and one William Bligh (of mutiny on the Bounty fame).

Sci/tech;

  • In good news on the diseases and epidemics front, malaria appears to be on the back foot; the WHO recently announced that deaths worldwide from the disease have fallen 20%, as the BBC reports. There have also been some recent promising results and developments in both vaccines and treatment approaches.
  • Power supply to medical implants in the body is a constant problem, being as you can’t just swap out the batteries or plug into the nearest socket. Ideally, they could generate electrical power from the body itself, and research in that direction continues to progress, as the BBC report in this piece on biofuel cell development.
  • Holodecks in the Star Trek style are still a ways off, but virtual and augmented reality systems continue to advance, with MS Research’s HoloDesk a recent example. A combination of transparent projection surfaces and Kinect trackers allow you to look down at your hands and interact with 3D objects that appear to be floating around them - see Gizmodo report and video.
  • Why don’t more countries use plastic/polymer banknotes? (a few do). The BBC take a look at the challenges involved (they’re harder to make and don’t fold, but they’re much more durable, amongst other things).
  • Mount a few dozen small cameras in a foam ball, toss it up in the air and create large panoramic images with the results. A clever project from Jonas Pfeil, to be presented at SIGGRAPH Asia - see Gizmag article.
  • A British gentleman (Fauja Singh) recently ran the Toronto marathon at the age of 100. Sounds impossible, and it almost (but obviously not quite) is, according to the BBC’s look into the medical practicalities of such a feat.
  • Six degrees of separation? According to research by Facebook and the University of Milan, it’s actually even less. See CNet story.
  • The 100th anniversary of Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic fell recently, and the BBC report on some of the important discoveries that were made on the journey. They also have a gallery of amazing photos from the expedition’s almost perfectly preserved hut (now the obect of conservation efforts), still filled with items left behind at the time.
  • This ingenious Halloween costume involves two iPads and a hole in someone’s torso that you can see right through - see CNet article and video.
  • In July of last year, a container turned up in the port of Genoa that was emitting large amounts of radiation. No one knew what was in it. This lengthy Wired article reports on the investigation of the mystery box.

Gaming;

  • Skyrim is well out at this stage, to universal acclaim. This game may or may not have something to do with the recent dearth of posts on this blog. It really is a vast and amazing piece of work, and anyone with any interest in RPGs should absolutely buy a copy. Mods are already appearing (soon to be enabled directly through Steam), and PC Gamer have rounded up a dozen or two of the most useful tweaking and improvement mods on offer thus far.
  • It was revealed a while back that the new Syndicate game would be a FPS, moving away from its strategy/tactical roots. Thus far, it looks like it’ll be a passable shooter - a combat-heavy poor man’s Deus Ex, from what I’ve seen, but hey, that’s no bad thing. Rock, Paper Shotgun have a preview.
  • In a frankly much more promising revival, Planetside 2 continues to progress - PC Gamer have a couple of previews here and here.
  • The Gadget Show built a crazy full-immersion simulator for playing Battlefield 3; body-tracking, panoramic screen, weapon tracking, treadmill system, paintball guns for impact feedback, etc. See this brief video for a trailer, or this one for the full show. Amazing bit of work.
  • And last but certainly not least, GTA V was announced recently. Epic.

Dev;

  • From Yacoset, an article detailing various signs that you may be a bad programmer (see the article’s Reddit and Hacker News discussions for some caveats and commentary).

Business;

  • In a blog post summarising a talk by the ever-interesting Jason Fried (of 37Signals fame), we get 10 points of advice for would-be entrepreneurs.
  • In an article for .net magazine, Des Traynor talks about the online customer experience, and how you need to make sure it really is a customer experience and not just user management. Des is, incidentally, a mate of mine - but he writes good stuff, so go read some anyway. Recent highlights from his other writing on the Intercom blog include the need for a strong core vision in startups, the dangers of iceberg features in projects and his MIX presentation on data visualisation for web apps.

Misc;

  • The BBC have a collection of images from the Royal Geographical Society commemorating early British expeditions on Mount Everest.
  • This really is amazing. Some anonymous character deposited a series of 10 paper sculptures (created from books) at various literary sites around Edinburgh earlier this year. Beautiful work; see story.
  • LIFE magazine photos have included some iconic and remarkable images over the years - they round up 75 of their best here.
  • Also on the photography front, a while back I posted a link to a very cool project by photographer Irina Werning, where she exactly recreated childhood photos with the original, now adult subject. She’s since added another set.
  • What if you applied a minimalist design to some famous brands? The results are very interesting - see here.
  • In this fascinating video diary from the set of The Hobbit, Peter Jackson talks about the challenges of working with 3D cameras and the high frame rate tech he’s using for the new film. Amongst other things, two artists draw their pieces side-by-side with red and blue pencils to produce 3D concept art, and makeup and set colours have to be much stronger (appearing quite garish in normal camera footage) to reach the correct appearance with the new camera tech.

Filed under aroundtheweb

0 notes &

Around the web XXXVI

Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Today does however mark the death of the sound barrier at the hands of a (rocket) plane in level flight - in 1947, by US pilot Chuck Yeager. Other notable anniversaries occurring today include the Battle of Hastings (1066) and the beginning of the Cuban Missle Crisis (1962).

Sci/Tech;

  • Gamers playing a protein folding “game” have succeeded in helping scientists researching the molecular structure of enzymes related to the AIDS virus. The collaborative game, FoldIt, involves players attempting to create 3D molecular structures with the most energy-efficient designs possible (thus matching how the natural versions will work). See MSNBC story.
  • As with previous research into the area, further results continue to indicate that electrical stimulation of the brain can improve learning (it doesn’t make subjects learn better than their max natural level, but it does appear to help them reach that level more quickly and consistently). In this case, learning of motor skills was improved with non-invasive application of electrical current - something that could aid stroke recovery for instance (though in this experiment, it also showed strong effects on normal, healthy subjects). The BBC have more.
  • Slime molds might not sound like the most interesting of topics, but they have quite a history and some strange and some unexpectedly complicated behaviours going on - they can form into multi-celluar co-operative masses, scientists are experimenting with the mathematical properties of their behaviour, etc. A New York Times article explains.
  • Switching to the far end of the scale in terms of simple technology, poor families in the Philippines are getting cheap daytime interior lights for otherwise dark rooms using nothing more complex than a bottle of water. This BBC video explains.
  • This impressive bit of research from SIGGRAPH Asia enables the casual user to insert new objects into existing photographs - with matching perspective, lighting, shadowing, etc. Very cool; see video demo.
  • Deus Ex style replacement limbs draw closer - monkeys have been trained to control a virtual arm using only their brain activity, and have also received sensory feedback from the arm directly into their brains. See BBC article.

Gaming;

  • Max Payne 3 details have been emerging. Here’s a preview from Rock, Paper Shotgun and an interview from GameSpot.
  • Also more details on the new Hitman game, Hitman: Absolution. Here’s an interview and over 15 minutes of gameplay footage.
  • In classic gaming revival that stays truer to its roots, indie game Legend of Grimrock is looking to recapture the classic first-person dungeon crawler (think Bard’s Tale and the likes) in modern form. Looking impressive so far - Rock, Paper Shotgun have more (includes video).
  • In a revival of a much older series, 10 minutes of gameplay footage of the new Syndicate game (now in FPS form) has just been released. Looks like a poor man’s combat-heavy Deus Ex, but we’ll see.
  • The next entry in the X series of space sims, X Rebirth, is in the works; PC Gamer have some details and screenshots.
  • In other gaming news, GOG.com have a half-price sale on classic Atari games this weekend, some real gems in there - Rollercoaster Tycoon, Alone in the Dark, Master of Orion, Total Annihilation, Outcast, Independence War, Blood, etc. Also includes the more modern classic RPG The Witcher for $5, a steal.

Business;

  • The paper that bank notes are printed on (which is actually made of cotton) is serious business, as the BBC report in this inside look at a recently rejuvenated company that produces a lot of it.

Dev;

  • How do you build a 30,000 core cluster with 27 terabytes of RAM and 2 petabytes of disk space? Well, Cycle Computing did it relatively easily using Amazon’s EC2 service. Read all about it.
  • This fascinating rant from Google (formerly Amazon) employee Steve Yegge on the difference in culture between Google and Amazon, the leadership of Jeff Bezos and the effect this has had on their respective platforms and architectures, makes for interesting reading. It was originally intended for a private audience of Googlers, but was accidentally made public and remains so for now (with Steve’s permission and Google’s support).

GameDev;

  • As is their custom, id released the Quake 2 source code some time ago. There are various source ports and indie projects based around the codebase, and now, if you’re interested in such things, Fabien Sanglard has a detailed multi-part review of the Quake 2 code on his blog. Interesting stuff - he goes into the rendering, visibility management, etc, with reference to the specific implementation details from the code and the architectures around it.
  • Also on the historical game engines front, Sean Barrett recollects the rendering technology he worked on for Thief’s software rendering engine in this article.

Misc;

  • The BBC have the story of a German Jew who acted as a translator for American psychiatrists at Nuremberg, and his sometimes surreal interactions with the senior Nazis there (who didn’t know he was Jewish).
  • When an eagle owl comes blasting in in ulta slow-motion, here’s what it looks like.
  • Paul Lukas discovered around 400 report cards from a Manhattan girls’ school dating from the 1920’s. In the first of a series of articles for the Slate, he talks about how he found the cards, how they changed his life, and the stories they contained.
  • Following the recent survival of a 67 year-old man for six days after crashing his car in a forest near LA, the BBC have some rounded up several other famous tales of amazing human survival; see article.
  • This BBC gallery highlights some innovative school building designs from around the world, as featured in an architectural showcase.
  • Speaking of design, in New York City two chaps with no experience of urban planning or the likes managed to succeed in building a park up in the air - along a mile or so of derelict elevated railway line. See video.

Filed under aroundtheweb

0 notes &

Around the web XXXV

Again to the date; today marks the establishment of the CIA (in 1947), Tiffany’s (in 1837) and ICANN (in 1998), the birth of Ronaldo (in 1976) and the death of one Jimi Hendrix (in 1970).

Sci/tech;

  • Nuclear fusion research is still plugging away and making gradual advances; both the torus/tokamak kind (hot plasma contained in magnetic fields in donut-like apparatus) - see The Economist - and the laser ignition kind (triggering fusion by firing very powerful lasers at small capsules of fuel) - see BBC.
  • Researchers have developed a camera system that detects lies through analysis of various subtle unconscious signs that people display when they lie. It currently works about two thirds of the time, as the BBC report.
  • Various now ubiquitous technologies and inventions were at first dismissed as insignificant or not commercially viable - including the telephone and Post-It notes. The BBC runs through a few more.
  • Wired recently visited MS Research, and took a look at some of their latest endeavours - depth sensing cameras extending from the Kinect tech, 3D printers for custom mice, the next generation of the Surface, etc. See report.

Business;

  • From Inc, a brief piece on how Dropbox was founded (partly because of a forgotten USB drive).

GameDev;

  • Gamasutra have an interview with John Carmack here, where he talks about finishing Rage, his thoughts on multiplatform development and the future of game technology, and more.
  • Also from Gamasutra, in a piece summarising a talk at GDC Europe a few weeks back, JE Sawyer (from Obsidian, of Fallout: New Vegas fame) discusses five lessons they’ve learned about gameplay design for RPGs
  • From trade magazine Edge, an interesting piece on the creation of Valve’s popular co-op zombie game Left 4 Dead.
  • Speaking of John Carmack, id have just released the source code for the iOS ports of DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D, as is their custom - see the Bethesda blog announcement.

Gaming;

  • Confirming long-standing rumours, EA has announced that cult classic squad strategy game Syndicate is set to return, but, it turns out, as an FPS. Whether or not that’ll work is anyone’s guess, but PC Gamer have some nice-looking screenshots in any case.
  • In a story on very similar lines, here’s 22 minutes of XCOM footage from E3, demoing the classic strategy game which is now being remade in FPS form.
  • On a happier note, 20 minutes of gameplay footage of Skyrim, as demoed to journalists at E3. Impressive stuff. Also from Bethesda’s direction, a new gameplay trailer for id’s Rage, featuring rich environments and frenetic combat.
  • And on an even happier note, that familiar cello solo, scenery-chewing monologue and over-the-top gunplay? Yes, it’s the first trailer for Max Payne 3.
  • Speaking of debut trailers, here's the first one for the upcoming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Misc;

  • If you’ve wondered how digital artists do their thing, here's a cool timelapse video of an artist painting one of the critters in online game Everquest, plus detailed commentary on the artistic process.
  • Ferries in Bangladesh are key to the country’s economy, as this BBC gallery describes.
  • And again with the photo galleries; a collection of colour photos from New York City around the WWII era.
  • This is pretty cool; a photographer decided to capture the look on friends and family’s faces when he told them that he was to become a father; see the results.
  • Speaking of children, various famous “grown-up” authors also wrote lesser known childrens’ books - including Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley (of Brave New World fame), Ian Flemming, Leo Tolstoy and more. See here and here.
  • Continuing the art theme, from 1972, one of the first 3D rendered films ever produced (by graphics legend Ed Catmull, who was later to found Pixar) - see article.

Filed under aroundtheweb

0 notes &

Around the web XXXIV

Anyone concerned about recent lack of activity on this blog should refer their complaints to Eidos Montreal.

Sci/Tech;

  • Bell Labs have been behind many of the most significant inventions and discoveries in the past century - the transistor, the laser, UNIX, the CCD image sensor and C/C++ not being the least of them. With 25,000 patents and seven Nobel Prizes going back over 100 years, it’s hard to keep track of all those achievements, so they had a design firm create an interactive whiteboard to make their history of research and innovation more accessible. See story and video.
  • The two main approaches for dealing with a body after death have always been burial of various sorts and cremation. A US company is working on a third option, effectively chemically dissolving bodies. Sounds a bit bizarre, but they reckon it’s viable and more environmentally friendly than cremation, as the BBC report.
  • Earth’s core is a mysterious place that’s still not very well understood, particularly the processes behind the magnetic fields it generates. See BBC report.
  • Back in the late 1800’s, there was a horse called Hans who could apparently tap out numbers with a hoof when he saw them written on a blackboard. Various investigations seemed to confirm that he did indeed have the ability. The subsequent more detailed investigations and ultimate explanation of how Hans was able to perform his trick offer important insight into the necessity for “double blind” methods as used in modern scientific experiments. Read all about it.
  • Engineer and computer conservationist Tony Sale passed away recently. Amongst other things, he established the Bletchley Park computing museum in the UK and led the difficult rebuilding of the WWII-era Colossus code-breaking computer. The BBC have an obituary.
  • This is strangely compelling; a web app that uses a genetic algorithm to evolve better designs for small wheeled vehicles, by combining wheels and some basic 2D shapes. You can watch the results play out in realtime as it works (it can take a while to come up with useful designs). It uses the Box2D physics library for the vehicle simulation, incidentally.
  • Research from Cambridge has revealed that the cholera pandemic that has spread across the world for the past several decades has a single source in the Bay of Bengal; see BBC report. The research also shows how the disease “jumps” from place to place via long-haul air travel.

Dev;

  • Microsoft development manager Tim Heuer has been working at Microsoft’s main campus for the past year or so; he offers some interesting reflections on the experience in a blog post.

Gaming;

  • Jagged Alliance remakes and sequels and so on have appeared and disappeared over recent years in some kind of complex dance. In addition to the new Jagged Alliance game (JA: Back In Action) presented at E3, the latest one apparently involves a browser-based revival of the classic turn-based squad game; Jagged Alliance Online. Here’s a preview.
  • Speaking of such, old-school gaming site GOG.com have been adding their second batch of EA games from that publisher’s storied back catalogue. This includes some absolute classics; original god game Populous, seminal space sims Wing Commander 1&2, cult classic bad-guy management sim Dungeon Keeper 2, and from the mists of the 80’s, Ultima 1/2/3 and 4.
  • On a (much) more modern note, Rock Paper Shotgun have an interview with id’s Tim Willits talking about RAGE.
  • Again at the cutting edge, some Battlefield 3 material; a single-player preview from EuroGamer and some details on the vehicle system from the official blog. Amongst other things, vehicles will have slots for customisation and their health will recharge (within limits) to give non-engineers a chance. To give long-suffering engineers a chance, they’ll also stop moving when critically damaged so you can repair them without getting reversed over (though the weapons will still work, for Black Hawk Down/Zulu moments).

Misc;

  • The HMV store on London’s Oxford St has been around for some time (though not that long by London’s august standards) - here’s a photo set showing how things looked in there in the 60’s.
  • Namibia’s Skeleton Coast where the desert meets the ocean is a strange and desolate place, plagued by dense fogs and littered with shipwrecks and abandoned settlements, as this BBC travel story describes.
  • I’ve always been interested in different office designs, and this blog covers plenty of offices from tech companies and others.
  • Ever wondered how celebrities looked in their school yearbook photos? The BBC have gathered up a few youthful examples for you to peruse.
  • Small Lives is an exhibition of photographs of Irish children over the past century or so. The Journal.ie have a fascinating selection of them here.
  • Two Muslim chaps in the US set out on a road trip for Ramadan, profiling a diverse range of American Muslims in 30 mosques across 30 states, finishing up a few days ago. Read about it on the BBC, or see the project’s blog.
  • Again with the art and photos, here’s a gallery of 50 impressive pieces of graffiti art.

Filed under aroundtheweb

0 notes &

Around the web XXXIII

Some random facts for you; the B-2 stealth bomber has an optical sensor system that warns the pilot if the aircraft starts generating contrails that would give away their position, and in old English, the verb “to mock” used to mean “to imitate”/”to copy”, and is still used in that sense in the term “mock-up”.

Sci/tech;

  • You can admire the evolution of Apple’s print ads from the late 70’s to the present in this piece from Web Designer Depot. Times change.
  • If you’ve ever wondered how wind farms get built, the BBC have a detailed article and interactive multimedia piece on the topic.
  • Sketchub is an interesting piece of work - a shared whiteboard that allows very deep zooming. It was built using HTML5 with a view towards tablets, Surface-type devices, etc, as well as PCs. Sharing a specific whiteboard is as simple as sharing the unique link to it. Check it out and read more on the blog.
  • And if you’ve ever wondered how books are put together, this set of videos from the Discovery channel and elsewhere shows the evolution of the process over the years.

Gaming;

  • European games expo GamesCom was on recently, resulting in plenty of new announcements and trailers. Far from least among them, this wild gameplay trailer from a giant Battlefield 3 map (64-player), featuring jets, amongst many other things. From the same game, PC Gamer have a run-down of some of the weapons and equipment that will feature.
  • Starsiege: Tribes/Tribes 2 were interesting but somewhat lesser-known games, forerunners of the team-based multiplayer FPS in the late 90’s/early 2000’s shortly before Battlefield 1942 planted its flag. Unlike Quake, Unreal and similar multiplayer shooters, they featured large outdoor environments, vehicles, varied equipment and objective-based gameplay with an emphasis on teamwork and specialist roles. And jetpacks, plus an infamous skiing mechanic for traversing hills in a hurry. Well, there’s a new Tribes game in the works for a while now; the free-to-play Tribes: Ascend. PC Gamer have some impressions from GamesCom. Incidentally, the Torque engine currently used by some indie gamedevs originally derived from the engine used in Tribes 2.
  • On Prey 2, some new screenshots and the final part of their E3 trailer developer’s commentary.
  • From a little further back at QuakeCon, Bethesda’s very interesting retro-future first-person sneaker/assassination game Dishonored also gets some new screens, an interview and a preview. Dishonored, set in some kind of steampunk London, involves some of the art and design talent behind such innovative titles as Deus Ex, Thief, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, and Half-Life 2.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution (yeah, yeah, here I go again) is now out in the US, with the EU release coming at midnight Friday. If you have access, go play it - it’s apparently quite good. If you don’t, here’s a blog post with 10 memories of the game’s development from James Swallow, novelist and also one of game’s writers. Amongst other things, his very first writing for the project was the phrase “It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.” - later featured in the game’s trailer.

Business;

  • In an interesting blast from the past, Huffington Post dug up a video interview with Mark Zuckerburg from 2005 - see post. At this stage, Facebook was still very much a college community site, active in a few hundred colleges and celebrating its 3 millionth user (hence all the beer). Facebook is now, well, Facebook. A non-trivial portion of the population of the planet (11%, best guess) has an account with them.
  • The internet can offer great opportunities to folks in the developing world via sites like Elance and Freelancer.com, as the BBC reports.

Dev;

  • LinkedIn just launched a new mobile web app, based on HTML5 with Node.js on the backend. This brief piece from DevBeat gets some background from LinkedIn on how the app works.
  • If you’ve wondered (I seem to be using that line a lot) exactly how a modern web browser processes and renders a page, HTML5Rocks.com have a very in-depth and interesting piece on the topic, based on some exhaustive work by an Israeli researcher, Tali Garsiel.
  • Fuzz testing is a form of black-box robustness test that involves throwing dodgy and badly broken data into your software’s inputs to see how it handles it, thus discovering bugs. If you’re Google, you can do that on a grand scale, as their blog post about fuzz testing Flash describes.
  • A new MSDN blog has just been launched where the team building Windows 8 will discuss its ongoing development. So far, they’ve discussed file management improvements (e.g. you’ll be able to pause file copy operations), USB 3.0 support, and the team behind the project.

GameDev;

  • Crytek have just released a free (for non-commercial and/or educational use) version of their CryEngine 3 (of Crysis 2 fame), following in the footsetps of Epic’s Unreal Engine UDK, etc. Get the SDK while it’s hot.
  • The Advances in Real-time Rendering course from SIGGRAPH 2011 now has the first slides, videos, etc available online, with more to come. Course content included presentations on CryEngine 3 and Frostbite 2’s rendering systems, lighting tech from God of War 3 and Call of Duty: Black Ops, tech for voxels, geometry management, skin shading and plenty more.

Misc;

  • This Facebook album (the three of you who don’t have Facebook accounts may or may not be able to access that link) has 200 photos of street scenes from Dublin of yesteryear (70’s and earlier, it looks like).
  • If you want to sleep with the fishes, this underwater hotel bedroom in the Maldives should fit the bill (a very very large bill, I suspect). It’s actually an underwater restaurant, but they apparently convert it to a suite for special occasions.
  • In the nuts-but-impressive category, here’s an article and video showing a $1.7m steampunk-themed loft apartment.

Filed under aroundtheweb

1 note &

Around the web XXXII

In events of historical significance, the PC was first unleashed by IBM almost exactly 30 years ago in the form of their 5150; here’s the original press release reproduced on the IBM website.

Sci/Tech;

  • This blog post (including video) describes a recent European technology and robotics expo (the European Future Technologies Conference). Some impressive stuff demoing there - the humanoid robot “child” that reaches out and grasps a ball from the user’s hand is particularly so.
  • This BBC piece describes the creation of a prototype skin-mounted sensor - resembling an “electronic tattoo”, that’s flexible and thin enough to be stuck directly on the skin, where it can monitor vital functions.
  • Scientists have engineered an organism (a nematode worm) with artificially extended DNA that produces custom molecules not otherwise present in nature, as the BBC report. Previously this had only been achieved in bacteria or other very simple organisms.
  • As reported recently when Steve Jobs attended a city council meeting, Apple are planning a very impressive new HQ in Cupertino. The “Apple Campus II” will involve a giant circular building - a bit like the Pentagon with Apple design sensibility applied. TechCrunch now have a bunch more images and details from their planning applications.
  • Here’s a very cool 3D panorama of the Space Shuttle Discovery’s cockpit/flight deck.

Business;

  • This piece from the Boston Globe describes the founding and rise of capsule coffee giant Keurig, only established in the early 90’s but with revenues now heading into the billions.

Dev;

  • If you wondered what you could achieve with HTML5 or WebGL, Evan Wallance’s projects page has some cool examples - water rendering, a FSM (finite state machine) designer, realtime image manipulation, etc.
  • From SIGGRAPH, Microsoft demonstrates KinectFusion - realtime 3D reconstruction of scenes using a Kinect as a scanner - see article and video.

Gaming;

  • PC Gamer have some new Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim screenshots, showing several characters in-game.
  • Also from PC Gamer, a new RAGE dev diary trailer discussing the game’s sound and art.
  • Valve just announced Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a refresh of the classic multiplayer game for PC and consoles to be released early next year. See the announcement and a hands-on account from a pro gamer who spent some time with the game.

GameDev;

  • Speaking of Kinect, Linux staple Tux Racer has been given Kinect support - see video and project page.

Misc;

  • In this touching piece, the New York Times’ photography blog describes a project by James Mollison, with a collection of photos depicting the different environments where children around the world sleep.
  • How did animated films get made in the pre-Pixar days? A vintage documentary from Disney explains. (It involved “hundreds of pretty girls” amongst other things; corporate PR has changed along with animation tech, it would seem). See video.
  • Der Spiegel have an interesting interview with Guillaume Néry, a 29-year-old champion free diver (athletes who dive very deep without the aid of SCUBA gear or other equipment).
  • A brief but hard-hitting op-ed piece from Warren Buffett was published today by the New York Times, calling for less pandering to the very rich with tax breaks. I’d sell the piece more, but this is Warren Buffett. Just read it.

Filed under aroundtheweb

1 note &

Around the web XXXI

In an effort to keep my blog topical and up with current affairs, here’s a photo from the London riots of a police officer wielding a riot shield.

Sci/tech;

  • HCI legend Bill Buxton (not to be confused with rock legend Bruce Dickinson) just uploaded two new historical videos to his YouTube channel. The first is a documentary film from 1971 about a music producing computer - the first computer Bill ever experienced, and one that he’s often referenced in his commentary since. The second, also from 1971 (you can tell from the sideburns and very serious voiceover), shows a sophisticated computer animation system, an early example of user-centered design. Also, note the mouse.
  • Graphics conference SIGGRAPH is on this week, with a wide range of very cool research for graphics and interaction folks (the latter via the Emerging Technologies section in particular). Here’s a video preview (from a couple months back) of some of the technical papers being presented, and a (fast) preview of the Emerging Technologies section. To pick a random bit of research, here’s the homepage and video for a project from Cornell researching the production of high-quality synthetic contact sounds (ie, simulating the sounds made when things hit each other), taking into account friction, vibrations, etc. If you want more of this kind of thing, the busy Ke-Sen Huang has gathered up the available papers (mostly those related to realtime rendering) at his handy site, as ever. Google and YouTube searches will also turn up plenty more material.
  • Amazon have just launched Kindle Cloud Reader, a well-presented online HTML5-based reader for Kindle books (currently works in Chrome and Safari, including mobile Safari). You can now read your Kindle book collection online from anywhere, as well as the existing options of the Kindle itself or clients for PC/Mac/iPhone/Android. A significant detail re what Amazon are up to is that this client works on the iPad, with no chance of involvement from Apple.
  • "Cycles of violence" whereby abused children go on to become abusers themselves are well-documented in humans, but it seems at least some animals may experience similar behaviour. Baby birds that are abused in a colony have been observed to be more likely to engage in such abuse themselves as adults, as the BBC reports.
  • 123D Sculpt, an iPad finger sculpting app just launched by CAD heavyweights Autodesk, is currently going free in the App Store. Haven’t tried it myself, but appears to work well on the iPad. Previous noteworthy apps from Autodesk include SketchBook Express (and Pro for the iPad), a nice iOS version of their sketching/drawing app. The SketchBook apps are now available for Android too, incidentally.
  • If you’ve ever wondered how top-end Lamborghinis get designed and manufactured (very laboriously and with a great deal of attention), Wired have a very interesting look inside a factory producing Aventadors.

Gaming;

  • Again from QuakeCon, more screenshots of Prey 2 and a preview of the increasingly interesting-sounding Dishonoured.
  • Also news of the collector’s edition of Skyrim, which will cost €150, but feature a foot-high dragon sculpture and 200-page art book, amongst other things.
  • The third part of the E3 gameplay footage of Metro: Last Light has been released as promised, featuring a wild train battle.

Misc;

  • For the fashion-concious among you, we have here a pair of sandals made from recycled computer parts. Decorative only, not surprisingly.
  • The Atlantic have a collection of photos taken by a journalist visiting North Korea earlier this year.
  • Speaking of North Korea and other obscure parts of the world, BBC travel have a list of suggested novel holiday destinations, both exotic and more reachable. Sleep in a hotel in the cabin of a shipping crane, camp on a raft, etc.
  • Also from the Far East, a panorama of photographs taken six months after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (scroll down for more). The level of almost total devastation is readily apparent.

Filed under aroundtheweb