Motionographer videos

I’m traveling for the next week, but I’ll leave you with this excellent music video. It looks like it had to be done with stop motion photography, but then it doesn’t look like it could’ve been done with stop motion photography.

I learned about it from Motionographer site that’s good for finding fun animations and video compilations, typically put together by advertising studios. So much talent out there!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…

Birthdays and happiness

My birthday was last weekend. I turned 42. In addition to being the answer to life, the universe, and everything, 42 also happens to mark a lifetime low point in happiness as reported by various happy researchers … I’m sorry, various happiness researchers. It’s possible to take this news badly, but I look at it like this: I’ve got years of rising happiness levels to look forward to. According to the theory, 42 is about the time you realize that you aren’t actually going to win the Nobel Prize, and so you might as well start enjoying what you’ve got. Please. The rest of us have known for years that you weren’t going to win that prize.

I find happiness studies fascinating. From an episode of the Quirks & Quarks radio program, I learned that there is almost no relationship between things people predict will make them happy and things that measurably lift their levels of reported happiness. Almost none! How did that evolve? Similarly, people grossly overestimate the impact of bad things (job loss, accidents, health crises) on day-to-day happiness levels. Back on the subject of age, older people generally overstate how happy they were in their youth and younger people overstate how miserable they will be as they age. Which all stands to reason, since if Hollywood has succeeded in teaching us anything, it’s that youth = happiness and that old people don’t deserve to appear in movies.

The perfect age

I’m curious to hear your answer to this: if youth equals happiness, then, pop-culturally speaking, what is our “perfect” age? Not the age that you happen to like, but rather that optimal cusp that glossy magazines push at us every day. It is the age that children yearn for and seniors fondly recall. Presumably it is post-drinking age, post-sexual maturity, pre-wrinkle, and pre-hair loss. It is a mysterious still point on a sociological map. I think it’s 24, but it may be 25. What do you think?

Biology parody site

I’m not sure who’s behind NEXTgencode, but it’s a well done parody of the commercial promise of biotechnology. Some of the things they bring up in joke form are sure to be real issues at some point in the future. How much would you pay for a terminally cute PermaPuppy? How much is the gene for blond hair worth if it is disappearing “in the wild?” Since NEXTgencode links to the (more serious) Ethics in Genetics site, I assume the parody is intended to provoke as well as amuse.

Friday games

I’m sorry to do this to you, but I recently came across not one but two long lists of good small games, any one of which you can start playing in seconds, any one of which you can blow thirty minutes on without breaking a sweat. Beware!

The first list I learned about through Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools page. He was pitching Mark Hurst’s Good Experience site, and that’s how I came across Good Experience Games.

The other list is from a place called Cognitive Labs, which appears to be associated with Stanford: Free Cognitive Games from Cognitive Labs. It’s a weird, chaotic site dedicated to slowing down or reversing the cognitive effects of aging. The premise is that these games are good for your brain. I can testify that they are bad for your ability to go to bed at a reasonable time. Try out Vector Ball and Reverse Asteroids. Also I am specifically curious how long JMike can stay alive at the Impossible level on the type-fast-or-die Word Shoot game. If you’ve never seen JMike type, it is a wonder to behold.

Calibrating cliché velocity

During a work lunchtime conversation that touched on a rude topic, one of my co-lunchers remarked: “That’s so wrong in so many ways!” That sentence is an odd construction, I thought to myself. She didn’t make it up. Where did it come from? There was a time when it didn’t exist. Somebody made it up one day, and it started spreading. How does that process work? It occurred to me that search engines can help you figure out just how widespread a cliché is. In no particular order, here are some clichés that not only annoy me but also make me wonder about their trajectories.

When were they born? What helped them spread? How much longer can we expect to endure them? Search technology can quantify some of these very fuzzy questions. This is not a new observation. The web seems to be peculiarly thick with wordheads who obsess about things like this (i.e. people like me). You can find Wikipedia articles about catchphrases and Bartleby references for clichés. But the real find was coming across the Language Log, where they have coined a word, snowclone, for hackneyed phrasal templates. These people are prose… sorry, I mean pros … and they devote long discussions to forms like Homer Simpson’s “Mmmm, X” (which I used only the day before yesterday, but let’s not go there).

I came across the Language Log while researching the phrase “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords“. This post on ant overlords and cliché velocity makes a good point: the distance between trendy and trite has grown increasingly short. At least that’s what all the hep cats say.

The earliest sunset

The earliest sunset
My part of the world was gray, dreary, dark, cold, and wet today. But it had one thing going for it, one very big thing: the sun set this afternoon a few seconds later than it did the day before. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother splitting hairs over astronomical minutiae, but it helps get me through December to recall that, although the total number of daylight hours will keep shrinking until the 21st or so, the sunsets are now occurring later and later every day and so will continue until late June. Mmmmm… June. Why does the earliest sunset not match the shortest day? Here is a helpful diagram with ellipses and annotations to explain it.

Confusing ellipses

I hope that’s clear. If I work at it, I can understand how it all works for an hour or so, but then it fades.

That which must not be mentioned

Okay, having just moved to WordPress, I must almost immediately report a problem. I have, at great expense, uncovered a truly weird bug. Believe it or not, you can’t make a post with the word perl in it. I had to resort to some tag trickery to get this to display. Here’s what I actually had to type:


Utterly bizarre.

At least I figured out why my post a few days ago didn’t work. I’m running WordPress 2.0.5, freshly downloaded. Can any WordPress users out there confirm if they’re seeing this too?

Welcome to WordPress, reprise

I realize my post about Movable Type and WordPress the other night may have been a little incoherent, particularly if you’re not familiar with blogging software. The engine that drives this blog is now provided by a software package called WordPress. Up until the beginning of this week, it was provided by Movable Type.

I had been thinking about moving to WordPress for some time, but I am a late adopter and generally lazy. It was the comment spam that finally put me over the edge. Movable Type has comment spam blocking tools, but I tried several and I couldn’t get them to work. I only have a certain amount of time each night to spend on this kind of thing, and if I blow through that installing and re-installing something that doesn’t work, I get very irritated. Someone at SixApart (the Movable Type folks) had written what looked to be a very nice spam-blocking plugin. I was excited to try it and be done with my spam scourge. But there was a long involved process to install it that involved unzipping archives, FTP transfers, rebuilding the site, inserting a special string in three different files, rebuilding the site again, then swearing when it didn’t work.

I took my troubles to the support site for the plugin. In an uncivil moment, I mentioned that I had “blown two hours trying to make this work” and was “feeling frustrated.” The plugin author responded quickly, and pointed out quite rightly that he hadn’t charged me a dime for his plugin, and that if I followed the steps carefully I would probably get it working. Upon reading his reply, I quickly concluded that we were both right. He didn’t deserve to be chastised for a gift, but I had good reason to be frustrated. The problem was Movable Type. It was just too damned fiddly and it smelled of overripe perl scripts. It was just never going to be easy to install a spam blocker.

This finally kicked me in the pants and got me to move my bags over to a newer cleaner architecture with WordPress. And it’s working for me very well. Aside from my inauspicious start the other night, flushing my very first post…

Beautiful colors on Flickr

I’ve discovered a really fun Flickr party trick. If you want to turn your brain off and just stare at some amazing eye candy, pick a fun term to search for. Suppose you choose Hawaii. But what you really want are dramatic, luscious pictures of Hawaii, not somebody’s bad holiday snapshots. In that case you just click on the “View: Most interesting” link. Then you get a set of Hawaii pictures sorted by the interestingness quality algorithm, which is something like Google’s PageRank. On beyond that, suppose you’re going to do a conference talk about Hawaii and you want to punch things up a little. You’re probably going to want some freely distributable Creative Commons interesting pictures of Hawaii. A quick visit to the Advanced Search page makes this no problem.

But here’s the grand finale: from tag search results page, you can dial up an automatic slideshow sorted by interestingness. And you can roll it all into one juicy URL like this:

Now you’re ready to blow some time. Pick one and go… color, burning man, Barcelona, Yellowstone, splash.

Now that’s the internet I used to dream about back in 1995.
[via O’Reilly Radar]

Moved to WordPress

Here’s a sad story. I wrote a long post explaining why I was so happy to be moving from creaky old Movable Type to shiny new WordPress.

And then I saved it.

And then WordPress ate it.

So now I am writing this short, sad post instead of my long happy post.

Nevertheless, I am glad to be moving on from Movable Type.