While slowly uploading 3 years of email archives to gmail this afternoon, I spent a while poking about random video blogs following links from last week’s Epic-FU. While the content is amusing, it’s the fact that they even exist that really interests me – random people creating not only content, but regular shows, of quality at least the same as I’d expect from regional TV. It’s been said for some time that the internet facilitates a massive democratization of culture, but you don’t really get that as a gut feeling until you go out* and dig around.

It’s really quite heartening. There’s a real golden age going on – a huge diversity of people picking up tools, making some stuff, and changing the world. There’s a directness and apparent honesty to the content that’s really appealing. Even though a lot of it’s fairly low brow, that’s OK – it’s usually deliberate, and you don’t get the feeling that you’re being condescended to by a media conglomerate that’s decided you (as part of the great unwashed) are insufficiently intelligent or attentive. And that’s not to say that it’s typically low brow – there’s some really great, really thought provoking content out there, too..

Anyway, vector – Epic-Fu is a 5 minute weekly that covers pop internet culture. Episodes usually contain a mix of music, pop culture video links and notes about cool new web tools, as well as the occasional WTF? – one episode a couple of weeks back, for example, was interspersed with ‘FUnetics’, a Scientology spoof with a weird alternate reality web game attached to it.

Here’s the two videos that started me ranting..

Oddly compelling freestyle mouth music on the streets of America – from RocketBoom

DaxFlame – a deranged young man who seems somehow familiar.

One last thing – I stumbled across For Your Imagination somewhere this morning; it’s a startup aiming to provide production services to people wanting to run video casts of their own. This, too, is pretty heartening, and it’ll be interesting to see how this works – it seems to be focused on providing a service to creators rather than exploiting them as current media conglomerates do. Of course, what matters is how the service matures. Anyway, check out their demo reel on the site’s front page. Make sure you give it time to load, though – if the video isn’t fully downloaded, it just stops playing and goes back to the beginning.

* By ‘go out’, what I really mean is sit in front of your computer and click some of the buttons** you haven’t clicked before.
** By ‘click buttons’, what I really mean is click the button on your mouse while holding it in a particular place on your desk, following a sequence of similar actions that have placed your your mouse cursor over a particular shape on your screen***.
*** As a complete aside, the layers of abstraction in the words we use to describe our behaviour on the internet are totally fascinating, don’t you think? I wonder if you could judge depth of change by the average depth of indirections between the metaphors used to describe typical actions and the literal meaning of those words. Internet life is at least at depth three or four..

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Posted in Rants & Opinion, Software & The Net | No Comments »

Just had a chance to play with the new Adobe Photoshop Express – a really simple version of Photoshop that runs in your browser. For brevity, I’ll call it APE.

In reality, it’s not a lot like Photoshop, but rather like Picasa, the desktop photo organizer application from Google. It has a similar (if slightly more limited) feature set, and a similar usage metaphor – you use it to manage a series of galleries / folders full of images, and are able to quickly pop open any one of them to quickly modify it.

So, the pros:

  • You can link it into your photo galleries on Facebook, Photobucket, or Picasa. That is, you tell it how to log in to you account on one of these services, and can then use it to manage and edit your photos within. Since APE runs entirely within Flash, it’s a lot more responsive and easy to work with than doing so directly with the web interfaces for each of these tools. Plus, you can batch update captions, which is often quite time consuming. You can even use it to transfer images between different gallery services (Facebook, Picasa)
  • It’s entirely browser and Flash based, so you can run it on any OS with reasonable Flash support, and you can access it from anywhere. In comparison, Picasa runs on the desktop of a particular machine, and is only available for Windows (though presumably that’s something Google plans to address).
  • It’s really convenient to upload and manage small numbers of images. You can do this in Picasa through the web interface, but you have to fiddle with the image locally first. It just feels a bit smoother doing this in APE, then dragging it into whatever storage space you’ve chosen.

And the cons

  • It runs entirely online. Before you can edit your images, you have to upload them. It’s fine for working with small numbers of smallish images that are already uploaded on a nice fast server somewhere, but there’s no way I’d be using this to manage my images when I retrieve directly off my camera. Obviously, it’s not really intended for this, but this is an important part of my photo management process, and so is worth mentioning.
  • Though managing galleries is faster than using a service’s web interface, using it to edit images is definitely not faster than editing them locally, for obvious reasons – everything is either processed rather slowly by flash, or pulled down the intertube.
  • You have to remember to pay close attention to the terms and conditions – I’m fine with them, but you’ll need to check for yourself if you’re doing anything particularly sensitive.

For me, it’s a nice tool for managing small amounts of images; for example, the screenshots and snippets I put in my blog. It’s also nice as a bridging tool between the three gallery services it supports. I’m not likely to use it for managing large photo galleries – Picasa trounces it there. But, it has a niche, it’s really easy to use, and doesn’t cost anything. So, it’s definitely worth taking a look at..

Try it out – there’s a ‘test drive’ demo that’s gets you in to try it out quickly. From there, it’s easy to join, and doesn’t appear to gather piles of personal information.

vector: Daily Bits.

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For the last two weeks I’ve been working on a research survey and report on virtual worlds – things such as Second Life, OpenSim, OpenCroquet and the like. I’ve just now finished tidying it up, and sent it off, with much relief; it’s 50 pages long, and the longest writing project I’ve engaged in since completing my Masters thesis two years ago.

It marks a bit of a milestone for me – it’s the first fully independent, paid research contract I’ve done. Though stressful, it was actually quite a lot of fun and taught me a lot about rapidly gathering together notes from lots of sources and cobbling them together in a report. I learned quite a bit more about virtual worlds, in the process, too.

It was also the first time I’ve had to hire and manage my own subcontractors – in this case, I hired Morbid Curiousity to help out by writing research notes and helping a little with reviewing. This also was quite illuminating – in hindsight, the small amount of extra work was certainly worthwhile; getting someone else involved me with a second perspective on the topic and helped me formulate my own ideas for the document’s structure and content.

I’m going to keep the report embargoed for a week or two; I’ve been assured that despite the contract, I maintain copyright over the work, but I want to wait until my client has had a chance to review it first. After that, I’ll be making the whole thing available as well as posting and expanding on certain parts of it that I think people might find interesting..

Posted in Metaverse, Science & Technology | No Comments »

One thing that’s really fascinating about virtual worlds and MMOGs is the avatars that people choose and the relationship between their choice and their physical selves. It’s pretty easy to find statistics showing that gender bending is a pretty common practice (for example), but there’s not been a lot of research looking at people choices of character race and shape.

A while back, Nick Yee, a research at PARC, published some statistics he’d gathered during his PhD on the relationships between age and gender on player choices of race, alignment, and type of character class. Graphs and notes on those results are available here.

More recently, he’s published another set of results concerning player choices of character shape; that is, whether their character is relatively taller or shorter, how attractive they are, and so forth. These are pretty interesting results, though there’s nothing really surprising. What’s really interesting, though, is the graphs he’s produced looking at the relationship between preferences for different avatar archetypes and for different styles of play.

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in self representation or online games, go take a look. He publishes these results via a blog he keeps called ‘The Daedalus Project’ – it’s not particularly high traffic, but what he does post is well worth reading..

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Posted in Games, Metaverse | No Comments »

When a supernova occurs, it releases a burst of neutrinos and gamma rays that would obliterate life anywhere in the vicinity – within a couple of hundred light years, apparently. There’s no obvious supernova candidates nearby, so this isn’t something to worry about – it’s more of an amusing science fiction plot.

When a binary supernova occurs (two stars circling into one another), gamma rays are concentrated in two beams shooting out along the axis around which the two stars are rotating. Because it’s so concentrated, the range at which it is harmful is much greater – apparently, some researchers suggest that a late Ordovician mass extinction was due to something like this.

Anyway, the picture is of a binary system about 8000 lyrs away. It’s rather a pretty barrel to be looking down, really..

via Cosmos. Read the article for more interesting details..

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Posted in Science & Technology | No Comments »

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