Monday, December 03, 2012

But you can do shoulder rolls.

Winter has begun, I am not quite as busy, and my youngest daughter has decided that sleeping at night is rather overrated. Thus, I continue my search for an amusing computer game that we could play over a network and relive our table-top RPG adventures. Browsing on Steam I discovered that Dungeons & Dragons Online went free to play in 2009 and was recently added to the Valve platform for distribution.

After a rather large download, but easy installation process (one just needs to make sure to be logged into an administrator account in Windows); I started mucking around in the game. I have to chuckle every time I open it from the grand sales pitch of the combat system beta software in 2004 at Gen-Con when we pointedly asked about role-playing structures and crafting systems and the Hasbro marketing agent got a bit confused and irritated and responded with the quote that is the title of this post.

The game has been completely overhauled a half dozen times since then from what I have read, and I am so far pleasantly surprised with the potential of this ellaborate distraction. The interface is clean, the game runs smooth, the adventuring is highly oriented towards complete well rounded groups, the rule set is the familiar D&D third edition, the world is built as a series of town and dungeon adventure modules, all dungeons work as individual instances upon entering, and you need a little bit of tactic and skill to hit your targets. So it is largely a group hack and slash game, but not simply button mashing or watching animation scripts over and over again. Character progression is incremental and slow up to a standard 20th level, and there appears to be no grinding or resource farming built into advancing in the game. Quests are story driven and dramatically (campy) narrated by a Dungeon Master (on some big quests apparently by Gygax and Arneson); there are no "Thank you for slaying the 10 wolves, now will you please go hunt the 10 sort of moderately difficult bigger wolves?" that is the standard of the fantasy MMORPG.

It is possible to get the client working through WINE to run native Linux, but as is typically the case the process looks a bit wonky and cumbersome, it does have a good WINE AppDB rating and supposedly runs smooth though.

I still have not figured out how to do those highly anticipated shoulder rolls. I guess I have to go work on my barbarian's tumble skill. Join me, and together we can rule . . . err . . . cough . . . Eberron?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Sands of Mars

I'm super-excited about the Curiosity team's pending announcement. (Link.)
Above: "Dark Sand Cascades of Mars", which was today's NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day.(High res. link)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Post-Election Floundering

The right has been blowing-off steam during the last week and a half. I'm sure you guys have seen the clips of Romney, Ryan and Fox News. They're clearly ignoring the adage about continuing to dig the holes in which we put ourselves.

Here's some relevant audio from George HW Bush's Campaign Manager, Lee Atwater, recorded during the Reagan administration, talking about how to appeal to racists "abstractly". Warning: he uses the n-word, so this is NSFW. [Link.] [Via.]

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Hooray for the Home Team

Among the states considering gay-marriage measures this fall, Washington represented the best hope for breaking a 30-plus-state losing streak at the ballot box.
52 to 48

The vote puts Washington and Colorado to the left of the Netherlands on marijuana law, and makes them the nexus of a new social experiment with uncertain consequences.
55 to 45

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Universal Computer Users

...what I mean are users who have the ability to achieve their goals regardless of the primary purpose of an application or device. Such users will find a way to their aspiration without an app or utility programmed specifically for it. The Universal user is not a super user, not half a hacker. It is not an exotic type of user.
An exerpt of a text by Olia Lialina. Linked as part of an ongoing discussion by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing about the “The coming war on general computation”. Bruce Sterling on Beyond the Beyond sees "Turing-Completeness" in a bit more cynical light.

People are musing about ubiquitous computing a lot these days.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Pepsi Paradox

I listened to an "All in the Mind" radio program this week on how modern neuroscience views the unconscious. What I got out of the program was that much of what is traditionally attributed to the unconscious is actually preprocessing of your raw perceptions. The guest on the program explains that if you saw a raw video feed of what comes out of your eyeballs, it would look very poor quality, have a black hole in the middle, and would be upside down. Your visual cortex is doing a tremendous amount of processing. Other cognitive tasks, like social intuition, also involve a lot of manipulation of raw experience before we deal with them consciously.

The Pepsi Paradox refers to the fact that people prefer Pepsi in blind taste tests much more than soft drink sales would suggest. This paradox launched the field of neuro-marketing.

[Link] to the "All in the Mind" program.
[Link] to a short Frontline article about neuro-marketing.
[Link] to a Negativland song about the Pepsi paradox.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I'd recommend this calendar and contacts server. I installed it at work today. The simplicity of its installation, and its to-the-point documentation puts it head and shoulders above the other groupware packages I've vetted. [Link.]

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Work is death in disguise

I really dug this article. I'm a sucker for sweeping statements and populist tub-thumping. [Link.] [Via.]

I'm a socialist to the extent that I believe it's society's moral imperative to sacrifice its largess to eliminate human suffering. But I've always been uncomfortable with the valourization of work in traditional socialism. It is more honest to be a miner rather than an investment banker, but spending your whole life doing either, I think, shows a dearth of imagination.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Bestiary of Networks

I'm starting to use a very cool program called Graphviz to profile my code and visualize the references made between plans, sections and details in large sets of construction drawings. Graphviz contains several algorithms for laying out networks of nodes and edges. The most interesting ones simulate physical forces across the network (force-directed graphs, or spring models, as demonstrated in this d3.js demo).

Check out this gallery from the University of Florida and AT&T Research. It has twenty-five hundred force-directed graphs. [Link]

Below is a mesh of a helicopter:

And here it is as a spring model:

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Turing’s Strange Seas of Thought

Alan Turing, Artificial Feminity, computation versus cognition, technology art criticism, and a new aesthetic.

A long Bruce Sterling speech that makes a worthwhile read.

I want to curate a big exhibition about these kinds of ideas.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Comics, Youngblood to the Oatmeal

Enjoyable Internet curiosities of the week.

The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings (2007)
The Second 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings (2012)

Frivolous litigation, topical web comics, hilarious table turning pledge drive = Internet meme fun. (I especially appreciate this one having been on the receiving end of such legal shake downs.)

The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk (Part 4)

"You have beaten the internet... that was the last level..."

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Computer Game Thread

I wandered into a video game shop the other day (remember those?) and was looking at some of the slightly old bargains for games with robust online multi-player options. Since I think it is going to take a little while longer until Mr. Alex creates the "One game to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them," here are some things that I thought look fun and would not break the bank or likely require complete hardware upgrades to get into. Some of them have been blogged about here on Astromen! way back in the archives and some of you may have copies already laying around. The only deficiency I found was something with a strong "sandbox" element; these games may be way too twitchy for us to ramble on about art, politics, and programming at the same time. Post your computer game crushes in the comments. . .

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

That is one mouthful of a name. Really a super-geek title. I always was interested in Games Workshop hobbies but was overwhelmed by the high cost and outrageous time commitment just to get started, now for 10 bucks and a little bit of point and clicking, I could get blown away over and over again by people deeply steeped in the mythology and rule min-maxing of this complex squad combat war-game.


Chad-Roc seems to think this is awesome and who am I to second guess 87 bazillion tools of mayhem. . . maybe he would come out and play as well? All reviews say that multi-player is the best part of the game.

Dungeon Defender

Looks like a colorful update to the basic game premise of Guantlet, except with tower building and Bracers of Dexterity. Stresses teamwork to defend your dungeon, I imagine with us that hilarious failure would ensue. 6 bucks on Steam right now.

Friday, May 25, 2012


The d3.js library is capable of making interactive graphics of eye-watering beauty. [Link to an examples page, each tile leads to a live graphic.] I'm not Javascipt proficient, but things like these are very enticing. [Via.]
The library that I've been using for this kind of thing is matplotlib [Link.] which is well-organized, dependable, and produces attractive static graphs.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Hirst like an absolute ruler must be utterly surrounded by a court of yes-people . . ."

If Hirst did not try to paint an orange accurately, no one would know he can't do it. But he has tried, at least I think it's an orange, and the poor sphere seems to float in mid air because of the clumsy circle of shadow below it. For a moment I thought this was intentional, then I realised it was a competence issue. Such issues abound. You look at a branch and it is obvious he has worked at it: equally obvious the work was wasted. At their very best these paintings lack the skill of thousands of amateur artists who paint at weekends all over Britain – and yet he can hire fools to compare him with Caravaggio.
The Guardian (Link.)


Pantomime Republics

More to the point, the salvation that Europe promised 26 years ago increasingly resembles a charade. As the Yale historian Timothy Snyder has noted, Spain and its kin in Southern Europe have effectively become “pantomime republics”: elected national officials defer to the unelected supranational European Union. In policy terms, this means subscribing to the pro-austerity agenda emanating from Germany. Last September, a majority in the Spanish Parliament amended the Constitution to include a deficit reduction clause; it was the first time the document had been touched since it was written in 1978.
The New York Times (Link.)

I know I have been kind of hammering away at this a bit, but this free-money-for-robber-baron-bankers, austerity-for-all, politics-of-pain, and sacrificing-on-the-altars-of-markets-and-confidence-fairies stuff is maddening. Long-standing, robust systems are being looted in broad daylight.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Monster Graffiti

My friends in New Orleans hold these monsters in high esteem. I really like them, too. They're like Phillip Guston on peyote.
"Gabba gabba we accept you, we accept you one of us!" Tard Tard Magazine Street Monster

Friday, May 11, 2012

Surf This Book

[Link.] I never got "Steal This Book" because I'd feel like a phony buying it at Barnes & Noble, or wherever, and my reaction to the suggestion in the title was, "Don't tell me what to do." Anyhow, the text is on the Web, and it can be funny, light reading, such as the following passage:
Another good bit is to rent a safe deposit box (only about $7.00 a year) in a bank using a phony name. They usually only need a signature and don't ask for identification. When you get a box, deposit a good size dead fish inside the deposit box, close it up and return it to its proper niche. From then on, forget about it. Now think about it, in a few months there is going to be a hell-of-a-smell from your small investment. It's going to be almost impossible to trace and besides, they can never open the box without your permission. Since you don't exist, they'll have no alternative but to move away. Invest in the Stank of Amerika savings program. Just check out Lake Erie and you'll see saving fish isn't such a dumb idea. If you get caught, tell them you inherited the fish from your grandmother and it has sentimental value.
More subversive humor can be found at the archive. [Link.]

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I'm building a small website to show off my recent projects, so recently I've started thinking about applying a free culture license to the work I put up. (I am quite the navel gazer.) Creative Commons is the biggest name in this space. [Link.] It seems wise to use a more well-known license because the more obscure licenses might never be legally tested. I initially chose the attribution and share-alike caveats and put them in my templates. A couple of days later, I watched this video with Mark Hosler of Negativland talking about Creative Commons, and I realized that I hate rules too. Who am I to tell someone else what to do. Now I am leaning towards CC-Zero, which is the most permissive of the Creative Commons options. I'm still considering including the share-alike clause ... I am torn. The WTFPL is attractive also, for its bluntness and irreverence. [Link.]
[Link] to a quite good Mark Hosler lecture.

Edit: Does anyone know of a good resource that explains how the law views collage?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Friday, May 04, 2012

GIMP 2.8 is out

[Link to the release notes.] [Via.] This is the first stable version to include single window mode, which is a massive improvement to the interface. (It's not on by default, look in the "Window" menu.) The application has become more tablet friendly, as well. I still prefer MyPaint for the responsiveness of its brush engine, and its infinite canvas feature. Ctrl+Paint is a digital painting resource worth mentioning here, as well.

In Ubuntu & its derivatives:
$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:otto-kesselgulasch/gimp && sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get -y install gimp

... Now about that name ...

Edit: Jason brought up a good point about being wary of PPAs in the comments. I thought I'd try rolling back to the version in the official repository to make sure I wasn't permanently breaking my system, and other people's, by installing version 2.8.

I ran:
$ sudo apt-get install ppa-purge
$ sudo ppa-purge ppa:otto-kesselgulasch/gimp

And the old version ran just fine. So I can leave this post up guilt-free.

Jerry Saltz says, "Ugh."

I hate them for what they do to art, for the bad magic of making mysterious powerful things turn into numbers.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Castle Anthrax will live on in our hearts

We're going on a hiatus from weekend gaming so everyone can get more studio time.
Thanks for playing, guys. I had a good time catching up and chewing the fat. I've posted the world file for posterity. [Link.] The image below links to a more legible world map.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lecture round-up

  • [Link.] [Via.] There are some important insights in this talk about creation and feedback loops. The lecturer says some things about user interface that I don't agree with, but I think that it's been obvious for a while that we're not moving towards One-True-U.I. so I think there's room for everyone's opinion. I myself have what I think are some important insights into art making, feedback, and the proper use of computers, but when I've tried to articulate them they've come out somewhat hippy-dippy. So I'll save them for now.
  • [Link.] [Via.] I enjoyed these Alan Watts lectures on my commute this week.
  • [Link.] This is a good talk by KRS-One about the origin and spirit of hip-hop. I was at Temple in 2004, but didn't hear about this.
  • [Link.] Who knew that bagging on Damien Hirst could be such comedy gold. Thank you, Google filter bubble.
P.S. Ubuntu 12.04 is out. With some trepidation, I typed "sudo do-release-upgrade" into a terminal last night. I haven't noticed any ill effects thus far.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons News

Dorktower sums it up nicely.

-Players Roll the Dice for Dungeons & Dragons Remake
(New York Times, in January)

Some good critical commentary about the announcement that I stumbled upon.

-5th Edition D&D Is in Development — Should We Care?
(Wired blog - Geekdad)

The links in that article lead to an insightful run-down of why confidence in the official D&D is at an all time low, especially how Hasbro overreached and alienated the gamers.

-Past . . . Present . . . and Future. (the Escapist)

And here is how I accidentally found out a new edition is being developed at all.

-Call for diversity in D&D rulebooks (BoingBoing)

Friday, April 06, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen; I give you James Howard Kunstler

"In the drunken, drug-crazed twilight of its run as Leader of the Free World, America's collective imagination swerves from one breakdown lane to the other while the highway patrol throws a donuts-and-porn party down at headquarters and the news media searches the gutter on hands-and-knees looking for the spot where it dropped its brains...."

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

"That's Depressing!" - The (mostly) Podcast Edition

This American Life - Take the Money and Run for Office
"For anyone who has ever heard the term "Washington insider" and felt outside — we are with you. So this week, we go inside the rooms where the deals get made, to the actual moment that the checks change hands — and we ask the people writing and receiving the checks what, exactly, is the money buying?"
Dan Carlin's Hardcore History - Logical Insanity
"After many listener requests, Dan examines the issue of the morality of dropping the Atomic Bombs in the Second World War."
Paul Kingsnorth - Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist
"It could be all that, but it probably isn’t. It’s probably me. I am thirty-seven now. The world is smaller, more tired, more fragile, more horribly complex and full of troubles. Or, rather: the world is the same as it ever was, but I am more aware of it and of the reality of my place within it. I have grown up, and there is nothing to be done about it. The worst part of it is that I can’t seem to look without thinking anymore. And now I know far more about what we are doing. We: the people. I know what we are doing, all over the world, to everything, all of the time. I know why the magic is dying. It’s me. It’s us."

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Minna Linou Benedict

Born the 29th of March, 2012 at 11:08 AM.

Berlin's Struggling Artists Demand Share of the Pie

An keen overview of arts funding in Berlin, trying to explore every side of the issue in two pages. From classic opera houses to small half-hidden stages.

As a side note, I installed many aspects of the exhibition shown above. ((Are those fine looking info-diagrams in the picture or what?)) Also, reading the second section of the article closely, particularly the part labelled Presenting Shared Demands, my wife has been working on this lobbying effort as part of a larger arts network and representatives of the Berlin Senate will be meeting, what is here oddly translated as "the protesters" by Der Spiegel, in our space at the WerkStadt in May to talk about what to do with the proposed money for independent spaces. ((Huzzah!))


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nerd Bonanza

I won't have time to watch these until next month, but the PyCon 2012 videos are up! Rejoice! (Link.)

Thursday, March 08, 2012

I want to be a human rights lawyer when I grow up.

from BoingBoing

As a side note regarding our recent conversations about the volatility of general internet forums no matter who the intended audience is: it only takes about three comment posts on the TED web page before the dialogue about this video turns toxic.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

World 3

This is the world we adventured in this week. Click the images to go to their Picasa pages. Above the image on the right will be a zoom button you can use to view each image at full resolution.
The map above was made with MoreTerra (Link.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Fellow Terrarians

The end.


Edit: Our heroes continue their journey today 
(Sunday the 26th 4th) at 11am PST/1pm CST/2pm EST/8pm CET. 
Connection details in the comments.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Linux Support (Debian Help)

As I have been trying to make some decisions about what Linux distributions and desktop environments to use going forward in 2012, I accidentally found this great guide for configuring and tweaking, as well as tip-top software recommendations in Ubuntu Linux. It is written somewhat like a junior high book report - very straight forward without the hysterical opinionated prose that fills up computing forums on a regular basis of late.

There are lots of screen-shots to quickly see and understand what is being offered, and there are loads of codes that can be pasted in the terminal to quickly follow the steps of the guide. Additionally there are ratings such as "Prerequisite and required" for things that improve the functionality of your desktop, and Windows equivalents named for software to get a sense what programs actually do (I find these things sometimes unclear with shortened package names and poor repository information).  The side bar offers other posts such as "How-to Install Minecraft in Ubuntu" and RSS-feeds to an array of relevant Linux forums from critical security patches, to open source computing news, to various and sundry tutorials.

A geek weblog Nirvana.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012


(Link.) (Via.)

Edit: The Terraria Server is open a little early today, for inventory management and mining. I'll be around today (Sunday the 19th) at our normal time 11am PST/1pm CST/2pm EST/8pm CET. We're running the unstable trunk version this week, for extra kicks. Also it seems they may have fixed some issues we'd been experiencing. The world is backed-up. You may want to back-up your character files in '$HOME/My Games/Terraria/Players'. Connection details in the comments.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Reimplementation of the Aurora Engine

... using modern, non-proprietary frameworks and formats. I am watching this with great interest. (Link.)

Also, here is the BBS Documentary that I watched this week. (Link.) Many of the interviews are on the Internet Archive. (Link.)

Thanks for the video recommendation, Alex!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

This game shows great promise.

I'd wait until the 0.2 update to try it, though. This next update will bring rudimentary NPC interaction, and a number of other exciting changes. (Link.)
Edit: This week's Terraria game info in the comments. -Pete

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I had good fun writing this last night. Usage instructions are in the script header. (Link.)

This was partially inspired by the Dasher Project (Link.), and some Paul Lansky tunes.

Contrary to the picture, this song is not on the 'Homebrew' album. Though that is a good one, also.
(Amazon link for the YouTube blocked.)

Edit: Terraria, tomorrow (Sunday the 29th), 11am PST/1pm CST/2pm EST/8pm CET. Connection details will appear in the comments.
Edit: Terraria, tomorrow (Sunday the 5th), 11am PST/1pm CST/2pm EST/8pm CET. Connection details will appear in the comments.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


This Firefox plug-in uses WebGL to visualize the structure of web pages. It's more cool than useful, but worth sharing, I thought. (Link.) (Via.)

Also: Terraria, tomorrow (Sunday the 22nd), 11am PST/1pm CST/2pm EST/8pm CET. Connection details will appear in the comments.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Eater of Souls


Type: Corrupted Enemy
Flying Enemy
Environment: The Corruption
AI Type: Flying
Damage: 22
Max Life: 40
Defense: 8
Coins 90 Copper Coins
Item (Quantity) Rotten Chunk, Rate 3

Eater of Souls, I shall have my revenge on thee. I shall build way point forts throughout your corrupted land. I shall lay clay bricks and set wooden posts, I shall tend gardens until your corruption is no longer a blight on our fair land of Terraria. I will get my shiny gear back, make no mistake. You may spawn but you will find your evil pits sealed up, you may soar through the air in swarms of doom but my tower walls shall repel you. Be afraid Eater of Souls, my plans are forming and Boogaloo is coming for you.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Survey of 3-D Displays

I enjoyed this inspired talk about the history of 3-D display technology and its recent developments. (Link.)
The picture above is from the talk. It is a plaster model of an ant colony. It's like Rachel Whiteread's work, but much cooler. Proof that you should never compete with nature.


11AM PST, Jan. 14 Jan. 15th!

Dance Party!

Actually, the extent of my dancing is bobbing my head appreciatively. My head will bob for the entirety of this song.

Let me engage in some armchair musicology:
Because of its proximity to an Original Impulse, I think the first 10-12 years of hip-hop are demonstrably better that its more recent incarnations, accounting for any nostalgia (not that I was there or anything). This is even more true about all of the flavors of punk rock. This ties back to our conversation last month about how our culture is in stasis or is ossifying.

This idea of an Original Impulse looms large in my thinking about art-making. It's definitely a useful lens through which to assess other artist's careers. Art-making is the single most important source of renewal and re-invigoration in my life.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Monday, January 02, 2012

My life is Terraria . . .

Terraria is my life.
Over the holidays I discovered single player mode.

Also my brother brought me some books about a big chair and multiple generations of character archetypes jostling to sit in it.
Live the intrigue!

I wonder how I am ever going to find the time to work at my real life crafting stations in 2012.