Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Found art - child's game map

I found this awesome playful game map laying carefully folded up in the park this morning. No doubt left by one of the neighborhood children, a game designer at heart. Game industry friends -- give this kid a job before school beats this wonderful playful world out of him/her! :-)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Camera ethernet

One or the combination of drugs I'm on (buproprion and celexa) induce very vivid dreams. The other night I dreamed about allowing laptop computers, which now often have built-in cameras, to communicate with each other by flashing their screens at each other. If the 640x480 cameras ran at 30 fps at, say, 50% efficiency then you might be able to achieve 30*(640*480)/4*8/2 = 9 Mbits/sec which is about the bandwidth of first generation Ethernet. (Although realistically I'd be impressed if you got 1 Mbps.) Implementing this might be a fun student programming assignment.

(Yes, it's true, I have super nerdy dreams! What did you expect?)

Lego the idea vs. Lego the product

Not Lego
(Absurdly custom modern Lego part from

In engineering circles (such as the molecular programming conference where I am today), the word "Lego" is commonly used as a synonym for "an elegant and simple basis set whose parts can be arranged to assemble anything." The Lego company should be proud of the fact that their product has inspired at least three generations of engineers to the point where their name is evoked as the gold-standard of an elegant functional basis set.

However, the irony is that while engineers have adopted Lego as representing platonic perfection of elegant engineering, the Lego company itself has apparently abandoned the idea. Lego's current sets are monstrosities of custom non-interchangeable parts as shown in the picture above. The engineering-driven ethos that encouraged creativity to emerge from the arrangement of simple blocks has been replaced by a marketing-driven ethos of product tie-ins and creativity-free model building. At best, today's Lego users are encouraged to build their super-specific models where practically every piece is custom and then tear them down to reuse some of the pieces in non-intended ways. But, this is a far cry from starting from a bucket of rectangular bricks and then dreaming up one's own creations. As a result, Lego might make more profit, but new generations of engineers will not be inspired in the same way as before.

Other toys, such as the supremely well-designed K*Nex, have tried to fill Lego's lost role but the marketing people there have also apparently taken over the company and have infected K*Nex with the same kind of absurd non-generic parts as demonstrated by this Sesame St. tie I found on their site.

Not K*Nex
(Absurdly specific product tie in from

The evolution of these toy companies from pure-nerd-vision to marketing-tie-in-sell-out is a perfect demonstration of how nerd-culture and marketing-culture will forever be in a violent struggle. As far as toys go, we're losing.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Full scale automaton

British automaton
From Ray Bate's reconstruction

Torre dell’Orologio
, Venice
From flickr user kukudrulu

Last night I had a beautiful dream where I was in a huge building that was full of an elaborate automaton -- gears, levers, etc. Part of the machine had real people acting like the characters of a traditional automaton in old costumes such as might have been worn by the little figurines decorating an medieval automaton church clock. I think it would be a beautiful piece of theater to make a set like this where the participants come in, explore the space, flip levers and knobs causing the the actors to animate -- perhaps interacting in a full-scale puzzle game where there's some sort of order-of-operations problem to be solved by the group.