All posts in Observations

Dev-o

Pixels on Canvas

There’s a feeling

that I often refer back to–I know, referring back to a feeling; is that a thing?–that is elicited by very specific circumstances. In my memories it is most strongly associated with a stereo playing my favourite Gorillaz album, rain coming down outside, a mathematics textbook open on the desk in front of me, and my pen rolling along the surface of a fresh sheet of lined A4 notepaper. The pen stops with a zero, or an x squared, or any number of answers that I know, just know, are correct without looking at the back of the book. And there’s that feeling of solving a problem that has challenged you.

This feeling has become a touchstone of how I measure worth of activities. Noticing its absence has become something that I try and do over the years, but it’s hard to switch that particular radar on all the time, and often I’ll find myself slipping into being satisfied with activities that are easy. Like a video game that requires you to click a button to get +1 to whatever metric you might get addicted to, rather than offering any real depth. It’s been a long while since I chased that feeling: writing used to be one way in which I did so, but that seems to have slipped lately. I’m not sure what led to that particular lack of inspiration. I completed flash fiction month, or at least half of it, and that felt good. Writing without expectation of quality is a very fun thing to do, and there were some good ideas in there. But ideas are cheap; having the motivation and drive to follow up on ideas and make them something more than just a 500-word vignette is something I lack at the moment.

All of which is why my recent forays into game development–or, more realistically in my case, ‘fucking around with coding up simple games’–have really got me feeling refreshed and excited. I’m using a game engine called ‘GameMaker’, which provides a lot of the most commonly-used functions for you without you needing to code up an environment in which to develop, and giving you the ability to quickly run a version of your game at the click of a button. What that translates to is a very positive feedback loop of coding, compiling, and seeing the game take shape in front of my eyes. Part of the huge amount of satisfaction I’ve already experienced is reclaiming the feeling of solving problems. How do I make this homing bullet work so it follows a player until it gets closer than 100 pixels and then continues on in a straight line? How can I make this wall’s collision box work so that the player can walk behind it? Where do those sweet particle effects come from? I’ve banged my head on problems for hours, only to realise I’ve used the wrong function call, or misplaced an equals sign, and still come away from it beaming now that my game works the way I wanted it to work.

The other part is the fact that I’ve hooked up with a couple of friends who have also wanted to reclaim this feeling. We egg each other on, claiming higher and higher levels of refinement to an initial idea. It doesn’t hurt that collaboration in the age of the screenshare, the cloud, and the mumble server is quite possibly the easiest thing in the world. There’s a constant stream of messages hitting my various inboxes, calling my motivation to arms. And it’s just downright fun.

Now if only we could decide on a name.

photo by:

Catch-up

Catenacci - Old Bolt Latch

I feel that

I’ve been around the blo(g)ck long enough to be able to pull off long absences without needing to do the usual ‘Hey, so, been a while, eh?’ schtick, so consider all that done and dusted. I’m here to talk about things I am doing, rather than those things that I’ve let fall along the wayside. So what’s the go? Given it’s Monday and all the lack of awake that comes with that weekly territory, I’ma summarise in dot-point form some of the stuff that’s been happening around here:

  • The Podcast:

As if everyone who reads this doesn’t know already, but myself and Tim have been putting together a gaming podcast for the last, what, 20 weeks or so? Damn, when you put it like that. Anyway, it’s about games and gaming and topics in gaming and what we’ve been playing lately, and we think it’s pretty good! It’s been getting easier and easier to set up and talk into a microphone for an hour without too many interruptions (except for all those fucking planes). It’s a good way to catch up with Tim, whom I’m very happy to have as a friend, and we get to talk about something we both love. It’s my main ‘creative’ output at the moment, so go listen to it!

  • Weddings. And 30ths:

These two go fairly obviously hand-in-hand. Everyone that I know is either approaching 30 soon, turning 30 this year, or has done so in recent memory. And that not only means a shit-tonne of dress-up parties and correspondingly large amounts of booze, but also that all the couples that I/we know that got together at university are hitting their stride when it comes to getting hitched. This is not a bad thing! Not in the slightest. There are no buts to that statement; I love people and I feel happy when people make each other happy. And that’s something that has been happening, and I’ve nearly cried every single time the aisle is trod. Because god damn do our friends scrub up nice.

  • Fretting about life:

Fairly inevitable this one, for any nearly 30-year-old. And it kind of goes hand-in-hand with point above. Lots of our friends who are couples are making big decisions about where to head with their lives, and the majority of them are trundling down that fairly well-trod garden path towards marriage, babies, etc. Louise and I are so very much not ready for that, but we do have to start making plans for what we’re going to do for the next 5 years. Beats to hit, goals to attain, that sort of thing. Otherwise we won’t really get anywhere. So we’ve been wondering what the heck we’re going to do, and the list seems pretty much endless (der). Stay in Perth and buy a house;  buy an apartment and rent it out then move states, or countries; move countries and screw real estate; stay in this job, move to that job; start a business, and so on and so on and so on. At the moment we’ve settled on some investment, with the distinct possibility of moving around a bit in the next few years. But we’ll see how that goes.

  • Not writing:

I haven’t written a thing in forever. This post is the most I’ve written, besides the occasional science article for my peeps over at Refraction Media, in about 6 months. Meanwhile, all my writer friends are amazing and have been winning prizes and getting published. This is awesome, but I feel like I’ve let myself down a little bit. But not really? I mean, I got a bit sick and tired of the old ‘write/submit/pray the right person reads my work at the right time’ thing. It just seemed so arbitrary and unrewarding to smash my brain trying to write these stories and not have any reward for them. Which I know, I know (now) isn’t the way to go about things; writing should be its own reward and all that. But still, it was true to me at the time. Anyway, at the moment I’m kind of looking to try out new media, hence the podcast thing and exploring the process of making a point-and-click adventure game. It’s fun to try new stuff, but there’s a lot to take on and learn again. Still, keeps the ol’ brain ticking away.

  • Working:

Well, how could I forget about this. I’m still at my job and still really enjoying it. It has its ups and downs–mostly in the workload department–but there’s always something to think about or do, so it keeps me occupied. And the stability! Oh! How I love the stability. I know what I need to do and where I need to be to do it. I know that my skills are required, and the people I work with are awesome. Couldn’t have hoped for a better first workplace.

Alright, nothing much more to say. I’m considering cross-posting some of my posts from TAPTAG here, particularly with respect to the game-making. So keep an eye out for those if you’re interested. hope y’all are doing O.K.

A Cast of Pods

US Navy Cryptanalytic Bombe

Every now and then

I get asked about podcasts that I can recommend, usually on Twitter, and most recently by James Tierney. Unfortunately, linking reams of podcasts on Twitter isn’t practical so I thought to make a post that I can update and give to people whenever I’m asked. I’ve split them into rough categories, so you can skip to ones you think might interest you. And of course if you have any recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Sports/Games:

The Guardian Football Weekly

Much thanks to my friend Dino for putting me onto this one. No-one does sports commentary like James Richardson and his crew of fairly ladsy pundits. Half the enjoyment of the Premier League every year is listening to these guys talk about it without the bias and hyperbole that sports blogs usually possess. They also do really well to cover the other leagues and tackle (hurr) issues outside just the goals and results of the leagues, e.g. there was a lot of talk about the Spanish economic crisis and how that influenced/was reflected in the sport.

Gamers With Jobs

I don’t watch a lot of video game streams or review channels on YouTube because invariably the streamer is a) trying so very hard to be funny or quirky or whatever it is that the mostly-13-year-old demographic that video game streams cater to, or b) just not very good at communicating the information I want to know about the game. Anyway, the best thing about GWJ is that they are literally gamers with jobs; they’re in the roughly the same space as me and have much the same attitude to games that I have. For example, when one of the GWJ guys says they’ve been hammering a game, it’s usually followed by “I’ve put, like, eight hours into it this week!”. They don’t just talk about games though, with commentary about gaming issues, etc. also making the cut.

 

Reportage:

99% Invisible

Roman Mars has not only one of the coolest names in the business, but also one of the most relaxing speaking voices in podcast land. He also produces this awesome podcast about design and design choices that we take for granted as consumers. Hence the 99% invisible part; these things are generally mostly ignored, but once pointed out by the adroit reporters, become so obvious and so interesting that they can make a simple commute down the highway a lesson in how design decisions affect all of us.

This American Life

If I need to tell you about this, maybe you should just start with them and go from there. You’ve got around 500 episodes to catch up on and they won’t listen to themselves. Truly some of the best and most powerful radio that has ever been produced. And of course, Ira Glass, what a dude.

WNYC’s Radiolab

They went a little bit off the rails recently, but the last couple of episodes have been back to their best. And there’s still a back catalogue of really top-shelf, interesting episodes in the first three seasons that combine scientific discoveries, philsophical conundrums, and an interesting audio style thanks to Jad Abumrad’s musical background. Radiolab kept me enthusiastic and sane on so many walks down Parramatta Road while interning at COSMOS magazine.

Freakonomics Radio

If you’ve read the Freakonomics books, then you’ll know what to expect from the Stephen/Steven duo. Dubner and Levitt present interesting problems or questions and then tackle them (with help from other researchers and professionals) with an economists eye. This often means bringing in metrics that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of being influential, especially when it comes to emotional issues such as parenting and behavioural psychology, or broader, more global issues. Again they’ve got an awesome back-catalogue, so there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into.

Start the Week

Start the Week with Andrew Marr soon to return after having suffered a stroke. The subject matter varies, but ranges from art to science to politics, depending on what’s going on in the world. The guests are chosen to suit and are almost invariably incredibly well spoken and knowledgeable about the subject being discussed. Plus it’s British! Not sure why this is, but the rest of the podcasts in this section are all American. Weird.

 

People:

JOMAD

Two of the coolest, most enthusiastic book lovers in Melbourne talk books and bookish things with a variety of guests. There’s a focus, mostly incidental, towards younger guests (‘emerging guests’, perhaps?) which gives this podcast a really fresh sound. Plus both JoJo and Maddy are really great friends, and it comes across in their banter. I <3 these guys so damn much. P.S. You can even find me as a guest in the archives a couple years back!

Necessary & Sufficient

The premise is an intriguing one: host Evan Forman sends a guest an envelope with two index cards. On those index cards are written two words. The guest opens the envelope live, and the discussion starts. O.K. full disclosure here: I only started listening to N&S because Tim had been on the show, and he went ahead and recommended that I be a guest. But when I started listening, I mainlined about 50 episodes in two weeks. It’s supremely interesting stuff, seeing what connections people make between two words.

Podmentum

Momentum is an all-digital imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, and Podmentum is their (slightly-awkwardly-named) podcast. While you might anticipate that a book publisher’s podcast would be all about pushing books, it’s really not. They tackle different questions in the publishing industry, pop culture, and of course, sexy politicians. It’s irreverent, awesome fun. Put it this way, when I want to digitally publish anything, I’m going to shoot these guys my manuscript.

Savage Lovecast

Dan Savage is the be-all and end-all of sex advice columnists. This is his podcast. Probably not to be listened to if you are homophobic/most-things-o-phobic, or a little squeamish with anything more than vanilla sex.

 

Culture:

Slate’s Culture Gabfest

Pretty much the be-all and end-all of culture podcasts. Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner talk about anything and everything that has been happening in pop culture that week. Movies, music, film, books, world events, twerking, you name it, they talk about it. The best part of their analysis is that it never comes off as condescending, and they’ll offer the same level of discernment when discussing Woody Allen’s latest movie as they do Miley Cyrus’ incident or organic chicken farming. It’s fairly U.S.-centric, although they do reach out every now and again. Very much a must-add.

NHR Pop Culture Happy Hour

I haven’t listened to this one as much as Slate’s, but there definitely seems to be a slightly more upbeat vibe to their discussion. There’s usually one more person — quartet to Slate’s trio — and for some reason this gives it a more raucous feel. Which, I should add, doesn’t mean that they can’t debate and deride with the best of them, it’s just a little bit more fun.

 

Entertainment:

My Brother, My Brother, and Me

I have yet to make it through an episode of this podcast without laughing out loud, sometimes to the point of embarrassment in front of my colleagues at work. The premise of the show is that the three Mackelroy brothers do their very best to dispense advice to Yahoo Answers questions. But the real joy is that these brothers just love making each other laugh. Slightly NSFW sometimes, and it can take a few episodes to fall into the rhythm of their humour, but this is one of those podcasts I listen to when I need a break from the more serious ones on my playlist.

Downloadable Content

The Penny Arcade podcast that gets recorded when the creators of the comic are, well, creating the comic. Just like PA TV, itt’s a glimpse into the work process of two guys that know each other and their workflow incredibly well–as they should, they’ve been doing it for over a decade. I just really love listening to the process they go through of tossing ideas around, and spitballing until they get a comic idea that they can go for.

 

Fiction/Stories:

Taleteller Podcast

Clarkesworld Magazine

New Yorker Fiction

Other People

Selected Shorts

The Moth

These are all getting the same description because they all do basically the same thing: tell stories. The New Yorker Fiction podcast is the giant amongst them, and Deborah Treisman is always an amazing host. Clarkesworld is read by a breathy Kate Baker so if you find that kind of delivery annoying (which I sometimes do) then maybe steer clear. Selected Shorts is read by actors and actresses and so the deliveries can really make the stories pop. But they’re all worth a listen, for sure.

 

Recommendations:

Here are recommendations that people have given me, but I haven’t listened to yet/enough to list properly. I’ll move them up once I can recommend them myself. (:

From James Tierney: Guardian Australia Politics Weekly, Crikey Calling, 360Docs, All in The Mind, Cherchez La Femme, Download This Show, Killing Your Darlings, Meanjin, Notes for Coode Street, Off Track and Paper Radio.

From Bronwyn Mehan: Bound Off, Paper Radio, Little Raven, and her upcoming podcast Earworms.

 

 And of course…

mine. The Toothsoup Science Pod aims to take recent scientific discoveries in various fields and make them understandable for the lay person. Have a listen!

 

photo by: brewbooks

An Ode to Mushroom Bag Man

MBM

 

 

You’ve seen him

in the shops, hanging about in the vegetable aisles, dressed in brown and blue and etched with creases. His face is perpetually half-hidden by shadow, a top-teeth smile beckoning you forward to see what’s on his tray. Crouched between his arms, just in front of a striped butcher’s apron, are an assortment of domes that might be shrunken heads, might be the dish plate eyeballs of prehistoric lizards. He is The Mushroom Bag Man.

I’m not sure if the MBM is endemic to Western Australia, but if you haven’t been exposed to his creepy grin there’s a picture just up the top there. The stencil-cut design is—at least to myself and Louise—both hilariously baffling and slightly disturbing. Because if you were to choose one image for selling mushrooms, it probably wouldn’t be this one. I might have taken some liberties in the description in the opening paragraph, but it’s not far off. I think the reason the lighting is so off-putting is that in the process of accurately recreating the shadows, they’ve almost completely blanked out his eyes. So when I try and look for the eyes and don’t find them, my gaze is taken straight to that eerie fucking smile. His smile lines conspire to give him the look of someone who, despite the text’s assurance that mushrooms contain vitaman B12, has just chowed down on a juicy bit of steak and forgotten to wipe his chin. Even his posture is a bit off; a half-lean forward, as if offering some seductively evil object to the hero of a fantasy story.

And all of this is precisely why we love him. It’s rare to see an image, that might just as readily be stencilled by a Banksy wannabe on the side of a warehouse, making inroads into the grocery store. He’s instantly recognised from across a dairy section and once the initial oddness has worn off, there’s an almost-apologetic helpfulness that can be detected in that smile. Sadly, he’s slowly been disappearing from wax strings all over the place, replaced by more palatable designs or, worse, blank brown bags. But every now and again we’ll run into the Mushroom Bag Man in discount markets and delis, and–following the advice not pictured–pick up another handful of mushrooms today.

 

SciencePod — Don’t Panic

don't panic

On the menu

this week is some research that delves into the way the human mind deals with fear and panic in survival situations. Probably the most interesting thing was learning how there exist folks who don’t have the capacity to interpret things as fearful! As always, links to articles and the transcript follow the jump.

Continue Reading

photo by: alex_kuehni