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Genevieve Packer

August 3, 2012
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A couple of years ago I was in a gallery, The Dowse in fact, well, the shop, to be specific, looking at jewelry and books and whatnot. Amongst the generally good stuff a cushion with a cunning kiwi (I don’t mean this as literal as being pictures of kiwis) print stood out.

Genevieve Packer cushion

Then we noticed the label; this cushion turned out to be a handmade product by Genevieve Packer, a who we knew, and still know, just in case the past tense disturbs you. It’s always good to see things that friends have created, but it’s even better to see something and like it, and then realise that a friend’s made it – there’s no fear of bias in the judgement.

Since then we’ve seen Gen’s work in shops in Queenstown and the Koru lounge in Aukland airport. Right now she’s taking on the quite insane task of producing a pattern a dayand you can keep up with her. efforts here.

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Higgs Boson Probably Found

July 5, 2012
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It would appear that the Higgs boson exists!

This must be a mighty relief in the physics community, as they don’t have to re-write the Standard Model. Although that’s probably nothing compared to the relief of those at CERN itself and their extremely worthwhile, but undeniably very expensive experimental system.

Naturally, the Mars Rocks! had something to say on such an auspicious day…

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The Mars Rocks! Always at the bleeding edge of science…


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Me On Video, Sans Head

June 25, 2012
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A couple of weeks ago I decided to have a go at vlogging. This wasn’t simply because I wanted to avoid writing, in fact I could probably have just written it a lot more easily than I could have done a video recording. It’s probably easier for you to digest though, have a look here.

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Me, talking about the Queen and Venus…

Next time I’ll get my forehead in the shot too.


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CSI Wellington

April 17, 2012
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Picture the scene: I entered the house and there was something peculiar afoot. A bag of shopping that I’d brought home earlier had been knocked over. My assumption was that some feline interloper had been in through the cat flap and knocked it over while trying to rub against it, the way cats do. Must have been a big cat, I concluded, which discounted our borderline munchkin moggie.

Beware of first conclusions.

Awhile later I discovered a box of tea jammed into a corner of the room and the truth of the scenario dawned instantly. The tea in question wasn’t your average breakfast variety, but a relaxing tea, which counter intuitively contains catnip – and our cat loves em. Obviously, despite the tea being plastic wrapped, the cat had been desperate to get some, out of the bag she fished it; across the floor she chased it.

This was not the first time that returning home has posed a mini mystery to me but the previous incident was a lot, lot more disturbing.

My parents and I had been to my grandparent’s and by the time we returned home it was dark. Pulling onto the driveway everything seemed as it should, the lights were on as expected because my older brother had stayed home.

We hopped out of the car and approached the house. My dad twisted the key in the Yale lock and we entered.

“Hello,” someone called. No reply, came the answer.

So my brother had left the lights on but gone out. He’d left a lot of lights on, but maybe he’d only just popped out, most of his mates lived close by.

“That’s odd,” my dad said, “the phone’s off the hook.” And it wasn’t just off the hook; the receiver was completely off the hook and hanging off the side of the record cabinet that the phone sat on. I didn’t know what kind of struggle would only leave a phone in a moderately precarious state and touch nothing else, and clearly neither did my parents, so there was still calm.

Of the many lights that could be seen on form the outside, my brother’s bedroom light was one of them. I expect it was this that drew someone upstairs. There things became entirely filmic. There was a record on my brother’s turntable and it was still revolving, the needle tracing the infinity of the runoff groove.

Had my brother been listing to music while on the phone then simply vanished? Your own house isn’t meant to be like the Mary Celeste.

I expect my parents were freaking out, “Tales of the Unexpected” was a very popular TV show in those days, but they weren’t letting on.

Then my brother turned up. Not in a ditch somewhere, thankfully, but from next door.

He’d been listening to music when he’d wondered how loud it sounded outside. So he went out onto the street to find out. But he let the door close behind him – the latch clicked into place and he was locked out. He’d gone next door and had been furnished with a coat hanger. This he’d used to try to hook a set of door keys, all of which were conveniently hung up within close proximity to the letterbox. However, he’d failed to snare the keys and had only managed to dislodge the telephone.

Having failed, he’d returned to the next door neighbour’s house and awaited our return.

Obviously that was a mystery that didn’t need to be solved, my brother told us. If he’d been a cat I reckon we’d still be mulling it over now.

 


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Jack Tramiel – Simply Greatness

April 10, 2012
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Somewhere in a loft, in the fair and mighty county of North Yorkshire, there rests my greatest teenage dream. In 1987 I turned 12 and, apart from being besotted with the female of the species, I had a craving for technology, any technology, and when the Atari ST came into my sights it was love at first sight.

Rest in peace and thank you Jack Tramiel...

The following year I was extremely lucky and managed to snag myself a 520 Atari STFM – it had a built in disk drive (still the half meg version) and TV modulator!

And how I loved it.

I used that computer day and night – pixel art in Degas Elite, writing in First Word Plus, cranking out poems with some weird automated poetry writing software, failing to learn to program with STOS, even sound sampling – which really meant recording things then playing them backwards or at different pitches. And, of course, games, great great games, like Stunt Car Racer, Dungeon Master, Midwinter, Populous and the Secret of Monkey Island. Work (sort of) and play all in one perfect package.

That ST got used so much that the left mouse button stopped working with any reliability within a year, so my dad swapped the wires around so the right mouse button got all the action. Soon I had to get a new mouse altogether, a Naksha mouse, still the best mouse I’ve ever owned. The power supply even flaked out after a few years of merciless heat and had to be replaced, which is still the pinnacle of my electronic engineering endeavours.

The man that made this machine possible was Jack Tramiel, a survivor of Auschwitz and founder of Commodore. Under his reign Commodore made and sold a little computer called the Commodore 64, which is a blockbuster by anyone’s standards, bringing a proper computing into tens of millions of homes.

Corporate wrangling left Jack on the wrong side of the Commodore board room door, so he set up a new company, acquired the computer half of Atari and drove too hard a bargain trying to purchase the Amiga, allowing Commodore to step in and make a sensible offer for the technology instead. Incapable of admitting defeat, Tramiel and Atari cobbled together the ST from off the shelf parts (not like any shelf I ever had) and made my decade.

I’ve been working in video games development for nearly 17 years now, using skills I half learned with a clunky mouse and my first full keyboard. When people say “you know computers” to me, it’s Jack Tramiel and the Atari ST that deserve the credit.

Thank you Jack, for making the machine that made me, I will forever be in your debt.


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I have a lot of…

April 1, 2012
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I have a lot of blogs (see side bar on the right for details) but my latest addition isn’t a blog, which is a relief.

Around about the start of the week I saw somebody on Twitter mention Pinterest. It might have been Guy Kawasaki, but I’m not sure, and even if I didn’t see his tweet about it, I expect he did tweet about it, so I’m kinda covered on the technical truth front.

Anyway, I had no idea what Pinterest was, but it sounded interesting, especially because my brain kept breaking the word down into “Pint” and “Erest” – I like the word Pint. Using Google and its mighty powers I soon found out I should be thinking “Pin” and “Interest” and thinking online pin boards.

It’s invite only, so I had to ask to be invited to join, which meant I had to wait about 24 hours to get pinning. Now I’m on I realise it’s a solution to a problem I definitely knew I had. The problem for me is this – keeping some kind of vaguely ordered record of all the cool things I come across on the interwebs. Yes, there are solutions for this, but Pinterest fits the bill better than any others.

Not that I’ve actually pinned much yet.

 


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Cat-Gon Jinn

March 24, 2012
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I was reclining on the couch watching something on TV that I have completely forgotten. So I was wasting my time. My little netbook was closed and on the coffee table, within arm’s reach. When I put it there, it didn’t seem to matter that it was on a slippery plastic folder.

While I was slackjawing before the goggle box the cat appeared. Up she hopped onto the coffee table and then sat upon the netbook, as cats do.

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Qui-Gon, was it his plan to be stabbed in the stomach? Slacker...

The cat sat there looking at me. I looked at the cat. I probably said ‘hello’.

Then the cat leapt for my lap. Launching herself mostly horizontally, a horrible demonstration of action-reaction unfolded before my eyes. As the cat went one way the netbook slipped on its low friction surface, flying off the table the other way.

Purely on instinct my left hand shot out and grabbed the netbook just as it cleared the edge of the table. At the same moment the cat landed on my lap. Then my body caught up with adrenaline and whatnot and my heart started beating again.

I was like Qui-Gon Jinn when he catches the whatever it is that falls off the table in Episode I.

Considering the reckless way I fence, there’s a chance I’ll go out the same way as Qui-Gon too. 


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Let’s Really Have Some Competition!

March 11, 2012
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Currently there’s much talk about slashing business regulation to increase competition. It’s a concept that anyone can see the sense in – if you don’t have to spend money on jumping through hoops then your company can be more competitive.

Competition is a good thing and I’d like to see the parties of the right embrace it even more fully, I’d like them to really liberate the potential of the system and address…

Political Parties

Democracy isn’t as democratic as it should be, there are flies in the ointment and the flies are called political parties. The point of democracy, at its least interactive level, is to be able to influence the political system by casting a vote. However, the candidates on offer who will actually be in a position to affect policy are chosen by powerful political parties, and that normally means just two political parties. A choice of candidates from only two parties represents little choice, especially when the difference between the two parties is much less significant than it should be.

Some might say that this is the fault of the electorate, they could after all vote for a minor party or independent candidates. But to suggest this is to underestimate an important part of human psychology: People like to back winners. At a deep neurological level they don’t want to side with a party they don’t believe can win, hence the polarisation of the majority of votes towards two parties.

Even worse than the abject lack of choice on offer is the fact that no matter who you choose to represent you they (be they a member of the ruling party or the opposition) have a master higher than the electorate. I do not mean god, I mean the party, and in politics the party is god. For anyone who wants to make any kind of difference in the world of politics the only choice they have is to join a successful party, and then do what you’re told.

It’s known if a politician does what their told, and votes the right way by the very simple fact that it’s done in public. The fib to justify this is that it allows the electorate to judge whether their elected representative is voting in their best interest, but the truth is that it allows the party to know how their members vote. Closed ballots were introduced for the public to stop the corrupt from forcing them to vote a certain way, instead the peer pressure was pushed up the line into the peaks of power, which means the corrupt only have to bend the ears of a few, rather than the many. And if a politician doesn’t vote how the party wishes then all that power they derive from being in a party begins to dissolve, their career stalls and they are reminded of their “obligations”.

The obvious solution to the lack of competition in politics is to break up the political parties; they are, after all, only unions of politicians with a common goal, the goal of attaining ultimate power. And it’s clear that the needs and desires of the party will always take precedence over any other master, even the country as a whole will often take a back seat to the success of the party. So abolish political parties and allow the electorate to choose from a wide field of candidates on merit, and not candidates with a party affiliation who will only go on to vote the way the whip tells them to.

In many countries around the world this would require some modification to the political system to accommodate it, but the US seems to have built a system that’s begging to be converted to party free politics, genuinely competitive politics where the only regulation is “no political parties”. In the highest positions of government this system would be extremely easy to implement, especially at the highest level of the White House, where so few of the President’s key personnel are elected officials anyway.


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Tune!

February 14, 2012
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Yesterday I spent about an hour of my time on hold, waiting to talk to a human being while being piped music and being told that they were suffering a higher than expected number of calls. However, I’m not mentioning this to draw sympathy, because it wasn’t actually as bad as it sounds.

How could this be? It’s not because I am a well adjusted and chilled out human being, that’s for sure.

Partly it was because I occasionally got told what number I was in the queue, so I could at least judge that I was making progress down the river of ignorance, getting ever closer to the sea of answers, or a life threatening hurricane, I didn’t know which.

I also knew that at the end of this journey I would definitely be taking up my fair share of time, reducing the unfortunates in the queue behind me to the phone equivalent of kicking their heels and wondering if it might be better to send an email.

But mostly, it was because the music being played to me was actually quite good – Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, I think. Cheerily I listened to it, thankful that there were no vocals to drive me insane. However, it also occurred to me that not everyone would be impressed with this choice of tune. Some might hate it, some might long to hear Whitney Houston (rest in peace pop princess) warbling away.

The world don’t move to the beat of just one drum and music taste varies so much that I heartily recommend that no one ever discuss what tunes they like at a dinner party, especially not with me, because I hate having to be polite when folk tell me how much they like Coldplay, or Celine Dion or any number of anodyne infectors of my brain mind.

Therefore, when it comes to being on hold, there should be an option to choose a station to listen to – Press 1 for Funk, Press 2 for Prog Rock, Press 3 for Hardcore Industrial (parental advisory, explicit lyrics). This is surely a lot cheaper than employing the correct number of staff to answer the calls and would partially diffuse the potentially furious callers who call up and launch into a time wasting tirade.

Of course, there might be a fault with my plan. Many call centres are metrics based – length of the queue, time to answer and time to deal with the call are all numbers to be kept as low as possible. So I strongly suspect that some call centre manager deliberately choose the most annoying music possible so that you’re encouraged to hang up, get the queue down and make them look good.

Don’t let the bastards win! Stay on the line people!

 


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Mars Rocks! – Draining…

February 10, 2012
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The Mars Rocks! haven’t been broadcasting all that much lately, but here’s some news, hot off the press…

Mars Rocks! - Confused as ever...


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