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Archive for August, 2008

Labor Day

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

I can’t believe Labor Day weekend is upon us already! The summers just go by so fast and the winters drag on forever. Last year we had a really late frost so maybe we will have a lot of good weather to come. I’m already pretty much in ‘goof-off’ mode for the holiday but I thought I’d post a few links for you.

This is a video of extreme base jumping. These guys put on winged suits and fly like flying squirrels. It’s awesome to watch!

Is it real or photo editing? A while back I linked to the first picture in this article figuring it’s probably not real. The second and third pictures are a different cat.  Can cats grow wings?

Even if you don’t care about the science behind these Noctilucent clouds, scroll down to the second picture which is very cool.

From PC Magazine a list of the top 100 undiscovered websites. No matter what you are into, there is probably one you will find interesting.

Kids these days will make a solar cell out of about anything!

I thought these tiny houses look kind of cool but they are kind of pricey for being so small.

And finally I have two cute animal links for you today. One is this collection of cat and dog friends, the other is a story of a baby chipmunk rescue.


Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

O.K. I’ve installed a tool which is designed to prevent automated spamming in my comments. I have re-enabled commenting on the blog. We shall see how it does. Some posts may still have commenting turned off because I did it on individual posts before it got so bad I had to do something more sophisticated.

Click on the ‘No Comments’ or ‘Comments’ link below any post to leave a comment.

Hope to hear from real people!

From The Mail Bag

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Sometimes writing this blog is as easy as looking through my mail.

Dan writes:
Here is a funny site you may want to check out – if you get their sense of humor


I have heard of this guy because he got a book deal right away after starting his site.

Matt writes:

Interesting game.

Can you guess where my accent is from?

I don’t know why I expected to do better on this quiz than I did. It’s actually really hard. I guess one of the things I would have liked would have been to be able to hear the person speak after I knew the choices. I’m not sure it would have helped.

Also from Matt is this video prank. If you let it play to the end, you can create an email you can send to your friends where it uses their names instead.

Again from Matt is this link to a short film which won the 2008 Cannes short film competition. If you have any ad blocking software, you probably need to turn it off to see it. Of course, my readers wouldn’t have ad blocking software on when they visit my site anyway. They would be missing all the ads from the great companies who help support my website!


I always find it fascinating when someone can tell a story in a few minutes without a big budget.

My wife sent me this link. It’s a video of a guy who built a model of the Beijing Olympic venue out of playing cards. I used to build some card houses when I was a kid but this guy has taken it to a level I would have never thought possible.

Sometimes I bookmark links and then forget what they were because the name of the link makes no sense in my bookmarks. That was the case with this collection of pictures of ‘Divorce Cakes‘.

This is pretty cool. It’s a guitar that can manipulate its own strings to sustain a note or sound like different instruments.

I would guess this image of a butterfly’s tongue was shot with an electron microscope. It’s amazing how feathery things look at that level.

This list of 50 things we now know we didn’t know a year ago has some surprises. Why in the world would skin cancer be 20 percent more common on the left side of the body?

And finally, usually I post a link to a funny animal or cute cat picture here. I don’t know if this is funny but it’s one amazingly large rabbit.

Spore Creature Creator

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Some time ago I posted this link where you can download a free trial version of software to create creatures for the soon-to-be-released game Spore from Electronic Arts. Spore is produced by Maxis which is now a brand under Electronic Arts best known for the Sim City series. I finally got around to playing with the Creature Creator this weekend.

The installation was fairly straight forward. I had to update my version of Direct X from Microsoft. In short order I was creating critters. The user interface seems fairly intuitive. I suppose to me that means it’s like a lot of other programs I have used. I’m hardly a novice at 3D programs having used a great number of them over the last 20 plus years. I’ve also developed 3D software and written some games.

The program is divided in three sections.  There is a section where you build your creature, there is a section where you paint or add color to it, and finally there is a ‘test drive’ section where you can make your creation dance, roar, express emotions and so forth.

packlephosidus (now extinct)

Packlephosidus (now extinct)

I was able to create my first creature (shown above) in about an hour. The building process amounts to picking items such as a hand from a list and dragging it onto your creature. You can manipulate the various parts by rotating or enlarging them in each dimension.

One of the really cute and entertaining things about the software is while you are adding parts; the creature is animated and reacts by staring at its new hands for instance. It expresses happiness as you add each part. It shakes and laughs when you color it. There seemed to be inconsistencies in the interface. When you are in the build section, you drag with the left mouse button to rotate the camera while in the test drive section; you use the right mouse button to do the same thing.  However I discovered the right button works in both cases so I just adjusted to always using it.

My wife has never used a 3D creation program, but I suppose she has watched me use them for years. She was able to create this guy on her first try in half an hour after watching me use the program.



We did have a problem with the audio. There was a very annoying buzzing sound in the test drive area. My wife discovered it would go away if you selected the black background instead of the default one. We ran into a much bigger flaw after exiting the program and trying to restart it. The EA logo would appear and then the game would just shut down. At first I thought it might have been because I had changed some of the rendering settings on the game. I found a preferences.prop file and tried to edit it to what it had been originally. When that didn’t work, I made sure my drivers were up to date although since the game had been running that didn’t make much sense. Finally we tried to uninstall and then reinstall the game. Unfortunately I didn’t locate and back up my first critter so it became extinct in the process. Finally we came upon this link at Electronic Arts where we had to replace the file called DMCmdPortalClient.dll. That solved the problem but it took hours to figure out.

One of the problems when trying to design an easy to use 3D authoring tool is it is inherently a complex thing. If you look at any of the major full blown software packages there are tons of controls. For the sake of simplicity, the Creature Creator leaves a lot of these out but as a consequence there are things you can not do. However they are trying to make something to easily create critters for the game not a total 3D authoring tool.

I thought the way they handled the paint area was interesting. In a full blown 3D package you have to supply a picture which is mapped onto your object. It just gets more complex from there as you can add bump mapping, specular maps and so on and so on. Creature Creator  gives you a choice between just choosing a basic ‘skin’ or three layers of color where you can choose the colors for spots or stripes for instance. The software makes some assumptions as well. For instance, it assumes the ‘front’ of the creature faces a certain way. So if you create a two-headed beast, such as the one below, and then animate it, there are collision problems.

Two headed beast

Two headed beast

Here is what happens when you make it roar.

self intersecting issue

Self intersecting issue

All in all the Creator is fun to play with and the price is certainly right for the free version. The test drive area has some cute features such as buttons to create baby versions of your critter. It also has buttons to create an animated avatar, shoot pictures, and shoot movies. You can send picture postcards to your friends and after you shoot a movie it gives you the opportunity to upload it directly to YouTube.

Below is an example of a video I shot and you can hear the audio buzzing bug.

The full version of the Creature Creator costs $9.95. The full Spore game will cost $49.95 and is due to be released September 7th in the United States.

And finally, I always end with a funny animal picture but this time check out this rather surreal attempt to make something that looks like Garfield the cat in Creature Creator.



No Comment

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

I’ve changed the settings on this blog so you have to log in to post a comment. Sorry, I’ve been overrun by spammers lately and I’m tired of dealing with it. You people aren’t real talkative anyway. Maybe I’ll figure out another way to deal with it, but in the meantime, the comments are disabled.

The other day I mentioned Shapeways where you can get 3D models printed into real plastic objects. I spent some time looking over their site recently trying to figure out how it works and coming up with ideas on things to make. There is a gallery of models people have submitted. They are also coming up with simple objects you can modify through their interface and have made but 3D modeling is somewhat complex so I imagine this is difficult for them. Right now the objects you can make that way are pretty limited.

This article at Wired pointed out the plastic isn’t for kids. I hadn’t thought about that. While reading through the forums I ran across this link where a guy made a mold for chocolate monkey heads. He was working in a lab that had a 3D printer and didn’t use Shapeways, but the process would be about the same. I just recently bought one of those FoodSaver systems to preserve the heaping loads of vegetables we are getting and it had occurred to me the vacuum system might come in handy for molding something. He uses it to remove the bubbles from the silicone prior to pouring the mold.

The FoodSaver thing is kind of cool but a little more difficult to operate than I expected. I liked some of the unusual suggestions people had for using it. One was to seal your paint brush instead of cleaning it if you were going to continue painting the same color anyway. They also give you a covered dish which you can use to marinate meat using the vacuum. That didn’t occur to me either.

I was reading about the water cube at the Olympics and how it’s made of this amazing material called ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene). This article talks about how strong, lightweight, and transparent it is. It sounds really great and then at the end they say it’s unlikely to be used in residential projects because the engineering is too sophisticated. It sounds like the perfect material for a home greenhouse. How bad can the engineering be?

I liked this article about building things by shaping trees. I wish I had more room in my yard to try something like it. Plants are really remarkable in their ability to self assemble into useful things. With all the genetic engineering going on you wonder how extreme it could get. I mean you could possibly encode the genes for these things to shape themselves without human guidance.

Imagine two dollar a gallon carbon neutral gasoline produced from garbage and non-food biomass. Given the military is the largest consumer of fuel in the U.S. and the security gains from being able to produce it domestically, I would think they would be highly interested in seeing this technology pushed forward as quickly as possible.

Type a command and this dog will do tricks. Besides the basic stuff I couldn’t think of much to make it do. Be sure to try “kiss”.

And finally, yes another silly cat picture.


Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

This animation is pretty good but something about her mouth still seems off. Maybe it’s just the video compression. One thing that is clear is total realism at video game speeds is not far off. Also it will be extremely cheap not long after it’s achieved. I haven’t done any animation for a while and one of these days I’m going to upgrade my equipment and get back into it.

Speaking of digital art, here is a nice collection. I particularly like the landscapes.

Here is more strange art by an artist named Frank Uyttenhove.

I’ve linked to articles about Valcent before. They are one of the companies planning on producing fuel from algae. Here is a short video about the process. They point out we could meet the energy needs of America by turning one tenth of the state of New Mexico into algae production. It sounds nice but one tenth of New Mexico is still a big area.

Here is yet another story about progress on using sunlight to produce hydrogen.

My mystery story of the day is this one about five strange skulls.

Here is a pair of very nice lightning at sunset pictures.

Check out these pictures of more elaborate sand sculptures.

Here are some pictures of cats in water and includes video of a cat riding the front of a surf board. My cats would never get in water but they seem to be fascinated by it. I suppose it’s the only liquid they experience in their daily life so maybe that has to do with it.

And finally, yes it’s another silly kitten picture.


Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Every once in a while I read an article that makes me think yeah, we are living in the future. That is the way I felt about this article on a robot with a biological brain. It does make you wonder if in the future, we will have household robots with biological brains that are useful but somewhat unpredictable in their behavior. I suppose it’s not that different than owning a pet.

Offshore drilling is one of those things you would not think would divide up neatly upon party lines. I would think if you live on the ocean or have a vacation home there you would probably be against it. Also if your living depends on tourism or fishing you would be against it as well. Perhaps the government shouldn’t determine our energy policy but there is no real way to avoid its role. When you see evolving technologies such as this one where they have genetically altered bacteria to produce fuel which is compatible with existing pipelines and could be used in gasoline engines, you really wonder if the development can’t be accelerated.

This guy has an interesting view of the future. I can see a lot of those things happening but maybe on a longer time-line. It takes so long for new medical treatments to be approved, if you’re my age you probably won’t have nanobots swimming around your bloodstream. The replicator is a common subject for science fiction. I’m pretty sure someday they will exist but I’m thinking later than 2025.

Here is a follow up on the post I made yesterday on Bigfoot. Turns out one of the guys has been involved in Bigfoot hoaxes before.

This video of a huge propane explosion has some language some might find offensive. Unfortunately when the main blast hits, the person holding the camera understandably moves the shot off center. It’s a pretty dramatic scene though with a very visible shock wave.

This is kind of sad and funny. It’s a coffee cup with the bill of rights printed on it. Add hot coffee and watch your civil liberties disappear.

Smoke pictures are something I have never got around to trying along with high speed water drops. The best ones are at the bottom and aren’t real pictures but computer effects.

And finally, check out these cute guinea pigs.


Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

A group claims to have an actual dead body of the creature Bigfoot. The site is down here, but you can see mostly the same info here.

I’m not totally sure what a roller suit is but here is a pretty impressive video of someone taking one down a mountain in the Swiss Alps.

My old van has pretty much reached the end of its useful life. The inside is still nice and I’ve been thinking of odd things you could do with it like yank the engine and put it on pontoons. Here are a bunch of extreme houseboat designs.

I got a chuckle out of this picture.

I didn’t realize there were white peacocks.

The Air force finally has a death ray. The strange part is they seem most excited about the fact they can deny using it.

I already knew some of these but a lot of people don’t. Here are six ways to use your mouse scroll wheel in Firefox.

Now those are some extremely steep steps!

Here is a nice collection of landscape photos.

And finally, I have a couple of links to cute tiger cubs, here and here.

Perseids And Peaches

Monday, August 11th, 2008

The Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight so if you are up really late or really early, go out and look up. We always try to see them but there is so much light pollution around here, it makes it difficult. Someday we are going to travel somewhere this time of year where we can see them.

Here is a nice photo of a meteor and an aurora.

It probably has too many lights around it but this would be a good setup for meteor watching. It’s a house with a bedroom that extends out like a desk drawer.

They are finally ready to pick

They are finally ready to pick

This would be really cool if it works. How to get to Mars in 8 weeks.

I was thinking about how movies are sometimes re-released after being digitally cleaned up. I wonder if some of the films that have been computer generated might be re-rendered as the technology improves. One example is The Polar Express where the humans look rather strange, especially the eyes. Check out this impressive demo of software to produce facial emotions in computer generated characters.

This is a pretty cute video of someone singing puppies to sleep.

The Mad Scientists’ Club

Friday, August 8th, 2008

This article about a “dinosaur-like’ creature being spotted in Papua New Guinea reminded me of a book I read as a kid called The Mad Scientists’ Club. I Googled the title and was surprised to find the author’s son had a web site and the book is still in print. The publisher Purple House Press was apparently created to publish books people enjoyed as children which were out of print. Anyway, the story was The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake in which a bunch of kids build a monster and mount it on a boat. My wife said she remembered seeing a movie about it and according to this article at Wikipedia it was a two part story on the Wonderful World of Disney entitled “The Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove”.

It also reminded me to visit a site I hadn’t been to in a while called Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories where they have instruction on how to build some strange things like a cardboard cat chaise and a 3D printer that fuses sugar. That persistence of vision thing they had on there reminded me of something I built with a friend of mine when we were kids. It was a florescent string on a motor and it gave the appearance of a semi-solid object you could deform with your hands under a black light.

Speaking of mad scientists, I’ve been reading all these weird things about the Large Hadron Collider causing the end of the world by creating black holes or something. Never mind cosmic rays hit the upper atmosphere with the same amount of power every day. Anyway, here is one that I really found amusing. The LHC will be shutdown before it starts by ripples from the future.

I thought this picture of a bridge that becomes a tunnel was kind of interesting.

Here is another photo I liked of fire and water.

How about a house made out of Styrofoam? I was thinking at least if it fell on you it wouldn’t hurt but according to the article, the panels are 175 lbs each, so maybe not.

How about a mirror made out of wood? You really have to watch the video on this one to appreciate it. It also gives you a close up so you can see how it works. Very cool!

And finally, oh you know I always end with a cute animal picture.