Thursday, December 18, 2008

Evolving Ambiguous Digits

The above image represents my final Machine Learning project, Evolving Ambiguous Digits. I have just finished writing it now.

Yeah! First semester of Master's finished!

More details are to come (I will likely make a project page). But the above is the output of a neural network as represented by a Restricted Boltzmann Machine, when it is prodded in the direction of different digits. The top row is how the digit evolves if you poke the 'zero' neuron (think of it as poking the 'burnt toast' neuron) and each row down represents the next digit. Poking five works pretty well since it is a five already.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blog Entry Ideas

I keep a bunch of text files on my cellphone that contain random ideas I get while on the go, categorized such as 'Books I want to write', 'Funny ideas', 'Directives', 'Improv Ideas', 'To read/watch/play'. One of these files is 'Blog entry ideas', a collection of stuff I wanted to write or rant about but haven't yet. Well, I've had it for a year now, and still haven't written these posts. Possibly because I could never come up with a coherent way to express what I meant, I was too lazy, or I forgot what the hell I was talking about. Instead, let's do it the easy way and let your imagination fill in the blanks. This way, I don't have to write something, and you can imagine exactly what you would want to read about. Except where I've noted, these are completely unedited:

Academia vs industry: you always maximize stockholder value. In aca, that's you! But, you're hired on the presumption that stockholder value corelates [sic] highly with personal value.

An argument against knives

I've been going at it wrong. What is expressable [sic] through mime is viewable by the power of imagination and anything that tries to recreate that will destroy that effect.

Blog name: follow these instructions

Observation: movies like tropic thunder, kiss kiss bang bang and adaptation mock the film conventions of Hollywood initially, but then use all of them very effectively in their final acts. Is this out of homage, or mockery? Is it true that these ridiculous things are, inevitably, the most effective way to tell stories on the large screen? As an audience, are we so entrenched in film language that we can't expect otherwise?

The honour of the grind. Granddad Rahnasto [on my mom's side] once built the foundation of a house by himself. Conversation I had with a guy after the play copenhagen.

Dumb thoughts on clean hydrogen fuel. Where does it come from? Clean?

Numbing in the transfer from actor to audience.

On my approach to objectivity and art, specifically by script-reading. Why do I seek to be objective? Does it matter?

The implicit nature of geometrical shapes

Difference in interactive media between part of the 'plot' and something it is possible for the player to do. Who is responsible for their actions, ie drink driving in GTA or spousal abuse in fable.

Catch 22s and strange loops in godel's incompleteness theorem.

On genuineness and science. On the sliding scale of carefulness whenit comes to truth, where should you be? Not admitting a chance of failure. 'Religious' thinking.

User responsibility:
My viewpoint on things that can be "addictive", such as videogames and drugs, and the roles/responsibilities of users and designers. how my viewpoint has changed recently with my awareness of HCI. Acting like a baby as a user. Also applies to pieces of art that need to be understood. Eg. The knife in "no exit" - the audience is expected to notice it.

Coping with tunnel vision - epiphanies are important

Rationalizing decision time. Monetary. The value of my time and reducing stress

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Improv Math: Military Clock

A few weeks ago, I went to see PROJECTproject, an improv show in the Toronto area. They had just come back from a tour to Western Canada, and one of the things they brought back with them was a structure called Military Clock. I think they said it came from Winnipeg. I'm always on the look for interesting improv structures, and this has a mathematical tilt to it, so that's why I have written it up.

The way it works is:
- split the team up into two groups
- have each group form a circle on either side of the stage
- the people from either circle who are closest to the audience (two of them) are in the scene
- whenever anyone not in the scene feels that it is getting stale, they yell "Clock!" and both circles rotate
- a new scene starts with the two people who are now at the front
- repeat until you feel you're done, or everyone has had a scene

When I saw PROJECTproject do it, they had one circle of three and another circle of four, like below.

Go ahead! Click on the stage to make the clock run! Also, click on the arrows to add or subtract improvisors to each circle.

However, this only "works" for certain numbers of improvisors in the circles. Ideally, you want to be able to run the military clock around without having any repeats, and have every possible pairing of improvisors show up. When I saw it, the improvisors would keep their character for future scenes, so we saw all possible character combinations (7 choose 2).

So what numbers does it work for? It is possible to find these numbers for any troupe size?

To rotate through every possible combination, the size of the circles must be mutually prime.

Can every troupe size be expressed as a sum of two mutually prime numbers? NO. I'm also assuming we can't have circles of size one, since that isn't the spirit of the game.
It works for
5 - 3&2
7 - 3&4 (PROJECTproject)
8 - 3&5
9 - 4&5
10 - 3&7
11 - 5&6

It doesn't work for 6, sadly.

Does it NOT work for any troupe that is larger than 11? I am not sure. But seriously, who has an improv troupe larger than 11? Think of the egos!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Playing your part

One of the problem with video games that have a story component is that the player you represent can behave inconsistently with the "story of the game". Games that do not have a story component, such as most Will Wright-style games, are the exception. An example of this problem is the very detailed story and character development of Grand Theft Auto IV, and yet the cartoonish violence which is actually fun and deviates from the character that the story has built for you. Also, in some levels of the Thief Series, it is sometimes just easier to sprint through an entire level instead of being stealthy, and thus having the entire complement of guard and monster AIs making a racket trying to find you.

Elsewhere, video games have adapted strange conventions to prevent this problem, such as the "silent protagonist" seen in many first-person shooters that avoids the sticky issue by simply shutting up.

One potential cool way to synthesize story and gameplay is to somehow reward or punish the player for acting more or less like their part. I hadn't yet seen this in a game yet, until I was reading the Wikipedia entry for Valve's upcoming game, Left 4 Dead. The Tank, concept art seen below, is one of the playable zombie characters in the game.

Obviously, this character is not meant to just sit still and remain pretty. Strategic thinking also doesn't seem to be suggested by its form. To quote the article:
"Also, the tank has a "Frustration Meter" which means that control will be taken away from a human player if the Tank does not engage the survivors for a certain time."
Cool! There are other varieties of playable infected that have different characteristics, and they don't have this same description. So, the game designers are suggesting a certain "play character" in their design. I can't wait to see what more comes of this.

Suggestion: make the physical appearance and gameplay characteristics change automatically based on the game learning a player's "style".

Note: The most famous silent protagonist is Gordon Freeman, the main character of Valve's Half-Life series. Valve is great.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How can computers use tacit knowledge?

I'm seven weeks into my Master's, and the clouds are beginning to clear around my research topic. But first, an aside...

In my improv class at Impatient Theatre on Saturday, there was a scene that was described as "incredibly complex". We were playing with the idea of an "analogous scene" that explores and expands the themes of a previous scene in a different situation, with different characters.

The first scene was an old couple going through storage in their basement. As the scene progressed, there was subtle tension between the two, with the woman wanting to bring something up, and the man ignoring her, and instead bringing attention to some old toys. He passed one to her (a plastic Pony) and held one himself (a He-Man). He held the He-Man in front of his face and said "Hey there little Pony!" and so on. They weren't interacting as a couple anymore, but as two little toys. Finally, the Pony said that she wasn't sure if it was working out between her and He-Man, and that maybe they should re-evaluate their relationship. Both the woman and the man froze, the conversation between the toys having become about their relationship. The scene ended.

The second scene was two friends exploring the garage of a house that one of them was house-sitting. Strangely, there were a bunch of sports equipment and other costumes in the garage. The house-sitter started putting on and taking off equipment for football and hockey, etcetera, while the friend starting playing with some Star-Wars costumes. The more equipment the house-sitter had on, the angrier they would be about some issue with the friend (a car getting scratched, poster in their house being thrown out). Meanwhile, the friend thought they were just play-acting scenes from the Star Wars movies. At one point, the friend put a Yoda head on the house-sitter to try to get him out of his angry mode, but the house-sitter took it off, saying it didn't feel natural. Finally, the friend put the Darth Vader costume back on and got really angry about an insignificant housemate issue, attempting to show the house-sitter how he was acting. The house-sitter responded with "Did that happen in the movie?" and the scene ended.

The first scene took about 2 minutes, the second one took 4 minutes. We analyzed both of them for about 5 minutes apiece, and I still find myself thinking about them. When the improvisors were asked why they made certain choices, they couldn't actually verbalize their thinking or reasoning, yet all of them made amazing scenes. It turned out that the improvisors in the second scene had two very different in-the-moment interpretations of one part of the scene, yet they together made something that was interesting to watch from the audience.

In my continuing research about learning by mimicry, I've become interested in the idea of tacit knowledge, knowledge that is defined by its difficulty of communication. Tacit knowledge is usually passed by a learner observing someone else, whether they are explicitly a teacher or not. I assert that interactions that require or use tacit knowledge are more powerful and expressive than those that are not. While my initial motivation to explore this space was miming, a form of physical expression frequently used by people when words are not enough, tacit knowledge exists in the use of any sufficiently complex interaction. I use the metaphor of drafting while riding a bicycle as the way that a user can explore the space of existing tacit knowledge:

1. Advance tentatively
2. Have the space of previous interactions shown in a useful representation
3. Made a choice
4. GoTo 1

A small philosophical problem I have with this is that it seems to suggest that all possible interactions are pre-determined. Well, on a regular basis, the vast majority of interactions are pre-determined. New space can be explored by a different mechanism, but frequently it is built on existing knowledge from different areas that is synthesized, filling in convexities.

I want to focus this down to how tacit knowledge about physical interactions is communicated and processed by users. In particular, I want to focus on newer gestural interfaces, which are currently baffling to people that haven't seen them (I played with one, and it was trial and error). If communicating gestural information is possible, it also means we can move beyond the "list of (x,y) finger points" as the only possible interaction, which is embarassingly limiting given the possibilities afforded.

In the improv scene I wrote about above, the improvisors in the second beat didn't know explicitly what pattern they were following, but they did know it, and they could expand on it. This is a power that is hard to express in existing interfaces. If computers can be made to express tacit knowledge, then I believe we've taken another step to the final goal: making computers worth caring about.

Image above is a hand painting that was made each night for a play I was in this summer, "For a Better World" or "Für eine bessere Welt", for Single Thread Theatre Company. One theme of the play, as I saw it, was the evolution of culture.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stuck in Real Time


At Friday's DGP party, a projector and a webcam was set up. The webcam was aimed at the party, and the projector was aimed at a large white wall, displaying the party. This is all good and cool, and if you aim the webcam so that it sees part of the projection, then you get fun feedback.


However, the clincher was that the projector displayed what happened on the webcam 2 minutes in the past. This led to the party itself becoming self-aware, where much of the discussion led to what had happened 2 minutes ago. Since the webcam was aimed to produce feedback, then this included what happened 4, 6, 8 minutes ago too.


As the party continued and my own personal inebriation increased, combined with my recent play-through of Braid, it occurred to me that the projection on the wall represented a barrier between this world and the world from 2 minutes ago. I wanted to cross this barrier, and be in both worlds at once.

Me taking a picture of myself taking a picture:

I created a sequence of movement of myself in front of the projector that lasted about 2 minutes, and kept repeating it and repeating it. The more I did it, the more I aligned with the past version of myself. As the party kept going on in parallel worlds, I was the only person in every world at once.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Mathematical Recreations - Tetris

So, I was doodling while watching an episode of The Wire, and I came across this curiousity. Let's look at Tetris pieces, from the popular video game Tetris. Another way to define these is the set of arrangements of four squares where you can travel from one square to any other given square by shared sides. Go ahead and try to think of any that are in that set that aren't in the above picture, except by changes in rotation.

Now, since we're doodling, lets see if you can draw all of the Tetris pieces without taking your pen off the paper, and without crossing over or drawing on top of an existing line. Try it. Well, it works for some, and it doesn't for others.

Now why?! It's a little baffling. But, like any mathematical curiousity, it is made simple by breaking things down into constituent parts. The parts of the pieces where the rules are applied directly is at the joints/crossroads, so let's try to categorize them:

[Below here there are spoilers, beware]

Going from left to right:

One: In all of the pieces, there is no joint with only one line coming in, since this wouldn't be able to make a square.

Two: There are many joints with two lines attached to them, but they have to be at corners, not like I've drawn it above. When you're drawing the continuous line, you come in one way and go out another.

Three: If there are three lines attached to a joint, it must mean that it is an endpoint. See what I mean? Since you can't come in to an intersection more than you go out, and vice versa, then that means you need to stop in the intersection. This will be made clearer when we look at four.

Four: Since there is an even number of lines, you can go in twice and go out twice.

Now, let's number the joints in our Tetris shapes:

See? Only the top two shapes (I wish I had names for them) have exactly two endpoints, the points labeled with a 3. All the other pieces have more than two, and if we're trying to draw a continuous line you can't really stop or start more than twice, can you?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Implicitly Explicit

For the last 15 years or so, the state of the art in Human-Computer Interaction, and Computer Science as a whole, has been riding the line between the explicit and the implicit. I am trying very hard to understand this.

When we meet a new Thing, we apply very powerful algorithms subconsciously to figure out its behaviour until, finally, it becomes part of Our Understanding. We are highly unaware of how we do this, even if we are told to think it through. The most exciting applications in this area improve the ease of adoption of a new Thing. We give up quickly on Things that fail early, so making sure the first few dates between Us and Them go smoothly is very important. Long term success, termed "expert use" is harder to describe.

How do we define something Good?
Time is an important quantity to Us. Let us use Time to as a metric to evaluate the Good-ness of a Thing.

For what Goals shall we measure the Time?
A Goal should be something easy to measure, that can be done with both the old Thing and the new Thing. Let us compare them to determine the optimal Thing.

This process frustrates Me. 

Jump back up a level.

When a Thing fails for Us a few times in a new way, our interaction paradigm switches from the Implicit to the Explicit. We construct rules and try to inference them. Sometimes this is good, and sometimes this is bad. Most of the time, Explicit reasoning should not be necessary. I am a fan of thinking that when a Thing is able to take over a part of our normal life, it frees more of us up to do more better and interesting activities. However, sometimes switching to Explicit reasoning is important. Feynman made a point, when speaking to physics students, that quantum mechanics is like nothing they have ever thought of before, not particles, not waves, not dice. It is entirely axiomatic.

Explicit understanding takes a very long time, but it helps build Implicit understanding (for some reason I am able to think of multi-dimensional vector spaces). It becomes a part of Us. 

I have started taking classes with Toronto's Impatient Theatre Company, a improvisation group focused on the Harold, a type of longform improvisation comedy. The thesis here is (using unusual words) to organically discover the Pattern of Behaviour present in the suggestion given and the improvisors on stage. Organically, Implicit, means not imposed, Explicit. Why is this only restricted to comedy? 

The best Things do not dissapear, they are consumed by Us. When we discover a Pattern of Behaviour, it quickly becomes interesting cool accepted normal required obligatory and we have moved on. Then, the Pattern of Behaviour may be extended and explored to more Patterns of Behaviour. Abusing a definition here, it is like there is a fractal structure to behaviour.

Is there a non-grey difference between "lots of Implicitness" and "Explicitness"?

How can one consciously empower oneself to use Implicit and Explicit modes? Can a Thing be designed to tell one how?

Can a Thing that

makes other programs

learn your Pattern of Behaviour and continue it for You?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

boodly boodly boodly Boodly (the sound of a power up)

So I've moved to Toronto and started my Master's in Computer Science. I'm living in a basement bachelor apartment only 15 minutes walk from school, surrounded by a variety of multi-cultural restaurants. In my building, The Bahen Centre for Information Technology, I have an office (cubicle, really) in the Dynamic Graphics Project on the fifth floor. I'm starting to scatter my workspace with post-its. Next to my monitor is a picture of the Vitruvian Man. Thanks to having to write a grant proposal, I even have a topic for my Master's research, "Developing Methods for Teaching Computer Interface Gestures by Mimicry"

Grad school looks to be busy, but awesome. I am surrounded by people almost always willing to discuss any topic in immense detail, irrelevant or not. There are a wealth of resources that I can learn from, to the point that you could spend years here without actually accomplishing anything (research). Your Research is really the main point. Everything else (courses, teaching, seminars) are really just a distraction - you're here to contribute to Knowledge. This semester, I'm taking three courses: Ubiquitous Computing, Computational Biology and Machine Learning. I initially didn't want to take Comp. Bio. because it is outside my field, but due to annoying "breadth requirements" for my degree, I have to. However the course looks fascinating.

Classes here don't carry the same format they did in undergrad. The template for every class is to take turns pre-reading some research paper, and then presenting it. By the ending of my classes, I should be an expert at:

1) Reading
2) Understanding
3) Presenting

The above list actually looks pretty important. It does leave room for computational and programming competency, but I think Machine Learning will be enough for that; I wish I had taken more statistics in my undergrad. However, having an applied math background gives me a jump ahead in some other areas.

When not at my desk, I've been out exploring places to eat and drink in Toronto (but not too much). For the first two weeks, I was able to drink a new beer I had never had before, and I was out almost every other night. When not out, I've been chilling in my bachelor pad. Having a bread machine and a BBQ and an oven (didn't have one last year) is awesome. I've also been seeing lots of improv: Impatient and PROJECTproject so far, but there's much more to come.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Crazy Dream

So I'm in Toronto now, yada yada yada all is great and shiny and mucho-fantastic. But that's another post. For now, let's discuss a dream I had last night. I'm lucky to have pretty vivid dreams regularily, but this one was too odd to let go. I tried to send it in to my twitter, which I use much more often than this blog, but I couldn't make it concise enough. Here it is, in a sort of half-grammar:

Dream: Was sentenced to hang for mistakenly kicking and killing someone in soccer. Goodbyes to family and friends; neck-strengthening exercises. Dad said I could borrow car to flee to States. Realized this was ridiculous; became lucid; woke up.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blood-Powered Multi-touch Sensing

My summer research at the Human Media Lab involves large investigations into multitouch sensing. For large interfaces, this involves the user touching the surface under some sort of illumination while a video camera captures the entire surface, and then filtering is applied to determine the touch points of the finger. There are often issues with large amounts of noise. The particular technique I'm working with is Frustrated Total Internal Reflection, but there are many other ways to do it; Microsoft uses Diffused Illumination as well. For these surfaces, it is also convenient if you can tell the difference between a human body part touching the sensor, or if someone put a mug down on top of it.

Someone brought a Plasma Ball in last week, and it looks like it makes a great multi-touch sensor too:

If you've ever played with a Plasma Ball, you'll know that the strings of energy (I have absolutely no idea what the proper name is) dissipate out from the central sphere evenly, until one touches the edge of the outer glass sphere with a finger or other body part. Then, the point of contact glows bright pink and a much brighter strand attaches that point and the central sphere. This effect only works with objects that are properly grounded, such as a human body, which is even better.

Finally, I was playing with our acrylic surface, and noticed another technique that could work even better, and would also only work body parts: blood! Look at the pair of images below:

The point of contact between my fingers and the plexiglass goes from healthy red to pale white as the pressure makes the blood gush away! With colour filtering, this effect would actually be incredibly easy to pick up, given ideal skin and light conditions. I was not even applying that much pressure. The rings of frosting around my fingers in the second picture are from condensation.

3 Days left in Kingston...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Scientific Results

An excellent quote from a paper I'm reading:

"A final thought before moving on. Science has one methodology, art and design have another. Are we surprised that art and design are remarkable for their creativity and innovation? While we pride our rigorous stance, we also bemoan the lack of design and innovation. Could there be a correlation between methodology and results?"

Greenberg, S. and Buxton, B. 2008. Usability evaluation considered harmful (some of the time). In Proceeding of the Twenty-Sixth Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Florence, Italy, April 05 - 10, 2008). CHI '08.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wizard of Oz in South Park

In Human-Computer Interaction studies, we often simulate new interfaces in experimental trials before actually putting the effort into making them. Sometimes this simulation is interactive, like Human Media Lab's Display Objects, and sometimes it's a crappy non-interactive piece of styrofoam (like the first prototype for the iPod). Although the device is non-interactive, we can pretend it IS interactive, by either the user imagining that it is, or the designer standing next to the user making various noises or even grabbing the device intermittently and drawing it. When this happens, this is called a Wizard of Oz experiment, from the Wizard of Oz where a men pretends to be the powerful wizard by amplifying his voice and other effects. It has fooled everyone in The Land of Oz for a very long time, until Toto the dog (presumably not as easily fooled by the pyrotechnics) simply pulls aside a curtain.

The point is that simulation works, as long as we do not look behind the curtain. This is a very useful concept, and it is also pretty funny. This came up in a recent episode of South Park, Over-logging, where the internet goes down and panic breaks out. In one particularly hilarious scene, one of the characters, looking for online porn, finds someone that can perform a Wizard of Oz for him. However, it turns out to be disappointing.

The best part is that he automatically says click for the person drawing to hear him.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A conversation with the Google Earth API

Dustin: Oh hey there, Google Earth, it looks like you have an API so that we can actually talk to each other.
GE: Yeah, hello! It's really useful.
Dustin: Well, we'll see about that. So, I've turned you on. Can you tell me what layers you have?
GE: Of course! I've got the Geographic Web, Roads, 3D Buildings, Street View.. [goes on a long list]
Dustin: Oh that's great. So, can you tell me what is in each layer?
GE: ...
Dustin: Hello?
GE: ...
Dustin: Oh. I see. Well if I zoom in, I can see that panoramas from Street View are now rendered as spheres floating in space where the picture was taken. That's really cool! But, I guess you can't tell me where they are. I'm looking at a few now. Which ones are they?
GE: ...
Dustin: Okay. What about this one? 482 Avenue of the Americas in NY, NY.
GE: Oh yes. I've memorized that one now.
Dustin: Okay. What do you see now?
GE: 482 Avenue of the Americas in NY, NY. That's all.
Dustin: Oh. Well, can you memorize that street view locations for 478, 486, 490 too?
GE: Yep! Done.
Dustin: Okay, what do you see?
GE: 478, 482, 486, 490 Avenue of the Americas in NY, NY.
Dustin: So you'll only tell me you see something if I specifically tell you to look for it?
GE: Yes.
Dustin: Well what about that panorama over there? 94 W 12th Street?
GE: Sorry I don't know what you're talking about.
Dustin: Really. Memorize 94 W 12th Street.
GE: Ah, yes. So now I see 478, 482, 486, 490 Avenue of the Americas and 94 W 12th Street in NY, NY.
Dustin: Okay fine, you're young so it's okay. Now, can you tell me in latitude and longitude where 482 Avenue of the Americas is?
GE: ...
Dustin: No? But its right there on the screen. I can click on it to make you fly to it!
GE: Oh, I can fly there!
Dustin: Where is 482 Avenue of the Americas?
GE: ...
Dustin: I said where is 482 Avenue of the Americas?
GE: ...
Dustin: Please fly to 482 Avenue of the Americas.
GE: Done.
Dustin: Okay, where are you now?
GE: [gives a series of latitude and longitude coordinates of where it's looking]
Dustin: I see. So, you can't tell me where 482 Avenue of the Americas is, but I can ask you to fly right to it and then you'll tell me where you are. It seems like you're trying to make my life difficult.
GE: [shrug]
Dustin: Okay, now that I'm sitting at 482 Avenue of the Americas and looking towards the horizon like I'm driving. Cool! So, let's turn to the left to look over there.
GE: [turns slightly to the left]
Dustin: Wait, hold on, I'm not in the sphere anymore. I've moved over to the right of the road somehow.
GE: Yes, I turned you around the Focus point!
Dustin: What? What is that?
GE: It's where you're looking at.
Dustin: I thought I was looking at the panorama at 482 Avenue of the Americas.
GE: Actually, that's what you told me to do, but I decided to fake it by making you look at a point 60 meters to the north at a really shallow angle. You weren't actually looking at the panorama at all.
Dustin: Can I look directly at the panorama at all?
GE: ...
Dustin: ...
GE: When I look at something, its defined by the point on the earth itself, and then the compass angle, vertical tilt, and distance I am from it. The panorama is just floating above the Earth, so you can never truly look at it.
Dustin: But there's little controls I have on you that let me move you around whatever way I want. However, when I actually want to talk to you I can only tell you to move in certain ways.
GE: Yes.
Dustin: Well okay. Let me think. I know! How about, instead of looking at a point 60 meters to the north of the panorama, I tell you to look at a point 60 meters to the northwest, and then make the compass angle so that the panorama is in the center of your view.
GE: Like this?
Dustin: Wow! It's like I rotated 45 degrees around the panorama.
GE: No it isn't. Not exactly. That's not what I did.
Dustin: Shut up, it looks like I did, and that's all that matters.
GE: Okay.
Dustin: So, in order to rotate around a panorama as if I'm viewing it, I need to exactly tell you the panorama I want (I can't ask which panoramas are available). Then, I have to tell you to fly to it. Then, I have to ask you where I am, and the answer you give back to me is some point 60 meters away from the panorama. Then, I have to do some clever trigonometry to figure out where on earth the actual panorama is. Then, in order to rotate around the panorama to look at it from different angles I have to make up different points on the Earth in latitude and longitude which are on the opposite side of the panorama I want to look at. Then I can tell you to fly to those points, which don't explicitly look at the panorama but panorama happens to exactly be in the way of the point on the ground I told you to look at.
GE: ...
Dustin: Right, you're not much help here are you?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wierd times on the internet

Keywords: advertising, user-generated content.

So I just got an email from youtube about a music video I made a long time ago. Here it is below:


YouTube | Broadcast Yourself™

Dear YouTube Member:

UMG has claimed some or all audio content in your video Golden Videotape (part 1). This claim was made as part of the YouTube Content Identification program.

Your video is still live because UMG has authorized the use of this content on YouTube. As long as UMG has a claim on your video, they will receive public statistics about your video, such as number of views. Viewers may also see advertising on your video's page.

Claim Details:

Copyright owner: UMG
Content claimed: Some or all of the audio content
Policy: Allow this content to remain on YouTube.

  • Place advertisements on this video's watch page.

Applies to these locations:

UMG claimed this content as a part of the YouTube Content Identification program. YouTube allows partners to review YouTube videos for content to which they own the rights. Partners may use our automated video / audio matching system to identify their content, or they may manually review videos.

If you believe that this claim was made in error, or that you are otherwise authorized to use the content at issue, you can dispute this claim with UMG and view other options in the Video ID Matches section of your YouTube account. Please note that YouTube does not mediate copyright disputes between YouTube owners. Learn more about video identification disputes.

The YouTube Content Identification Team


Anyway, way back in high school I made this weird impromptu video with two close friends of mine, and we happened to stick a bunch of Blink 182 tracks over it. I'm way too lazy to look up the proper legal way of ensuring fair use, but we gave credit at the end of the video (part 2). Now it seems that Universal Media Group (UMG) has discovered this. When I first saw this email I got freaked out because I thought I was getting sued, or my account was going to be banned. However, it seems that UMG just asserts the right to "advertise" and, sure enough, I've now got a little advertisement box next to my youtube video's page. This is actually really smart. I don't get sued (which is a waste of their time anyway) and they get to profit of me and my friend's remix of their owned works. I'm not sure what the long-term implications this are, but I think it's a pretty sweet deal for all concerned.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


My friend and fellow improvisor Monica Heisey interviewed me about blogging for the Queen's Unversity Journal (student-run paper). Link!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Where I work

Here is where I work at the Human Media Lab. I've got a great view overlooking the construction on the Queen's Centre, and I'm sporting two computers, and a bunch of random other techno-gear, which makes me excited.

The giant blue ball under the desk is a prototype I'm working on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

1001 Books to read

Here's a list of great books one is apparently supposed to have read. Sadly, great non-fiction works are omitted. Here's how I add up:

Book - Author (Reason)

Choke – Chuck Palahniuk (last year, I think)
Life of Pi – Yann Martel (borrowed from Dad two years ago)
Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson (read two years ago, must read again)
The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul – Douglas Adams
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco (read after an undergrad class in Semiotics. Great.)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (all Douglas Adams is excellent. I have read each of three multiple times)
Watchmen – Alan Moore & David Gibbons (A graphic novel. Excellent.)
Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Finished recently. I tried reading when I was 11, but I was too young and gave up.)
Slaughterhouse-five – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (in Southeast Asia last summer)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick (read in an anthology a few years ago)
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein (read a few years ago)
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller (my favourite novel. ever.)
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (for high school english)
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien (Long, but imaginative. My opinion is mixed on whether books should have multiple appendices.)
Lord of the Flies – William Golding (for high school english)
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger (during high school, outside class)
A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift (not sure why this is on the list, as its an essay. But I have read it)
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe (during high school, outside class)
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell (during high school, outside class)
Animal Farm – George Orwell (during high school, outside class)
The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien (I think when I was younger than 12)
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (during high school, outside class)
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (for high school english)
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad Defoe (during high school, outside class)
The Time Machine – H.G. Wells (when I was much younger)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain (in Southeast Asia last summer)
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (Mom gave it to me?)
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens (for high school english)


In Progress:
Ulysses – James Joyce

Saw as a movie:
Atonement – Ian McEwan (recent)
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh (twice)
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis (on David's recommendation)
The Cider House Rules – John Irving (few years ago)
Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally (motivation for Schindler's List, which I saw on Sunday.)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
The Godfather – Mario Puzo
2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke (I actually really don't like this film. It does nothing new for me and is horribly paced.)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick (Bladerunner)
Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak (Mom's favourite movie)
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell (This was playing a few times around the Freeman household in my youth)
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (As the excellent adaptation Apocalypse Now)
Ben-Hur – Lew Wallace (Dad's favourite movie)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo (yay Disney!)

Gave up:
Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco (A book profoundly stupid in detail. I realized I wasn't gaining by reading it)

Want to read:

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
Naked Lunch – William Burroughs
The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There – Lewis Carroll
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne
Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
Foundation – Isaac Asimov

Originally taken from John August's blog.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Can you copyright a brain?

I just got back from an interesting (although limited) session on Canadian copyright for artists at Kingston's Artel, which got some mental juices going from something I heard about when I was visiting the Dynamic Graphics Project (where I'm doing my Master's)

There is currently ongoing research in augmenting participant's memory and other cognitive abilities using recording devices, for both Alzheimer's and Autism. From what I have heard, the results of using a recording device is incredibly valuable. In one case where a camera would hang around an Alzheimer's patient's neck and intermittently take pictures throughout the day, memory performance was compared to a control group and the use of a diary. It was found that not only did reviewing the recorded pictures perform better in event recall but that, whereas other memory-recording techniques would fade over time, the use of pictures which were reviewed once ensured that the memories created were permanent. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find the original paper to link to.

Now, let's return to copyright. Recently, there has been an unfortunate movement to ban public photography, frequently on the basis of copyright as a guise to prevent terrorism. While I think that this is clearly ridiculous, not to mention simply impractical, it raises the question of where the information is going (and how can we wrangle it!). I mean, should my friend with photographic memory not be allowed out in public, unless she is equipped with some sort of distraction device so she can't concentrate on creating a "copy" of the surroundings? I think we all can agree that we cannot control the existence of a "copy" in a human brains, except perhaps that which falls under a non-disclosure agreement. This is illustrated humorously above in the ingenious xkcd.

So then, if we cannot copyright brain contents, yet we can copyright pictures, then what about the Alzheimer's patients who could use photography to augment their daily lives. In fact, they would not be able to function as normal human beings without it. You could say, then, that the camera is, in fact, an extension of and therefore is a part of their brain and similar laws should apply. I'm on the patient's side.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Weekend Roundup

This past weekend:

- My best friend Dave came up from Guelph.
- I volunteered for Admitted Students Day at Queen's.
- I saw Iron Man with Dave, and my other friend Daniel and housemate Jack.
- Visited Free Comic Books Day, saw nothing I really liked.
- Watched three famous movies I had not seen before: Shawshank Redemption, Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock and Amadeus.
- Started playing with some Image Processing stuff on paper.
- Went for a bike ride.
- Had a recording session for the radio play I'm in.

Generally, I had a pretty sweet weekend. Let there be more!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Improv Show Videos

For The Improv Show's last gig on April 14th, I managed to record both our longform and the jam. The Jam is our half-cast, half-audience thing whose format I nabbed from Upright Citizen's Brigade in New York. I've youtubed it for the loyal fans who missed it.

Here's the longform:

Here's the jam:

Monday, April 21, 2008

I broke 50 kilometers!

I just got back from a 54 k bike ride!

Here's the google map.

View Larger Map

Now, my average speed sport of sucks, as it took over two hours, but that can be improved. I think I'll need to buy a bike clock.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Massive Life Update

In the last month, I:
- got an Iron Ring
- finished my last exam in the Mathematics and Engineering Program at Queen's
- was accepted for a Master's in Computer Science with the Dynamic Graphics Project at the University of Toronto, where I'm hoping to focus on Human-Computer Interaction and Ubiquitous Computing.

Phew! Post-graduation, I was also looking into the Master's of Digital Media program in Vancouver, but decided I wanted to follow a more academic route. After lots of soul-searching, I realized I'm more of a researcher than a business guy, and if I continue to follow the academic stream I get to keep teaching! My specific research interests are pretty fuzzy right now, but the advisory possibilities at UofT are really fantastic and fluid. More on that to come.

So this means I only have four months left in Kingston, the city I was born in and have lived for the past 11 years, after stints in Calgary and Vancouver. Although Kingston has its own funny hijinks, it's going to be weird to leave this quaint place for the big smoke. I'm really looking forward to Toronto's theatre scene though - I know that I'm going to keep doing improv and theatre wherever I go.

This summer, I will be working in the Human Media Lab on 3D videoconferencing from multiple 2D capture (details to come), but that's pretty much all I've planned for now. On Thursday, I wrote down a very broad summer to-do list:

Buy a guitar and start learning stuff on it
Buy a camera
Write a play or short story
Buy a laptop and get it all pimped up
Buy an OLPC XO and learn how to program on it.
Have sex outdoors
Read Ulysses
Finish Godel Escher Bach
Learn about Information Theory
Be on stage at least once
Learn about Decentralized Control Theory
Bike greater than 50 km in one day
Buy/Fix my bike
Get glasses (my old ones broke)
Find a house in Toronto

And then on Friday, I went on a bike for 35 km! Maybe I'll have to increase that goal. I'll keep you posted.

ps. playing through Bioshock now. Despite it's flaws, its pretty awesome.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Rock Paper Scissors is live!

After some helpful comments, Rock Paper Scissors Infinity is now live!

Rock Paper Scissors Infinity is a massively multiplayer matching game. Honestly, the best way to experience it is to just go look at it. And play with it, so it grows, of course.

From the about page:

By playing this massively multiplayer game, you are creating a huge network of verb-noun-verb connections. If someone tries to add a "play" or "connection" that already exists, then that connection is strengthened. The strongest connections are listed on the infinity page.
As people add more and more connections (as n goes to infinity) then this network will begin to resemble human understanding. Or maybe that's just a crazy idea. I'm probably wrong.
In only the short time I've had this online, I've already learned a ton from the people who have "played" it. Please, look around, play, don't be afraid to break the rules I've made.
- Dustin

So do it! Play around!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Real-Life Spam

Well, the house just received 30 identical looking standard-size envelopes, none of which were addressed to any of us. Most of them were weird variations of either Phillip Van Stone (18) or Andrew Collins (9). I opened one for "Mike ColinManing", which I assumed I couldn't get prosecuted for since it obviously wasn't a real person. It was an invitation to some $20,000 tournament (for which we had OBVIOUSLY already been considered) at Below is a scan of all of the Phillip Van Stone variations:

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Blobjects are fun!

Blobject? A photo from a research project I'm working on.

Monday, February 25, 2008

City 7: Toronto Conflict Reactions

I've had the install file for City 7: Toronto Conflict sitting on my desktop for a long time, but I've been too lazy to install it. So, here it is. It's a mod for Half-Life 2 that represents an alternate timeline where, at the beginning of the game, Gordon Freeman gets teleported to Toronto (City 7) instead of Half Life 2's City 17. I played the game for an hour (so far) and I've recorded my reaction's, a la Games for Lunch. So here's my stream-of-consciousness thoughts:

- sweet, the first two minutes are exactly like in Half Life 2.

- I've teleported, and someone says he recognizes me, then runs off. Odd. I definitely get a "Valve" feel from this. Good job team. I definitely had low expectations, as I thought it would just be an excersize in modeling Toronto's landmarks, which doesn't count as game design at all. It looks like they used the same character models, but used new landmark art with a ton of new voices. Its definitely unnerving to see the trademark Half Life 2 walls next to a Future Shop.

- Holy shit! The parking meters are just like in Kingston. This both increases my immersion and destroys the fourth wall.

- No reaction from the Combine guards when I stand awkwardly in front of them. Darn.

- I tried to get past that pool into what looks like an elusive area. I climbed up onto the fence next to the park and smacked into an invisible wall. That sucks.

- I like that I'm not given any explicit goals in the beginning. Still exploring around is nice and, by the nature of the exploration, equates me with the conventions of this new world without forcing it down my throat. It does help that I'm naturally inquisitive.

- I walked past some guards into an area that was restricted and was instantly plugged full of combine gun energy. A warning would have been nice, like some warning shots at my feet or nose.

- Hmm, still want to get across the the middle of the pool...uh-oh, sniper lasers...dammit. dammit. First death.

- Restarted. There are humans wandering around, one of them complained about "typical combine maintenance". Ah, some things never change.

- I'm on a roof now. Yay, I found a crowbar! Now what? It occurs to me that I could kill a lone combine and steal his gun, but they all are in the open. I go to the one nearest to the stairs that go up to the roof and smack him a bunch of times. When he dies, he gives me a grenade but I'm still in a smacking frenzy and it goes flying uselessly. The explosion draws about five more combine and I still only have a crowbar, so I run back up to the roof. They don't follow. Maybe some of them will drop a gun, so I try to skirmish out, entice a few and lure them up to the roof, but it isn't happening. They just stay down there, and then mumble something about "losing the target". Lame.

- I try the same thing a few times, doesn't go anywhere. I go to a point on the roof where I can watch a crowd of people. Someone mentions something about "Hank" going nuts. Suddenly, Hank runs out, kills a combine with his pistols and tries to make a run across the pool. Hilarious. Results are similiar to my attempt, but it appears that Hank didn't bother to save his game. So, I guess the designers are telling me that that approach is futile. Or are they? I mean, I DO have an MIT education and I'm wearing a hazardous materials suit.

- I look around, and pick up a filing cabinet (?) to step up onto the roof. It looks like there is an area enclosed by a red fence that I can now reach. I gleefully grab a medkit and hold it (my health is at 100%, but you never know when you may need more) and trounce over to fence, standing directly on top of it. I throw the medkit down so that it lands on the ground inside, and then gleefully smack into another invisible wall. I can't jump down! The medkit sits inside the fence, mocking me. Lame.

- I go into the "restricted" area I went to before and manage to kill about four more combine this time before I bite the dust. I was picking up some health packs I found and managed to stay alive by skirmishing out, killing a combine and taking his grenade, then returning to behind a box as they all shot at me. If only they clumped so I could take them out all at once, but it looks like I'm not that lucky.

- Wait? What is that on top of those discarded(?) train cars? A generic supply crate? Goody!

- I manage, with some difficult box-moving maneuvers, to get a box on top of another box to get on top of the crate. Somehow, though I'm most likely making a racket and looking like a moron, the combine ignore me. This is pretty odd, considering that they seem to keep a tight control on the other humans.

(Oh yeah, I forgot to mention all the rations humour. Hilarious)

- I got to the top! I gleefully bash open the crate to guns. Its some energy batteries for my suit. Well, now my health totals 170 or so. Now should I make a run for it?

- I turn on the sprint and race through the crowd of combine and people to cross the pool. Somehow, I avoid sniper fire and fly up a staircase and wham, into a door which is clearly non-interactive due to its pixelation. I get swarmed by about 5 combine, and its game over again.

Verdict: I'm looking forward to keep playing this, considering that its design strategy closely follows Valve's, which is superb. The jury is still out on whether or not the goals should have been clearer.

Also, "Enter the Mind"? Lame! What am I, twenty? I need to change that.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thoughts on the Audience

It looks like several "artists" I've been following for a while have come together and created something. I'll have to keep tabs on this:

thoughts on the audience

Friday, February 08, 2008

A hint of things to come...

Here's a preview of a project I'm finishing up.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Wow. I just played another excellent example of platformer turned into a compelling mind-fuck indie game. Playable here.

UPDATE: I didn't really emphasize enough how important it is that you play this game, like right now. It questioned my meaning of existence, and its ending left me shocked for a long time afterwards. Please, please play it. And then comment here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A collection of ideas #1

Think Fast...

New Improv Game:Sit, Stand, Heart Attack
Essentially after Sit/Stand/Lean or Sit/Stand/Lie Down, but one person must always be having a heart attack. Haven't tried it out yet, but it should be hilarious.

Optimus Prime with no legs...Pessimus Prime

A biker gang made out of mathematicians...Hell's Angles

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A special wish

After a few months of limping along with a degrading phone, I finally replaced my loyal LG 6070 with a ass-kicking Blackberry Pearl. I mean, just look at that wicked flash website! Anyway, the main point of interface with the Blackberry Pearl is the beautiful, backlit trackball (my friends have affectionately called it the Blackberry Clit - it just demands to be touched). I love it - it makes moving through menus so fast.

However, I got an idea the other day when stumbling on the fact that I can use Bluetooth to connect my Pearl random laptops nearby. Could someone PLEASE write some code so that I can connect by Bluetooth to a laptop, then take my Pearl and turn it UPSIDE DOWN so that it effectively becomes a wireless mouse? Left-clicking would be equivalent to pushing the Pearl down so the trackball "clicks" in, and right-clicking could be automatically assigned to one of the three buttons adorning the side of the pearl. Or, if you're a Human-Computer Interaction snob then you have a Mac and don't need right-clicking.

Please, someone make my day!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What's on your mind?

Earlier today, I recorded for an art project with a student in the Queen's film department. I'm not going to give up too much, since it's going to be on display in mid-February. For the project, I had to sit in a room by myself and a camera recorded me for fifteen straight minutes, and I was directed to speak about whatever I wanted.

Well, it turned out that I spent most of my time talking about house cleaning. Yes, despite the oodles of creativity I'm supposed to have, I had an imaginary conversation about cleaning my house. I guess this really shows what's on my mind.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Realtime Art Manifesto

I just read the Realtime Art Manifesto. It is one of those documents I'll obviously have to read again, preferably out loud, with lots of Guinness running through my bloodstream.