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Wednesday 25 February 2009

Mind Mapping

Think it was Spiny who origionally told us about this software called Freemind. It's an open source mind mapping bit of software which is a complete doddle to use.

Thankfully the guy included a great wee video about how he anally keeps track of his every minute in a mind map, which he can export to excel. Allowing him to bill people as he goes.

I've got a new remit at work and was struggling under the variety of tasks to keep juggling, so put in a wee mind map for current/future work and it's all being handled very easily.

Well so far. I still find it a bit clunky, and the onmouseover way it selects what you're actively targetting is quite annoying.

But well worth a punt for nothing!

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Angry Mob Rides Again

CBBC, the children's BBC channel, has recently hired a new presenter, Cerrie Burnell. Miss Brunell is bubbly and bright, and describes her favourite story as "either the Far Away Tree or Alice in Wonderland". Fine choices!

Miss Burnell was also born with only one arm.

It's tempting to think that in the 21st century we'd have just about out-grown the petty, childish prejudices of our shameful past and be able to see Miss Burnell's story preferences, or which games she likes to play ("Twister"), before we consider her physical appearance. But it seems this is not the case.

It seems that an angry mob of concerned parents - them again! - have taken it upon themselves to protect their delicate, lavendar smelling offspring from ever having to suffer the sight of physical disability by complaining to the beeb and demanding they hide this modern monster away! Concerned Mum from Pigshit, Somerset writes:
“Is it just me, or does anyone else think the new woman presenter on CBeebies may scare the kids because of her disability?”
While a similarly distressed parent scrawls on the walls of her padded cell:
“I didn’t want to let my children watch the filler bits on The Bedtime Hour last night because I know it would have played on my eldest daughter’s mind and possibly caused sleep problems,”
Won't somebody, please, think of the children?

What's wrong with parents these days? Why are they so fucking thick? Measles is endemic in society, teenagers won't take taxi rides with scary asians and one-armed women are causing little Johnny to lie awake at night bathed in sweat at the thought of being clubbed to death by a bloody stump. Why are parents so keen to impose their own prejudices and fears on their children, under the guise of protecting them? Who's to blame? The parents? THEIR parents? The media?

Kids are little imitation machines that mimic what they see around them. There's no reason to be scared of disability, not unless your parents blanche and cower and titter and mock at the simple sight of a woman with one arm. Come on...

Monday 23 February 2009

Darwin Wasn't Wrong (well, maybe a little)

Back in January, New Scientist magazine published an issue with a featured cover article that boldly proclaimed "Darwin was wrong".

The article itself was a fairly comprehensive round-up of recent (the last few decades) research into the state of the so-called "tree of life" - an idea of Darwin's that evolution could be modelled using a tree metaphor: that life begins with a single trunk (a last, common ancestor to which everything is related) and proceeds through time, branching at speciation events and eventually ending on the tips of the branches - the modern, extant species.

Like so many simple ideas, the tree of life metaphor has subsequently been tweaked and honed to include discoveries such as horizontal gene transfer (HGT - the idea that genes can be passed horizontally between species, as well as vertically through reproduction) and endosymbiosis (the absorption of members of one species by members of another, to produce a single entity). In fact, the tree metaphor in the world of microbes is better seen as a net or a mesh, in which information is routinely passed between entities, a constant criss-crossing of lines, more chaotic and less ordered than we'd previously supposed.

What's less contentious is the applicability of the tree metaphor to multicellular animals - plants, birds, fish, humans, the big stuff. It's true that HGT seems to have a place in this part of the animal kingdom, mostly through viral interaction, but the overwhelming process of information transfer is vertical through reproduction and the tree of life idea is still valid. The article states:
Nobody is arguing - yet - that the tree concept has outlived its usefulness in animals and plants. While vertical descent is no longer the only game in town, it is still the best way of explaining how multicellular organisms are related to one another - a tree of 51 per cent, maybe. In that respect, Darwin's vision has triumphed: he knew nothing of micro-organisms and built his theory on the plants and animals he could see around him.
Darwin wasn't wrong as such, he just didn't know everything. In many ways, he was "wrong" in the same way that Newton was wrong about motion - relativity just provides a correction in extreme cases, the non-relativistic cases that Newton proposed are still applicable in everyday use. And so it's the same with Darwin's tree: it is still extremely useful in explaining the nested hierarchies seen in the animal kingdom.

So what's the problem? The issue is that boiling down this discussion to a simple "Darwin was wrong" is extremely suggestive, and biological evolution is one field where every word is scrutinised and mangled to provide ammunition in an ongoing "culture war". Putting "Darwin was wrong" in large type on the front cover of one of the world's leading popular science journals is simply irresponsible and ill-considered. There is no doubt in my mind that most people reading that headline would immediately see "Evolution" in place of "Darwin", and that changes the impact of the cover significantly.

In fact, New Scientist even foresaw this possibility. This is from the editorial that accompanied the article:
As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, we await a third revolution that will see biology changed and strengthened. None of this should give succour to creationists, whose blinkered universe is doubtless already buzzing with the news that "New Scientist has announced Darwin was wrong". Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not.
If they saw the damage that could be done, then why on earth did they go ahead with publishing it? You can't help but conclude that this was a cynical attempt by the publishers to increase volume of sales by generating false-controversy.

And what has the impact been? Reassuringly, most of the noise has come from science bloggers, keen to scald New Scientist for the cover. But already there are reports of the cover image showing up in creationist presentations, unsuprisingly accompied by no meaningful content from the actual article. And, of course, the ever-reliable Uncommon Descent has been quick to jump on this as another example of the ongoing demise of materialist science - neglecting to mention that HGT has been known about for decades.

Ultimately, this is a tricky one. On the one hand, scientists have to be very careful of any undue veneration. Darwin should not be free from valid criticism. He is no more the Messiah of Science that creationists paint him to be than Newton, or Gallileo, and his ideas should be as much subject to scrutiny as anyone's. On the other hand, great care must be taken to ensure that science reporting is not sensationalistic and provides no ammunition to an increasingly resurgent and powerful creationist lobby - a movement that has proven time and again that out-of-context quote-mining is a tactic that is more than willing to deploy.

Thursday 19 February 2009

We thought it couldn't be done

The once solely male clan has been penetrated by two females through persistent and continued contribution over the last 3 years.
I feel this is a pretty big change and a real indication of minds opening up with this embodiment of men. Officially invited and we wholeheartedly said yes on the spot!
Arora and Sarai submitted for your approval.

Death Tank

This new one on Live Arcade is basically real time Worms. It's very nicely put together, great graphics, fab landscape deformations, great tank and projectile physics, lots of fun with things going boom and a very well sorted online system. It found me an online game in seconds and it all went very smoothly and the demo gives you an hour on Live. One bizzare decision spoils it, you get dosh for killing people, then you buy weapons with dosh, makes you an uber killing machine, and you kill more people and clean up. Not very balanced. Great game, but not sure i'd shell out the 1200 points for it cos of that.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Secunia PSI for home users [Shedir]
Cracking bit of software, scans your PC and lets you know if any of the software has a vuln or needs updating. From what I understand free for home use. Now we all support nuggets all over the land, folk who really only use the PC to fuck it up.
Get this on their boxes, cuts down the footprint for viruses and so on. Keeps all their naff programs current and it's got a dead easy interface. Think of all those reader vulns etc...!

H.A.W.X. [Slim]

Good spot by Spiro: the HAWX demo is on live Tomorrow (11th), and features online 4 player coop. This should be a bit of free fun, dive in:Demo Page

Sunday 8 February 2009

EED Book Club - Reboot [DrDave]

Okay, I think it's fair to say that our first foray into mutual literary discovery was somewhat... ill-considered. Perhaps unwisely I said we needed to stray outside our comfort zones, but I didn't clarify how far exactly. Wuthering Heights, though undoubtedly worthy literature, was not a pleasant way to spend a month's worth of Sunday night baths. I don't think anyone would argue that we need to be quite that high-brow. Anyone disagree?

So I've consulted with the Crosshatch finest minds and come up with a bold new plan, an attempt to recover what I still think could be a good idea.

The same basic principle applies: we'll together read a book approximately once a month, and the book we read will be suggested by one of the club members. However, this time we'll relax any "rules" on genre, period, author or subject. You can even suggest a book you've read. Furthermore, instead of one choice a month, we'll pick from a pool of three suggested by three members. That way we don't necessarily end up with a book we feel compelled to read despite knowing we won't like it.

Looking at the original list, the next three members are:
  • Muz
  • Slim
  • Shedir

Could each of you suggest a book, and maybe give a short paragraph describing why you selected it? We'll then create a poll and decide which one to read. That sound good?

(Muz, you can stick with your original choice of The Time Machine if you want, or choose again with the relaxed constraints?)

Thursday 5 February 2009

Halo Wars [Slim]

So Halo Wars, pretty interesting stuff. It fits in between a full rts like supcom and a simplified strategy game like World in Conflict. There's bases and resources, unlike WIC and there's more direct control over units and special powers per unit like WIC. The bases are streamlined to make them usable and not fiddly, they're pre-built templates, with build spots. To build a structure, you select the vacant pad and decide what to build there. This makes control much easier, because the base layout is sorted for you, and it means you can whip back to your single base much quicker, as it's assigned to a spot on the dpad. Build menus and stuff are on a rotational menu a bit like Mass Effects, nice and quick, and you've the ability to queue up build commands. There's a basic upgrade tree too, which was unexpected.

The preset base makes for some interesting strategies, because you've limited build points. Do you build two shield generators, or one sheild generator and an extra power plant? Or go all out with research and fuck the defence?

The two factions are quite different too, the humans are all tech, the covenant are all religion type shit. The humans have a sort of satellite leader power type thing too, where the covenant have a leader unit that does more on the ground type stuff. Covenant seem to play more in the warcraft style, with units dropping via teleport to the leader, humans more like a conventional army rts stylee.

Graphics are really good, lots of good terrain stuff and some nice effects from fire all around. Nice tutorial and a good long demo with two maps and a skirmish mode that you can hammer to death.

Dont remember an rts that plays this well on a console since Shadow of the Horned Rat. Really looking forward to this now.

Edit, some more:

OK, I like this, can you tell? smile.gif

Some other things I forgot to mention: you can chose your leader, a bit like in advance wars, and get different special powers for each one. Makes for a bit of strategic variety, the demo only has two leaders available in skirmish though, one for each faction.

Other thing, units are very tightly capped, with different units making up different multiples of your limit so you've got to make some very careful decisions. For example, there's a supcom style 'experimental' unit, a fuckoff big cunt of a thing that marches round pooning, but this takes 20 unit points, the equiv of 20 grunt units, or 10 vehicles.

It also removes the opportunity to turtle or zerg, making the game much more rock/paper/scissors than other rts.

It's also got team modes, not in the demo, but they're listed, 2v2 and 3v3.

Having played the thing through a few times in skirmish, I've found the upgrade tree's quite light, each unit can be upgraded a few times, giving different abilities vs different unit types, so you can give your grunts mortars to make them effective vs vehicles or grenades to make em effective vs buildings. Buildings also have a couple of upgrades, but only a couple each. Not sure if this is a demo limitation or it's just keeping things simple.

Oh, and it's got some sort of intelligence system for alerting you of attacks. It tells you occasionally what the enemy is building, or where they're targetting their attacks. Not sure what that's about.

Painful bits? Well the controls work very well in the main, not a problem at all. Unit selection is 'sticky' so you don't have to be too precise and there's a really neat thing where if you have your cursor over a unit, the scrolling automatically follows that unit, particularly ace on scout units or aircraft. You generally select units in 3 ways, select all units with one bumper, all nearby units with another bumper, or a single unit with the 'a' button. What's not good is if you want to have squads. No support at all for that, so you end up separating units in different places and using the 'all nearby' option to move them around. That could do with a better solution somehow.