Monday, July 30, 2007
Smaller Carlos — “Gay” Carlos — passed away this afternoon. Very unexpectedly.
I woke this morning (or, well, early afternoon) and picked him out to play a bit. He looked horrible. Neck very swollen, left eye swollen shut, low face bloated and disfigured. At first I thought Bigger Carlos may have hurt him during another one of their fights or something. I looked the little guy over — very, very bad. Barely moving. Sometimes wheezing loudly. When he walked, he kind of drug himself in circles. He definitely couldn’t eat or drink. Very bad.
Christin called animal clinics until she found an open one. We put him in some bedding in my Treo phone box and cabbed up there (around 5pm). I tried to keep him comfortable, and as damaged as he was, he walked around and spent much of the ride trying to get out of the box. At least he had some energy… So. We were seen almost immediately. One doctor came and probed him a bit — including taking a human-sized stethoscope and using it to listen to his tiny heart. She told us she didn’t know what had caused the swelling and that it looked pretty bad. Another doctor then came to do a closer inspection. She looked him over and looked at the swelling (which seemed, actually, to be going down) and we noted how he seemed to drag two of his legs when he walked and how he kind of limped in circles. Very sad. She said that they didn’t have any exotics specialists on site (hamsters are “exotic?”), but that she would go take a closer look at him while we waited.
The prognosis was not good. She said she thought the swelling had basically sealed off his windpipe and that he had been slowly suffocating. His tongue had already turned blue and I imagine the lack of oxygen had already begun to cause brain damage, hence the locomotive problems. A surgeon could perform a tracheotomy(!) and do more tests to see exactly what was the matter, but that would cost over $1500. I really don’t have $1500 to spare. (Such a weird situation having to balance the life of a creature with mundane fiscal concerns.) Even with this surgery, though, there was no telling the outcome. The doctor suggested putting him to sleep to reduce the suffering, which we agreed with. So I filled out the paperwork and Christin and I said our goodbyes. He seemed calm at that point, curled into a ball.
And that was that.
I wondered to Christin while we got a bite to eat afterwards whether animals like hamsters were aware of their own mortality. We know that there’s some kind of endpoint to life (though what comes after is somewhat open for debate). But does a hamster know it will die? Or does it just instinctually struggle against things it thinks will hurt and towards things that will feel good? Christin didn’t know, but thought that there was a line an animal could cross, a line past which it became clear that struggle no longer had a point. Whether while being eating or being sick or whatever. Past that line, an animal would know that, yes, it was mortal and, yes, it would die.
Hamsters don’t live too long. A couple of years, usually. Small Carlos was born around August 2006, so he had about a year. We enjoyed him. He seemed to be okay with us. His hobbies included running in his wheel, running around on the bed, and fighting sporadically with Big Carlos (and usually losing). He liked his strawberry yogurt treats.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Despite having plenty of more productive things to do with my time, I’ve been hooked on this game Desktop Tower Defense for almost two months, now. And while I don’t consider myself to be in the upper-echelon of players — I’m not ready to go Pro — I have become quite good. Maybe 95th+ percentile. Good enough to teach. So here’s some teaching, a few Desktop Tower Defense pointers that might help you — lowly DTD-plebe that you are — improve your game a bit.
So, there you go.
Novel Concepts, the blog by the guy responsible for Desktop Tower Defense (and another guy), is an interesting read, as well. Their Flash piracy post is an interesting perspective on the “meme piracy” which is rampant online. (Any popular meme image or video — anything small and probably created by someone indie enough not be able to control it with lawyers — will eventually wind up on meme-dump sites like ebaumsworld — which I won’t link to because, frankly, I think many sites like this are essentially scummy and spammy and shitty. (Something Awful agrees.) Ebaumsworld is a particularly egregious case. But these sites appear to be actually quite difficult to get rid of because, of course, few people have the resources to go after them over some image or video or small Flash game that goes viral and gets popular.
But there’s another interesting point in all of this. Desktop Tower Defense is great — horribly, horribly addictive. But it is definitely not horribly, horribly original. It builds upon the fine tradition of tower defense games that started with a Warcraft III mod (I’m told — I’ve never played WCIII). It’s almost indefinable why this version so compelling. I’ve played a few others and felt just “blah” and not interested. Partly, I think, it’s the fact that it is a phenomenon — I can talk about this game with people is a way I could never really talk about some little Flash game I’d come upon in the past. (I mean, talking about it kind of feels like comparing masturbation tips, but still — at least we’re all masturbating.) Even console games rarely have this appeal because it’s rare for me to play a game at the same time as someone else — when I talk about the new Wii Zelda, I’m either talking to people who’ve finished it or who haven’t started.
Kongregate, the new social gaming site that now has their ads all over Desktop Tower Defense (which I’m actually okay with) appears to want to capitalize on the above feelings — community around small, quickie games. Will it work? They have almost 1,000 games available right now, including Desktop Tower Defense. I’d ballpark about one out of every 1000 Flash games are compelling enough to play more than once. Game design can be hard, let’s be honest, and small Flash games necessarily follow that difficult-to-predict “pop song” model — so many bands are capable of tossing together a quick, catchy, fun track that the market gets glutted and the winners, the band that gets the hit, can be difficult to anticipate (unless there’s a giant marketing push of some sort). (I also don’t buy the “revenue sharing” business model, but that’s another post.) So Kongregate will have to get much larger soon to become viable as a business, I think — or else learn to capitalize extremely well on hits like Desktop Tower Defense. I’ve never seen a Flash game go viral quite as hard as Desktop Tower Defense has, though, so… We’ll see what happens.
Monday, June 18, 2007
So I’m back. Arrived back last night, got into the apartment at about 1am. Not terribly tired, but satisfied to be back in New York. I would’ve arrived back a couple of hours earlier, but it turns out that Fox rental does not have a drop-off spot at the San Francisco airport — something I could’ve figured out but I didn’t even think to look. So instead of cruising in with about 45 minutes to go before lift off, I had to drop off the car elsewhere, wait for the shuttle to the airport, and then wait for the CalTran (or whatever) to the actual terminal. So I got to mill about and check my e-mail while having lunch for a couple of hours. Not too bad, I guess. But whatever. More interesting stuff occurred on this trip.
Okay. So why was I in the Bay Area all last week? For Yahoo! interviews, which I probably shouldn’t go too much into detail with except to say that I interviewed with some folks at the Yahoo! mothership and enjoyed learning about the company for a few days. They have some very cool project going on, not the least cool of which is Pipes. What can I say? Well, the Silicon Valley area down there is pleasant in a quiet, suburban sort of way. I stayed with ex-roommate Haley and her boyfriend Jonathan for a couple of nights at the beginning of the week in Mountain View and it all just felt very nice and comfortable. The night life is weak, but if you’re into staying home, it’s lovely. We mostly stayed home. Both nights: ice cream and a couple episodes of The Riches on the projector. (The Riches = The Beverly Hillbillies for the post-Sopranoes generation multiplied by the world’s worst American accent, courtesy of Eddie Izzard.) Mountain View even has that Google Municipal WiFi, so you can get a signal pretty much anywhere (though it’s often weak and you have to click through a “Hi, we’re Google!” splash screen to start surfing). Tuesday afternoon I wandered down into downtown Mountain View to grab lunch and read my book (No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy, if you care — good book: terse and bloody). Downtown MV is simple. Just a stretch of road with some clean little coffeeshops and restaurants mixed in with other businesses — not the usual strips of Jack in the Boxes you find everywhere else in the area. Nothing too crazy, but fine.
On Wednesday Haley celebrated her 24th birthday — woot! — so she made arrangements at a restaurant in San Francisco for a bunch of people from Apple (Haley and Jonathan are both Apple employees). After taking a quick nap (and doing some mindless web-surfing), I drove Jonathan, Hatim, and Nick up. Hatim, it turns out, also lived in Austin and volunteered with AMODA for a while (after I stopped). We’ve actually seen each other perform live sets on at least a couple of occasions and he’s friends with the Notenuf folks, as well. Weird. So. Yeah. So we drove up to this crazy Italian seafood place and met a bunch of people — including ITPers Josh Dickens and interactive underwear specialist JennyLC. Café Sport, the name of the place. Pronounced “Café Sport” or “Café Spore?” Who knows. Regardless, a great place. Right near Columbus Avenue downtown. Lots of pasta. Seafood. Crazy interior design: patterns and colorful this-and-thats on every available surface, including the ceiling. Oh, and a drunk Danny Glover. While we ate he came in, I guess to pick up some food. He took some photos with with staff and a couple people, hung out for a bit talking, then stumbled out and got into his SUV-Jeep thingie and cruised off (I saw this because I followed him out to hit an ATM — and out of a desire to glean through proximal osmosis a richer understanding of dealing with bomb-rigged toilets and Mel Gibson). And then after dinner, some desserts and then drinks at some bar. And then back to Mason’s and Melissa’s place at the edge of the Mission district for sleep.
So. Thursday morning Christin landed in town, so I grabbed her at the airport and we grabbed lunch at some spot on Market a friend of hers had recommended. Then we went down to 826 Valencia (McSweeney’s HQ and “the Bay Areas largest independent pairate supply shop”). The place is fun. Lots of stuff to touch and look at. And books to buy to benefit the org. Christin even got a good mopping (and I’ll leave you to contact her for the details). Then we drove around for a while. A long while, actually. We zig-zagged north up to the Golden Gate Bridge and drove over to Sausalito to look back across the Bay at the city and take some photos. Then south south south: We stopped in Santa Cruz to get some ice cream at a place recommended by Haley and watched the surfers for a while. And drove on down past Monterey to the Big Sur area where we finally stopped and got dinner at the Big Sur Inn — a large log cabin sort of affair tucked amongst the redwoods and, oddly, no sea view. But great. We would’ve just stayed the night, but they were full so we drove back up and (after losing our way a couple of times) finally got a place on the outskirts of Monterey. A place with a fireplace and the, um, shower actually in the living room. With a kind of Tudor-style tapestry as a shower curtain. And angels frescoed into the paint on the ceiling of the tapestry. And this was a Super 8 motel, not Larry’s Discount English-Style Overnighters. Very, very odd. I’m not really used to showering in the living room of any residence. But I’m okay with that.
Our room. Note the shower by the TV.
So driving the coast… Yes, Pacific Coast Highway Route 1 is awesome, especially if you’re lucky enough to be driving in the late afternoons and evenings as we were. It’s rugged. Cliffy forested mountains just fall right off into the water most of the way and the road curves along ridges of flattened rock along the edges. And people do die on these road by losing control and sailing off towards multi-story drops into the rocky sea. But it’s great. If you have a rental car (or just a car), I highly recommend it. There are even a handful of small mostly empty beaches along the way which are quiet and very nice.
We got back to SF Friday evening and gathered the troops together for sushi at Sushi Hana, a place Gunn recommended — he knows the owner. Ilteris, Karl, and Andy had arrived into town on Thursday from their wacky cross-country adventure (which involved, amongst other things, the partial destruction of two rental cars and one poor deer and also involved Ilteris going into shops in the more rural parts of this country asking for either handguns or dynamite which, frankly, sounds like the set-up for gimmicky scene in a pre-Sicko-era Michael Moore doc). So that treo showed up along with Myra(!), whom they had come across totally by coincidence at a pizza place called, appropriately enough, “Escape from New York.” Mason, Melissa, Gunn and his girlfriend Jill, Christin, and I rounded off the roll call. Good sushi. Those salmon rolls with the lemon slices on them (I always forget the name) are the best. I love sushi with fruit in it… (Silhouette in Austin would stick apple slices or strawberries into their rolls if you asked — awesome.) So we ate and then moved to a bar to finish the evening. Christin and I were exhausted, so we split early.
And that pretty much wraps up the adventure.
What else to say? Um. How about this: I hate parking. Driving I’m okay with at this point because of the novelty, frankly (I never drive in NY). But — oh, sweet holy monkeys — I hate that feeling like we had when we came into town for Haley’s birthday, when we had to just creep along from street to street for a half-hour trying to find a place to put the car, holy fuck. I love subwaying and walking from place to place. It’s somehow refreshing. Anything else?
Oh, crap! The Monterey Aquarium. Forgot about that. Okay, I’ve been before, but Christin hadn’t, so we stopped in Friday afternoon. The big deal? The new otter exhibit. Oh, boy, otters. They’re good. When we first found them they were all kind of sleeping and being boring, but when we stopped by again before feeding — silly, silly, silly. Otters twirling in the water. Otters playing with purple balls. Otters pressed up against the glass and mugging for the crowds. Otherwise, I’m not sure we had a favorite spot. The touching pools were cool — you go and poke at defenseless starfish and sea cucumbers and such. The patios along the waterfront were nice, too. The ocean right along there is populated with a mix of sea birds, seals, and dudes in kayaks drifting around. Oh, and it turns out there is an ugliest fish ever (with a deceptively charming name). My favorite fish is, of course, the hammerhead shark. Saw some of those. Yeah.
Seals (and other critters)!
Friday, May 11, 2007
A few photographs from the ITP Spring Show 2007 after-after-party on Rocio’s and my roof.
A good night.
(E-mail me if you want higher-res versions.)
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Hi! Quick post, here:
Until then, you can check out a video of my presentation at the ITP thesis 2007 site.
Thanks for visiting! Please send me an e-mail if you’d like to know more or have some feedback.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Part of the visualization. Full project page here.
Tracking messages sent between September 1st, 2006 and January 10th, 2007. Visualized by Josh Knowles, January 10th, 2007.
ITP Student List Conversations is a visualization of the e-mail conversations that have occurred on the ITP student e-mail list. The amount of conversation between two people is determined by how much they participate in the same discussion threads.
The strength of the connection between two people is determined by multiplying the number of e-mails they each send to the same thread and adding together these numbers for each thread. So if you and I each sent 1 message to a thread, we get 1 connection “point” added to our “score.” If we each sent 3 messages to a different thread, we would get 9 connection points (3×3). For a total of 10 connection points (1+9). More connection points are represented by heavier lines connecting two people.
This project was developed using Processing along with some PHP and MySQL.
Note: I just posted this to the blog today because there has been a bit of interest in the project the past couple of weeks. So here you go!
Saturday, March 24, 2007
The crowd at Mohawk. Photo by Coté.
Note: You can download the tracks I performed at the official DXM webpage. Enjoy!
(Written: 4pm, Sunday, March 11th. I’ll say more about the SXSW panels in a different post.)
I’m sitting outside of room 9AB, waiting for a panel called “Sex and Computational Machinery” to begin. It’ll be only the fifth panel I’ve been to this year, so far — after Kathy Sierra’s opening remarks about creating passionate users, a short panel called “Beautiful Algorithms,” and “Mapping: Where the Fuck Are We Now?” yesterday. And Phil Torrone’s and Limor Fried’s keynote earlier this afternoon about open source object hacking. I’ve been exposed to many of the projects and ideas that have been presented about so far, which is a bit disappointing, but there have been some good moments. I had not been familiar with Fried’s “x0xb0x” open source TB-303 synth project before — and it looks cool. (Maybe if I get ambitious this summer I’ll order a kit.)
Speaking of synths: One of the more surprising events of the weekend so far took place last night at the AMODA Laptop Battle. Executive Director Todd Simmons invited me to participate. Last year I had been a last-minute alternate and got knocked out in the second round. (About what I expected.) This year, though, the stars aligned just right and I managed to actually — gwwrk — win the damned thing. Erm. Whoa.
For those who don’t know, a laptop battle works like this: 16 people are invited to compete in a single-elimination tournament. They are grouped in random pairs. The first person plays for the three minutes. The second person plays for three minutes. The audience cheers. The five judges decide who wins and who gets eliminated. This goes on until there’s a single winner. Okay.
So here’s what happened.
Scoreboard at DJ. Photo by Coté.
In the first round I won against a guy from Dallas who goes by “Kidko.” He seemed newish (no one I asked knew who he was) and he rocked it — did a good job — but came off a bit novice. I’d prepared to dump the brunt of my creativity into that first round (since I could’ve lost and not had another chance). So I blasted out my masterpiece, or whatever, and won the round. Poor Hilary (aka “Majora”), my friend and another competitor, got paired with “Cygnus,” the guy who represented Dallas at the national laptop battle last year, and got knocked out after just the first round. Sadly. So Kidko and I played our three minutes apiece. The crowd cheered. And the five judges selected me to advance. Awesome.
For the second round I was matched with “The Mysterious H,” a dude I know from back in the Austin days when he was part of a duo awesomely titled “Disco is a Dry Hump” — they played sets at one or two of my Oscillate Night shows. He rocked a wireless keyboard, beating out the gritty synthro jams while dancing and jumping around in the audience. I had a bit of a misfire when I played — the mix sounded awful from the stage, though it can sometimes be hard to tell what the audience hears. I don’t own speakers at the moment, so I did all of my prep on headphones. Which can be dangerous. Because what sounds complex and interesting with headphones on often sounds muddy and cluttered in the much less aurally-forgiving club setting. And that’s kind of what happened. Sounded muddy. Cluttered. Anyway, The Mysterious H clearly had crowd support and I felt fairly certain that my battle adventure would end there. But the judges threw it to me and caused what felt like a riot of boos. Holy shit. I have not been booed on stage before and it’s, uh, shocking! But the judges’ decision stood, so I advanced. H was a bit disappointed, so I bought him a shot and congratulated him. Dude’s awesome. I still think he should’ve won that round…
Coté and me. Photo by Coté.
(Written: 6pm, Sunday, March 18th.)
Now I’m at Austin Java Company, downing Dr. Peppers and kind of unwinding my brain after all of this by engaging in some awesomely unproductive web surfing and a bit of work here and there. Here’s the rest of the story of that magical battle night:
The third round was interesting. My competitor, “The Wild Bull” (I don’t know anyone’s real names…), lost his first round — but the girl who whipped him pulled out of the competition, so he passed through. Had I gone with my original fatalistic plan of only putting together three tracks with the assumption that I would lose by then, then I would’ve had to back out, as well, allowing him into the final round having lost twice! This did not happen, though… The night before the event I put together one final track. Which would come in useful. So the Wild Bull did his piece — a bit more dub-like than the beatz-go-crazy of his first two sets — but kind of misfired. He lost much of the energy he had during his first two sets. I think he might’ve front-loaded his performances and ran out of juice by rounds three. I, on the other hand, hadn’t. I did the “Hello Moto” remix I worked up for Christian’s and Andrew’s Generative Social Networking project and bounced the crowd around with some ringtone-themed beats. And won. (With much less booing than before.)
So finally, the fourth round. DXM (me) versus Cygnus, who had won the Dallas competition last year and had gone to Seattle for the nationals. This also got weird. I had the luxury of performing second at almost every stage of the competition, having been given the #14 slot (out of 16). I think this gave me a bit of an advantage because I could respond a bit to the guy before me (though because I had a fairly playback-heavy set-up, there were limits). After Kidko, for example, I felt confident that I would win the round, and I could take that confidence to the stage. In this final round, Cygnus went on to do his standard variety glitch-the-fuck-outta-yer-beats-dance-around-knob-twiddling thing — but his sound kept cutting out. Todd had to go up to the stage and physically hold the audio cable securely in the jack and I think it put Cygnus off a bit and the set just didn’t seem to go very well. I nervously paced back and forth off to the side of the stage and realized that — barring my own technical glitch — I had it made. I really liked “Hydrogen Eyeliner,” the fourth track I had set up, and just felt really good about everything. It all kind of clicked perfectly together. So I did my final bit, got people dancing. (I remember vividly looking up from the screen and seeing the ITP contingent — Rebecca and Christian, especially — dancing around in a small group. I wish I could’ve photographed that. Fortunately Christian captured that exact moment as a video on his cellphone.) I played and did well and then we came up for the vote and — confusion. My brain was on overload, so I may have mixed up what actually happened, but I think Cygnus complained to Todd and the MC (Phranchyse, I think) about the equipment failure, and the MC called for a tie-breaker. Which the crowd wanted. But I couldn’t — I prepared exactly four pieces and, whatever, the rules said that was the competition. Having nailed it, I didn’t really see what the benefit of doing another round would be. The judges kind of wanted it, it seemed, but I stepped aside and told Todd that I just couldn’t do anything else. So the judges went in my favor, Cygnus kind of acted like a dick about it (understandably, maybe), and that was that. The MC held my hand up and I got crowned (or whatever) winner. Everything after that was kind of a rush of people congratulating me and me trying to get my head together enough to corral a group of ITPers safely back to the car and then to a Taco Cabana for some food.
So. A few thoughts, now that I’m the big-shot.
First and foremost: I’m not sure what happened with Cygnus, but having working equipment is the baseline for being a good laptop performer. (Not to single him out — he wasn’t the only one with problems at this event and it’s bound to happen at these sorts of things with so much equipment-chaos.) You just can’t call “redo!” when something goes technically amiss. If the glitch came about because of AMODA’s gear, though, I feel bad for the guy.
Second: I’m a bit tired or the hyper-drum-and-bass beat-mangling crap. It’s easy. You get some beats, and you twist the bejeezus out of them with a controller of some sort. Sometimes the crowd loves it, because it is a good way to get some great energy out on the stage. But I think it’s getting a bit tired. I’d rather see some people go in new directions with it and for performers to express a different kind of control over their sounds. We can’t all be Richard Devine. Todd claims the beat-mangling stuff goes over very well at the national battle in Seattle. We’ll see. I’m going to continue to develop the trancey-electro sound I used for this show.
Third: Stage presence is a difficult one for laptop-based performers. Do you stand there and look like you’re checking your e-mail or dance around like a cracked-out monkey? Last week at AMODA’s event, the performers seemed to polarize either far on one side or the other (I tend towards the “checking e-mail” look). There’s a middle ground, I think, or — at least — a way to look interesting on the stage, but without looking like an goofball. And I’m not at all dissing people like The Mysterious H who are building upon the physical performance angle. I’m talking about people who are essentially twisting knobs with really exaggerated movements. I’d rather the live performance element come out directly in the music itself — that’s what this is all about, anyway.
But what do I know.
Tom expressing himself. Photo by Coté.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Look. I don’t usually do quickie posts, but this annoys the fuck out of me, so here we go:
It’s 11am. Some guy just came through Cake Shop (coffee shop) trying to sell some big art kit of crayons and pastels. “Costs $60 at the store, I sell it for $20.” Definitely did not look like a struggling Lower East Side artist. Looked like a scammer. His equally smarmy looking friend stood outside.
Everyone inside had the sense to either ignore the guy or give him a “no.” Fine. But then some idiot bought the thing off him right out in front of the coffee shop.
I’ve seen this happen before.
Let’s be clear what’s going on in situations like this:
The art kit is stolen. It is one of presumably several things stolen from someone’s place that these guys are selling. Do not buy the stolen goods. Arguing that you just want the thing cheap is fucking retarded and what you’re really doing (besides breaking the law by receiving stolen goods) is promoting theft in the neighborhood.
So don’t fucking do it.
I live here and I’m not interested in having jack-shits break into my place and sell my stuff to other douche-bags in front of Cake Shop. I’m aware that the people who would read this (ITPers, mostly) wouldn’t participate in this sort of thing. But still. It pisses me off.
Now back to our regularly scheduled controlled rambling about hamsters and other minutiae…
I'm Josh Knowles, a technology developer/consultant on a variety of mobile, social media, and gaming projects. I founded and lead Frescher-Southern, Ltd. I grew up in Austin, Texas and currently live in New York City.
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