Wherein our humble author attempts to recreate a caricature of himself through the medium of silicone.

If all goes according to plan with regard to our equipment requests for next year, we should [amongst other things] be getting some new materials to work with for the Character Design unit and doing a bit of silicone casting.

Now, back in the black’n’white days when I was a young jackanapes at art college and subsequently a slightly older jackanapes working in design, things like casting silicone were a futuristic pipe-dream, like hover cars and self-removing trousers. If we wanted to make a model, we had to bloody well carve it out of pig manure with our bare teeth.

So, in the finest traditions of 'trying to look like you know what the fuck you're talking about, while teaching', I thought I’d better run a bit of silicone casting practice up the old flagpole and see if anyone saluted. Hence “Operation Mini-Me”, an audacious plan to create and cast in silicone an animation puppet of everyone’s favourite jug-eared Irish half-wit… me!

So pull up a chair and a bag of popcorn and let’s see how this goes….

[BTW-the picture at the top has bugger all to do with this , but I thought I’d better stick something visual in there to lighten up my turgid prose.]

May
20
2014
Meet BoxComp

It’s been a while since I posted anything here.

In my few minutes of ‘me time’ during recent weeks, I’ve tended to do do more ‘left-brainy’ stuff than ‘right-brainy’, so there’s not been a lot to show for it, outside of my vacant skull.

Anyway, part of my weekend tinkering of late has been to do with cryptocurrencies: I’ve become quite intrigued by the whole ‘digital goldrush’. As well as working on my own altcoin, I’ve been itching to do some hardware tinkering too. So, over the past week or two I’ve been hammering the credit card a bit, buying various components from Amazon and eBay and, last week, I was ready to join the ranks of them big fellas like Dell and Apple, by building my own computer from scratch [or rather, from off-the-shelf components made by other people which, let’s face it, is what they do!].

Expensive jigsaw pieces. Just add keyboard, mouse, screen and hard-drive

I’ll not bore you with the details of what individual bits I needed to buy and how I stuck them all together. You can dissect the photo above or, failing that, It’s all covered in depth in CryptoBadger’s excellent tutorials. Instead, let’s skip straight to the action shots.

Behold, BoxComp©

I stuck everything together, which took about 45 mins, using a fetching cardboard box to house most of the components. Then I attached an old keyboard, screen and hard-drive and hit the “ON” button, waiting for a shower of sparks and the smell of my burning dreams. To my astonishment, “BoxComp©” sprang into life and I was presented with the BIOS setup-screen.

It's alive!

So far, so good. But if I wanted more than the computer equivalent of the body twitching on the slab, as the current was passed through it, I needed to install an operating system. CryptoBadger’s aforementioned tutorials recommended Xubuntu, a stripped down version of Ubuntu. I’m not a big fan of Ubuntu [might be something to do with the name sounding like the noise a mountain gorilla might make while having an anal orgasm], so I opted instead to install Linux Mint Debian Edition.

I made an LMDE live USB and twiddled BoxComp©’s BIOS settings to boot from this and he finally achieved digital sentience by booting into a ‘proper’ operating system.

LMDE Live intro screen

There then followed the tedious business of actually installing LMDE to an old 1TB hard drive, rescued from a now-dead NAS I used to have. Whenever I install Linux, I always somehow manage to fall flat on my stupid face at the final hurdle, by installing the boot-loader wrongly and leaving myself with a computer which will only boot to the ‘All-Time Unfriendliest Interface Ever Conceived By The Warped Mind of Satan’©, namely the Grub prompt. This time was no different and it took several goes before I finally managed to head-butt Grub into obedience and [finally!] enjoy the delights of a functioning computer.

BoxComp© –aerial view

OK. the above pic is a bit of a cheat, as it was taken before the LMDE install, not afterwards. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it did eventually work.

Now, I for one think that BoxComp© in his cardboard guise does actually have a certain rustic charm. I find the idea of a computer which looks like a box of spare parts fairly amusing. Unfortunately, however, this casing doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in its durability. So next challenge was to fit BoxComp© out with a slightly more hard-wearing set of duds.

In keeping with the example of CryptoBadger’s tutorials, I looked around for an old crate or plastic container of some kind to rehouse BoxComp©, but couldn’t really find anything suitable. Then I remembered that there was an old defunct PC in the spare room. I dug it out and started the fun task of dismantling it.

Old PC and donor

Everything came apart pretty easily and I was soon left with an empty framework and a big pile of obsolete PC components

Old PC stripped 'bare nekked'

First of all I mounted BoxComp©’s motherboard on the main side panel of the old PC, where its motherboard had lived. I had to move a few spacers around to line up with the holes on my new motherboard but, apart from that it fitted really nicely. I then moved onto installing the PSU and graphics cards. To my pleasant surprise, I found that all my new components fitted perfectly into the old PC framework, even though that was about 15 or more years old and the new components were about twice the size of the old ones. Thanks be to the gods of standardisation! [are you listening Apple?]

BoxComp© in his new armour

And so, in about another half hour or so, BoxComp© was reborn in his new metal shell. I’ve deliberately left off all the facings to maximise ventilation, as cryptocoin mining makes the graphics cards run very hot.

Well, that’ll do for now. Tune in same time some other day, when I’ll bore you with the tales of my first mining expedition.

Mar
26
2014
Character Design

This week, it was time to roll out the new Character Design unit, or Introduction to Methods, Materials and Making Processes, to give it its show name. We kicked off with the old classic 25 Expressions worksheets.

Before springing it on them, I gave the students about 25 mins to come up with a character and then draw him/her/it [head only] from the front. As I’m not a complete bastard, I did give the students a few clues before they started, which would make for more “expressionable” characters, such as advising them to use the full complement of facial features and maybe also include eyebrows or ears, etc.

In spite of that there were still a few groans of dismay from those whose characters were of a more ‘inscrutable’ bent, when I produced the 25 Expressions character sheets and asked everyone to see if they could make their characters run the gamut of emotions from Anger to Zoomorphism… er… actually, that’s not strictly true but these things always need a bit of an A to Z vibe going on!

Anyway, since it was one of those lessons where everyone is scribbling away furiously on good old-fashioned dead trees and not pecking my head every five minutes to help them with some software problem, I had time to play too. So, at the top of this ‘ere’ post, please meet Kevin Peterson, one of my characters who is waiting, poised to spring onto the internet and take the world of animation by storm [Just as soon as ever I get a spare week or two to do some of my own work!].

Kevin Peterson’s claim to fame is having huge teeth, a stupid voice and thinking he has the most unique name in the world. Honestly, it gets lost a bit in the translation. Inside my head it’s a hilarious concept. Just you wait!

After 25 Expressions sheets were complete, I asked the students to take their character and work it up into a finished artwork in Illustrator [it never hurts to practice pummelling those vectors!] and then design a poster, promoting the character and giving some info about him/her/it. Said poster could use any kind of suitable visual analogy; Wanted Poster, Trump Card, Pokémon Card, Movie Poster, etc.

Here are my rough scribbles for a few possible Kevin Peterson posters:

And here are a couple of them worked up into a semi-presentable format in Illustrator:

The other day an old work buddy asked me if there was a way he could listen to BBC Radio on iPlayer, without having to install that notorious collection of security holes known as Adobe Flash.

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I thought about various ways this might be done, ranging from installing Flip4Mac [hmmm… a Microsoft plugin to replace an Adobe one. Talk about ’out of the frying pan into the fire!] to using VLC to try and open the live streams, but everything I came up with seemed to be almost as dodgy, or more of a pain in the arse to set up, than even using Flash would be.

Then I had one of those forehead-slapping moments where you realise the answer is so simple, you wonder if someone nicked your brain when you weren’t looking: Given that the BBC is quite happy to serve up a non-Flash version of the iPlayer for anyone visiting the site on an iOS device [Steve Jobs famously banned Flash from iOS], why not just pretend to be visiting the Beeb’s website on an iGadget and enjoy the non-Flash version of iPlayer. And, what’s more, it’s a piece of cake to set up.

So, here’s the how-to, for anyone else who fancies some iPlayer action, but hates Flash. These instructions assume you are using Safari. If you’re the kind of person who overrides OSX’s default browser, you’ve probably sussed this out for yourself anyway:

1: First you need to enable Developer Mode in Safari. This is as simple as ticking a box in Safari’s preferences

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2: This will add a new ‘Develop’ item to Safari’s main menu, underneath which are several menu items useful for web developers. Amongst these is an option to change the User Agent, which is your browser’s way of identifying itself to any website it visits. Changing the User Agent effectively allows your browser to pretend to be a different browser, which is handy when building websites, as it allows you to test code that serves up different versions of the site to different visiting browsers. I think you’ll already have spotted where this is going!

Simply change the User Agent so Safari pretends to be iOS Safari running on an iPad

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3: Now try loading the BBC iPlayer pages again

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Ha! –We’ve fooled the BBC website into thinking we’re viewing on an iPad and it’s served us up the iPad friendly non-Flash version of the iPlayer.

Enjoy! –but just remember that, every time you open a new browser tab or window, Safari will revert to identifying itself as Safari on mac again, so you’ll have to reselect the appropriate User Agent, each time you want to view iPlayer in a new tab or window.

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OK. The bones have been rattled. The entrails have been studied. The huge balls have been stroked. It’s time for the latest round in my occasional game of making a few predictions for the year ahead. So here, in no particular order, are the first ten visions which manifested themselves to me through rips in the very curtain of time itself. Remember to check back in January 2015 and marvel at how uncannily accurate these were:

  1. US [with pet poodle in tow] will find a new 3rd world country to drop high explosive democracy and freedom on. Most likely in the Middle East again. Although it will not be Iran, don’t rule out Egypt getting a bit of a kicking, as things continue continue to deteriorate there.
  2. Prince Phillip will snuff it. Probably at a strategically opportune time when either the Royal Family is ‘getting a bad press’ about some very dodgy scandal rumours. These and all other considerations will be swept away on the usual tide of sycophancy. The Daily Mail will publish a stupendously unfunny cartoon, showing a shocked Prince Phillip being greeted at The Pearly Gates by immigrant worker angels

    image

  3. The Scots will wimp out and fail to vote for independence by an embarrassingly wide margin. The turn-out for the referendum will be embarrassingly low. SNP will blame UK lies and disinformation. Tories will crow jingoistically about how it shows how much the Scots love Britain and being part of Britain.

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  4. Nokia lifeboat company Jolla will bring out a breakthrough model which will start competing seriously with what’s-left-of-Nokia’s Windows Phone offerings. What’s-left-of-Nokia will be forced to release a few Android handsets to avert further crisis.

  5. India’s Mangalyaan Mars probe will unfortunately ‘do a Beagle’ and disappear whilst attempting a landing. Meanwhile, Discovery will continue to fail to find any signs of life ever having existed on The Red Planet. In more positive astronomical news, an exoplanet will be discovered which tick all the “Goldilocks Zone” boxes.

    image

  6. The biggest cultural hit of the year will be a film/series/dance craze, paying homage to the Second World War era. Cue lots of tacky supposedly 40s-inspired clothes and tat adorning the ‘tracky-bottoms and trainers’ fraternity for the five minutes it takes for the fad to pass.

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  7. Outbreak of civil strife in South Africa as, with the grand-paternal calming influence of Mandela gone, the disillusioned poor start agitating for a bigger share of the pie. Comparisons with Zimbabwe and dark murmurs about “white flight” all round.

  8. Major diplomatic incident caused but full-on conflict narrowly avoided, after a ship sinking incident in the region of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Trigger-happy US most probably the cause.

    image

  9. Humongous shale gas discovery in Scotland will intensify the pre-referendum political fighting.

  10. 2014 will finally be “The Year of Linux on The Desktop” [Sorry. Only joking. Couldn’t resist!]

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This morning as I stumbled bleary eyed from the shower, I spotted this tiny piece of paper on the bathroom floor and bent athletically to read it. Even allowing for the apparent ‘txt-speak’ of the ‘U’ it seemed to bear an enigmatic message:

“Infinity Will Speed You”.

"What can it mean?" I thought, stylishly. "Who has carefully cut out this tiny missive and left it here on my bathroom floor? What are they trying to tell me?"

"Infinity Will Speed You". It could be an intimation of mortality, enshrining in words the headlong rush towards the unending blackness that awaits us all. Or it could be a rallying call, a cry of encouragement to get on with what you want to achieve while you still have the chance.

I should point out at this juncture that, in addition to the earliness of the hour, I was verily [and quite possibly forsoothly] hung-over this morning after yet again being dragged to a pub against my will and forced to drink beer all night, the previous evening. So my usually razor sharp mind was not exactly firing on all cylinders

Thus it was that I stood there for a few moments turning over the small fragment of paper in my hands, with a gormless expression on my idiotic face, before I realised that the eerie message was nothing more sinister than a piece of some junk mail I’d put in the shredder at the weekend and which had somehow wafted into the bathroom. And the import of those mysterious words?

[BT] Infinity Will Speed U[p your broadband]

I need to stay in more!