Amazing Pictures of Houses Overcome by Nature

September 2, 2009

Sweet Juniper via BoingBoing:


Librarians of the FUTURE!

August 19, 2009

JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee – although to me that’s always been as meaningless as the acronym) released a slick video recently canvassing opinion and conjecture on what libraries might look like 10 or 20 years down the line:

While I find all the talk about virtual information hubs, networks and the like interesting, I’d always thought librarians of the future were supposed to look like this:

Terminator Librarian WH40K

(from here)

Thomas Robert Malthus and Humanity’s Self-Destructive Nature

August 16, 2009

“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”

via Thomas Robert Malthus – Wikipedia

I’ve been reading The Spirit in the Gene recently (borrowed from Joss Winn), by Reg Morrison. The book is essentially about humanity’s genetic predisposition to increase in number at a geometric/exponential rate. The book brilliantly describes the evolutionary journey which has led us to the present point where our fertility rate, together with our larger brain size-to-body size ratio, means we are the most advanced animal on the planet. Yet at the same time – and virtually single-handedly – we are destroying the very environment which has fed and sustained us.

The prescient quote above (from 1798) neatly sums up the crux of the problem: the earth and its resources, vast as they are, are finite; however, the rate at which humans reproduce and consume is greater than the earth’s capacity to replenish these resources.

It’s a little crass to sum up the message – of both the book and the Rev. Malthus – as “we’re doomed”, but that’s essentially it. Without a significant and conscious shift in lifestyle, humanity looks set for failure.

This could be seen as depressing, but to me it’s actually a relief to read stuff that doesn’t beat around the bush and just makes sense of an issue that’s very difficult to face.

Changed My Theme

August 9, 2009

In an effort to make me actually write something here, I decided to revamp the look of the site with (what I think is) a nice, clean white two-column theme. Like it, hate it, indifferent, or think I should just shut up and write and stop messing on with themes and widgets? Let me know.

Abandoned Scottish Village to be Demolished

June 24, 2009

The BBC reports that Polphail, a village built in Argyll in the 70s to meet the demands of the fledging oil industry, is to be demolished.

The strange thing about Polphail is that it was never occupied:

Keys still dangle on a board waiting for tenants who would never arrive. Coat hangers remain in cupboards and rusting washing machines stand idle, dreaming of their first spin cycle.

There’s a definite post-apocalyptic feel about the derelict houses lying empty and unused. There are some excellent images of the abandoned Polphail at local photographer Philippa Elliott’s website:

Philippa Elliot >> Polphail

And on Flickr:

Flickr >> Polphail Set

Twitter Science?

April 16, 2009

I came across the below while reading an @mashable tweet about how to retweet:

What we see here is that while the number of followers exposed to a Tweet does have a positive effect on the number of times that Tweet is ReTweeted, it is a weak correlation, meaning that other factors play a much larger role. By calculating a ReTweets-per-follower ratio for 20,000 users and graphing the distribution of that metric we see that while most users have a similar ratio, there does exist a class of users with a much higher ReTweets-to-follower number.

via The Science of ReTweets.

Check it out! Twitter science with proper stats and everything! I don’t know what this means for me, but I think maybe I should get onto graphing my metrics in the morning.

(I think what it actually means is that number of followers doesn’t have as big an impact as you might expect on how often something is retweeted.)

Empire: Total War Makes My Head Explode

April 12, 2009

I think I must be starting to lose my gaming touch. After over 20 years of playing games, from the ZX Spectrum to the modern PC – and having a soft spot for strategy games in particular – I’ve finally come across one that makes me throw my hands up and beg for mercy.

And it’s not like I’m a newbie here: I’ve played every title in the Total War series, from Shogun nearly 10 years ago, through Rome and the Medievals, to the most recent in the shape of Empire: Total War. Besides that I’ve been into Civilization from the start, and the offshoots (Colonization), strategy classics like UFO/XCOM, big 4X space strategy epics, like Master of Orion, GalCiv, etc. The list goes on. So I can honestly say that I’m no slouch when it comes to deep, complex thinking games. But Empire has nearly got me beat.

Maybe now that I’ve reached my thirties my brain has started its inexorable decline. Even so, I can’t be the only one who’s thinking there’s a hell of a lot packed into the latest offering from Creative Assembly, can I?

I dabbled a little in the story-driven tutorial, then moved onto the meat and potatoes of every strategy game, the single-player campaign mode. Woah! Talk about attention to detail. I’m playing as Great Britain (natch) and you start the game with your homeland, the British Isles, and a couple of isolated colonies in the Americas. There’s nothing in the Indian subcontinent, but it’s there for the taking. Oh, and the Thirteen Colonies in the not-so-United-States is your Protectorate – not sure about the mechanics of that yet (I know, I know: RTFM!), apart from the fact that they seem to offer you missions every now and then.

What’s so hard about that? Well, for starters the action is spread across three theatres: the Americas, Europe and India. There are also trade theatres which don’t house colonies, but you can interact with them via trade ships. In addition to the main settlement in every region, you’ve now got a number of towns, villages and ports (all of which can be individually cycled through). Each of these might specialise in a particular line of work, depending on its location. For example, you can build sugar or coffee plantations in Jamaica, but you won’t be able to set up a fur-trading outpost unless you’re in North America or Canada. And maybe Europe – I haven’t checked…

Each of your minor settlements can be upgraded through several steps. But it’s not just trade you need to think about. Cambridge houses a School building, which can be upgraded to a College – but only when you’ve researched Empiricism. Yep, you need to dabble in research, too. Actually, “dabble in” is a poor choice of phrase – “become immersed in” would be better. There’s a proper tech tree this time with three branches – military, industrial and philosophical. Gentlemen can help you here. They’re special agents that assist in research, but only when you place them in a research-based building. Oh, and Gentlemen can also duel with other Gentlemen – or Rakes, which are like Spies and Assassins in the previous Total Wars.

I haven’t even touched on the intricacies of trade yet. I keep getting an advisor popping up telling me to keep an eye on what my adversaries are producing in the New World because I need to undercut them on the markets or somesuch. Well, I’m not sure how I’d know that. There are trade routes marked on the map by dotted lines. Some of these routes are yours; some belong to your allies or enemies and many are shared by multiple nations. Apparently you can sit your navy on these and pillage, but I’m guessing that doesn’t make you too popular with the owners of the routes.

There are multiple reasons for dissent in your colonies: religion is a big factor again, as is appetite for revolt, and I suppose the presence of garrison forces has an impact. However, it’s not as straightforward as that because a city has a “lay-garrison” in addition to the units you recruit which can be called upon when attacked. I haven’t fought any land or sea battles in the campaign game yet, though: the strategy portion is giving me enough of a headache!

Don’t get me wrong: I can tell the game is good. It’s just that there’s so much of it! I suppose back in the day I would’ve sunk hours into a game like this until I was familiar with all its intricate details and foibles. Now – well, I’ll persevere because it’s so highly rated on metacritic. It’s got to be worth it, right? – Slick Browser-Based Music Player

March 24, 2009

I’ve just this minute discovered, a new music-based mashup (via ReadWriteWeb).

For those wondering, it’s a little bit like the now partially-defunct Muxtape, except far more flexible in its ability to create, manage and share playlists. It sits in your browser happily playing away, but the interface feels like a desktop application (like Spotify). In short, it’s very slick and seemingly has access to a large number of copyrighted tracks. As RWW puts it:

And the music.. where does the music come from? Good question.. the answer is, a lot of places; cloud storage, web sites, SeeqPod. In fact, the site is careful to keep that information behind the scenes. What you are left with is a clean, very desktop music player-like experience.

It’s in open beta and the main feature it’s missing for me is scrobbling integration. However, it wasn’t long before Spotify introduced this feature after they went into beta, so here’s hoping it might pop up at soon!

How long until the RIAA pounce with their crack unit of highly trained copyright lawyers? Anyone’s guess. Until then, I suggest you enjoy it while it lasts.

Preservation Photo: Awesome Photos of Urban Decay

March 14, 2009

Found via Dark Roasted Blend, here’s another site showcasing some incredibly beautiful photography of abandoned buildings before the wreckers move in:

Preservation Photo dedicates itself to documenting architecture through photography in an effort to preserve a building’s history.

Some illustrative examples:

Bancroft Mills

The massive Bancroft Mill complex was the largest and longest running mill in Delewares Brandywine Valley before it went bankrupt in 2003.

Pennhurst State School

At it’s peak the several hundred acre campus housed over 3500 patients (known as “clients”) and began suffering from overcrowded conditions. Sexual abuse, neglect, and appalling living conditions led to a class action lawsuit against the school in 1977. The school was found guilty of violating patients rights and was officially shut down a decade later in 1987.

10000 Tracks Scrobbled On

March 9, 2009

In the grand tradition of my two previous posts on this topic, I’ve just passed my latest milestone on – 10,000 tracks scrobbled! And which song marked this grand occasion? Why, this one:

RobynBe Mine!

Since I last wrote about scrobbling milestones in September 2008, have significantly expanded their selection of full tracks so you can listen to this one for free at least three times before they cut you off. Or else you can download Spotify (assuming you’re in the UK or Europe, that is) and listen to it all you want. Or you could just buy it I suppose… Hey, it’s a great album.