Monthly Archives: January 2008

Whither the Micronauts

Neatorama has this funny post about this guy in the US who has modded his Honda Gold Wing motorbike to look like a miniature F15 all-weather tactical fighter jet. It looks amazing, but to me it looked like a toy I had as a kid – the Micronauts Photon Sled. It brought the memories back, I can tell you.

I had a couple of these toys, and they were quite common in the shops where I grew up. I remember visiting Debenhams in Bedford with my Mum, and wandering around the toy department, which I remember felt like it was in a different building, almost like an extension with a couple of steps up into it, and different lighting.

Anyway, one Xmas, probably 1977 or 8, I got the Time Traveller figure. It was a little poseable toy figure (knee joints and everything, better than the first Star Wars figures), about 8cm high, and made of transparent plastic. It had shiny metal-plated parts, and could be taken apart and reassembled, so you could swap parts between figures if you had more than one. I think I had one extra figure – I wasn’t the kid you were jealous of down the road who had not only all the Star Wars figures, but had the AT-AT, the Millenium Falcon and the Star Destroyer playset.

I got the Photon Sled the same Xmas, I think. The little guy sat in it, and it had a wind-up motor which would propel it at speed across the gorgeously patterned 70’s carpet. This too was modular, allowing you to remove the wings, use the wind-up module in a different vehicle, and so on. Excellent replay value.

A year or so later, I got the Star Searcher vehicle, which was frankly awesome. It was a modular planetary excursion vehicle, with a crane, a cockpit, missile launcher, tractor and bulldozer, and you could rearrange these elements in any way you wanted. I had so much fun with these things.

Some friends had similar toys, including one who had the Battlecruiser, and the Stratastation, and several Acroyears (which look like those flying guys from Quake 2). Hmph. But this did mean we could all bring them together and set up some pretty spectacular scenes and inevitably, battles. Some of the vehicles were powered by the wind-up modules (all interchangeable) and others were driven by battery-powered motors, but in a head-to-head pushing match, the wind-up always won. I think it’s time for a return to wind-up toys. At least some form of wind-up recharging mechanism, like in the Freeplay radios and torches. How many batteries do toys get through? Parents! Instigate a rechargeable battery regime in your household now!

This was all around the time Alien came out, and there was a toy Alien figure released, which I remember seeing in this one toy shop in Bedford. It had a transparent dome on its head, which ties in with Giger’s original plan to have a transparent creature in the film. He was overruled, but Giger got his way for the creature in Species. Apparently the Alien toy had to be withdrawn, due to parental complaints that it was too scary. Perhaps in the US, but I don’t remember what happened here.

The transparency of the figures was carried into other toys too. I was lucky enough to have another couple of toy figures called Cyborg and Muton (warning, Geocities). It appears these came out before the Micronauts, and they had a fantastic comic-book backstory on the boxes. These also had interchangeable bits and pieces, including an arm-mounted rocket launcher which could fire a plastic projectile directly into your eye.

Just to complete this whole thing, I read a couple of books from the Micronauts series (written by Straw Dogs author Gordon Williams, of all people), which had nothing to do with the above, but were about miniaturised people, getting lost in a garden, only to face the horrors of the tiny world of insects and so on. I remember one gruesome scene where one of the team is eaten by a whip scorpion. Nasty.

Old Photo Scanning and Flickr Uploading in Ubuntu 7.10

1993_roll20_06
I’ve been going through my old photos, stored away in an old biscuit tin (which itself has drawn comment from a couple of people). Because I was so anal in the past (not like now, ahem) I kept them all their paper wallets from the developers, with the negatives, and in many cases labelled on the back with the date and frame number. This means I’ve been able to throw away a lot of the photos, because they take up space, and I know I can (if I so desire) get more prints made from the negatives. I’m sure I won’t, but I just can’t face throwing them away entirely.

The ones that are left I am now scanning and posting on my Flickr account. The process is a bit laborious, due to the equipment I use. My scanner, a Mustek 1248B is USB bus powered and slooooooooow. But, it connects nicely to Ubuntu, and using the fantastic GIMP and XSane I am scanning away merrily.

To save some time I’m using a clever trick I picked up, which uses a great feature of GIMP. Here’s what to do.

  1. Arrange 4 photos on the scanner glass, leaving a little gap between them and making them as straight as possible.
  2. In GIMP: File > Acquire > XSane > Device dialog
  3. This will start the XSane scanning software and allow you to set the scanning settings, resolution, colours etc. When happy, click Scan.
  4. Go to the nearest cinema and watch ‘There Will Be Blood‘, because it’s brilliant, and you have some time to spare, because the scanner is so slow. Actually it takes about 20 seconds. The scanned image will appear in GIMP.
  5. Clever bit. By clicking and dragging from the rulers at the top and side of the image, create horizontal and vertical guides where the gaps between the photos are. These will be where you chop the image up into the separate 4 photos.
  6. In GIMP: Image > Transform > Guillotine
  7. GIMP chops up the image, and creates a series of new images depending on where the guides were. It preserves the original too.
  8. Now you can edit, fine-crop, adjust and fiddle about with your pics before saving them.

Good eh? But how to get them onto Flickr? I could use the upload-by-email feature, but that seems to be a bit flaky for me, probably due to something my end. The official Flickr Uploadr is only available for Windows and OSX, but luckily there is a great Linux alternative, jUploadr, which uses Java, and works perfectly for me. It allows you to drag-and-drop your images into it, then add tags, set access permissions and so on, before uploading to Flickr. Highly recommended.

More DAP Wars Results

“You join us for the next round of DAP Wars, here in a bar in Clapham. Your contestants, Matthew Petty and Robin Deacon, have met before, but sadly it’s always been amicable. We’re hoping for some ugly scenes here in Lambeth tonight.”

This round dates back to 2006 as well. Look at me with my backlog! The results are flawed in that I didn’t write down the song titles. Pillock.

Round Matt Rob Winner
1 William Orbit Steely Dan Rob
2 Elvis Costello Harry Nilsson Matt
3 Air Randy Newman Rob
4 Nick Drake Frank Zappa Rob
5 Queens Of The Stone Age Durutti Column Rob

“And what a trouncing! Robin Deacon wins! Bastard! Let’s go through it blow by blow. Steely Dan took Robin into an early lead. Matt bravely fought back with Elvis easily kicking Harry into touch, but he was powerless to resist as Robin struck back with a triple-threat of Randy, Frank and Vini (sounds like a Mafia family). Even the heroin-linked strums of Nick Drake weren’t enough to hold him back. The Gallic cafe-noodlers were similarly flawed, and the stoner throb of QOSA collapsed in their wake. An awesome victory.”

Perhaps we need a new series of games…

DAP Wars Results

“Welcome to the first round of the DAP Wars. Our three contestants are ready to press buttons, and you join us here at an undisclosed location* on the evening of 21 December 2006, to witness the tragedy close-up!”

(* Pret A Manger near Leicester Square – we gotta meet somewhere, people. Don’t judge. Also, yes, this was over a year ago. Think if it as clearing the decks.)

Equipment

  • Matt used an Apple iPod 4G colour 20GB, with 3436 tracks on it.
  • Robin used a Creative Sleek 20GB, number of tracks undisclosed, well I forgot to write it down. This was before he sat on it and broke the screen.
  • Gren used a Creative Zen Touch, number of tracks approx 7000 million billion.
Round Matt Gren Robin Winner
1 Meat Beat ManifestoNow Super SuckersCan Pipe* StereolabTransona Five Robin
2 LeftfieldBlack Flute Roots ManuvaDreamy Days Eric Dolphy17 West Gren
3 Beastie BoysFight For Your Right Miles Davis»Saeta Isotope 17 – Audio Boxing Matt
4 Boards of CanadaNlogax The FrogsF’d Over Jesus Harry NilssonCoconut Gren

“Well, a stupendous fight there, Ladies and Gentlemen (but let’s face it mainly Gentlemen, and actually just Men), and we have a clear winner with Gren beating Robin and Matt 2-1-1! Robin took the first roundly neatly with a subtle Stereolab nugget, always a favourite here at DAP Wars. Gren swiftly came back with a Roots Manuva track that left Matt’s mid-90’s dance album filler, and Robin’s effort floudering. Matt broke his duck with a de-facto win with a classic rock/hip-hop shouter, easily brushing aside a jazz “tune” and a post-rock “tune” – I don’t know which is worse, Ladies and Gentlemen – do you? So with it all to play for in the last round, with the scores neck and neck and neck at 1 all, Gren played his trump card, randomly selecting a song from The Frogs. A low tactic, frankly, but one which secured victory in this round.

“The players now go through to the drawing room the next round, and we’ll be there with full coverage. Back to you in the studio, Matt.”

*Not having heard of this group, at first I thought Can Pipe was the name of the band, and that they did covers of Can songs using pan pipes. Could be a goer!

DAP Wars

This entry has been hanging around since November 2006. Pathetic.

iPod Wars, DAP Wars, call them what you like, they weren’t just a New York fad. And it turns out a lot of people came up with the idea at around the same time. Now, I’m not making any claims to originality here, but it was created spontaneously one day in
early 2005.

As long as my friend Robin and I have had DAPs (iPod for me, Creative somethingorother for him) we’ve been playing a variant of this game. For us though, it’s not about a confrontational ‘face-off’ between strangers. It’s about a shared history, and overlapping tastes in music. Anyway, on to the rules…

The version of the game described in the Brooklyn Rail piece is a bit dubious really. After all, if someone suddenly shows you one cool song on their DAP, how do you know that isn’t the only cool song on the their DAP? The real test is what happens when you get them to skip to the next track – but by then they’ve hopped on the A-Train for a bagel or whatever.

The other version is more similar, but I think it’s a bit over-engineered. What I’m saying here is when we meet to peet a pint of black and suds, we play a few rounds while we pull the earbuds out and put the damn things away.

Anyway, now, definitely on to the rules…

Requirements: You both need a DAP (Digital Audio Player), or similar piece of glorious musical technology, with the ability to shuffle ALL the tracks on it. This is key.

  1. Both set your DAP to ‘shuffle all’ mode. Countdown, 3, 2, 1, press NEXT.
  2. Compare songs. This is where it gets tricky. I could bandy around words like “subjective”, “opinion” and so on, but what actually matters is “cool”.
  3. The coolest track wins. It’s up to you to decide, and it’s the fun bit.

It’s a bit like Paper, Scissors, Rock, except without the definitive win-lose rules, although some guidelines did emerge after playing for a while. These are not rules, as they depend on mood, and the phase of the moon.

  • Dollar’s ‘Hand Held in Black and White’ beats pretty much anything by Tortoise, or indeed anything.
  • Pretty much anything by The Frogs beats Dollar’s ‘Hand Held in Black and White’
  • Anything with brackets in the title automatically loses, except where this rule contradicts the rule about The Frogs (e.g. ‘I’ve Got Drugs (Out Of The Mist)’, ‘Men (Come On Men)’).

Do you see? Now go!

What Does 08 Hold For This Site?

This blog is at a turning point on a crossroads. For one thing, it really needs a change of design. I said I would change it back in (when?) after I met the person whose design I had originally nicked, so as not to be creepy. Plus I want to clean it up a bit, and make it more simple, in line with the principles of K.I.S.S.*

I also really need to catch up with some old entries which need writing up, although the term “writing up” implies an experiment or research project for which the notes now need to be massaged into a publishable journal entry. In fact they are the usual scrappy spikes of sudden output. But the fact that they are sitting in my email inbox waiting for me, taunting me, means I am less likely to actually do anything about them. I’m sure I’ll action them when I should be doing something else – always a giveaway. If you suddenly see a flurry of activity here, email me and tell me off for skipping the more important stuff. The fact that stuff waiting to be done prevents me from doing it due to guilt is a nasty little life hacking issue, which I won’t bore you any further with.

One reason I am loathe to dive into the backlog (Can you dive into a log? Only if you don’t look before you leap) is the awkward blogging tool I use. Blosxom is elegant, compact, simple and very sweet in the way it uses plain text files to store entries and the file system to represent categories. But this means it is rather awkward to create new entries, using a bolted-on entry box method, or accessing the files directly using FTP. I’m beginning to think that the ability to create and edit entries via a web interface with buttons for inserting link etc may be preferable now. It wasn’t when I started this, because I wanted it to be lean and efficient. But it’s now too much bother, and I just want it to work. Perhaps this is old age.

I have friends who use other blog engines. One uses a remote-hosted WordPress installation, another uses a self-hosted Movable Type install, others use Blogger, etc etc. I’m not keen on all my stuff being held on another site, and I rent this space, so why not use it? The self-hosted solutions often use MySQL, which is great and all, but it just seems like overkill for what I hope is just to be a load of text with links and images thrown in. I don’t have comments, although Blosxom is (kind of) capable or supporting them. Maybe I should. The other problem with Blosxom is the fact that support is now courtesy of a collection of users who often have different not-yet-officially-released versions and who write clever plug-ins to make it do what they want. I’ve used many of these plug-ins, and they work well, but I’m no longer inclined to give it the time and effort it requires to work smoothly.

I have PMWiki installed on my site. This is a nice flat-file (i.e. not MySQL-based) wiki (def link) system, which I have used amongst other things to collaborate on writing scripts, document my theatrical “career” and generally be a parietal disgorgement aid. There is a nice support network, based on an install of the wiki at the author’s site, and the software is current and supported by the author. There are plug-ins available to make the wiki act more like a blog, and there is also a lot of argument about whether this is desirable. I like the wiki advantages this offers, like easy creation of new pages (or blog entries?) simple syntax, and so on. But should I transfer all my old entries into it? Hmm.

I guess the biggest reason for the question mark hanging over the site is the fact that the same ‘?’ is hanging over me and my future as well. With a planned move to the US hopefully due in the next few months, a lot of things are due to change. For one thing, should I keep this domain name? I think I will, it’s a nice summing up of who I am. I, me, am a Petty, and I was bo-o-o-o-orn in the U-K, I was bo-o-o-o-orn in the U-K etc, innit, y’all.

*Knights In Satan’s Service. Wait, what?