Santa Texts

The jolly old elf is updating his tech profile.

There are lots of ways to celebrate the Christmas season. I, personally, start listening to Christmas music far too early. I may not decorate until after Thanksgiving, but Christmas music makes me happy, and we seem to be in short supply of that thanks to the current political and economic climate. My wife loves all the holiday movies, especially the Biblical movies. (Of course, she loves the Easter ones as much as the Christmas ones, if not more.) And, we both enjoy watching the classics. Later in the month, I’ll link to the NORAD Santa Tracker, as I have for many years, so you can track Santa’s path with your kids. But, before we get too much farther into the season, let me share with you a new, free, service, via Lifehacker; Santa’s Text List.
Just fill out the short form and you’ll get regular texts from Santa, with increasing frequency as Christmas fast approaches, that are suited to the child, adult or senior of your choice, and who’s cell number you’re willing to put into the form.
The service, sponsored by SlickText, says that they won’t use this information to try and sell you anything or send spam texts to your phone after the season ends, but I haven’t actually verified that through empirical testing, so, you’re taking a chance there. If you try the service, let me know in the comments how it works out.

And, brace yourself for a very, merry Christmas season!

Security Tags

I sort of hate “Black Friday”.

Yes, I have given into the base consumerism of the so-called holiday, even though it goes against so much of what I believe is important in life, and even though it follows Thanksgiving, a day meant to remind us of all we have for which to be actually thankful. Still, it’s a reality. It’s a thing that’s going to happen. Even I will call up Bell’s Farm to Market and order up my Northern family’s Christmas gifts to have them delivered. I do that mostly out of nostalgia, because I have fond memories of my uncle in Florida who would send fresh fruit for Christmas every year. Back in those days, it was a real treat to get fresh oranges in December. Not just because things like that cost more when I was a kid, but, honestly, in retrospect, because I think money was pretty tight for my parents and having food sent for Christmas was a real help no matter what it was. Of course, not getting rickets was a real bonus, too. So, I send that stuff now, not because anyone I send it to is hurting for it, but because it reminds me of a favorite great uncle and, I hope, reminds my siblings of him, too.

But, of course, you, dear readers, are not here to read my maudlin holiday remembrances. You’re here for your Friday link! And, boy, do I have a doozy for you. Now, before I share it, let me say that I do NOT endorse theft of any kind, least of all from retailers this time of year. However, if you’re out in the mad dash of Black Friday spending and somehow spend your hard-earned cash on clothes that some poor, harried, over-worked and under-paid sales clerk accidentally doesn’t remove the anti-theft dye tag from before hustling you out the door, this link is for you. Brought to you via BoingBoing, here’s the Lockpicking Lawyer, on how to remove an inventory control tag. So, if you somehow bypass the shitty security these tags provide and get out of the store with one still on your new shirt or pants or whatever, now you can most likely remove it without having to face the snarling mob at the store.
But, again, not advocating this as a way to steal anything from the stores on the busiest shopping day of the year, when security and store personnel will be stretched thin. Honestly, if you absolutely must buy things on Black Friday, do it on-line and avoid the crowds.

Most of all, though, enjoy your family this holiday season and focus on what really matters; them.

Procedural Fun

posted in: Art, Fun | 1

I like my fun to be automatic, free and semi-random.

Way back in the day, I was ahead of the curve on autogenerated “stuff”. In my case, it was semi-random language generation that I ran over on Fantasist.net. Let me tell you, back when I started doing it, I took an incredible amount of flack from the constructed language people for automating any part of the language creation process. Now, of course, there are plenty of the youngsters out there doing it, but it wasn’t always like that. I’m grateful they are though, because my stuff wasn’t programmed all that cleanly and got used so hard it used to crash the servers at my hosting company.
But, other than taking a moment to self-aggrandize, I only bring it up because I love that kind of automated fun. And, to me, that absolutely is fun. I love random generators, which you can still see on the Fantasist.net World Building page, but, since I’m a frustrated writer, all my work deals with text. This week, I’m bringing you something a bit more interesting. First, there’s the Medieval Fantasy City Generator, which, as you may have guessed, randomly generates a pretty good, albeit simple, city map for your stories or adventures. It’s quick, and detailed enough, but loads of fun. The programmer, Watabou, as they’re known on /r/proceduralgeneration at Reddit, has actually made several related generator toys like this. My other favorite is the One-Page Dungeon. It’s a neat, little dungeon that’s perfect for a quick FRPG adventure, if you’re so inclined. And, I thought, with the holidays nearly upon us, that friends gathering with limited time, might like such a thing to game with. Also? They’re just fun to look at. At least, if you’re an old game geek like me.

So, there you are, just some quick, procedurally generated fun on the Friday before Thanksgiving!
And, be sure to check out the other stuff Watabou has shared, too! There are some fun, free games as well.
Enjoy!

Talking Dog

posted in: Fun | 1

Hey, that dog can talk!

Okay, so not literally, but pretty close.
I have a friend who has this idea he calls “the talking dog theory”. It goes like this. Dog lovers talk to their dogs as if they’re people who might answer back. And, what if those dogs could talk back? Would we care what the dog said? Or would we be so amazed to get a response that we’d sit with rapt fascination, thinking, “How incredible! This animal can talk!” So, what if we applied that to people in a meeting that were annoying us with the banalities? Instead of getting annoyed with them, maybe we should simply be amazed that that animal can talk!
Well, amusing anecdotes aside, what I have for you this week is an actual talking dog, sort of. I’ve seen this multiple places, but I’m sharing the link from BestLife, about Stella the “talking” dog. Stella’s owner is Christina Hunger who is a speech pathologist. She made Stella a “sound board” with some common words that her darling doggie might want to know, like “out” and “ball” and “play”. Then she set about teaching Stella what the buttons all met. Now, Stella uses the sound board to “talk” to her owner and tell Ms. Hunger what she wants. The video is pretty remarkable.

Honestly, though, I don’t think I want to give my two dogs any more encouragement to try and tell me what they want. Lily would always be hitting the buttons for “hungry – feed – me” and Penny would be always asking for “out – squirrel” or “rub – tummy”. And I know what they want already.
In any case, great videos and fun, even if you’re not a dog lover! Though if you’re not a dog lover, I’m not sure I’d care for your opinion anyway.

Enjoy!

Like The First Time

posted in: Fun | 0

When was that word first used?

When I was in High School, I remember being fascinated by the idea that James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon was so popular that his invented paradise, Shangra La, entered into the public consciousness and common usage. That may have been the first time I realized the power that an author may wield. And, here’s the thing, that happens more than we realize. I think we’re taught that English is this monolithic thing that is static and fixed, but it’s not. It’s not at all. New words are being added to our cultural vocabulary all the time. Eventually, they get added to the dictionary, mostly as a recognition of language that’s already in use. Sometimes, though, we can know who coined a term, and when they did it, like “cyberspace”. That was first used by William Gibson in a short story titled “Burning Chrome”, published in Omni Magazine in 1982. That story, along with Frank Herbert’s Dune are what made me want to be a writer, before paying bills drowned that creative impulse almost completely.
But, all that aside, my point is, every year, writers add to our English vocabulary. Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler can tell you what new words were added in what year. Go, look. Even if you don’t find it as inspiring as I do, it is occasionally fascinating to know how long some common words have been in use. For some it’s longer than we realize, but for others, it’s not as long as you might suppose!

What makes a safer knife?

A sharp knife is a safe knife.

I know that doesn’t seem to follow, but, trust me, it’s true. When I was in Boy Scouts, one of the many things I learned is that a sharp knife is actually safer than a dull knife. A sharp knife is less likely to snag and jump when you make a cut, and therefore, less likely to get out of your control when using it. Also, a sharp knife takes less effort to use, which also makes it easier to control. But, if you should mess up and have an accident, a sharp knife makes a cleaner cut. Trust me on this; clean cuts heal faster and better than messy, jagged cuts. I have plenty of both kinds to know the truth of that!
I bring this up because two of the holidays most focused around food and, therefore, the kitchen are just around the corner; Thanksgiving and Christmas. I fully expect that most of my readers, few of you as there may be, will find themselves in the kitchen carving a turkey, a goose, a ham or some other delicious and festive meat product. That means, gentle readers, that there will be knives. And, if you’re like most people that means a carving knife that you likely haven’t used since last year at least. So, before you grab for that dull, under-used blade, now would be a great time to sharpen it. Not sure how? Well, thanks to our friends at Boing Boing, I have a link to a video on the basics of knife sharpening. It’s about 30 minutes, which is probably a bit longer than is strictly necessary, but it covers pretty much everything. They even have links there for whetstones of progressing fineness of grit to really get a good edge on that carving knife. The one criticism I have from my time in Boy Scouts is that the video shows him drawing the blade toward his body and in short strokes. I was taught it should *always* be sharpened *away* from the body and I was also taught to use the longer strokes he uses for the last phase of sharpening. But, I will say, his technique of using a sharpie to see where you’ve sharpened is pretty smart. Though, I’d have use the acetone over the sink, not my whetstones. And, after going through all the trouble of sharpening the knife and all, when you wash the acetone off, do it by hand. Dishwashers tend to dull knives because of all the banging around that happens.
So, you’ve got plenty of time and few excuses! Go sharpen up before it’s time to carve the turkey!

NaNoWriMo 2019

posted in: Art, NaNoWriMo | 0

Start writing now!

Although I won’t be participating again this year, I do want to remind everyone who might be interested, that NaNoWriMo starts RIGHT NOW! If you’ve ever had the urge to write a novel, this is the month to give it a shot. Started as kind of dare in 1999, the goal is to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in one month. It’s not easy, but it is doable. In fact, there are some notable novels that came out of NaNoWriMo, including The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which sold so well it was even adapted into a movie. So, your dreams can come true, but you have to start writing.

Good luck!

The Horror of Corporate Life

posted in: Art, Fun | 1

Literally, horror rooted in corporate life.

On a bad day or week, the endless, repetitive drudgery of corporate life can seem like an endless horror story. I mean, we’ve all felt that from time to time, right? And, for those of us who seem to work harder and harder for less and less return, it can sometimes feel like there’s some hidden class of people, a separate breed in a way, that get ahead regardless of their work ethic. When we’re faced with the occasionally terrifying idea that the eldritch horror of our jobs may be something that no one else understands, well, it’s easy to think the corporate world may be some kind of cthonian conspiracy.
At least, this short film Corporate Monster seems to agree. And, it’s a fantastic way to celebrate both Halloween and your corporate servitude.
Enjoy!

AI Art Generator

posted in: Art, Fun, Fun and Games, The Tools | 1

Surrealism at its most tech?

Maybe.
Artificial intelligence is all the rage these days, especially the newish “generative adversarial network” variety. Generative adversarial networks, or “GANs”, really came to public attention, and mine, with the This Person Does Not Exist website that generates uncomfortably believable portraits based on machine learning through observation of other photos. It’s fascinating, but also a little disturbing.
Now, with the same technology, you can make art that is unique and based on computer generated output from a GAN at Artbreeder. Artbreeder makes more than portraits and can generate landscapes, creatures, albums covers and, yes, portraits. It can be totally random, or you can combine things from a list of photos or, for some options, change settings to effect the outcomes. It is free, but you’ll have to make an account that’s connected to an email address. And, you’re restricted to 25 downloads. The landscapes and portraits are the best, though, if you’re wanting to make a kind of abstract monster, that comes out well, too. You can see some of the things I’ve created at my profile page, but I definitely encourage you to set up a free account and play with it yourself.
It’s a fun, if surreal, way to waste a little time on a Friday afternoon.
Enjoy!

Paint Simulation

posted in: Art, Fun | 1

I love free, weird, art-related stuff on the internet.

As you might have guessed since I share it here incessantly. Maybe it’s got to do with the fact that I was always encouraged to be practical as a kid. Or maybe it’s that I somehow ended up befriended by the world-renown artist, Mark Flood, who constantly encourages my crazier and more creative impulses. Either way, I’m always on the lookout for an art-related time-waster for a Friday afternoon when I should be working.
So, this week, before I share my artistic distraction, let me remind you that I was never a painter and am an absolute clumsy oaf. But, I never let that stand in the way of having fun with art, and neither should you. So, thanks to Boing Boing and David Li, I share with you “paint”. It’s a pretty incredible paint simulator that really gets a good, wet, well, painterly look to it. I felt like the brushes were hard to control and the overlapping paint was a bit of a mess, but that makes it the perfect thing to kill time without getting too serious about an end product. And, to me, an absolutely fun way to spend a few minutes on a Friday afternoon.
Enjoy!

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