Cthulhu eyes!

22 May 2009

For my Cthulhu mask/costume to progress I need to complete several components. One of these is the tentacles, another is the eyes. Well, until I find some surgical tubing, the tentacles are on hold. But the eyes I’ve got mostly under control.materialsFirst I got hold of some Das clay, some yellow fimo clay and a polystyrene egg shape in a local art shop coming to less than ten pounds, nice.

By hacking the egg in half I was able to produce two eye shapes or something vaguely suitable for an ancient fictional monstrosity to call eyes.

Next I wrapped the polystyrene shapes in clay to create little pots. removing-eggsFor those of you who don’t know, fimo clay needs to be baked in an oven for about half an hour to become solid. Not a problem, except that polystyrene transitions to glass at around ~95°C (if I understood Wikipedia's article correctly). So, a more hardy negative was required – clay seemed appropriate and I’ve plenty of pottery experience.

Ben-fimoOf course, removing the foam was tricky and in retrospect perhaps I should have used something like Vaseline on the eggs to prevent them getting quite so jammed in, but m’eh. Once the moulds were sufficiently dry (which took several days) I had to remove the shapes. Polystyrene cement melts expanded polystyrene, a fact I exploited to create grabbing points on the egg shapes, sadly destroying them.

But to hell with it, there’s no point crying over melted polystyrene, so on I went, shaping half the block of fimo into a layer to fill the mould. I was going to use less than the whole block but I felt strength was probably a better idea than saving it for later. One block and two moulds later, into the oven they went.

fimo-ovenHalf an hour later, additional cooling time and a lot of swearing and chipping later and the results were out (and the moulds left in usable but mildly damaged condition). A bit of clay residue remained on them but then my intellect wandered off for lunch.

As I sat there scraping at the residue with my stubbly, unshaven face, Midnight pointed out that it might just be easier to wash them. D’oh. Somewhere along the line I forgot that unfired clay can easily be broken down using water and a tiny amount of force.

finished-eyes(pic taken before I actually washed them)

With the eyes done, I’ve come one step closer to completing the head. Hopefully it’ll be epic when it’s done. I’m not certain whether I’m going to drill holes in the fimo shapes or have my own eyes use separate holes in the costume but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.    

Over the last week or so, exams aside, I’ve been trying to get the future ENTV site online. Drupal is the backbone as it’s something we at the NSS already use and is familiar both to myself and the Captain.

Drupal is, well, mostly good. There’s plenty it does quite well and plenty it utterly sucks at. For example, I can really easily add modules to it that do all sorts of things. Most of them not that well.

It does support blogs, feed aggregation and many other things, but most of them in the same way Linux supports high-end video editing. Yeah, it can be done, but it’s not easy or pleasant.

So, next comes the site construction. Thankfully it’s increasingly becoming the case that I don’t need to build things from scratch. Adobe Flash makes embedding video or audio a doddle, Feedburner and RSS feeds makes it easy to embed blogs and then there’s a few other things.

The other things are the problem. Twitter is causing me no end of headaches. I currently don’t use Twitter, although I may in future (if I ever get this bloody site working) but I can see a use for it in ENTV. Whilst I can’t imagine our viewers and society members give a rat’s arse about what Chris is having for lunch (soup, incidentally), I can see them being interested in the progress of the week’s episode or what a particular channel is up to.

In order to create Twitter feeds for any given topic we’re using “hash tags”. Any time someone “tweets” something with a hashtag in, it can be grouped and syndicated. In plainer English that means any time any of us are talking about the society in a twitter update, if we append #entv it’ll appear in the #entv hashtag feed.

So on each channel’s page One would see something like this:

Title

Twitter updates

Blog

About the segment

To put that into an example:

A Grand Day Out

#agdo twitter feed

Feed from Blogger account

Blurb about A Grand Day Out

Geddit?

The current stumbling block is the Twitter feed. What I need to achieve is as follows:

  1. Pull the latest, say, 10 messages from Twitter’s Atom or RSS feed.
  2. Parse the XML and grab the description text, author and time of posting
  3. Output those three variables for each into a list in HTML

Depending on your perspective and knowledge, that might sound tough or easy. From what I understand, it should be a walk in the park for any vaguely competent coder. Well, let’s not beat about the bush – any coder brighter than a potato should be able to hack together something rough to do the job.

Sadly I’m not a coder, I simply cannot get my head around PHP, JavaScript or even CSS to anything more than a meagre degree.

Twitter provide “badges” that do a reasonable job of syndicating a user’s (*shudder*) “tweets”. Yeah, great. So why are there none for hashtags?

You see, the issue with most feed aggregation scripts I can get my hands on is this – they don’t allow me to choose which variables to output. Instead they try to be helpful by throwing away all the options I might want to tweak. Just because Apple do it doesn’t mean everyone else should.

Twitter messages are so short that both the title and description are the same text, the title simply has the addition of linking back to the original page. Given that twitter posts often contain links, this would mean our users would have to first click on the link, get taken to a different site and view the message in its natural habitat, then click the link there. Additionally, perhaps Twitter uses a non-standard “author” variable, but I’m fairly sure it doesn’t. Apparently most aggregation script writers don’t care who wrote the items they’re helping the syndication of.

Feedburner was able to do a reasonable job and for a short while I was happy. Then I realised that it would only update every half hour or so, sometimes longer. Given the immediate nature of Twitter, that was of no use to me. When a message is sent it should appear. Either instantly for preference or within five minutes.

So, this leaves me trying in vain to find a coder who can bash out a script for parsing Atom/RSS into HTML. Please, someone – help me.

This is just a quick update to say - “Sorry an update is coming.”

Why would I deem to say that? Well, it’s simple, I’ve been working on the eyes for my Cthulhu costume and I’m using clay for the moulds. It’s still bloody drying! As soon as it’s dry, an update is coming, as I now have most of the required materials for the costume. Except surgical tubing.

Someone, bring me surgical tubing!

It’s been a week since I last update my blog, something I feel vaguely annoyed at myself for but not massively so.

beboI’ve been looking over Facebook and seeing how little it varies from Bebo. I still have a Bebo account but rarely use it simply because it’s hardly in use any more. What I see when I look over the Facebook update page is just the same as Bebo though – people saying things that are barely funny, results from whatever lame quiz they’ve just taken and the odd photo.

I’m very glad that my content is hosted on independent sites as I imagine it’ll only be a matter of time before the status quo shifts away from Facebook and to something else. I’ve seen a lot of people using Twitter but, frankly, I cannot see any use for it on a personal level. In terms of as an element in a project I see plenty of uses for it, but other than that.. Well you’re just not that interesting to read about. I do plenty of interesting things but my Twitter feed would be fairly tedious to read unless it was focussed on something like working at the Falconry Festival.

The Captain insists that it’s useful for sharing links but I myself can’t see why I would do that. If I find a link I think is worth sharing I’ve usually got a very narrow audience in mind for it, so I share it with them either via MSN or by posting it on Wooden Dice.

I guess what I’m trying to express is a general frustration with current popular social networking systems as they seem to encourage those around me to do a lot of talking without saying anything. I’ve started hiding people who I don’t feel like deleting but who never say anything interesting.

A particularly tedious addition to Facebook is the fact that when one of my friends writes on someone else’s wall, it shows up as an update for me. Not a notification, but it does still clutter up my Facebook homepage. If it was directed towards me then it would have been written on MY wall, wouldn’t it?

The number of people that keep showing up as “Perhaps you know this person?” annoys me too. People I’ve not spoken to in years appear in it and sometimes add me (and then proceed to not say anything). If it’s been this many years without me speaking to them, perhaps I didn’t really want to speak to them –it’s not like it’s hard to find people in this day and age (unless they’re actively trying to stay hidden).

Finally, people on social networks still do that “in a relationship with” with friends, making the information useless. Perhaps I’m alone in thinking this is ridiculously lame, but being in the minority has rarely discouraged me in this life.

A Checklist For A Man

03 May 2009

I was considering a vague concept earlier, remembering my father playing his acoustic guitar when I was a little boy. What do I feel a man should be able to do? What kind of checklist could I write?

Either way, it wouldn’t be exhaustive, but it might be a fun little thing to bash out whilst trying to clear my head. Like now. I can’t do all these things, although I feel I should be able to. There’s much more I’d like to add but it’ll have to be a follow-up entry.

  • Be able to make conversation in any given scenario.
  • Be able to discuss the merits of any given film, theatrical production or art gallery.
  • Be able to dress and be comfortable in casual wear, smart casual, business wear, black tie and white tie.
  • Be able to tie both a necktie and a bowtie without assistance.
  • Be able to polish black shoes or boots to an acceptable shine.
  • Be able to sew to at least a basic degree and make basic repairs to garments as necessary.
  • Be able to play at least one instrument to a passable degree.
  • Be able to speak at least one language beyond his native tongue.
  • Be able to dance in suitable styles to suite the following scenarios - formal, casual structured and casual freestyle.
  • Be able to shuffle cards and know the rules to at least two kinds of poker.
  • Be able to paint any reasonably sized room without causing damage to its contents.
  • Be able to choose a wine from any given wine list to suit a scenario.
  • Be able to select and drink coffee, wine and whiskey.
  • Be able to select and drink at least two kinds of beer.
  • Be able to select a gift for any given recipient or price range.
  • Be able to cook several levels of food in order to cater to various scenarios such as dinner parties, breakfast, lunch or moderate catering duties.
  • Be able to write a letter of recommendation.
  • Be able to prepare and deliver a presentation without appearing outwardly nervous or unnerved.
  • Be able to admit when he has been proven wrong.
  • Be able to deal with problems as they arise, rather than panicking.
  • Be able to be seen as a positive role model.