Purple Tentacle

There are some things that influenced us over time. I’ve never played a lot of computer games. But I’ve played adventure games. Most notably those of LucasArts.

The “Day of the Tentacle” – being the sequel to “Maniac Mansion” – was one adventure game that I have a lot of great memories of. I have played it through a lot of times since it’s release.

At the beginning of the game the main villain (the purple tentacle) of the game is making a statement:

Bernard: Ok, you’re free to go.
Green Tentacle: Thanks Bernard!
Purple Tentacle: Yes, thank you, naive human! Now I can finish taking over the world! Ha ha ha!
Green Tentacle: Wait!
Bernard: Oh, yeah. Now I remember. He’s incredibly evil, isn’t he?
Green Tentacle: Uh… I’ll try to talk him out of it.

LucasArts (June 1993). Day of the TentacleDOS.

And because of his aspiration to take over the world the picture of the scene this is being said ended up as my phones unlock screen background (and if lots of other places) ever since.

With the help of the internet, you can have it on yours as well. And since screen resolutions improve over time, have it in timeless vectors:

vectorialized by Chalda Pnuzig

The vectorized purple tentacle above has been kindly provided by: Chalda Pnuzig

archive your slice of the web

Many use and love archive.org. A service that roams the public internet and archives whatever it finds. It even creates timelines of websites so you can dive right into history.

Have a piece of history right here:

You can have something similar hosted in your own environment. There are numerous open source projects dedicated to this archival purpose. One of them is ArchiveBox.

ArchiveBox takes a list of website URLs you want to archive, and creates a local, static, browsable HTML clone of the content from those websites (it saves HTML, JS, media files, PDFs, images and more).

I’ve done my set-up of ArchiveBox with the provided Dockerfile. Every once in a while it will start the docker container and check my Pocket feed for any new bookmarks. If found it will then archive those bookmarks.

As the HTML as well as PDF and Screenshot is saved this is extremely useful for later look-ups and even full-text search indexing.

Only in Japan

When you are searching the internet for more information and things to learn about Japan you will inevitably also find John Daub and his “Only in Japan” productions. And that is a good thing!

ONLY in JAPAN is a series produced in Tokyo by one-man band John Daub.  

Only in Japan Patreon page

Back in 2018 we even where around when John announced that he is going to live-stream.

And so we met up with him and eventually even said “Hi”.

this is John in full gear

Of course it wasn’t just us who got a good picture. We were part of the live stream as well – involuntarily as we had tried very hard to not be in frame.

Video Game History

Have you ever asked yourself what those generations coming after us will know about what was part of our culture when we grew up? As much as computers are a part of my story a bit of gaming also is.

From games on tape to games on floppy disks to CDs to no-media game streaming it has been quite a couple of decades. And with the demise of physical media access to the actual games will become harder for those games never delivered outside of online platforms. Those platforms will die. None of them will remain forever.

Hardware platforms follow the same logic: Today it’s the new hype. Tomorrow the software from yesterday won’t be supported by hardware and/or operating systems. Everything is in constant flux.

Emulation is a great tool for many use-cases. But it probably won’t solve all challenges. Preserving access to software and the knowledge around the required dependencies is the mission of the Video Game History Foundation.

Video game preservation matters because video games matter. Games are deeply ingrained in our culture, and they’re here to stay. They generated an unprecedented $91 billion dollars in revenue in 2016. They’re being collected by the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Library of Congress. They’ve inspired dozens of feature films and even more books. They’re used as a medium of personal expression, as the means for raising money for charity, as educational tools, and in therapy.
And yet, despite all this, video game history is disappearing. The majority of games that have been created throughout history are no longer easily accessible to study and play. And even when we can play games, that playable code is only a part of the story.

Video Game History Foundation

How to design a Transit Map

We’ve all used them. And if they are made well they really make life easier: Transit Maps.

Apart from using transit map art style to visualize a train line transit maps can be applied to a lot of data visualization needs.

Take time to consider everything about your diagram. How thick do you want the route lines to be? Are they touching, or is there a slight gap between them? Are you going to use curves or straight edges where a line changes direction? Consider your station markers – will they be ticks, dots or something else? Think about how you would like to differentiate interchange stations or transit centres as well. Consider the typeface you’re going to use for station names – it should be legible and simple. When you’ve considered all these points, you’ve given yourself a set of rules that you will use to construct the diagram. Every design decision you make should be evaluated against these rules: sometimes, you can break them if needed, but it definitely helps to have them in your head as you work.

Tutorial: How to design a Transit Map

all macOS wallpapers in 5k

Every major version of Mac OS X macOS has come with a new default wallpaper. As you can see, I have collected them all here.
While great in their day, the early wallpapers are now quite small in the world of 5K displays.
Major props to the world-class designer who does all the art of Relay FM, the mysterious @forgottentowel, for upscaling some of these for modern screens.

https://512pixels.net/projects/default-mac-wallpapers-in-5k/

hyper-realistic japanese train

There are some things that, when looked at closely, just amaze you. This picture was like that for me:

I stumbled on this picture on Twitter. At first it looks like your average japanese train. With the blue seat cushions. The adverts and hand rails. All normal, right?

If you read the text or start to zoom in you will find that this is not a picture taken with a camera. This is a drawing.

This visual art is called Hyperrealism and it takes a lot of dedication and skill when done free-hand.

The artist had posted this picture on his Twitter feed. He explains that he had drawn it whilst commuting on the train over the course of a month. He used an iPad Pro and MediBang Paint. Of course he also names the train-type: Tobu Series 5050 used by the Tobu line in the greater Tokyo area.

blocking ads and promotions on twitter

When a group of people with the same problem meets, they work together and sometimes do an experiment.

Nobody likes ads or “promotional content”.

At some point Twitter chose to push ads in the official Twitter client into every timeline and decided to make them look like normal timeline content.

It did not take long for a group of people that do not like that to meet and join forces: Since about a week now a very small group of people has taken their Twitter block lists and merged them using the Block Together service.

This experiment great since it’s completely effortless. You link your block lists once and from thereon you keep using Twitter like you always did. Whenever you see a paid promotion you “block it”. Everybody from thereon will not see promotions and timeline entries from this specific Twitter user (unless you would actively follow them).

17326 accounts blocked! Wow! I started with about 3500 before merging with others.

And the effect after about a week is just great! I cannot see a downside so far but the amount of promotion content on my timeline has shrunk to a degree where I do not see any at all.

This is a great way to get rid of content you’ve never wanted and focus on the information you want.

the interesting bit about googles game streaming

In 2012 I’ve experienced streamed game play for the first time. I was a beta-user of the OnLive service which created a bit of fuzz back then.

Last week Google had announced to step into the game streaming business as well. They’ve announce Google Stadia as the Google powered game streaming platform. It would come with it’s own controller.

3 color variants

And this controller is the most interesting bit. We have seen video live streaming. We have seen and played streamed games. But every time we needed some piece of software or hardware that brought screen, controller and player together.

The Google Stadia controllers now do not connect to the screen in front of you. The screen, by all it knows, just shows a low-latency video/audio stream.

The controller connects to your wifi and directly to the game session. Everything you input with the controller will be directly sent to the Google Stadia session in a Google datacenter. No dedicated console hardware in between. And this will make a huge difference. Because all of a sudden the screen only is a screen. And the controller will connect to the “cloud-console” far-far away. As if it was sitting right below the screen. This will make a huge difference!

Digital Daily Routine as an Experiment – “Digitaler Alltag als Experiment”

Last week we were approached by Prof. Dr. Nicole Zillien from Justus-Liebig-University in Gießen/Germany. She explained to us that she currently is working on a book.

In this book an empirical analysis is carried out on “quantified-self” approaches to real life problems.

With the lot of information and data we had posted on our personal website(s) like this blog and the “loosing weight” webpage apparently we qualified for being mentioned. We were asked if it would be okay to be named in the book or if we wanted to be pseudonymized.

Since everything we have posted online and which is publicly accessible right now can and should be quoted we were happy to give a go-ahead. We’re publishing things because we want it to spur further thoughts.

It will be out at the end of 2019 / beginning of 2020. As soon as it is out we hope to have a review copy to talk about it in this blog once again.

We do not know what exactly is being written and linked to us – we might as well end up as the worst example of all time. But well, then there’s something to learn in that as well.

css font-feature “tnum”

Oh this is so useful for my head-up-display prototype implementation:

This feature replaces numeral glyphs set on glyph-specific (proportional) widths with corresponding glyphs set on uniform (tabular) widths. Note that some fonts may contain tabular figures by default, in which case enabling this feature may not appear to affect the width of glyphs.

tabular figures: tnum

proper links when printing out the internet

Cascading Style Sheets or CSS in short are a very powerful tool to control how content is being displayed.

CSS is designed to enable the separation of presentation and content, including layout, colors, and fonts. This separation can improve content accessibility, provide more flexibility and control in the specification of presentation characteristics, enable multiple web pages to share formatting by specifying the relevant CSS in a separate .css file, and reduce complexity and repetition in the structural content.
Separation of formatting and content also makes it feasible to present the same markup page in different styles for different rendering methods, such as on-screen, in print, by voice (via speech-based browser or screen reader), and on Braille-based tactile devices. CSS also has rules for alternate formatting if the content is accessed on a mobile device.

Wikipedia

So with CSS you can differentiate between target audiences. It gives you control over the output being rendered for specific render targets.

I frequently come across content I want to read. And almost as frequently I do not have time for a longer read when I come across interesting content.

My workflow for this is: keeping some to-be-read backlog of PDF files I have printed from websites. These PDF files are automatically synced to various devices and I can read them at a later stage.

What often is frustrating to see: bad the print results of website layouts as these websites have not even thought of the remote option of being printed.

With this blog I want to support any workflow and first and foremost my own. Therefore printing this blog adds some print-audience specifics.

For example the links I am using in the articles are usually inline when you are using a browser. When you’re printing the article those links get converted and are being written out with the text. So you can have them in your print-outs without loosing information.

this is how Google Chrome shows you the print preview…

And the changes you need to apply to any webpage to instantly enable this are very simple as well! Just add this to your page stylesheet:

@media print {
a {
text-decoration: none;
}
a::after {
content: "( " attr(href) " )";
margin-left: 0.2em;
text-decoration: underline;
}
}

something is coming up…

Since 2011 we’ve got this Boogie Board in the household. It’s simply a passive LCD panel on which you can write with a plastic pen. When you do you’re interacting with the liquid crytals and you switch their state. So what was black becomes white.

So we got this tablet and it’s magnetically pinned to our fridge. And whenever we’ve booked the next trip we’re crossing off days by coloring them in a grid.

How do you do such countdowns?

Twitter Blocklists

My usual twitter use looks like this: I am scrolling through the timeline reading up things and I see an ad. I click block and never again will I see anything from this advertiser. As I’ve written here earlier.

As Twitter is also a place of very disturbing content there are numerous services built around the official block list functionality. One of those services is “Block Together“.

Block Together is designed to reduce the burden of blocking when many accounts are attacking you, or when a few accounts are attacking many people in your community. It uses the Twitter API. If you choose to share your list of blocks, your friends can subscribe to your list so that when you block an account, they block that account automatically. You can also use Block Together without sharing your blocks with anyone.

blocktogether.org

I’ve signed up and apparently this is as easy as it gets when you want to share block lists.

There seem to be more people that use Twitter like I do. For example Volker Weber wrote about his handling of “promoted content”.

My block list on Twitter currently includes 1881 accounts and these are only accounts that put paid promotions without my request into my timeline.

I’ve read that Volker has such a long list as well – maybe it’s worth sharing as Volker is one person I would trust on his decisions for such a list. (vowe is a good mother!)

how do you organize your tasks?

For about 2 years now I am using Todoist as my main task management / todo-list service.

This lead to a lot of interesting statistics and usage patterns as this service seems to integrate oh-so-nicely into a lot of daily tasks.

What kind of integration is it? Glad you asked!

At first we were using all sorts of different ways to manage task lists across the family with the main lists around everything evolved being the personal tasks and todos of each family member as well as the obvious groceries shopping list.

We’ve been happy customers of Wunderlist before but then Microsoft bought it and announced they will shut it down soon and replace it with “Todo” out of Office 365. Not being an Office 365 customer did lead to a dead-end on this path.

And then Amazon Alexa showed up and we wanted to naturally use those assistants around the house to add things to shopping and todo lists right away. Unfortunately neither Wunderlist nor the intermediate solution Toodledo were integrated with Alexa.

Then there suddenly was a window of opportunity We wanted Alexa integration and at least all the features we knew from Wunderlist and Toodledo and Todoist delivered right out of the box.

It takes todos and shopping items from Alexa, through the website, through Apps, Siri can use it and in general it’s well integrated with lots of services around. You can even send it eMails! Also we’ve never experienced syncing issues whatsoever.

And it’s the little things that really make a difference. Like that Chrome browser integration above.

You see that “Add website as task”? Yes it does exactly what you would expect. Within Chrome and two clicks you’ve added the current website URL and title as a task to any of your lists in Todoist. I’ve never been a fan of favourites / bookmarks in browsers. Because I usually do not store any history or bookmarks for longer. But I always need to add that website to a list to work through later the day. I used to send myself eMails with those links but with this is a much better solution to keep track of those links and not have them pile up over a long time.

What’s also very nice is the way Todoist generates statistics and tracks your progress over time. There’s a system in Todoist called “Karma”.

Which allows you to marvel at your progress and sun yourself in the immense productivity you’ve shown.

But hey – there’s actual value coming from this. Like if you do it for a year or two you get such nice statistics which show how you did structure your day and how you might be able to improve. Look at a simple yearly graph of how many tasks have been completed at specific times of the day.

So when most people in the office spend their time on lunch breaks I usually complete the most tasks from my task list. Also I am quite early in “before the crowd” and it shows. Lots of stuff done then.

And improvements also show. On a yearly base you can see for example how many tasks you did postpone / re-schedule when. Like those Mondays which are currently the days most tasks get postponed. What to do about that?

I see artificial people

When people think of artificial intelligence, AI, they think of Alexa, Siri, Google Home and self-driving cars.

When an AI dreams of humans it dreams up their faces. No really.

Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) are a relatively new concept in Machine Learning, introduced for the first time in 2014. Their goal is to synthesize artificial samples, such as images, that are indistinguishable from authentic images. A common example of a GAN application is to generate artificial face images by learning from a dataset of celebrity faces. 

Style-based GANs – Generating and Tuning Realistic Artificial Faces

This is some highly impressive stuff given that the system does produce fairly believable results without lots of distortions. You can see some distortions if you click on the image below and keep refreshing. Evertime it will generate a new face for you…

You definitely will not know this person:

a new header

I had redone the header of this blog a while ago but since I was trying around some things on the template I wanted something more dynamic but without any additional dependencies.

So I searched and found:

Tim Holman did a very nice implementation of this “worm generator” with only using the HTML5 canvas tag and some math. I made some very slight changes and integrated it into the header graphic. It will react to your mouse movement and resets if you click anywhere. Give it a go!

“kachung” + shutter sound

When you take a picture with an iPhone these days it does generate haptic feedback – a “kachung” you can feel. And a shutter sound.

Thankfully the shutter sound can be disabled in many countries. I know it can’t be disabled on iPhones sold in Japan. Which kept me from buying mine in Tokyo. Even when you switch the regions to Europe / Germany it’ll still produce the shutter sound.

Anyway: With my iPhone, which was purchased in Germany, I can disable the shutter sound. But it won’t disable the haptic “kachung”.

look ma! no mirror! (yes this is an iPhone 6)

It’s interesting that Apple added this vibration to the activity of taking a picture. Other camera manufactures go out of their way to decouple as much vibration as possible even to the extend that they will open the shutter and mirror in their DSLRs before actually making the picture – just so that the vibration of the mirror movement and shutter isn’t inducing vibrations to the act of taking the picture.

With mirror less cameras that vibration is gone. But now introduced back again?

Am I the only one finding this strange?

testing video

One thing I cannot do without linking to external sources or having control over the content storage is to have videos here on the pages.

There are a couple of options to achieve this and I am evaluating some of them right now. The goal is very clear:

  • no external links
  • no external resources embedded or included
  • 720p/1080p/2160p quality levels, ideally with bandwidth scaling

So let’s see some options tried out:

720p
1080p
2160p

celebrate the discordian holyday: Chaoflux

allow me to explain by quoting wikipedia:

Dicordianism is a paradigm based upon the book Principia Discordia, written by Greg Hill with Kerry Wendell Thornley in 1963, the two working under the pseudonyms Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst.

According to its primary historian, Adam Gorightly, Discordianism was founded as a parody religion. Many outside observers still regard Discordianism as a parody religion, although some of its adherents may utilize it as a legitimate religion or as a metaphor for a governing philosophy.


The Principia Discordia, if read literally, encourages the worship of Eris, known in Latin as Discordia, the goddess of disorder, or archetypes and ideals associated with her. Depending on the version of Discordianism, Eris might be considered the goddess exclusively of disorder or the goddess of disorder and chaos.

Both views are supported by the Principia Discordia. The Principia Discordia holds three core principles: the Aneristic (order), the Eristic (disorder), and the notion that both are mere illusions.

Due to these principles, a Discordian believes there is no distinction between disorder and chaos, since the only difference between the two is that one refers to ‘order’.

This is likely a major reason for the inconsistency in the wording. An argument presented by the text is that it is only by rejecting these principles that you can truly perceive reality as it is, chaos.

wikipedia

And given that information you can expect a discordian calendar to exist. This calendar defines years (YOLD = year of our lady of discord) and seasons and days. And holydays:

Chaosflux is a Holyday of the season of Chaos. It is celebrated on Chaos 50 (Discordian calendar) or February 19 (Gregorian calendar).

Very little is known about this holyday. What we do know is pretty much made up as we go along.

discordia wikia GFDL

So now back to the holyday itself. How would you celebrate such a distinguished day?

I will use the services of theuselessweb.com to click 5 times on their most interesting button and then meditate on what comes up:

active noise cancellation does not suck on your eardrums

If you ever traveled on a train or plane with good active noise cancellation headphones you might agree how much more pleasant the trip was with much less noise reaching your ears.

When I tried active noise cancellation for the first time I had that weird sensation as if the pressure around suddenly changed. Like being in a very fast elevator or going for a quick dive. It felt weird but luckily it went away and the aww of joy replaced it. Quietness. Bliss.

Now there seem to be people for whom that feeling won’t go away. They get headaches and cannot stand the feeling when using active noise cancellation.

I’ve never had any explanation to this phenomena – until now. I ran across an article on SoundStage describing that in fact the feeling is not caused by actual changes of pressure but…

According to the engineer, eardrum suck, while it feels like a quick change in pressure, is psychosomatic. “There’s no actual pressure change. It’s caused by a disruption in the balance of sound you’re used to hearing,” he explained. 

eardrum suck – the mystery solved

Aha! The brain gets confused by signals reaching your ears that naturally would not exists. Those signals make no sense so the brain tries to make sense of it. And voilá something is sucking your ear drum!

sakura season forecast

I am visiting Japan for almost 7 years now but I’ve never actually been there when the famous cherry blossom – or sakura – was in full force.

As every year there’s a forecast map for this years season and it gets updated frequently:

picture not showing japanese cherry blossoms

power consumption after the ssd swap

A week after swapping out mechanical hard drives for SSDs it’s time to look at what it meant in the longer run for the power consumption of the server.

15 watt less at least

Depending on what the server is asked to do – high or low cpu load and so on – the power consumption fluctuates but it’s very visible that the averages are about 15 watt lower at all times. Great!

Apple Airplay for SONOS (in Docker)

We’ve got a couple of SONOS based multi-room-audio zones in our house and with the newest generation of SONOS speakers you can get Apple Airplay. Fancy!

But the older hardware does not support Apple Airplay due to it’s limiting hardware. This is too bad.

So once again Docker and OpenSource + Reverse-Engineering come to the rescue.

AirConnect is a small but fancy tool that bridges SONOS and Chromecast to Airplay effortlessly. Just start and be done.

It works a treat and all of a sudden all those SONOS zones become Airplay devices.

There is also a nice dockerized version that I am using.

Japan related YouTube channels I regularly watch

If you ask me for an estimate on the main sources of entertainment we use in our household I would say it’s easily 80% YouTube these days. Mainly we’re watching the content created by small independent content creators while working out or during dinner.

None of this consumption is through the YouTube website or any official clients (like the abomination pre-installed on the TV) but through a carefully handcrafted series of scripts that watch certain playlists and download everything appearing new there automatically to the house in best quality. This then can be watched at any time from any TV in the house.

The playlists that are being monitored are either those directly curated by the YouTube channels or a playlist that get’s filled directly by us from recommendations / social media links.

So here are some recommendations from our heavy-rotation list:

Some more “special ones” – Musashi-Kosugi Station is the station at my preferred home-base when in Tokyo. I like the more off-the-center vibe of Musashikosugi and this is the main station live cam there:

This would not be a complete list without this: Nippon Wandering TV is one of several channels that do one thing: walk or cycle through Japan and record it. Simple, eh? – This stuff is playing as “screensaver” on every screen in the house when not used to watch anything else:

waking up to another dying hard disk – upgrade time!

At our house I am running a medium-sized operation when it comes to all the storage and in-house / home-automation needs of the family.

This is done by utilizing several products from QNAP, Synology and a custom built server infrastructure that does most of the heavy-lifting using Docker.

This morning I woke up to an eMail stating that one of the mirrored drives in the machine is reporting read-errors.

Since this drive is part of a larger array of spinning-rust style hard disks just replacing it would work but due to the life-time of those drives I am not particularly interested in more replacing in the very near future. So a more general approach seems right.

63083 lifetime hours = 2628 days = 7.2 years powered up

You can see what I mean. This drive is old. Very old. And so are its mates. Actually this is the newest drive of another 6 or so 1.5TB and 1TB drives in this array.

Since this redundant array in fact is still quite small and not fully used as most storage intensive non service-related disk space demands have moved to iSCSI and other means it’s not the case anymore that so many disks, so well redundant with so little disk space are needed anymore. Actual current space utilization seems about 20% of the available 2TB volume.

Time for an upgrade! Taking a look in the manual of the mainboard I had replaced 2 years ago I found that this mainboard does have dual NVMe m.2 ports. From which I can boot according to that same manual.

So I thought: Let’s start with replacing the boot drives and the /var/lib docker portions with something fast.

To my surprise Samsung is building 1 TB NVMe M.2 SSDs to a price I expected to be much higher.

Nice! So let me reeport back when this shipped and I can start the re-set-up of the operating system and docker environment. Which by all fairness should be straight forward. I will upgrade from Ubuntu 16.04 LTS to 18.04 LTS in the same step – and the only more complex things I expect to happen is the boot-from-ZFS(on Linux) and iSCSI set-up of the machine.

If you got any tips or best-practice, let me know.

I just have started the catch-up on what happpened in the last 2 years to ZFS on Linux. My initial decision to use Linux 2 years ago as the main driver OS and Ubuntu as the distribution was based upon the exepectation to not have this as my hobby in the next years. And that expectation was fulfilled by Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.

The band bis is back!

One of the great pop bands of my youth are back in business and they are going to release a new album after a (too) long while! I’ve written about them in the past here and here and here…

That’s really good news for the start of the year and in fact the first new song they released today comes with good vibes end-to-end!

“2018 sees the band finally back in the studio and signed to homegrown label Last Night From Glasgow. With new songs slowly creeping into the live set and becoming fans favourites in waiting, the infamous punk/disco heartbeat may be due another lease of life yet.”

Of course todays new pop songs need a fancy new video:

Instagram – until now

I’ve had already added a couple of pictures to my instagram account – mainly while abroad. Pictures that I consider nice enough to be shared.

Of course my latest switch away from those public silos will include having those pictures posted mainly on this website and maybe as a side-note on those services as well.

To begin with I will have a separate page created that will host those pictures I consider nice enough to be shared.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”5″ display=”basic_thumbnail”]