24 November 2007

Good riddance

I'd like to say that I've got some sympathy for the outgoing government. I'd like to say I can hear the sound of sad little violins.

But I can't.

I hope I never hear about any of those miserable sods ever again. Good riddance.

21 November 2007

San Francisco: part 1

Regular readers and xml suction cups alike - apologies for the long time between posts. It's just that there's been a few things really occupying my time recently.

Foggy treasure island

Like moving to San Francisco.

In my ongoing quest to get into high-end special effects work, I was stunned when an application I had made to Industrial Light and Magic was met with a request for an interview.

There was a bit of back and forth in terms of phone interviews, after which, I came in for a couple of interviews on-site at The Presidio in San Francisco City, followed shortly thereafter by an official job offer, at which point my head simply exploded. As Briony can attest, the subsequent mess was a bit difficult to clean up.

So began our six-week odyssey to get moved to California. You know, with that guy in charge.

One of the great things about moving country is the pressing urge you get to start shedding stuff. San Francisco is notoriously expensive to live in, so we quickly came to the conclusion that we'd not have a lot of room in whatever apartment we end up living in. So you need to just start aggressively getting rid of the myriad piles of junk that you accumulate over the years. Our stash was considerable, so it was with some relief that we got rid of a good chunk of it. Once we had pared it down to the bare essentials, OSS removals (framed html?? why why why!??!!????) arrived to get it sent off. We had been expecting a large truck. What we didn't expect was..

the container

..the whole shipping container. That was kind of awesome. Anyway, that all got loaded into the truck, and is in transit as I write. There are numerous other little hilarious situations that occur when moving country (including a whole heap of fun in regards to visas - but that's a post for another time), as anyone who has moved country can attest to.

We've been here less than a week, but I have to say that one of the more pleasant surprises we got was that US customs and immigration isn't quite as insane as they are quite often portrayed. I'm sure that there have been many cases where things certainly haven't gone down so well, but for myself and the boss it was fairly benign. There was the small issue stemming from the fact that the E3 Visa isn't listed on the system properly at immigration, but they ended up simply picking the nearest one (E2) and are going to let DHS figure the rest out :P

Amie and I

Last weekend, my cousin Amie (visiting from Manhattan), was in town to present a paper at a conference at the Parc 55. Apart from catching up, she wandered around town with me, pointing out what to look for in apartments and neighborhoods (and expanding my lexicon - I now know a lot more about sketchy parts of town).

(Amie is a legend in our family. She's graduated top of the class in pretty much everything she's done in New York, and is currently studying medicine whilst moonlighting as a publishing machine. She's getting married this coming May, and the wedding is going to be in Baja California, in Mexico - how cool is that!)

But that's enough of that. Today is Turkey Day, and we have to somehow find lunch whilst everyone else is consuming some rather startled, but dead, birds.

In part 2 (after lunch!) - living and working in San Francisco:

the badge

28 August 2007

phases of the phoon

(Woo! post #100!)

There was a lunar eclipse yesterday, clearly visible in Sydney. By all accounts, it was going to be fairly spectacular. I collaborated with the always amusing Deborah to hatch an stunt to mark the occasion.

We were going to combine the ancient art of phooning with the lunar eclipse. A moonphoon!. The plan was simple, but of an epic scale:

Deborah is pro phooner, so finding a willing subject for the photo was going to be trivial. The idea was to pose a phooned silhouette in front of the blood-red moon, perhaps throwing in an ET-style bicycle for good measure.

We took the photo in Pyrmont, Dad came along to snap some pics too. Anyway, this is how it turned out:

On reflection, the planning stage was probably a bit too optimistic. I simply didn't have the zoom or the angles to pull off the epic phoon we were aiming for. Nevermind.

Phooning aside, the moon did, however, put on a bit of a show. Again, click for bigger versions:



Here's the one I like best:


The whole experience has taught me that I am but a phooning padawan, and have a long way to go before I am truly a Jedi phooner.

15 August 2007

electronic theatre highlights from SIGGRAPH'07

Again I couldn't make it to SIGGRAPH this year in person. However, I had the opportunity to check out a screening of the electronic theatre. Here are some of my hand-picked highlights from the screening:

burning safari (link) - youtube, quicktime.

raymond - youtube,quicktime

travelers (think katamari) - youtube

the itch (link) - youtube,quicktime

gentlemans duel (link) - quicktime

Enjoy :)

8 August 2007

6 August 2007

more moving and shaking

As seems to regularly be the case, the only thing that's constant is change. Briony is hanging out in sunny San Francisco for three months, we have moved out of our apartment in Gladesville and I'm back to AWP'ing defenceless Radiophysicists from my old bedroom in Marsfield. I've also gotten my act together and I'm working in the film biz.

I'm learning a lot, very quickly. The whole film-making process is a lot more measured and slower than I had previously imagined. The amount of work that goes into short, isolated segments of film is truly staggering.

The pace of film-making, however, is positively harefooted compared to the glacial pace of pedestrian commuters in the morning. In a vain attempt to squeeze some extra exercise in the day, I walk just over 3kms from the bus at QVB to work, near Fox Studios.

The morning routine involves getting off the bus on York street, and colliding with a giant group of people who are, for all intents and purposes, standing still. I think that they're slowly moving somewhere, perhaps hoping to be propelled only by molecular-scale Brownian motion. All I can hear is the moans and limp shuffling of undercaffeinated zombies, somehow occupying the entire pavement in an insidious, dozy mass.

It's not like I'm late or anything. I just don't like to shuffle - I can't do it, its too hard.

There's no concept of keeping to one side. Recent studies have shown that deceased mammals outpace most people in and around Town Hall around 8am on weekdays. It's enough to make one go a little postal.

25 June 2007

The paragon of evil mario levels

It's like watching a horror movie. So numbingly terrifying, that you can't tear your eyes away from it:

Via destructoid.

23 June 2007


As Briony alluded to, the final, not-going-to-tweak-this-bugger-any-more version of my thesis is printed, handed in, and forgotten about. Four copies had to be printed - doublespaced, ring bound, and sprayed with special pheromones to make the PhD assessors think they are poultry.

So I went on down to the graduate research school at UNSW, and I uprooted my thesis from its moorings, and hurled it across the desk into the willing arms of the PhD review machine. I filled in a little survey on my postgraduate life (What was your best experience? Worst? Discuss, with examples), and was promptly rewarded.

I received a box and a little congratulatory letter, wrapped up in a ribbon:

UNSW thesis hand-in bling in box

Inside the box, a little slice of flavoursome UNSW bling:

UNSW thesis hand-in bling

I plan to attach it to a huge gold chain and wear it around my neck at my graduation. That said, with bling in hand, I decided to pay homage to an old, old uni tradition.

You see, back in the halcyon days of being an undergraduate, we had this thing with exams. Our loosely knit group of friends (think of it more as a cardigan than a jumper), we'd turn up to an exam, and variously nervously twitch, scribble and fluster our way through it. About halfway though the exam, one of us would leave. This would prompt the rest of us to follow shortly thereafter, where we would congregate at the biggest dive that was nearby - in our case, invariably Mickey D's on Barker Street.

I exchanged some cash for a greasy apple pie from the equally greasy, spotty teenager behind the counter, and I wondered what he was going to write his PhD dissertation on. I munched on down on it, and realised the apple pies tasted better when they were made from chokos.

We're going to be moving in a few weeks, so now it's back to the unenviable task of re-packing all of our stuff into a small, small space. Luckily, I think I'll try to get a machine to do some of the work :P

18 June 2007

Probably one of the most important citation in my thesis

I was pleased to discover a neat powerpoint presentation on one of the most important piece of work cited in my thesis.

I've provided a complete bibtex citation below; see here for the original source.

Author = {Zongker, Doug},
Title = {Chicken {C}hicken {C}hicken: {C}hicken {C}hicken},
Journal = {Annals of Improbable Research},
Volume = {12},
Number = {5},
Pages = {16-21},
abstract = {Chicken chicken chicken chicken chicken chicken
chicken chicken chicken chicken chicken chicken chicken
chicken chicken chicken chicken.},
month = sep,
url = {http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/improb/air/2006/00000012/00000005/art00006},
year = 2006

edit: I should probably also mention the other important piece of work cited - see Avildsen et al.,1984.

6 June 2007

Thundercats.. whaaaa?

Looks like another cherished 80's cartoon is in for the Hollywood treatment. Thundercats is making its way to the big screen via Warner Bros. Could this be one of the titles that may well be produced in Australia by Animal Logic? Avid celebrity spotters should keep an eye out around Fox Studios looking for a man in a spandex suit with a clown face and red hair (link is scary, open with caution) that looks a little like a cat.

Snarf. Snarf.

Still on the production front, looks like Battlestar Galactica is actually going to wrap up at the end of season 4, on "their own terms", so to speak. Its pretty cool to see that they're not going to try to drag it out till its painfully overdue for an ending.

22 May 2007

Some honest-to-goodness irony

OK folks, how about some real irony instead of the cheap fake stuff:
"Speaking after addressing a conference on advancing the position of women in the workplace, Mr Hockey said Ms Gillard was doing better in the polls because of her looks, not her policies."
(emphasis mine)


Total madness.

16 May 2007

katamari lunacy

Thank you all for the birthday well-wishes and gifts received; I had a great day on Tuesday. Amongst other things, I ended up with a new set of shoes (huzzah!), piles of books, a trippy CD and a stupendous dinner out with Briony.

After finishing up at Emotiv, I was pleasantly surprised to get a parting gift from them in the form of a shiny new Playstation Portable. In spite of a marketing department that appears to hate the device in question, it's quite a nifty bit of hardware. I'm mystified by the choice by Sony to have yet another proprietary format for their game discs, but, nevermind.

Hardware in hand, I visited the folks at EB games to pick up two classics for the PSP - Loco Roco and Me and My Katamari. I've never actually owned a console myself before, so I've never really got into the second-hand games thing. That said, it's really good value - the second-hand disc you get still has exactly the same content as a brand new disc.

Loco Roco is a pile of fun. It is, essentially, a kids game, with, in the main thread, only three buttons for control to speak of. It's fiendishly addictive, and has a very, very broad appeal - I even got my Dad playing it, and Briony, who is a not a regular gamer, is hooked.

However, my favourite, by far has got to be Me and My Katamari. Unlike Loco Roco, the controls appear to use all of the buttons on the PSP, leading to a style of gameplay which basically involves random button mashing with fingers, palms, and elbows if you can manage it. Outside of the horrific control mechanisms, however, is an incredibly perverse game. Really, there isn't anything quite like rolling around a sticky ball, and picking up, say, a squirrel. Or a horse. Or a bulldozer. Or a house. It tickles my megalomaniacal tendencies something silly.

The artwork and design of the game is also something to be admired. You can't help but feel that something got lost in the translation from Japanese to English, and are glad of it. Its quirky, colourful and sometimes inadvertently offensive. It's inspired people to go to some really strange lengths to pay tribute to it. If you can grab hold of a copy of any of the Katamari games for the PS2 or PSP, give them a go - it's strangely satisfying.


19 April 2007


The left hinge on my old-school laptop gave way a few months ago, and it was going to be another custom job to get it fixed again. The breakage occurred during that whole PhD thing so I had just kept on putting off the repairs - until I chewed up a few hours of Dad's time last weekend to get another part manufactured.

Since we'd made the part previously, we didn't have to spend long measuring the size of the aluminum brackets that we'd have to cut and shape, and were able to knock up a new (and stronger) part relatively quickly. Now the laptop rides on the bus with me every day, where I can sit and tweak the stack of papers I still have left over from my PhD to get published. Huzzah!

This also gave me an excuse to reinstall Mandriva, upgrading it to the new, shiny Mandriva 2007.1 spring release. Unlike a lot of other beta-ish releases, it came with a decent set of development libraries, and the hardware worked quite nicely out of the box. The only gripe I had was with the needlessly complex Drak3d tool to set up the 3D desktop. I got it working like this:

  • Do the default mandriva install - don't touch anything
  • Don't do the drak3d thing from KDM - this will lead to nightmares
  • Instead, just login as root (without any 3D stuff) and run drakconf
  • Go to Hardware->Configure 3D Desktop Effects
  • Select metisse/compiz/beryl/whatever
  • Logout, login as normal user
  • Voila, instant 3D without any mucking about with config files

Beryl is very, very shiny. Its fast, and the tilable windows are actually really useful on a small screen. I play with the spinny cube thing on the bus, and it makes the other passengers nauseous. Yes, that includes you, random bus traveller, reading over my shoulder. Go back to reading MX or something.

12 April 2007

Olivo Barbieri: a shifty character

So I was doing my usual rounds of aimless web surfing the a few weeks ago, and I came across the unusual photography of one Olivo Barbieri. This particular gentleman likes to hang out of the side of helicopters with his funky tilt-shift lens and take photographs of landmarks to make them look like little train-set sized miniatures.

Pyrmont in miniature!

I really wanted to give photos like that a go - but the lens is costly, and I couldn't justify the expenditure (not to mention the fact that I don't have an SLR to attach the damn thing to anyway). Imagine my joy, then, when I found out that you can quite easily fake the effect using pretty much any decent graphics editing package. I've got this whole big thing about making cheaper cameras do funky things via post-processing - you might have noticed :P

To acquire the right kind of photo to 'tilt-shift' (try saying that ten times quickly), it helps if you are high-up looking down. The above photo was originally taken by Briony when we were coming in to Sydney (from Melbourne) to land. I ran it through the tilt-shifting process (just a bit of masking and blurring), leading to more-or-less instant miniaturisation of good ole Sydney.

toyboats on jones bay wharf

I took the above photo from the back porch at work, and again tilt-shifted it. There's a giant, enormous flickr group dedicated to faking the tilt-shift effect - it's worth a browse to see some really peculiar photos.

11 April 2007


Three dudes, lunch, Bourke St. B

The Easter weekend was spent in Melbourne, where Kavitha kindly put us up in her new place in sunny Auburn. Briony has already covered the weekend in some detail, so I'll just add a few scrappy bits of commentary.

Melbourne itself looks and feels a lot more like a European city. Looking out over the rooftops, you wouldn't be hard-pressed to imagine it looked a bit like London. That said, the centre of the city is pretty cosmopolitan. The Eureka tower, dominating the Melbourne skyline, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Half-Life 2 citadel. Woo, spooky.

Something which did surprise me was the National Gallery of Victoria. Sitting somewhere in-between a museum and an art-gallery, it was pretty accessible (even the modern art), and the free entry helped too. This means I'll be getting up off my rear and visiting a few galleries here, too. I think I'll start with the MCA - it's open late on Wednesday nights, so that'll be a good time to take a wander through.

Sts. Peter & Paul Parish Church, South Melbourne

I'll accompany Briony along to the occasional Church service (trying to learn a bit more about what it's all about, that sort of thing), and the Easter service at Sts Peter and Paul in South Melbourne with Father Bob was an education unto itself. Fr. Bob is very much more a caricature of himself in real-life than what you see on the TV or hear on the radio.

The enduring memory I'll have is of the elderly, but terrifyingly fast, Fr. Bob running up and down the aisles with his little smoke generating thingo during a hymn. He terrorises unsuspecting members of his congregation, and he doesn't mind speaking his mind. The man is a law unto himself, he gets people thinking, and that's a good thing to see :)

28 March 2007

Frickin laser beams!

Another reason not to go to Vegas. Admittedly, it's still only on the drawing board, but the world had reached its saturation point of Micheal Jackson robots in 1998.

21 March 2007

Scientific analysis!

Is Hiren writing up? Let's answer the question with some scientific analysis!

Here is a unquestionably thorough look at the question, performed by carefully selecting five sample points and extrapolating a trendline in Excel. I can see you screwing up your face in disgust, but you cannot question my study, I have a PhD!

As you can see from the above graph, by the time we reach June, if Hiren is still writing, he'll be making at least 12 blog posts a day. This is a clear sign that procrastination has kicked in and the PhD has been kicked out. Can you imagine the horror?

Firefox users, you want this extension. Frames and tabs are FTW!

20 March 2007

No, I don't want to restart my computer now.

I'm primarily living in windows XP again, and it didn't take me long to remember how the user interface used to drive me totally beserk. The back-end is reasonably stable - I do plenty of nasty stuff with C++, and I haven't had that cause a single BSOD. But the front-end - well, it's hideous.

Example: installation of an update causes constant, persistent nagging about needing to reboot the computer. While you're running a big job, it leads to one of those WTF moments and makes you wonder what kind of illicit substance the UI designers were smoking. There are a few workarounds, the majority of which involve ugly registry hacks.

I realise that KDE or gnome aren't hilariously easy to use, but once you get used to them, their crash and burn rates are at least consistent, with most errors not totally fatal. Plus there are a few mature and indispensable features that simply don't exist in other operating systems.

Rant over. This is well worth a look. It's the Chaser lads again - the video from India is worth a look on it's own.

14 March 2007

The epoc-alypse

Last week, Emotiv systems (where I'm at) went very public with what they've been working on at GDC 2007. Suffice to say, it got a little busy, what with the slashdotting and all.

It's been very weird, watching the widespread exposure and excitement from the inside out. Of course, I can't go into a heap of specifics, but suffice to say, the work is based on some solid science, and yes, it does work, and it works well (having tried it myself).

Hi Dave.

The project has had it's share of controversy, but, well, so far, it's coming out on top. Aspiring Jedi's are encouraged to contact Deborah, who'll enthusiastically examine your head while you get to try out the state-of-the-art headset :)

22 February 2007

shiny toys

Hiren's already gone over the topic of long overdue posts, so let's just leave it at that.

My old lab has packed up and buggered off to Bris-vegas, and I handed in my PhD thesis to my supervisor for final review last December. At this stage, I'm still waiting for his comments so I can hand the damn thing in. Argh.

Right now, I'm contracting for the fine folks at Emotiv systems (yes, that's the same company Briony is at). Due to contractual obligations, I can't go into a whole heap of detail about what I do - the basic summary is that I'm a working as a research engineer, putting some advanced physics into interactive games.

And I get to play with shiny toys. Oh, so many shiny, shiny toys :) I've quickly expanded my repertoire of toolkits to include some game engines - notably Torque and Unreal Engine 3. Yes, that Unreal Engine 3.

And what an engine it is. The above clip (high-resolution version here - worth getting) is purported to have been rendered in real-time, in-game. Having mucked about with the engine, I can fully believe it. Visual realism in games is still improving at a cracking pace.

The way I see it, whether we are immersed in a game or not is now even more than ever in the hands of artists and asset creators. As the number of simulation variables increases - lighting & texturing, physics, character expression - the closer game engines get to something like we see in film and TV, requiring immense attention to detail. At the root then, this detail then only can come from artists and people who have the skill and technique to understand what the engine still can't do and work around it.

A recently added simulation variable is the burgeoning presence of physics in games. It's getting to a stage now where rigid-body physics toolkits are easily accessible to developers of all levels, and this is passed on to level designers and artists who are provided with 'studios' in which to setup and test their physics-enabled models.

In most cases, the physics is run as a 'ghost' environment, which mirrors what is rendered on screen but is not necessarily 100% in sync with it. Changes from user input are passed to the physics 'world', which works out how objects react based on this input, and the results are passed on to the graphics subsystem for rendering. This synchronisation problem can lead to all sorts of issues (see below).

Which brings me to my next toy :)

I've been lucky enough to get my hands on a physX hardware physics accelerator from Ageia, and works as hardware back-end for the Ageia physics API. It's simulation of cloth and fluids truly is impressive. They've even made their API, and a software emulation of the hardware (formerly called Novodex), freely available for for non-commercial use, which has me standing on my chair and cheering.

However, it's grunt lies with rigid-body dynamics, and, as such, I have to say I was a little disappointed. I've run lots of Ageia-accelerated simulations now, and directly compared the software to hardware simulations. The key thing that physX added was not speed, but scale. Even then, it didn't scale as well as I would have hoped.

This isn't a new problem. The (well publicised) demo of the upcoming 'Cell Factor', a showcase for physX technology, can quite happily run without physX acceleration and still be quite playable. In software mode, you miss out on some of the fluid and cloth effects, but it still looks quite shiny (especially with the HDR bloom).

 Is it just a driver or software issue, or is it a deep architectural problem with the hardware? My guess is that it's a combination of both. As I mentioned previously, the physics world is run in parallel to what is rendered on screen, so synchronisation between these two becomes a critical issue. Game designers have to be careful to ensure that user interaction doesn't drive the physics system into doing something it isn't supposed to * (see notes on interpolation here), and my hunch is that this problem is coupled with a lot of lag created transferring the locations and transforms of the objects from the physics card, via the CPU, to the objects on the graphics card.

From reading the API, I also wasn't able to work out if it was possible to extend the hardware capabilities to run simulations for volumetric objects via mass-spring simulations (or something similar). This is pretty disappointing, as my own (admittedly biased) take on physics is that soft-body dynamics are the next big step in real-time physical simulation.

There seems to be some sort of evil bottleneck, and other users seem to have found the same issue. We'll have to wait and see if future driver revisions will fix this up, or if it truly is a hardware architecture problem.

I won't go into GPU-based physics as an alternative right now - this post is probably already a bit too bloated ;)

 * Note that Ageia have taken some steps to eliminate this particular problem via their continuous collision detection system.(back)