Ambiguously X

The following entry is not finished, but it was looking at spending an eternity on my hard disk, so I am releasing it into the wild in the hope that you will forgive my rampant lack of clarity of thought.

I also would like to apologize in advance for mentioning TV Tropes & Idioms. If you had any willpower whatsoever you would not go there. I blame you, really.

I am shoving this here because I don’t know how to bring this up at TV Tropes.

There are a number of tropes that start with “Obfuscating”: Obfuscating Insanity (f.ex. Murdock from the A-Team), Obfuscating Stupidity (f.ex. Vila Restal in Blakes 7).

If you were to generalise from there you’d get a meta or super trope called Obfuscating X, where a character will consistently adapt a trait or persona as a coping strategy.

In Are You Being Served the character called Mr. Humphries is Ambiguously Gay (also a trope). You could say that he pretends to be straight as a coping strategy in a part homophobic world.

Humphries, Murdock and Vila (the ‘weak’ characters in Blakes 7 were addressed using their given name) share a feature that TV Tropes does not mention and that yet creates a completely different trope: it is never made 100% clear whether these characters are acting, or whether they really are who they seem to be.

In other words, they are not just Obfuscating X, but also Ambiguously X.

Note that the characters I mention all seem to be something unheroic, deviant from the norm, or societally undesirable. They are also there to generate laughs (although I am not sure that this is necessary for the trope). Fans of the characters could be forgiven for hoping that the characters could one day be revealed to have been ‘normal’ all this time.

Also note that this is a different thing for Mr. Humphries than for the other characters. Vila Restal copes with being a coward and a kleptomaniac by pretending to be stupid. Murdock prevents becoming a wanted man by pretending to be insane. The ambiguity is not along the same axis as the thing that needs to be hidden, whereas it is with Mr. Humphries.

Having Ambiguously X characters is a powerful tool in the story teller’s box. I already mentioned the possibility to use them for comic relief.

Such characters also offer a writer the chance to create different perspectives:

* Vila Restal is often used for Through the Eyes of Babes moments (surely that is in itself a trope?). At one point in the episode Stardrive he even does so deliberately (one of those moments therefore where his alleged normalcy shines through). A dangerous repair must be performed, but he is the only who knows how to do it. The others though are not aware that he knows. So he waits a little, then feigns to be drunk and reveals the procedure in his drunken revelry: “Because my lovely Dayna, and Soolin, no one ever tells someone who is drunk to volunteer.”

As an aside, and with regard to Through the Eyes of Babes, Douglas Adams uses this technique quite explicitly in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency in that the titular character realises that sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. When Dirk tries to solve a case, he goes out in the street and finds a small boy, and puts the problem of how the culprit dunnit before him. The boy responds something like “It’s bleeding obvious, innit? He must have ****** ******”, and then continues to kick Dirk Gently in the shin and walks off.

* The A-team uses an interesting twist. Murdock’s crazy talk is often followed by a segue by Hanibal who uses it to start the action. Hanibal does this in such a way that he at least casts doubt on whether Murdock’s talk was really that crazy to begin with.

* Mr. Humphries gets the laughs because being gay is ‘gay’. But he often turns things around, confronting the other characters and the audience with their bigotry. For instance, he will say something along the lines of having spent the night with a ‘friend’. One of the other characters, typically Mr. Lucas, will reply in a lewd manner suggesting that the friend must have been a male lover. At which point Mr. Lucas will reveal that the friend was a woman. Note that this too lets the alleged normalcy of Mr. Humphries shine through.

There is of course something deeply troublesome about using Ambiguously X characters, namely that there is a strong suggestion that there is something wrong with not being normal. One of the reasons this trope works is because it places sympathetic characters in a position where a prejudiced audience wants them to be taken out of, while at the same time giving that same audience the chance to revel in their prejudice.

The dangerous thing for the writer to do is to make the characters normal. This will give the audience a feel-good moment only once, but makes the characters unusable for the rest of the show, especially if their deviant trait was exactly what set them apart.

Making a box for HEMA LED lights

This is going to be the lamest howto ever. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

The HEMA department store sells these pairs of red and white LED lights in the Netherlands. When it gets dark you see them everywhere, on dogs, joggers, police horses (whole bunches of them), and of course on bicycles. At 2.50 euro they are a steal (two leds, four batteries, buttons and straps).

I own a pair of these lights too, and they have one problem. They may be advertised to run 70 hours on the same pair of batteries, but in practice they run out much quicker than that, because it is extremely easy to turn them on accidentally. So you leave work, come home, stuff your lights in your coat pockets—and often even that is enough—put your gloves on top, accidentally turn on your LED lights and they will burn all night. Mine tend to run out after three week or so even though they should last me about three months.

HEMA doesn’t seem to sell containers to keep your HEMA lights in, and in lieu of retrofitting something else I took to simply adapting the largish packaging they arrive in. Although the end-result doesn’t stop the lights from switching on if you press hard on them, accidentally turning on the lights by just putting them in a coat pocket is now history. (I have had it happen that they switched on in their containers when I stuffed a hat in the same pocket, so my solution is not perfect.)

Look after the break for a short photo essay on how to do this.
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That 2012 thang

I wish you…

Busy

‘Nuff said.

Installing Caesar III on Windows 7 and Windows 10

A long time ago in a land far, far away I had a game called Caesar III installed on Windows 98 (or XP). Actually it wasn’t that long time ago, and it definitely was not far away. But I digress.

And lo, I bought a new PC which ran on Windows 7, and forgot all about Caesar III. Until I cleaned out a cupboard and the found the game again. Long story short, Caesar III refused to install. It would prepare for running Installshield, and then do nothing.

I scoured the internet for solutions, but nothing gave. Most people apparently happily installed their third Caesars on Vista and 7.

So here’s the trick I used: I just waited a long time. Apparently Installshield needed that. After a minute of five or ten, out of the blue Installshield started running.

(Note that you need to run set-up in compatibility mode.)

Update 31 December 2016:

The Windows 7 PC has been replaced by a Windows 10 PC a couple of months back and I decided to dust off ye olde Caesar III again.

And lo, the same problem occurred during installation. The setup.exe just sat there and it looked like I would have to wait a bit again. But being slightly less patient this time around, I decided to do some random prodding of the system.

After cranking up the priority of the setup process (which frankly didn’t seem to do anything), I started clicking around in the Resource Monitor to see if setup was stuck on a particular resource. That’s when I stumbled on a very promising menu called “Analyze Wait Chain…”. So I clicked it, and the resulting dialog said that setup was waiting for another program, one I wasn’t even aware was running – it did not show in the task bar, for one thing. I terminated the process that was holding up setup.exe and the latter immediately went to work on installing the game.

I don’t know why a crashed program (I imagine that is what it was) would hold up the installation of ancient software, but there you have it. Nor do I know why waiting helps – I guess Windows does some sort of garbage collection?

So if you want to repeat the process, simply type Resource Monitor in the Windows 10 search, start the program, look up setup.exe, right click, choose Analyse Wait Chain and see if there are other programs listed in the resulting dialog. If you know what you are doing (and feel safe in doing it), you can click the checkbox next to the offending program and then click the End Process button.

Note that if you do this, precious work may be lost. That would be on you. Don’t terminate processes you don’t know.

Here’s a mockup of a screenshot of the resource monitor to get you going:

[Screen shot with edits of the Windows 10 Resource Monitor]

Something similar may work with Windows 7, but since I no longer use Windows 7, I cannot say for sure.

Idea: plenoptic assist for traditional DSLRs

This is cool: a company called Lytro is taking orders for its plenoptic (or ‘light field’) consumer photo camera, which it expects to ship in 2012.

A plenoptic camera swaps spatial (2D) information for distance information. See it as a grid of thousands of miniscule-resolution cameras all pointing straight ahead, with software combining the miniature photos back into a single exposure. (You used to have something similar in analog called a Lomo camera, but since that lacked the sophisticated software required to make something of the extra information it recorded, it was basically something only used for the cool effects.)

The extra information can be used to focus on a specific plane or object, to remove objects or visual artefacts, to create stereo images and many, many things more.

As they say, a grainy, shaky Youtube video with an idiot acting the straight man can say more than a thousand words:

(See also this for a demonstration of more applications.)

But because you’re swapping different types of information, you also lose a lot of information. I read somewhere for instance that the Lytro uses a 20 megapixel light sensitive chip to get to a 1 megapixel image. The result is that this type of camera will be mostly useful for photography where you cannot or will not control the setting. The Lytro will be used for snap shots, where otherwise you would use a regular (read: slow) pocket camera and miss the funny face your toddler pulls. Other uses of similar cameras would be surveillance (where beforehand you don’t know which details are important), or medical imaging where you want to separate planes of say tissues or cells.

All other types of photography have great use for the extra information plenoptic photography has to offer, but cannot afford to give up all that spatial information (i.e. resolution).

So I was thinking: what if you put both a regular sensor and a micro lens array with a dedicated sensor in the same camera? Now, you would not want them to occupy the same space, but as it happens the ‘camera’ (Latin for room) has plenty of space, and many professional cameras use a mirror to reflect the incoming light to a viewfinder. If you’re building a mirror camera using an electronic finder, you could put the micro lens array in front of the viewfinder’s light sensitive chip.

This method does of course also have its draw backs in the form of trade-offs. You could not use this for video for instance, or anything else involving most forms of motion. What my idea solves is mostly an engineering problem. It transforms a problem of unknown variables to one of mostly known variables, which means throwing a lot less cash at the designing the camera and allowing a manufacturer to be early to market.

Maximum speed for bicyclists

Now and then somebody mentions on bicycle activism blogs that there is no speed limit in the Netherlands for cyclists.

That struck me as a bit odd, so I decided to find out if this is true.

And yes it is, by and large.

The Dutch rules of the road (RVV 1990) only mention speed limits a couple of times, notably in articles 20 through 22, which regulate the maximum speed for motorized vehicles.

There are a bunch of snags and exceptions though.

The most obvious one is the speed limit on woonerfs. Woonerfs are a type of proto-Shared Space, an area where all road users mix. To protect the weakest of these—children playing—the maximum speed for all road users on woonerfs is defined in article 45 as stapvoets, the speed of a walking horse. Since this is technically too slow for both car drivers (the engine would stall) and bicyclists (they would keel over), the Dutch supreme court has decided that stapvoets should be interpreted as 15 kph.

According to article 63, traffic signs overrule traffic rules (that makes sense, as signs can be used to indicate exceptions to the rules). Article 62 says that all road users are required to obey signs that either prohibit or command something. That means that signs regulating the maximum speed also apply to bicyclists.

Generally bicyclists will not encounter speed limit signs, with one exception. The signs that indicate the start of a built-up area are often accompanied by a speed limit sign. As article 22 of the Dutch rules of the road already orders operators of motor vehicles to limit their speed to 50 kph in built-up areas, this is an extraneous sign. My guess is they are put there to remind motorists to lower their speed. But since signs apply to all road users, they also apply to cyclists. Signs only apply for the wegvakken (road segments) immediately following them, that is until the very first side-road or crossing.

Finally, there are two catch-all articles in both the Dutch rules of the road and the traffic code, one regulating reckless speeding, and the other regulating all reckless behaviour. Article 19 of the RVV (the rules) says that “bestuurders [‘operators of vehicles’] must be capable of bringing the vehicle to a stop within the distance of which they are capable of seeing the road, and of which it is free”.

And article 5 of the Dutch traffic code states that all road users are prohibited from behaving in such a way that this causes danger or hinders other road users.

By the way, if you want to read the rules for yourself, the following definitions may be useful:

  • Weggebruiker: road user
  • Bestuurder (‘operator of a vehicle’): all road users except pedestrians
  • Wegvak (‘road segment’): the stretch of road from one (side)road to another

(I am not a lawyer. The above is not legal advice.)

How to photograph rain

Here are six greyer than grey photos for your perusal casu quo amusement, and as a “memo to self”.

Other than that they are less remarkable than a timid question on weekdays and more commonplace than a question.

Tv-mode, 1/50, F10:

Tv-mode, 1/125, F7.1:

Tv-mode, 1/320, F4.0:

100 % crops of the previous series:

As you can see (and as I should try to remember), shutter speed matters—use the M or Tv setting to go slower than 1/200 for that stripey effect.

Apparently there is more to say about the subject. And more. Here’s one I prepared earlier.

Worst Wikipedia definition ever

I know that Wikipedia’s walls are generally only scribbled on by Anglotard religionist Asperger’s drenched loons, but this is taking the cake. The article on atheism starts out with a surprisingly lucid and short definition, which makes it so much easier to spot all the levels of wrong:

“Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.”

The iPad2 camera

Lots of sniggering on the web lately, emanating from the lesser tech journos. The much touted iPad2 camera is hardly being used at all if Flickr statistics are to believed. The photo web site reports it has only 24 active iPad2 users a day.

One of the photos below was made with my el cheapo, 100 euro, smartphone wannabe phone, the other with the 500 euro pinnacle of Apple’s engineering and marketing prowess. (Click for 100% crops, saved at the 85% JPEG quality level.)

Can you guess which is which? Should you have to?

(Sculptures from the upcoming open air Art Zuid exhibition 2011 in Amsterdam Zuid, which I will blog about shortly at 24 Oranges. Shortly is a week from now or so.)