Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

Stuff I do

Thursday, 30 May, 2013

I tend to have quite a few projects going all the time. I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to list them all in a note-taking program. I was somewhat surprised with how long the list turned out to be. So I thought I’d share, so you have some idea of what sort of stuff I do in my “spare” time.

  • Webcomics
    • Irregular Webcomic! – I did this as a daily comic strip from 2002-2011. I’m no longer making daily comics, but am rerunning strips with additional writer commentary.
    • Darths & Droids – This strip started in 2007, and is ongoing, three times a week. I write it with a group of friends at work. We usually spend one lunchtime a week writing new strips and reviewing upcoming ones just before they are published.
    • mezzacotta – This is a combination webcomic and irregular blog of odd stuff. The comic actually needs no writing or maintenance, so it’s just the occasional blog post here.
    • Square Root of Minus Garfield – A Garfield parody webcomic, started in 2008, updating daily. Most of the strips are submitted by readers – my role is mostly selecting submissions to publish and adding them to the database.
    • Lightning Made of Owls – An original comic which readers contribute strips for. Started in 2008, updated three times a week for a long time but now subsisting on a trickle of submissions.
    • Comments on a Postcard – A “high concept” webcomic, again generated by reader submissions. Started in 2008, updated daily.
    • There are also two old webcomics which have petered out, so I’m not counting them as active projects.
  • Learning
    • Drumming – I’ve been taking weekly drumming lessons at Big Music since April last year.
    • Forming a band – With the friends from work who write Darths & Droids. We’ve only had a couple of practice sessions, but we plan more.
    • Italian – Learning on Duolingo.
  • Writing
    • Irregular Webcomic! essays – Since the daily new comics ended, I’ve been writing a weekly essay about some topic, often scientific, which appears on Sunday’s update instead of a rerun strip.
    • Travel diaries – Whenever I take a trip, I keep a daily travel diary. I stick them on my website when I get home.
    • Secret project – I have a secret writing project I’ve started and hope to finish some day.
  • Creative
    • Photography – I love taking photos. I take them on trips. I take walks and short drives around where I live to visit places just to take photos. I get up an hour before sunrise to go to the beach and photograph the sunrise. I post some of my photos on Flickr.
    • 365 Days Photography – This is a specific photography project. I’m aiming to take a photo every day during 2013. There’s a special set on Flickr for these.
    • Travel photo books – After an overseas trip, I like to assemble some of the best photos into a print-on-demand book, to give a copy to family members and keep a nice printed copy myself.
    • Puzzle solving – My work friends and I enter the annual MUMS and SUMS puzzle competitions. Our team is the CiSRA Puzzlers, and we have won a few prizes, including first place in MUMS in 2007.
    • Puzzle creating – My work friends and I run the annual CiSRA Puzzle Competition. We create our puzzles in our own time and test solve them during lunchtimes at work.
    • Sketching – I occasionally doodle and sketch things using Paper by 53 on my iPad.
  • Gaming
    • Roleplaying games – I haven’t actually run one for a while, but I always have roleplaying campaigns and adventures bubbling away in the back of my mind. I plan to run my friends through Tomb of Horrors (on the understanding that many characters will die and we shouldn’t treat it too seriously). I also plan to run a campaign based in the giant city of Ravnica, borrowed from Magic: The Gathering.
    • Magic: The Gathering booster drafts – My friends and I play semi-regular Magic booster draft tournaments, using the latest sets published by Wizards of the Coast. We also have a stash of old unopened booster packs going as far back as the original Ravnica block, which we occasionally mix and match to create weird hybrid draft formats. We do this sometimes during lunch breaks, and sometimes on Friday evenings.
    • Magic: The Gathering cube drafts – We create custom cubes for drafting Magic as well. So far, most of my playing group have created a cube which we have used. We’ve done powerful cubes full of high-powered cards, and quirky cubes, such as the off-colour cube (cards whose abilities violate the modern colour pie).
    • Magic: The Gathering invented sets – Not satisfied with what Wizards prints, we create our own entire sets and draft those. We’ve done a total of six different invented sets (from memory, it may be one or two more), and at least one of us is always working on another entire new set.
    • Board games – Sometimes we play board games at lunch. Favourites change over time, but have included Settlers of Catan, Formula De, Modern Art, Ra, Citadels, Poison, Tigris & Euphrates, Power Grid, Dominion, Blokus, Ingenious, Puerto Rico, Goa, Alhambra, Seven Wonders, Notre Dame. (I won’t link them all, look them up on BoardGameGeek.)
    • Invent board games – Not content with existing board games, we invent our own. Some are actually card games. Collectively we’ve invented something like a dozen games.
  • Physical activities
    • Walking project – I share this project with my wife. We have a map of North Sydney Council, in which we we live. We are in the process of walking the full length of every street and every walking track in the council area. We began two years ago, and might complete it this year. (The rule is: for a walk to count, we must do it together, and start and end the walk at our home – no car or public transport allowed.)
    • Stretching – Every weekday I do a short series of stretching exercises to strengthen my lower back muscles and keep my limbs flexible.
    • Swimming – From about October to April I swim. Usually 1200 metres, three times a week.
    • Tennis – I play tennis once a week. Well, up until a few months ago when my opponent had an injury. We should start again soon.

To close this post, I’d just like to say one thing. If your reaction to my list is to think, “Man, you have too much spare time,” then you are wrong. Please read this essay I wrote about creativity and spare time. I don’t think I can say it any better than that here. :-)

Missing the Flavour

Friday, 8 June, 2012

So after spending four weeks offline while overseas, I recently caught up on Magic: The Gathering articles over on Daily MTG. The only regular column articles I really read thoroughly are Mark Rosewater’s Making Magic (an absolutely essential read for anyone even vaguely interested in game design of any sort) and what I still like to think of as Matt Cavotta’s Taste the Magic (despite the lamentable fact that Matt gave up the mantle of author to Doug Beyer way back in 2007, accompanied by a name change of the column to Savor the Flavor; not that I have anything against Beyer – he’s a great writer too – but I miss Cavotta).

My reading of Daily MTG is sporadic at the best of times, but I always like to catch up on those columns. I don’t really care so much for all the other columns about optimising your decks, or what the pro players are doing, or what the tournament scene is like, though I do look at them for the cool art and to get the odd idea about how to play the game a bit better. When it comes to player demographics, I’m more of a Melvin/Vorthos than any of Timmy, Johnny, or Spike. (See here if you have no idea what those names mean. Again, they’re worth understanding if you are at all interested in game design, and not just MTG.)

And so it came as a shock to me when I noticed that the archive of Savor the Flavor ended on the 28th of March this year. Doug wrote a farewell column, stating that he was moving on to other jobs within Wizards of the Coast which didn’t give him time to wrote Savor the Flavor any more, and that Wizards hadn’t been able to come up with a suitable replacement writer for the column.

My first reaction: NOOOOOOOO!!!!!

My second reaction, completely unbidden, about three milliseconds later: “I’ll write it!!!”

Of course, this is (almost) completely impractical. I’d have to be given the job by Wizards of the Coast (hmmm, I could live with that). I’d have to be given privy information on upcoming set design (I guess I could live with that). I’d have to write a weekly column on Magic: The Gathering back-story, world design, mythology, art direction, flavour text, and so on, to a strict deadline (I could definitely live with that). Realistically the main obstacle is that Wizards doesn’t know me from a bucket of slime.

This is not to lament my lack of opportunity, but rather to marvel at the fact that my subconscious put me up for the job without any active thought on my part. Actually thinking about it and analysing the idea, I honestly think I could do the job well, but the inner workings of my brain actually realised that before I even had time to give it serious conscious thought. That’s pretty cool.

But, the coolness of my own mysterious subconscious aside, this is (was) a sad day for me, and for everyone else who loves a bit of flavour in their Magic. I just hope Wizards finds a replacement author for the column sooner rather than later. The wider world of Magic will be the poorer in the meantime for not having a dedicated outlet for giving players detailed access to the world, story, and art design of the game.

Who can dance?

Thursday, 29 March, 2012

I did a one-day course at work yesterday on creative and innovative thinking. It was fun and interesting, and I think I picked up some good ideas. The guy giving the course told us a few stories.

One time he was talking to a group of a couple hundred or so kids, maybe around 8 or 9 years old. He yelled excitedly, “Who here can dance?!” And every single kid got up and started dancing around wildly.

Another time he was addressing a group of a couple of hundred business executives. He yelled excitedly, “Who here can dance?!” Not a single one of them moved.

His question: When did all those adults forget how to dance?

Lunchtime video

Thursday, 22 March, 2012

Just spent a very fun lunchtime at work filming some video.

For a secret project.

Stay tuned.

The Intern Menace

Thursday, 19 January, 2012

Spent a fun lunchtime today with our group of a dozen or so summer interns at work, helping Andrew S. show them how to swede a movie. We’re running a short film competition for the interns, with fabulous prizes for the best film. The idea is to get them to use cool Canon equipment and have some fun.

So today we gave them a lesson in how to make a short film. And to do so, we recreated Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. From the collective memory of the interns (without help from Andrew and me, and without any reference to a script or other material). And we shot the whole thing in one lunchtime.

We did a total of 16 scenes. Jar Jar died in the third scene. Palpatine became President of the Galaxy by winning a “Ben Hur” race, when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s ship crashed into R2-D2 just before the finish line. But the people weren’t happy and attacked Palpatine in a mass fight scene. And in the final scene, Jar Jar came back to life, but Qui-Gon and Mace Windu killed him again.

We filmed it on the lawn in front of our building. Several onlookers were eating lunch nearby – I hope we kept them entertained!

Imagination in adults

Wednesday, 11 January, 2012

I recently read this question and answers in “The Last Word” column in New Scientist. I had to type it out and share it. This is a selected extract of the answers, with my emphasis added.

Question: Why are adults and teenagers less imaginative than children?

Answer 1:
I’m assuming that by “imaginative”, the questioner is thinking of such things as “if you plant budgie seed, do budgies grow?” If an extra-terrestrial asked such a question, you wouldn’t think they were imaginative, you would think they had limited understanding and experience of life on Earth, or perhaps the strangeness of the English language.
If imagination is what produces inventive, speculative fiction, and then turns that fiction into a reality, then it is a quality that is not lost as people get older.

Answer 2:
The answer is that they are not. Children are happy to imagine a fat gentleman can make a single sledge pulled by reindeer fly and become capable of delivering presents to half the world’s children, that the said gentleman is capable of stuffing himself and these presents down chimneys far too restrictive to accommodate either him or the presents, and all this in the space of 24 hours. Adults can still imagine this, but are more sceptical.
Children show no inhibition in putting their imagination into words because even if their propositions are outrageous, they will be indulged by adults. Adults keep theirs to themselves because they know they will be either exploited, challenged, laughed at, or arrested.

Answer 3:
Many young children’s imaginative observations and questions are to do with not understanding how such things as behaviours, objects, and processes are categorised. As we grow we learn a staggering array of social and physical facts: trees cannot walk, fish do not arrange birthday parties, and so on.
Asking “imaginative” questions that are across categories is critical for learning about how the world works and is, fortunately, seen as charming in small children. However, in older children similar observations may be seen as “proof” that basic understanding about how objects, animals, or processes work or are categorised hasn’t been learned. As a result, the child may be teased or told off for being babyish or silly.
Our socio-cultural system values logical, rational, linear thinking higher than intuitive, divergent, imaginative thinking – unless someone has made a lot of money from being imaginative with a novel, film, or invention. People who think “sideways” or in imaginative ways are frequently dismissed or admonished by peers, parents, and teachers for trivialising, daydreaming, or messing about. They are not being s sensible, serious, or responsible grown-up. As no-one likes to be a social outcast, most people censor and inhibit their “silly” or imaginative thoughts.
Imaginative thinking like any other kind of thinking is a skill and it atrophies with lack of use. This is why so many adolescents and adults are perceived as being less imaginative than children.
Those of us who continue to work with imaginative thinking throughout our lives can comfortably give 5-year-olds a run for their money. Real creative thinking – whether in art, literatures, science, or engineering – demands we play with and deliberately mix up categories and types to come up with new ways of seeing existing situations or problems.

To this I add:
Revel in your imagination. Revel in the fact that it is more mature and knowledgeable than the imagination of a child, and thus can come up with far more interesting flights of fancy and can lead to creative output of high quality. Exercise it. Imagine something weird, strange, or amazing every day.

And, at least occasionally, do something with those imaginings. Turn them into projects, or artworks, or writing.

You don’t have the excuse that you’re not as imaginative as a child.

CiSRA Puzzle Comp 2011

Monday, 25 July, 2011

The fruits of many days of labour by me and my friends at work are now available to the public in the 5th annual Cisra Puzzle Competition! The first group of 4 puzzles were released today, and four more groups are released in the week beginning Monday 8 August. Australian students (if there are any reading this) can win prizes of digital cameras, but anyone can enter. If you enjoy a good puzzle, please check it out!

Science and Imagination

Thursday, 19 May, 2011

The perception of truth is almost as simple a feeling as the perception of beauty; and the genius of Newton, of Shakespeare, of Michael Angelo, and of Handel, are not very remote in character from each other. Imagination, as well as the reason, is necessary to perfection in the philosophic mind. A rapidity of combination, a power of perceiving analogies, and of comparing them by facts, is the creative source of discovery. Discrimination and delicacy of sensation, so important in physical research, are other words for taste; and love of nature is the same passion, as the love of the magnificent, the sublime, and the beautiful.

– Humphry Davy, chemist and poet, 1807.

Retro Digital Photography

Thursday, 23 September, 2010

I was discussing photography with friends at lunch today, specifically this article about attaching a 102-year-old movie camera lens to a Canon 5D Mark II digital SLR. The sample photos on there are very cool looking.

We talked about the trend for photographer to try to emulate the look and feel of old-time film photography. You can of course create some of the old-time photo effects on a digital image with Photoshop. Some people actually go out now and buy cheap and crappy film cameras and take photos with them, and scan them in to share online. That’s cool and good and all. But we pondered reproducing the experience of film photography with a digital camera.

Consider a Canon 5D Mark II. If you shoot in RAW mode (as I do with mine), each image file is about 20 megabytes. You find you need multi-gigabyte memory cards to hold a decent number of photos. But maybe you have an old 512 MB card lying around from an earlier camera. That will hold… 25 photos, give or take a couple depending on what you’re shooting and the file compression ratios. A common number of exposures on a roll of film was 24 (and you could usually squeeze a 25th shot in).

And so was born the idea. Take your fancy-shmancy digital camera and a memory card just big enough to hold roughly 24 photos. Go out shooting, without any other memory cards. Do not delete any shots you take until you get home. Post all the shots from your “roll of film” to your photo sharing site.

This puts you into the mindset of film photography. You only have 24 shots, and you better try to make each one count.

And then we went a step further. For a real challenge, find a 32 MB card (or appropriate size for your camera), which will hold only one photo (in RAW format). Go out shooting without any other memory cards. This time, you’re allowed to delete any photos you take. But you only get to come home with one shot. If you think you can improve on the shot on your card, you can erase it and take another photo. if you think you’ve got the best shot of the day, keep it until you go home.

If you try either of these ideas, please point me at the results.

Ma Mignonne

Monday, 19 July, 2010

I’ve begun reading Douglas Hofstadter’s book Le Ton Beau de Marot. I’m barely one chapter in, and I’m starkly reminded of just how much hard work it was to read through his earlier book, Gödel, Escher, Bach. That book required a clear state of mind, full concentration, and a considerable amount of cogitation and effort to read, to absorb, and to appreciate.

This new book is about translation between languages and the intricate interplay of semantic and structural difficulties that this problem brings to anyone who tries to do it. The book is framed around a French poem, Ma Mignonne, by the 16th century poet Clément Marot. Without having “cheated” by glancing past the first chapter, I understand that the book will present dozens of different translations into English of this one short poem, accompanied by discussions of the issues involved and the adjustments that need to be made to make one language conform to both the shape and the meaning of another.

So at the end of Chapter One, which presents a brief outline of Marot’s life, Hofstadter presents the original Ma Mignonne in French, then a handful of translations into English. These translations are more or less literal, conveying much of the meaning of the poem but failing to reproduce its structure. The chapter ends with a request to the reader to attempt your own translation of the poem into English, assuring you that you already know enough to make a first attempt. Yes, just like GEB, this book asks you to do homework. And in all fairness to the book and to Professor Hofstadter, I feel compelled to complete the homework before continuing to Chapter Two.

So I’m about to present my translation of Ma Mignonne. But first, the original poem for anyone who has never seen it:

A une Damoyselle Malade

Ma mignonne,
Je vous donne
Le bon jour;
Le séjour
C’est prison.
Puis ouvrez
Votre porte
Et qu’on sorte
Car Clément
Le vous mande.
Va, friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne,
Ma mignonne.

Here is the basic, literal translation that Hofstadter provides to get you started in understanding what this poem says:

To a Sick Damsel

My sweet
I bid you
A good day;
The stay
Is prison.
Then open
Your door,
And go out
For Clément
Tells you to.
Go, indulger
Of thy mouth,
Lying abed
In danger,
Off to eat
Fruit preserves;
If thou stay’st
Too sick,
Pale shade
Thou wilt acquire,
And wilt lose
Thy plump form.
God grant thee
Good health,
My sweet.

Hofstadter explicitly points out the following points of structure for this poem in Chapter One:

  • The poem is 28 lines long.
  • Each line consists of three syllables.
  • Each line’s main stress falls on its final syllable.
  • The poem is a string of rhyming couplets: AA, BB, CC, …
  • The semantic couplets are out of phase with the rhyming couplets: A, AB, BC, …
  • Midway, the tone changes from formal (“vous”) to in­for­mal (“tu”).
  • The poem’s opening line is echoed precisely at the very bottom.
  • The poet puts his own name directly into his poem.

His literal translation clearly violates most of these. He does not ask that translators adhere strictly to all of these points, but wants to make sure you’re aware of them so that if you break one, you’re doing it knowingly.

I now offer my own translation, in which I have attempted to satisfy as many of the structural elements as I can, but sacrificing some slight changes in exact semantic meaning to achieve this. This is entirely my own work. I have not yet read beyond Chapter One of Le Ton Beau de Marot, nor have I sought or seen any other attempted translations of this poem online yet – though I have no doubt at all that hundreds of them must exist as other readers attempt this task and share their efforts. So it is a wholly original composition, but I would not be surprised if some lines echo lines in other people’s versions. Without further ado:

To A Sick Girl

My dear child,
Such a mild
Day outside:
Time you bide
Is duress.
I do bless
Your swift cure,
Then the lure
Of fresh air
Shows you where
You should be;
David’s plea
Is just this.
Go, young miss
Of sweet tooth,
Ill in truth,
Under threat,
Off to get
A pale shade
You will gain,
If your pain
Lasts too long,
And your strong
Form will flee.
God’s grace be
On you smiled,
My dear child.

Right. Homework completed. On the Chapter Two!