Archive for 2006

first names are sacred

December 10th, 2006

My bank doesn't know my first name. Neither does the city. Or any business or institution I've dealt with. First names are not in apparently. It smacks of a sad attempt at personal privacy, but since they know everything else about us, what's the difference? You don't have to know a person's first name to hack into the bank and steal their money. The name isn't used for anything. And as such, it's not strictly necessary either. They use the initials of the first and middle name (if any), plus the last name. So if you have a kid, you can name him I. B. Clever. Or C. O. O. Lio. And if someone asks about the first name, you can tell them it's none of their business. Then you can give the kid a nickname for informal use.

First place I've ever been where no one wants your first name. :undecide:

bad, bad shopping

December 10th, 2006

Shopping in this country is so difficult that I might as well have a separate category for it on the blog. From food, to stationary, to bikes, to plants, to decor, to just about everything. Clothing seems to be decent, but that's an exception. So it's not without a certain skepticism I approached the first stab at Christmas gifts. Indeed the only thing I ended up buying was batteries on sale at Media Markt. Christmas gifts are tricky to begin with, cause there are no rules. Although I enjoy actually getting them and giving them, I don't enjoy the shopping process, wandering around trying to brainstorm. I mean Trondheim is a small town, it makes shopping hard. But Utrecht is the same kind of place, just that all the articles seem to be randomly spread and the kind of things I expect to find are not to be seen anywhere. I cruised around V&D and found their stationary department, which is pretty pathetic. I'm gonna make a note of getting stationary in Poland, where the culture for it is rich.

What you will find here is a bunch of stores very rarely found in Norway. Stores that have no defined role, they just sell completely random crap. Kruidvat is a chemist, but on the side they sell candy, cosmetics, photo equipment, CDs/DVDs, cheap clothing, children's toys, non-prescription drugs, and a bunch of things you will find there only once (like a tennis racket) by chance. This may sound disorganized, but HEMA seems to have no defined role at all, in there it's all random. This means if you want something in particular, you end up wandering through these stores on the off chance that they have what you need (which never seems to be the case). And it's not brand stores either, for clothes and media you know exactly where to go, but these "do you feel lucky?" stores make it impossible to know where to go for say a mirror, or a thermometer.

And I'm not the only one to think shopping here is awful, it seems to be a fairly well established claim.

Harvard or MIT?

December 9th, 2006

And some people claim I over-analyze movies, pah! Read this. Now we also know the difference between Harvard and MIT people.

the next thing in computer graphics?

December 8th, 2006

Alright so we have things now in graphics that some *raises hand* never thought would be realized. If you play the latest FIFA Soccer, you'll see some pretty accurate detail in the graphics. Players' bodies, facial characteristics, hairstyles, even their signature moves. In fact, if you just look at action shots from the game, you might think it's a pretty damn good reproduction of reality. But one thing that isn't quite right is how these characters move. That's because these models are just a bunch of dots in space, fitted with curves I guess and this makes up a very accurate model of their contours. Then the shapes are covered with mesh, that is bitmaps of some kind, which makes them look like 3D objects with surfaces, rather than just dots. Imagine fitting a towel tightly over a ball, covering it's surface completely. But they are hollow characters, their mass is completely unaccounted for. So when you render still images, they look striking, but when you try to animate these models, you're facing a whole new set of problems.

You couldn't build a real human being with just a shell, so in graphics you can take that shortcut. But when you move limbs around to simulate real human motion, it's not very clear exactly how to do this. What EA Games does is bring in some of these players they want to model, fit them with a large number of sensors all over their bodies, and tell them to move around just like they do when they're playing matches. So let's say you have a sensor at the knee and one at the shin. Now you can register the movement in all three dimensions of these two body parts relative to each other. And with enough points on the body, you get some kind of 4D model of human motion. What you can do now is plot these points where the sensors are on the human body to points on the computer model. You have to define joints to determine which parts move, but after that you can pretty much reproduce the same move that the human does with the computer model of the human. Pretty neat, huh?

If you think that's a big step forward, well there are still lots of problems to solve. A common problem in all kinds of games is collision handling. When two players run into each other, what happens? If you do nothing to handle this, they will just run through each other as if the other player was never there. Collision handling in football simulation games that I've played is still very primitive. Motion of the ball bouncing off the body is very unrealistic and hasn't improved much in years. Player collisions in the form of tackles are also very mechanical. The aspect of interacting bodies adds complexity to the problem, so let's go back to the single body in motion.

There is still a great deal missing in how just the one player moves. The moves don't look real. Even when they are modeled directly after human motion as described, their complexity is still too shallow to look real. I remember playing one of these FIFA Soccer games a few years ago and they chose Edgar Davids as one of their main profiles for that edition. Davids, of course, very characteristic for his dreads, which they modeled pretty damn well in the game. But guess what, even when his head moved, the hair didn't, it was as if he had overdosed on a whole can of industrial strength wax. The hair was completely fixed and moved along with the head, but it wasn't affected by gravity or anything like that. Hair is complex enough to illustrate this point very poignantly.

It comes back to what I said already, the human body is hollow, it has no mass. The surface is rigid, which means that when a player receives a ball on his thigh, the surface of his skin doesn't indent under the momentum of the ball, as it should. Mass responds to forces of nature - a hollow shell couldn't possibly. We are doing quite well with surfaces already, will the next step be to model mass? Just imagine what kind of human motion you could get if you modeled mass as well... hair flowing, muscles moving, ball motion that looks real as the foot connects with the ball and sends it away.. This is how I imagine it's going to work. You divide the mass into parts. Then you assign to each part a certain weight and typical characteristics of this portion of mass, that is how dense it is, how hard it is, and so on. Then you apply functions to these parts and determine their motion on say a grid of points. Much like the way you simulate synthetic materials with finite element analysis. The difference is that these are body parts, not distinct from each other, like the mechanical parts of a car. Then, for the purpose of a game, you have to combine the curvatures of the mass with the surface somehow, so that when muscles are contracted, the shape changes. For this to be accurate, you would probably plot much denser points at the surface of the mass than inside of it when simulating its motion.

What remains is still to define the direction of these forces. A mass modeled this way will respond as an inert body, but what is it that is exerting a force on it from a certain direction? This is the result of muscle motion, which again would have to be modeled somehow in order to get a self-contained solution. But if we leave that aside for a moment and go back to registering human motion with sensors like EA Games do, you would have a pretty complete model of human motion at this point. Just imagine what you could do with this, pretty neat things that haven't been possible so far. It's pretty hard to capture on film how a player shoots the ball, to capture the full complexity of the foot's motion when this occurs within fractions of a second. But if you could register this motion with sensors in a very detailed way, you could then recreate the motion, and add mass models to show how the mass would respond to this motion. In doing that you could make a video of how the foot moves just as it strikes the ball, zoom in on the foot very detailed and observe the actual muscles, the toes, everything. Now that would be some amazing detail.

Is this where we are headed?

Tomorrow Lives

December 5th, 2006

If you haven't seen the James Bond movie from 1997 called Tomorrow Never Dies, you should. One because it's a cool movie with an interesting plot and a competent execution of that plot, two because the soundtrack by David Arnold is a work of art. Definitely one of the better Bond movies to be made in the period since Brosnan made the role his.

But back to that plot. The villain is Elliot Carver, a media mogul with evil plans to manipulate his global media empire for his selfish goals of economic success. Think about that idea for a minute. Does that sound far fetched? It doesn't really, does it? Lawrence Lessig writes in his book Free Culture:

Five companies control 85 percent of our media sources. The five recording labels of Universal Music Group, BMG, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and EMI control 84.8 percent of the U. S. music market. The five largest cable companies pipe programming to 74 percent of the cable subscribers nationwide.

So it's not one Carver empire, it's five different corporations in competition with each other.

Another thing that has changed is that up until 2003 the media could not own the content they published, because the law forbade it. Now they do own it, so you can get a full, integrated package from a single outlet.

Murdoch's companies now constitute a production system unmatched in its integration. They supply content - Fox movies, Fox TV shows, Fox-controlled sports broadcasts, plus newspapers and books. They sell the content to the public and to advertisers - in newspapers, on the broadcast network, on the cable channels. And they operate the physical distribution system through which the content reaches the customers. Murdoch's satellite systems now distribute News Corp. content in Europe and Asia; if Murdoch becomes DirecTV's largest single owner, that system will serve the same function in the United States.

It's funny when you realize that what you saw in a fiction movie is the actual reality. Is Rupert Murdoch today's Elliot Carver?