Sunday, 3 April 2016

Pixels, Paint and Photo-Reality

The word of the week is pithiness.

Mar 28 – Clearing Worry

As my anxiety wanes weekly, I've been thinking about its causes. Why was I so anxious? What was going on in my life that was causing the anxiety? Was it short-term or long-term anxiety?

These and other questions all ran through my head this last week. I went out looking for answers and found a few that surprised me.

One article posited the idea of shifting from a 'Delayed Return Environment' to an 'Immediate Return' one, which is easier than you might think. It's a fascinating read and I highly recommend going through the article, as it allowed me to take a different look at how I was running my life day-to-day, for good and bad.

Essentially, the article suggests switching from an attitude of 'Worrying about things that we can't control' to 'What can I do to control my life so I worry less?' Which is a much healthier attitude. Here's an example I can relate to:

Writing. When I publish an article, the quality of my life is noticeably higher. Additionally, I know that if I write consistently, then my business will grow, I will publish books, and I will make enough money to sustain my life. By focusing my attention on writing each day, I increase my well-being (immediate return) while also working toward earning future income (delayed return).

In my mind, worrying about something now needs to be accompanied by the phrase "What can I do now that will help me manage this worry and make it less stressful for myself?" which is a far healthier thing to do than getting stuck in a mental logic loop with no perceivable solution.

Mar 29 – Photo Games

It's coming: the game you can’t tell from reality.

No, I'm not talking about virtual reality, but rather photorealism in videogames. Ever since the first days of electronic gaming, when a few dozen pixels were strung together to become an interpretation of reality, the slow march had begun to making videogames indistinguishable from reality.

I still recall the feeling of vertigo that I got when I first played Star Wars: Dark Forces on my then-cutting-edge PC back in the 1990s. Be able to look down and see a bottomless chasm yawning below me gave me shivers then, and still does.

Fast-forward 20 years and now we're getting to the point where the latest videogame hardware allows you to experience on-screen graphics that rivals reality. Hvae al ook at what's possible now in current games on the market:

Those are real-time graphics, not static: they move and change as the gameplay demands. It's incredibly impressive and while I won't be able to afford such a cutting-edge rig for more than a few years yet, this level of sophistication signals a threshold where reality and virtual reality begin to blur and become indistinguishable from one another.

For me, at the other end of the hardware spectrum, it's a head-scratcher trying to run some of the latest games on my hardware. Even setting some of these games run at minimum graphics settings doesn't guarantee that they'll even run at all, which can be frustrating.

Enter the LowSpecGamer, a gaming enthusiast who has made it his mission to run the latest games at the lowest graphics settings possible while maintaining playability. There are many reasons to want to do so, apart from the obvious desire not to part with hard-earned cash for the latest graphics card.

I think it's a noble quest, and will be checking in once in a while on his YouTube channel to see which games he's managed to reduce visually to make them usable by the rest of us...

Mar 30 – The Last Starfighter

Ah, the 1980s, golden age of the arcade videogame.

You can find almost any videogame that was in the arcades back then on the Internet now, most likely playable right in your browser: they were that complicated and many programmers these days grew up on those very games.

One game you couldn't find in an arcade back then though was the one from the movie The Last Starfighter. It was one that I badly wanted to play, along with thousands of other kids, to no avail: it existed only in the movie.

Until now. A diehard fan of the movie took it upon themselves to re-create the entire arcade-game video experience in a playable game that you can find on the Internet to download and play to your hearts content. Have a look:

That's some pretty cool programming there, Starflighter!

Mar 31 – Victorian Cthulu

Many years ago, I heard a story read by Neil Gaiman live, and I've never forgotten the wonder that I felt as I listened.

Called A Study In Emerald, it's a reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes type of tale, but set in an alternate universe: that of Cthulhu, a big nasty evil God who is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft and not the kind of ancient deity you want to be hanging around anywhere nearby.

If you have never read the story, I invite you to track it down at your local used book shop, as it's probably part of many a good horror anthology. If you have read the story, but didn't dig too deeply into it, you're in luck because has revisited the tale and gone into great depth on many of the themes present in the story. Warning: spoilers for the story!!!

I found the piece quite enlightening and I stopped halfway, as I want to reread A Study In Emerald before I finish reading Tor's excellent article.

Apr 1 – Fooling Around

What's in a joke, you ask?

I'll come back with another question: what's a good kind of joke to play on April Fool's Day? The answer is more complicated than you might think, but I've boiled it down to one word:


Pranks, in my opinion, don't fall into this category as quite often humor is dependent upon surprise or some other form of physical humor. Whoopee cushions, air horns, and other such prank-level jokes aren't really ones that I like.

This kind of thing, though, I find hilarious:

Wow - what a great shot!

I think the humor in this particular kind of joke is a gentle one: the person watching the animation will eventually realize that there's no end to the graphical loop. Therein lies the humor: the person will feel chagrined that they were taken in by the joke and wasted one or 2 minutes of their day... to no ill effect: harmless.

They laugh, I laugh, we all laugh: that's the point of April Fools' Day.

Apr 2 – VAYKAY!

My first week of vacation for 2016 is here!

So what did I do with my initial bit of time off today, you ask? Well, I spent a good portion of the day working on my costume for the convention next week: I've got a lot to do, but nothing that a few more days of solid effort won't take care of.

Mostly, it's painting, which involves a lot of layers and visual tracing, in order to create a camouflage pattern that closely resembles that of the USCM armour from the movie Aliens. It's patient work, but fortunately nothing that's beyond my skill; all I have to do is spend the time to do it, piece by piece by piece:

This are inch-squares, and terrible glue lines on the bottom....

Once everything is painted( and dry! )all I need to do is cut some holes for straps and assemble the buckles to hold it all together. I have dozens of reference pictures, including all the locations of necessary attachment points to hold everything together while making it closely resembled the rigging from the movie.

As of tonight, the only major piece remaining to be fabricated was the back plate, which I've been holding off on because the detail work has to be done by eye as there's no templates anywhere that I can find on the 'net.

The limiting factor has been my wrists: cutting the dense EVA foam is not only hard on the X-Acto knife blades( I've gone through dozen already )but difficult for my wrists to maintain the pressure for more than a few minutes a day. Most of the cutting's finished with now and it's on to painting, which should be fun.

I can hardly wait to show you what the final result looks like!

Apr 3 – Working Time Off

My girlfriend and I spent the morning together, then I headed home after lunch to continue work on my costume.

It's really come together this week, and I'm quite proud of how I've managed to figure out most of the challenges I have faced as a novice to this craft. Admittedly, there are some parts that make me wince when I look at them, mostly the ugly end on the even lines of hot glue that represent welds on some part of the armor, but those are minor gripes. For the most part, all the pieces are the right size and shape and have turned out far better than I'd hoped for been made of foam rather than vacuum-formed plastic or fiberglass, neither of which is cheap nor doable in an apartment, for that matter.

By 8 PM, I had all of the armour's parts completed and most of them painted with a shiny metallic silver base coat. My plan is to use a low-tech but effective method to show weathering around the edges of the costume, simulating paint that's been worn away from use of the armor and/or combat, if you will. The secret to showing this base coat underneath layers of camouflage paint, you ask?


I kid you not: I ran across this tip during my research and it's brilliant. Simply rub a decent line of toothpaste atop your( dry! )silver metallic paint and let it harden, then paint right over it with as many layers as you like. Once all those layers are dry, all you do is rub away the toothpaste - gently - and voilĂ : the 'worn metal' of the base silver layer shows through in all the areas that you had covered with toothpaste. I tried it out on a few test pieces and it worked perfectly.

So tomorrow I'll be smearing a armor with toothpaste, then painting layers of camouflage by hand on about 20 pieces of armor. As I'm using inexpensive, non-toxic and quick-drying acrylic paints, I hope to be finished painting camouflage on the majority of the pieces by the end of the day tomorrow, with a few touch ups as necessary. Tuesday will be dedicated to the assembly of the costume piece by piece, cutting all the links of straps, riveting them together and assembling each piece on the mannequin as I finish it.
Wednesday, I get to pack for the convention and leave on the evening ferry for Seattle - huzzah!

A week's vacation, and I'm going to be BUSY for all of it: some of it preparing for the convention, some of it AT the convention... and a little of it recovering from the convention. One nice thing is that I'll be too busy to worry about anything at all this week, apart from when I need to sleep!