Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Compulsion of Infection

Today I want to write about infection. More specifically a Zombie virus infection which as most geeks have one time or another thought about has the potential to destroy life as we know it.

As some of you may know who read this I’m a programmer who is slowly but surely improving his skills and always looking for something to interest me and extend my skills. I recently came to this idea after watching The Walking Dead a series currently showing on FXUK.

Ignoring the series (it’s about Zombies and the fall of society), the thing that interested me the most is that it follows the rules of Zombification or the more specifically the Zombie infection. The majority of these rules were pioneered by George A. Romero who has written some of the most famous zombie films on earth such as Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead (the original) all the way to the more recent films such as Diary of the Dead.

The rules for his zombies and the infection can be found online but what I'm most interested in is the idea that these rules can be written into code and simulated over a timeframe.

Romero’s rules encompass the following areas of zombie actions:

  • Process of infection and reanimation
  • Behaviour such as recall of former actions
  • Locomotion and their movement specifics
  • Physical causes and limits of the virus or reason for reanimation (this one isn’t really needed)

However I’m planning to change these rules slightly and go for the sub-set of rules written by Max Brooks in his books World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide due to the fact he goes to close description in their “hunting” methods and tracking process.

The Plan…Batman

As a start I'm planning to program this in Java and to simulate the infection from ground zero outwards in a set area of land. I also hope to have different variables regarding the beginning of infection.

To begin with their will only be two starting states. One will be initial inception where one person will have the virus and the outbreak from their. Another will have a single party (1-3 Zombies) will come from elsewhere into the area and cause the outbreak.

For a starting goal the first area will most likely be around 1km x 1km wide and be simulated at 1 pixel = 1 metre level which will allow for a high degree of detail in movement considering the way zombies track.

I do not plan to model weapons or ways for humanity to repel this virus as that is not my original aim but the infection must be modelled to some degree to allow an un-winnable situation.

To begin with the things that are needed are Zombies and Humans with the ability to move while adhering to basic rules (of humanity and inhumanity).

Both need to know their landscape, the area of land also needs to be simulated most likely through a large expanse of white with red dots for zombies and green for humans. Possibly yellow or orange for the infected.

The working title for this is Infection if anyone has anything to add to this in either ideas or articles to the actual spread of a contagion then please contact me.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Fashion and Zero Knowledge

It’s been awhile since I updated this blog and I decided that now is the perfect time as it’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon and there is no chance of me going out. The last time I updated this blog it was regarding friends with a slightly morbid tone but with a sense of trust regarding mine. I have some good friends that I wouldn’t trade for the world but however today this is not a blog post about me or those around me (at least it’s not focused at that) but let’s see how it goes.

Today I’m going to talk about William Gibson’s books but specifically Zero History, the Fashion industry, the necessity of learning however much we wish not to and my personal opinion of all these things. So grab whatever your poison is and join me in this mystic adventure of swatches and needles.
I think it’s best to start at where this thought chain started which is with William Gibson and more specifically his newest book Zero History. William Gibson is a mainstream and cult writer who has successfully managed to read the pop culture of the time to create some scarily accurate ideas of how technology will evolve in time and what uses it may be put to.

This is not to say that he’s necessarily correct and some of his ideas are truly fantastic (as in fantasy) however, his writing is superb and only getting better with age and his grasp of how language and slag is used is unrivalled. For all you doubters out there and you know who you are, there is one word in common usage that Gibson actually wrote and coined. This word is everywhere in our world and is used daily, this word is Cyberspace. Even MS Word doesn’t complain when you write it! That has to be some kind of seal of approval?

Anyways less about Gibson and more to the point. In his latest book he speaks of Fashion, as an industry, and more specifically the subculture of fashion trends which ebb and flow in the undercurrents of society and business that are not noticed by the average person during their daily lives.

 Have you ever wondered who makes the decision for the entire world to suddenly decide to change trends? Who decides to wear jeans around your hips rather than your waist? People that’s who but this has to start somewhere and Gibson decides to take the idea of viral marketing one step further to actual items  that are viral and moves through society being a known unknown which extends beyond the usual brand such as Levi’s.

Ideas of viral, you place an idea in someone’s head and this can expand to the point where everything they do is defined by it. A good example of this is relationships, you tell someone their partner is cheating and suddenly every action their spouse takes is judged by this idea which continues to grow and spread. Imagine if Fashion is the same, someone comes up with a new kind of jean design and people are wearing this. Manufacturers see this and decide to make similar jeans, these dilute from the original design but still hold the essence of what makes them that design and they spread until the idea dies and interest is lost. There is a point where these ideas become critical mass and they must either die or continue as an accepted tradition or design in its own right.

Fashion is a strange business which has a strange set of strictures around it. My girlfriend is studying Fashion and Dress History at Brighton University which is about the legacy of fashion through all classes’ boundaries and historical eras.

Fashion is big business due to the fact the design is where the real money is made. Clothing is made and sold with normally over 100% mark-up on the original materials. If you’re buying a pair of jeans for £70 then they’ve been made for around £35. This is at odds with how clothing used to be. During World War Two all items were rationed including clothing. The items of clothing that were creating during the war were designed to last and be of high quality so you would not have to buy another. They were designed with the idea that people would know how to take care of their clothing.

A shirt made during the turn of the 20th Century would have cost much, much less than it would have today even with currency changes but it also would have been of much better quality as our society decides that clothing should be discarded if it’s damaged rather than fixed and used again so quality is not at the fore.

Does this seem mad to anyone else? That this can be allowed to happen? Clothing should be of high quality to last and be maintained through its lifecycle. However there is a problem with this which is that it would come at the cost of progress within the industry and maybe even outside it.

Fashion is a very quick industry which has continual cycles of new and old showing in different guises. Gibson recently said in an interview with the BBC: 
"In the 1960s I think that in some sense the present was actually about three or four years long," he said, "because in three or four years relatively little would change."… "Now the present is the length of a news cycle some days," [LINK]

Because of this we have a problem which is that if people no longer have to buy clothing why would they? The business has sped up to the point that there is no longer a timescale of life for a certain item of any kind. The newest iPod may last for only a week until the next big thing hits the same is with fashion which is why I feel that we cannot move back to the old ways and from now you will always have to pay for quality and maybe it’s a social change that needs to happen to make people to feel okay about repairing clothing rather than discarding them.

Now on to the part that talks about learning even though you wish not to. Most of this is things that I have picked up from my girlfriend and through general reading of Gibson and other sources. I’m sure some of this is incorrect and I would be more than happy to learn of my ignorance so please feel free to contact me if you find any.

As Always I’d be interested to hear from anyone out there about my ideas.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

When the World Comes Down

So it's been rather a long time since I last updated this blog. What's happened? Well as I mentioned last blog I lost my job and moped around for awhile. After that I decided that an old dog may learn new tricks but you certainly have more chance perfecting them with more time. With that thought I went back to school, or more specifically a foundation degree at the local university.

But this rant today is not regarding my current situation, it's to have a chat about friends. I'm talking the real friends that you have. Not the ones that sleeping with your best friend, or you meet randomly at the pub and defiantly not those internet friends you love so much. I'm talking about those that hold your head out of the toilet after too many tequila slammers or listen to you prattle on about anything that cares to slip into your head without so much as sighing or rolling their eyes once.

Pulp fiction once described a friend as someone you could have a comfortable silence with, share a $5 shake and dance the twist with. To me it's a much simpler affair. A true friend is someone that when the world continues on its path and the world crumbles around us, they'll be with you because there's nothing better than being around you watching it fall.

So think about these people, when the world crashing down around us there are people you'd rather be with at the end. It doesn't matter what you're doing or even how you're doing it. It's that you're together to watch the sun become black as sackcloth and the moon become as blood and usher in the end of days.

I know this is rather morbid but everyone knows these people, the ones who will stand by you regardless. It may not always seem like it but we are alone most of the time but it doesn't mean you're not in someone's head somewhere. Hell who knows? Maybe we're all in someone's head really?

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Journey Through The Midnight Hour


Right so it's 00:17 in the morning and I'm trying to get ready to sleep as I can no longer sleep without getting myself so drowsy that when I get into bed I fall asleep instantly to forgo the act of having to actually converse with the beasts inside my head.
                In this strangely quiet hour I'm listening to an Environmental broadcast from the people at Sleepbot. This is a radio station that continuously plays only soothing environmental and instrumental tunes. It's supposed to be listened to while you sleep to give you a nice soothing mood while you dream away those midnight (or daylight) hours. I stumbled upon it via Warren Ellis' twitter. I find it relaxes me in a way music with lyrics doesn't, it allows me space to think in my own head while not listening to the screaming of the daily world around me. To find this broadcast take a look at the links at the bottom.
                As for why this blog has not been updated since my previous comic related spam it's because I've lost my job. No, not in the sense it's wandering around middle England somewhere but my work considered that I was not doing my job in a satisfactory manor which I suppose I agree with. I hadn't been putting my all into my job primarily because I was only there for the paycheck at the end of the month which never bodes well. I'm currently looking for a new job while trying to convince the British Government that yes, I do actually need some money to keep living however much they would rather not give me any.
                It's odd really that I continue to avoid the fact that If I want to succeed in what I really want to do which is Programming and more specifically game and UI programming. Then I will someday have to actually focus and do something regarding it. However I have no experience, no qualification and even no idea how I would go about such a thing. Yet I entertain ideas that someday I may be as technically amazing as Chris Delay of Introversion or Brad Wardell of Stardock.
                At this hour I find solace in that I'm still young and I can still learn new things but I feel downhearted at the fact no university seems to want to accept me on any course related to computer sciences. I feel I have an ability for computers within me yet no matter how hard I try I can't progress to where I want to be. I'm studying for a Java certification that I'm not sure is worth anything as without experience who would be interested in hiring me?
                I understand this is pretty much emo droning and It should clear up with the sunny skies (read: grey) but I feel self expression is a high form of indulgement that allows certain aspects of myself to reveal themselves in this case being that I'm melancholy and want a break.
                Well sleep starts drive me, the sleepbot is whispering sweet nothings in my ear and it sounds similar to The Real Folk Blues from Cowboy Bebop. Quiet, sad and beautiful. I feel night is the most refreshing time in a day. It gives us all time to recharge, relax and regardless of sleeping or awake be rid of others in our lives to recover our sense of being ourselves alone rather than us with others.
                Well that's enough rambling I think. It's 00:46 and my piece continues. I think I'll wind down a little more before sleep. I suggest checking out the links below to certain people or things I mention and let me know if anything I said makes any sense to you. I'd always like to know.
Warren Ellis - http://www.warrenellis.com - twitter: warrenellis
Brad Wardell - http://www.stardock.com/ - blog: http://draginol.joeuser.com/
Chris Delay - http://www.introversion.co.uk/ - blog: http://www.introversion.co.uk/blog
Sleepbot - http://www.sleepbot.com/ambience/broadcast/
Cowboy Bebop - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cowboy_Bebop

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Now Leaving Civilisation


I've recently picked up a new series of graphic novels known as DMZ which is written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Riccardo Burchielli. I picked it up on the suggestion of one of the staff members of my local comic book store and since he'd never steered my wrong before I thought for £7.50 what's the worst that could happen?
Well the worst that could happen was that I found out that it's pretty darn interesting and I now have an urge to buy the rest of the series (which currently stands on volume 8). DMZ is set in a semi-fictional future in which during Americas numerous wars an uprising occurs which causes a second American civil war to begin.
Interestingly however the story is not about the war that is occurring but more about the situation that has happened to the isle of Manhattan which has now become a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) with the United States of America occupying Brooklyn/Queens and Long Island. Where the newly formed Free States occupying New Jersey and the Inland. As for the situation regarding how this happened you will have to read the series what I would like to inform you of is the moral grey regarding this series.
Outside of the DMZ there are two sides spamming propaganda regarding the situation of the war where the realistic view is that nothing is happening and at the start of the story and uneasy ceasefire is in place around the DMZ. Matthew (Matty) Roth is an intern for the fictional Liberty News Network who are a part of the USA. He is sent in with a famous reporter known as Viktor Ferguson to cover the stories of the DMZ which has basically been a black hole for news since its inception.
Matty is only sent in because of his father's connections and he's not particularly street smart. Almost immediately after entering the DMZ his helicopter is shot down and the second is blown to pieces. He's left with no support, lots of equipment he has no idea how to use and pretty much a giant target on himself as an outsider.
When reading DMZ it gives you an uneasy feeling much like Escape from New York when Snake first goes walking around the streets. There is a world here regardless of if you can see it or not. Frequent references to Ground Zero and how no one goes near it as it's like a tomb and how the Empire State Building is a no go zone. The people that think they can take up a sniping spot there are quickly found being thrown out of a window by someone or something.
DMZ has its own mythology told through the eyes of the people who live in the zone. The majority of them were left to poor to have the money to pay their way out or an ethnic race that no one cared about. Others stayed because they wanted to help and others stayed because the war would be over tomorrow and some prime real estate on the upper east side would be worth something soon. The DMZ has been in existence for 2 years at the start of the story and it has no sign of ending.
The characters that Brian Wood creates are quirky with a sense of humour and many interesting views on their world around them. One of the central themes is belonging and how the people in the DMZ are more like a tribe than anything. They're all experiencing this thing from the inside and no one else could understand. People outside of the DMZ see them as rat eating feral people that were stupid enough to stay when everyone else left. The truth is very much different. There are nightclubs and there are caf├ęs but there are also warlords, cults and insurgents.
One of the characters is Zee, a former medical student at a hospital in the city. She chose to stay in the city as she had no illusions that people would be left behind and they would need care. She's a doctor and she's the one who helps matty. He almost gets her killed through his naivety. He thinks that those who sent him in wanted to help everyone and when he thinks he's going to get out, they find out where he is and bomb the area. His illusions are shattered and so our ours. This is war, there are no goodies or baddies there is just oceans of moral grey.
The only real question is: How do I survive today?
 

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Sound Of Magic
The Music Of Phonogram
Okay right this is an odd one. I have to try write about something that I picked up randomly on the spur of the moment because I read the first (or so
I thought) of the set online. I'm going to try write whatever comes to mind and then edit the bits I like into something resembling a review for the
Comic Book / drawn musical that is Phonogram: The Singles Club.

I suppose we should start with the author and artist really. The Author is one Kieron Gillen who's name it turns out is harder to spell than first
thought. One of the founding members of RockPaperShotgun.com and original PC Gamer writer has a firm foundation in most computer game geek hearts. He
is currently still writing for RockPaperShotgun and moonlighting (or should that be daylighting as it seems to be his main focus now?) as writer for
Comic books such as Thor and S.W.O.R.D according to Wikipedia.

Firstly I only know of Kieron because I used to read PC Gamer back in the olden days and he wrote the review for the first game I ever loved (*sniff*
Love you Uplink *sniff*) . Also it turns out he's actually rather a nice bloke according to my girlfriend who met him yesterday at Free Comic Book Day
at London's Orbital Comics (Shameless plug for place I've never been). It seems she chatted to him about random things such as Viking longboat
formations. Yeah exactly. I also met him personally (however briefly) at an event held by the Introversion guys up at the Baftas in London at which he
was rather good.

Right that's enough of Kieron as awesome as he is. On to the artist who in this case is Jamie McKelvie and according to an old friend (Wikipedia in
this case) has worked on such greats as Suburban Glamour, Siege: Loki and of course Phonogram. From what I can tell as a non-artist he's a great artist
with particular flair and conveying the mood of a situation through the facial expressions of the characters he's drawing. I'll get more on to this
with specifics regarding Phonogram later.

Right now to the main event ladies and gentlepeople. Phonogram: The Singles Club we should probably start of saying is fantastic. I don't expect any of
you to take my opinion of this as I'm going to tell you and hopefully convince you to at least check out the free first part online of this interesting
concept. Quick note if I do convince you do not rush out as I did and hold up your local comic book shop demanding banana's, Captain America's shield
and Phonogram on a velvet pillow. It doesn't work as they'll ask you if you want the first Phonogram Novel or the Second.

If you've read this far you're either thinking why is this man insane, does he live near me and are my doors locked? Or you could be curious as to what
Phonogram actually is. Firstly The Singles Club is the second of the Phonogram graphic novels. I personally didn't realise this and in my rush only
brought The Singles Club. However these can be taken as stand-alone stories and are perfectly composed and tied into a comprehensive whole.

Everyone has had a song that they've related to or have summed up exactly what they were feeling at that moment. Everyone has felt that tug from their
chest and the sudden belief that a song could sum them up so well at that moment. That's what Phonogram tells us all. Music is magic and if you know
how to use it then you can direct this power. The people who can use music in this way are Phonomancers.

The power of music is not for everyone. You have to want to believe and you have to try. This is a written extract from the section called Wolf Like Me.

"Choose a Track. Doesn't matter what is - just that it matters to you. Stick it on and turn it up. Close your eyes and listen hard. Focus.
Just feel the song. let it sweep over you breathe it in. let it possess you. and when you can feel it filling every single cell in your body...Just
ride it as long as you can".

I don't know about you but this has a certain tone to me. Slightly prophetic and mystic that brings me to mind of pagan magic (stand on a chilly night
in Yorkshire with a dog bone on your head for a huge wang by morning). Everyone has had this feeling of music washing over them and instilling them
with the same sense of being that the artist felt writing it. It could be empowering, it could be relaxing or it could be depressing. Regardless of
what the feeling is it's the act of feeling that makes it special. It could be Blondie, Sabbath, Maiden, Pink, Arctic Monkeys or even McFly. Whatever
your poison is people link emotions to songs so why can't we link songs to pictures? This is what Phonogram sets out to accomplish.

Something that interests me most is the idea of this musical magic. It's not just the feeling it creates it's the acts that it inspires. For some it
could be writing, for others self-loathing or even dancing with joy. With the thoughts of dancing we move to the centre piece of our musical chess game
strung by DJ Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl.

The story begins with a girl, like most do. She's pretty, smiley and most of all confident. She flicks us a smile and talks to you. Not the person
reading over your shoulder, you and only you. She gets ready by cranking up a song, does a quick dance with stars in her eyes and prepares for an
evening that's going to be "Epic covered in Sparklers and Win Flakes". Phonogram has a sense of slang that I've only felt in stories by William
Gibson who created words we now take for granted such as Cyberspace. It uses modern terms so easily as people do. This phrase isn't out of context or
out of place and no your mum certainly wouldn't get it but maybe your cool uncle would.

I know this probably hasn't convinced you to read any of this and that's because I'm not such a good writer. All I can suggest is you check out the
first issue Pull Shapes on http://phonogramcomic.com. It's beautiful, ambitious and maybe everyone of us will have a night where
the moves we make and the ties we create can be strung together by a DJ pulling our strings like Seth Bingo and Silent Girl. I'll leave you with a
promo-piece for Phonogram the Singles Club and maybe you'll feel like I do.