December 2007

In token of my appreciation for visiting my blog, I’d like to tell you how to acquire the coolest screensaver in the known multiverse (IMHO) - . The developer, Scott Draves, and I seem to share inordinate common interests. To “ordinate” a few: electronic music production; web development; politics; and most importantly, the same favorite movie of all time - Blade Runner.

Here is an extract from the Electric Sheep wiki:

Electric Sheep is a distributed computing project for animating and evolving fractal flames, which are in turn distributed to the networked computers, which display them as a screensaver on the individual node computers of the distributed network. The process is transparent to the casual user, who can simply install the software as a screensaver. Alternately, the user may become more involved with the project, manually creating sheep (video files of animated fractal flames) for upload to the server.

The name “Electric Sheep” is taken from the title of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The title mirrors the nature of the project: computers (androids) who have started running the screensaver begin rendering (dreaming) the fractal movies (sheep).

The sheep motif is carried over into other aspects of the project: the 100 or so sheep stored on the server at any time is referred to as ‘the flock’; creating a new fractal by interpolating or combining the sheep’s fractal code with that of another sheep is called mating/breeding; changes to the code are called mutations, etc.

The parameters that generate these movies (sheep) can be created in a few ways: they can be created and submitted by members of the electricsheep mailing list, members of the mailing list can download the parameters of existing sheep and tweak them, or sheep can be mated together automatically by the server or manually by server admins (nicknamed shepherds).

Users may vote on sheep that they like or dislike, and this voting is used for the genetic algorithm which generates new sheep. Each movie is a fractal flame with several of its parameters changed over time. The individual frames of which these movies consist are rendered using ’spare’ processing cycles from idle computers on the distributed network of those running the screensaver application, and finished sheep (in the form of .mpg files) are distributed to the network using BitTorrent, a Peer-to-peer filesharing application which is included as part of the Electric Sheep application.

All sheep parameters and movies are distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution license and automatically downloaded by the screen saver.

The screensaver was created and released as Free Software by Scott Draves in 1999 and continues to be developed by him and a team of about five engineers.

Download and enjoy!! Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

In an article on his excellent website , Anup Shah writes about , and how marketers have increasingly targeted children to the point where $15-17 billion is spent each year on marketing to kids, who influence an estimated $130-670 billion a year worth of parental purchases each year in the US alone. In the UK, last the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has promoted several measures designed to restrict the content of junk food advertisements targeted at, or easily viewable by children, as well as proposing a ban on online junk food advertising targeting the same demographic. I must say, I’m sympathetic. In a previous post entitled, “Know your market and hook ‘em while their young” I described first hand how my kids started out playing a coloring game online and somehow stumbled upon a “game” that was little more than a giant cinnamon stick gobbling up Apple Jacks, and how the next day they ganged up on me to buy them a box - not an easy request to accommodate in Beijing at the time.

Mind you, I complain frequently to anyone who will tolerate it about the proliferation of flat screen advertisements in buses, trains, and now even elevators! Mostly people just look at me as though I’m some oddball kook, but I am all too aware of the effect that advertising has on me, who, despite the fact that I am vigilantly on guard against the direct to subconscious metaprogramming tactics employed by marketers, still fall prey to their never ending assault on my senses. (Especially when it comes to food.) What then of the impressionable minds of children?

Well, my approach is to minimize the inevitable exposure to mind controlling media in any way possible, the most obvious of which is to limit TV watching. Now, before you get on your high horse and ask me how I can deny the kids their cartoons etc., that is not the case at all. Fortunately, DVDs are widely available and cheap in China, and offer nearly any content you’re likely to wish to view… without commercials.

The Internet is proving to be a larger problem, and, as, over the course of the next few years, advertisers migrate the vast majority of their advertising budgets to direct marketing on mobile devices, I’m afraid it will tax all my resources to stay the onslaught. I suppose the best I can do is to teach my kids to be aware of efforts to manipulate them at all levels, not just advertising, but also to guard against meme viruses, both organically evolved and contrived, that are rampant in society, and which propagate through peer pressure to accept certain “facts” such as “fluoride is good for you” and “the World Trade Center towers collapsed due to airplanes crashing into them” as “reality”, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In my opinion, a healthy skepticism is the sign of a healthy mind. Of course, an obsession with conspiracy is a path to paranoia and social ostracism, so where to draw the line is critical to anyone’s development.

There are a lot of great research papers out there on the subject of advertising to kids. Here are a couple I enjoyed:

(pdf file)

(pdf file) Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

Here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas. Hope you have a good one!!

Benjamin Blysse and Ellysia wish you a Merry Christmas 2007!! Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark

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