Entries for December 2007

December 31, 2007

Glamour Mug Shots

I had an idea today to take mug shots and make them into cheesy studio portraits or glamour shots. I call them Glamour Mug Shots. I whipped up a few examples using celebrity mug shots posted at The Smoking Gun. Feel free to make your own and post a link in the comments. Here’s what I came up with (mouse over to see the originals):

December 27, 2007

Idea: The Gethuman Dialer Application

The website gethuman.com has created a database of phone numbers for every major company in 15 different categories (such as insurance, phone companies, banks, etc) with instructions on exactly what you need to do in order to navigate your way to a real live human. For example, if you need to talk to a live person at Priceline, the instructions say, “At prompt press 1; at prompt press 1; at prompt enter phone number #; at prompt enter phone number #; at prompt enter phone number #.”

But that still seems like an awful lot of work to get a human. Why doesn’t someone create an application that does all the work for me? Let me select what company I need to call, and then use my modem to call them and do all that number-pressing automatically. At the last step, play a sound so I know to pick up my phone. Or just turn up the speaker on my computer so I can hear when a human picks up. Of course, not everyone has a modem any more, so the program could also come as a Skype plug-in and in cell phone versions for different mobile operating systems.

The program doesn’t need any sophisticated voice-recognition technology to know when it can press the next number. It can just be programmed to pause an appropriate length in between number-presses. And by letting me set my default services, I don’t need to see the huge list of companies all the time unless I want to. I could just press the “electric company” button and be talking to a person at ConEd a few minutes later. The program would need to come with some actual spoken words pre-recorded for those phone systems that require you to say “yes” or “operator,” etc. And it could store my account numbers so it can enter them where needed.

This shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Old BBS dialer software might even be usable by loading it with Gethuman info instead of BBS phone numbers, and using Hayes Commands to handle the pauses and subsequent number presses. But that method has limitations, and isn’t as complete or elegant a solution as a dedicated Gethuman Dialer.

[This idea came about during a conversation with my friend Jay, who deserves a share of the credit on this one. Thanks, Jay!]

Update: Well that was fast. A reader named Scott points out that such a service already exists through a web-based interface called Bringo at nophonetrees.com. I suppose a desktop app would calm any concerns about divulging your phone number or other personal information to any third parties, although it should be noted that Bringo’s privacy policy looks pretty good. So until such a thing exists, I’ll definitely bookmark Bringo.

December 25, 2007

I see a Sandcrawler

It’s been a while since I’ve seen something from Star Wars hiding in plain site, so maybe my brain was a little too primed to find one. But sure enough, I found this Sandcrawler hiding behind an Anthropologie store this week.

Previously: I see the Death Star
Previously: I see R2-D2
Previously: I see a Storm Trooper

December 17, 2007

Idea: Tetris one brick at a time

Wikipedia lists dozens of variations on Tetris. I’ve played several of them, and still like the original version best. But I recently thought of a variation I haven’t seen before. It’s like a cross between Tetris and “Bubble Breaker” style games.

In this version of Tetris, which I call “Montris,” there are no falling tetrominoes (the shapes made up of 4 bricks that you’re familiar with in Tetris), and there is nothing to rotate. The shapes just drop one brick at a time, and it’s up to you to create tetrominoes when they land. When you create a tetromino, it disappears. Your goal isn’t to clear entire rows of bricks. You just clear tetrominoes. When you clear one and the bricks above it fall, this may create other tetrominoes that clear creating a chain-reaction. So thinking ahead is important.

If you drop a brick where it could potentially create more than one tetromino, you have to decide which tetromino to clear. See the animated example above for an illustration of how this could work.

Dropping one brick at a time means the well would take a long time to fill up, so there should be some other variation that keeps the game exciting. Maybe it’s as simple as a narrowing the playing field to only 5 or 6 bricks wide? Or maybe gameplay speeds up very quickly. Or maybe the next brick starts dropping when the current one is only half-way down.

One of these days, I’m going to learn enough about programming to be able to actually try my ideas.

(I call it “Montris” because it combines “mono” and “tetris.” Also, the word “montris” in Esperanto means “to show” in the past tense. That’s not really relevant, but now you know a word in Esperanto.)

December 12, 2007

Animated Manhattan: Downtown

Part 19 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

In 1999, MTV debuted Downtown, an animated series about a group of teenagers living in the Lower East Side. 13 episodes were produced, but only 12 were aired. Based on real people, and voiced by non-actors, the series was firmly rooted in reality. The New York depicted in Downtown didn’t feature the usual Animated Manhattan locations like Rockefeller Center and Times Square. Instead it featured places like that arcade in Chinatown with the chicken that plays Tic-Tac-Toe.

The characters work at locations which could easily be East Side Copy or St. Mark’s Comics. They go to Kennedy Airport. They get stuck in Staten Island. They argue over which subway gets to Coney Island quickest. The animators capture the subway experience realistically, including that phenomenon that happens when a local and express train are going in the same direction side-by-side, and you can see all the people in the train next to you for just a few moments until the local has to slow down. Or when you jump out of the local train at the station because the express is there, but you don’t reach it in time, and then you run back to the local, and the doors close before you make it, leaving you pissed that you didn’t just stay in the train to begin with.

These are the sorts of things that happen in the Emmy-nominated Downtown, just like they happen in real life. Due to licensing complications, the series was never officially released on DVD, but its creator Chris Prynoski of Titmouse Studio does have promotional copies of the series available for free. You just need to pay $25 for shipping, handling, the DVD media, and the box. Details on his blog.

Here are some more stills from the show, in all their muted color glory:

By 1999, MTV had already pretty much lost me as a viewer, so I never watched Downtown while it was on. But watching it now, I feel nostalgia for my own early years in New York, hanging out downtown in the late 90s. Those were the days.

December 6, 2007

New Ironic Sans merch for the Holidays

New to the Ironic Sans shop are T-Shirts emblazoned with the NYC Skyline Histogram from this post I wrote a few weeks back. The design is available in a range of attractive products and sizes.

All your old favorite items are still available, too, including T-shirts From Conventions That Never Really Happened, the “Hello My Name Is John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” shirts, the Ascent-of-Man Crossing Abby Road items, an Orange Clockwork, and of course the Pre-Pixelated Clothes For Reality TV Shows (featuring the return of the Pixmas design) as well as a few other items.

They make excellent gifts!

December 4, 2007

Bookstore Befuddlement

About 10 years ago I worked in a large chain bookstore (where I once actually selected this book as my “employee pick”). I think I was a pretty good bookseller, but there was this one conversation I had with a customer that in retrospect I find amusing. I was standing in the Science and Computers section when he approached, looking for books on a particular topic.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Where can I find books about pediaphiles?”

Hmm, I thought. He’s looking for books about people who are sexually attracted to children. Well that could be in psychology, or true crime maybe. “What kind of book are you looking for?” I asked.

“Just a general book.”

“Well, are you interested in the psychology of pediaphiles? Or case studies?”

With obvious confusion on his face, he said, “I guess I’m trying to find out how they’re made.”

“Well, I think that would be psychology. Let me look in the computer and see what we have,” I replied, catching on that we were somehow miscommunicating something, but unsure what that might be.

“I don’t think it would be psychology,” he said, “I think it would be here in the computer section.”

“Books on pediaphiles?”



“Do you even know what a pediaphile is?” he asked, obviously thinking I’m an idiot.

“Well, I thought so.”

“It stands for Portable Document Format. It’s what you use when you want to e-mail a document and retain the formatting.”

“Oh! PDF file! I thought you were asking for… nevermind. Yes, we have books on PDF files.”

And I haven’t been able to look at a PDF attachment the same way since.

Note: I know, the word is “pedophile.” But the prefix “pedia-” as in “pediatrician” threw me off. I’ve also recently learned that people who edit a lot of wikipedia articles are sometimes called pediaphiles. None of these people should be confused with podophiles, who have foot fetishes.