Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How To Write Stereoscopic Poetry

Nearly seven years ago I wrote a stereoscopic poem called 'Staring'.

You can view it here on the site.

If you stare at the text and let your focus land some distance behind the screen, you should see something... interesting.

Anyway. I'm telling you about this because I just received email from a very nice person who wanted to know more about it for a class they are teaching, and I have nearly finished an email back to them giving the Whole Secret Away.

Since I'm doing that anyway, I thought I'd post it here too.

So, herewith: instructions for writing stereoscopic poems:

I figured it out when I was trying to make regular steroscopic images myself, and was researching online. Turns out the trick is to have multiple identical columns of... stuff... can be anything really... hence the sort of colourful white noise that most of the pictorial stereoscopic images use - what you do is you place several of those columns next to one another and then change ever so slightly just the parts that you want to 'pop' from the image, but only in some of the columns, not all of them.

This becomes particularly clear if you look at the other abstract ASCII stereograms on the site.

If you examine my text for 'Staring' closely - literally counting the spaces - you'll see that the four columns of identical text are not exactly identical after all. Some of the words have two spaces on one side and one space on the other, instead of the normal one space per side. That allows the stereoscopic writer to choose which words pop out, by simply shifting the side of the word in which the space is placed in one of the columns. When you get the stereoscopic view of the text, by focussing on a point some way behind where you would normally focus, the four columns turn to five. And the words that have been shifted by one space in one of the columns seem to pop out in 3d towards you.

Don't ask me why. I'm a writer (and sometime coder), not a physicist, neuroscientist or opthamologist :)

Anyway. So the trick to writing one of these is this:
  1. Write a long poem. About anything. Doesn't matter. Short lines are essential for this though, so you'll need to bear that in mind.
  2. The hard bit. Make a shorter poem a) using only words that occurred in the longer poem, and b) in the *exact* order they occurred in that poem. You can only use each word once. It's as if you are skipping through the longer poem, missing out all the words except for the ones that make up your new poem.
  3. Type your long poem out in a column, then duplicate it three times. ESSENTIAL - use a fixed width font like Courier. I found that drawing columns using '*' helped but this is not necessary. Haven't done this in seven years but I seem to remember that it *had* to be four columns - three didn't work and nor did five. Can't remember why and I may be wrong.
  4. In each column of the long poem, add an extra space on one side of each of the words from the shorter poem.
  5. For each word of the shorter poem, choose a column where you want it to pop out and flip the side of the word where the space occurs, in that column *only*.
  6. That's it.

I found that columns of about 25 characters in width were ideal, but YMMV.

If you write one, let me know. I'd love to read it.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn Song

I wrote a thing. It's probably woefully outdated by the time you read this.

Also, that YouTube 'share to Blogger' button is way borked. Woo.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

On Brexit

Democratically, the basic problem is this: there is no way a 51.9% share of a 72.2% turnout (so ~37.5% of voters) provides a remotely comfortable mandate for major constitutional change.

It's the worst possible result - a 3.8% margin of victory which is neither quite small enough to easily ignore, nor quite large enough to take as an actual mandate.

1.27 million votes is still a Big Number, though.

Compare 1975, when the referendum on whether the UK should join the then EEC was won by 67.2% to 32.8%. Some may not have liked it but no-one could argue with that result. Turnout slightly smaller than this time, but still a clear answer to the question.

This time it's perfectly reasonable to say 'it's about 50/50 and we not only shouldn't but can't and mustn't do anything drastic'. Massive constitutional change of this sort, if it must be taken to referendum, should require a clear majority. Something like 60-65%. That doesn't seem unreasonable, and it is astonishing to me that something like this wasn't put in place in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

Meanwhile, drastic things have already been done, such as the bloody thing having happened in the first place, the perfectly reasonable - if essentially meaningless so far - EU response that we in the UK can fuck off as quickly as possible please before we do any more damage, and the utterly fucking terrifying open racism of so very much of the Leave campaign and the Leave support.

Of course not all Leave voters have done so on the back of racism. But they have all done so in league with it. I have friends who voted Leave who do not yet realise this and who may never realise this. These are by and large not people who think about politics much and if I haven't raised the point with them it is because I know they will get defensive and start defending the idea of voting along with the fascists when they happen to agree with a tiny part of what they are all voting for. And that is not an argument which will go anywhere helpful.

I also have far too many friends of friends who have turned out unexpectedly to have openly voted Leave because they actually turn out to think there are too many immigrants in this country. Those are not friends of mine, and it has been terrifying to me - as a third generation immigrant myself - to see first-hand how fucking easy it is for demagogues to get traction among people who don't generally care much for politics and stir up the very worst in them.

Then there's the Lexit crowd, precisely none of whom have provided any justification for going along with the fascists. Because there is none and can be none.

And finally, the people who Laurie Penny mentions in her fine article, linked here, where she says 'when all you have is a hammer, all problems start looking like David Cameron's face'. Which is all very well, but also lurches into the territory of oh, these poor people are so fucked, you can't possibly expect them to understand complex things like politics. And here's me thinking that the Labour movement was supposed to be all about people who were so fucked they had no choice but to get a very fucking good understanding of politics PDQ.

Which it used to be, but hasn't been for too long.

Obviously it's completely crazy talk but if the Labour movement actually made some kind of effort to connect there it might just gain some traction. Instead everyone wants to knife Corbyn because of unpleasant things he said about their mate in 1994 or whatever else their problem with him may be. Over here in the Green party we're far too busy hugging trees and thinking about the planet to bother with that kind of shit, but someone urgently needs to deal with the fact that UKIP are moving in and need to be confronted, directly, at grass-roots, with a better and non-shit alternative.

And the vote was *so* close. If they'd extended the franchise to 16-18s we wouldn't be having this conversation, because it would have been 52-48 the other way: in referenda on major change you need a clear majority in favour to proceed; anything else means you don't. The tiny majority in favour - what we have - is the nightmare no-one wins result.

[originally posted as a comment on the MeFi mega Brexit post]

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Making The 8Bitdo NES30 Pro Work With RetroPie On Raspbian Jessie

Last night was long.

I've got a shiny new Raspberry Pi model B running NOOBS. I've got an 8Bitdo NES30 Pro bluetooth joypad. I've installed RetroPie on the thing using the RetroPie-Setup script.

All I wanted to do was to get the controller to work.

And no matter what I did, Emulationstation refused to recognise it. Even when it - occasionally - paired via Bluetooth.

After hours poring through endless forum posts mainly involving instructions to use bluez-* scripts that no longer exist on Raspbian Jessie, I had run out of hair to tear out and was ready to start tearing out other people's.

Finally, at about 4am, I found The Magic Forum Post containing the actual solution that worked for me. If you are reading this and you are in a similar situation, hopefully this will also work for you.

If your problem is that you can get the controller to pair but Emulationstation swears blind that it can't see any controllers, and when you press F4 you get a whole lot of SDL errors about key 314 not being recognised, hopefully this is your answer.

Basically the problem is this: for some reason the system sees the NES30 Pro as a keyboard and mouse, but not as a joystick. The fix is to add a udev rule that forces it to be registered as a joystick.

Creating the following file, called 10-local.rules in /etc/udev/rules.d accomplishes that:

# Add the ID_INPUT_JOYSTICK attribute to the device so SDL picks up on it

SUBSYSTEM=="input", ATTRS{name}=="8Bitdo NES30 Pro", MODE="0666", ENV{ID_INPUT_JOYSTICK}="1"

I altered the ATTRS{name} bit from The Magic Forum Post to reflect the exact name given to my 8Bitdo controller by the system (eg output of hcitool scan when the thing is ready to pair) and you should do the same.

Yes, it's a bodge. But it's a bodge that works, and that's what you need when all you really want to do is play Super Mario Kart and not stay up all night reading forum posts with conflicting advice.

It is not clear where the actual problem lies: is it the controller's fault for not reporting itself successfully as a joystick, is it somehow udev's fault for not recognising the controller as a joystick, is it SDL's fault for not recognising 8Bitdo's products, or is it somehow all of these and none? With such a nasty interaction bug between three systems (five, if you count Emulationstation and RetroPie themselves) it certainly doesn't look like there'll be a proper solution any time soon.

Meantime, bodge away and you're sorted. Further background on the fix can be found at The Magic Forum Post. Hopefully you have found this post before 4am.

Good luck!