Interesting 2009 – forty even more interesting things

As is becoming traditional (2007, 2008), I’ve made a very brief list of what happened at this year’s Interesting

Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Bubblino at Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Hello, Interesting 2009

  1. Tom Loosemore on the race to sail faster than 50 knots.
  2. Jessica Greenwood on why the least interesting things about sport is the score (football, with all its attendant drama, is a $500B industry).
  3. Robert Brook spoke on being a gentleman (by birth, costume or behaviour).
  4. Toby Barnes on a brief history of cheating in video-games (cheating, when it involves other people, is wrong).
  5. Leila Johnston read some snippets from her very funny book, ‘The Enemy of Chaos
  6. Cait Hurley talked about Arthur Jefferson (Stan Laurel’s dad and an awesome guy).
  7. Alby Reid told us that everything we knew about nuclear power was wrong (How many people died as a result of Chernobyl? 56.)
  8. Katy Lindemann enthused about robots (Tweenbots are especially adorable).
  9. The very cute Bubblino made an appearance on stage (blowing bubbles across the stage every time ‘interesting’ was mentioned on twitter).
  10. Dominic Tinley explained why we don’t see the colour violet on our computers and cameras, as well as what Radio 4 would look like if we could see sound.
  11. Andy Huntington took us on a tour of keyboard instruments and explained ‘equal temperament’.
  12. Alice Taylor talked about ‘merchants vs craftants’ (give some love back to the crafters).
  13. Tim Duckett kindly taught us morse code in 10 minutes. For example: Z = Zinc Zoo kee-per– – . .
  14. Michal Migurski talked about maps and paper and a much-photocopied intersection map of San Francisco (paper wiki).
  15. Josie Fraser talked about psychological violence in UK 1970s and 80s girls comics (‘it can be dangerous to mock a monkey’).
  16. Dan Maier talked about Sir Francis Galton (I now really want to read Galton’s book ‘The Art of Travel‘, and to a lesser extent his thoughts on ‘Africa for the Chinese’ (“one of the 5 most racist things I’ve ever read”, according to Dan) and ‘Arithmetic by Smell‘).
  17. Asi Sharabi showed us 6-8 year old children’s ideas of interestingness (which centered around technology, friends, motors and animals).
  18. Meg Pickard taught us about drinking rituals and associated customs (toast, cheers, your good health, chin chin, rule of thumb).
  19. Alex Deschamps-Sonsino got us to make a very complicated origami box.
  20. Tuur Van Balen talked about yoghurt and DNA synthesis (“I’ve never done bio-technology under such time pressure!”)
  21. Jon Gisby taught us how to conduct a symphony orchestra (“It’s like riding a horse at speed; fun, but with a significant risk of abject and public failure”).
  22. Jessica Bigarel discussed, and beautifully presented, her meta meta data data (capturing each flight of stairs travelled up or down was “an arduous dataset and it was very disruptive to my life”).
  23. Craig Smith talked about his dad (“he sharpens a drill bit better than any man in Huddersfield”) and showed us the types of water wheels (under shot, breast shot, over shot and pitch back).
  24. Tom Fishburne talked about innovation and cartoons.
  25. Anab Jain talked about her Indian superpowers.
  26. Naomi Alderman talked about greek tragedy and goats.
  27. Gavin Bell talked about the writing of his new ‘Social Web Applications’ book (wifi is a blessing and a curse).
  28. Emma Marsland shared the ponies she has loved, real and imagined, from since 1970
  29. Nick Hand shared his ongoing journey around the coast of mainland Britain (5000 miles in 100 days).
  30. We heard about the ‘BIL‘ unconference in Oxford next summer (BIL is to TED as Bar camp is to Foo camp).
  31. Mark Earls and his Darwinian Display Team demonstrated random drift.
  32. Robert Thomas demonstrated RjDj (‘Music as Software’).
  33. Gem Spear talked about electric trains and underground creeks (GM’s inglorious part in killing off the inter-urban railway systems in the US, and a rather nice discussion of running surface runoff water through gardens rather then through underground culverts).
  34. Paul Hammond showed us how to win at Monopoly (if you can buy it, buy it; trade up to a full colour group asap; go for the oranges (stats!); unless it’s early in the game, stay in jail; create a housing shortage; don’t play house rules, as they’ll only make the game take too long; don’t play it at all, it’s a rubbish game. Instead, play German board games, which are not all German and not all board games).
  35. David Smith gave a touching and powerful talk about teaching (you can’t teach children well unless you love children).
  36. Richard Reynolds mentioned his Guerilla Gardening book and told a lovely story about planting sunflowers opposite Parliament.
  37. We watched Jim Le Fevre‘s beautiful astrotagging film.
  38. Claire Margetts told us about the ‘Do’ lectures.
  39. Matt Ward showed us why frivolity is important by showing his plans for watching a bullet reach the top of its trajectory (“Understanding comes through doing”).
  40. Dan Germain talked about sunsets (“basically, when the sun disappears”, by which time it has apparently already happened) and asked why we persist in taking bad photos of them, pondering whether it’s because they remind us of death).

Interesting 2009 Matt David Smith at Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009 Interesting 2009

Another great job from Russell. Three years in a row, Interesting continues to live up to its name.

EZi Entertainment Zone

Simon Lumb recently spotted an amazing(ly bad) looking games console in a motorway service station which, shall we say, borrows heavily from the design of of the Wii.

I couldn’t resist trying it for myself, and picked one up on eBay for a little bit less than £20 including delivery. Quite a bit less than the RRP you’ll see quoted in some places online. A games console, complete with 87 games, for £20. Bargain. Right? Well, almost.

EZi Entertainment Zone  EZi Entertainment Zone  EZi Entertainment Zone unboxing  EZi Entertainment Zone  EZi Entertainment Zone - 18 sports games  EZi Entertainment Zone - 69 arcade games

EZi Entertainment Zone

EZi Entertainment Zone - pingpong  EZi Entertainment Zone - Fish Story  EZi Entertainment Zone - Freestyle  EZi Entertainment Zone - Deformable  EZi Entertainment Zone - Javelin Throw  EZi Entertainment Zone - Santa Claus


  • The graphics are sub-SNES quality and many of the games are barely playable. The knock-off design is laughable and the bargain basement price reveals itself at every opportunity.
  • The two stick controllers each include four red flashing lights at the bottom, a-la the blue lights on the Wiimote, but these ones don’t do anything except flash irritatingly and constantly.
  • The stick controllers do include a very crude motion control. Certainly nothing like the Wiimote of course, but simply a basic (and flaky) movement detection, presumably through something like a mercury tilt switch. It just about works for the Tennis and Pingpong games but it it painful in the extreme for any of the others, especially baseball and golf where it’s practically unusable. You can turn ‘sport’ mode off to disable the motion control and use the buttons instead (or just use the other game controller which you only get one of but is a much better bet for most of the games).

I have not tried all 87 games yet, but here are some highlights



Little Indian

While many of the other games I’ve tried so far have been predictably awful, other have turned out to be quite playable in a retro generation-before-last sort of way. Especially with the volume muted. The quality of the (18) games on the sports cartridge, while still quite mixed, is markedly higher than the (69) games on the arcade cartridge.

Some of the names are amazing. How can you not love a console that ships with titles including Cross Strert, Assart, Aimless, Polk, Grot Kid, Knocking, Ramming, Fish Journey and Girl.

I’ll try to continue to capture and review more of the games in detail. Rather than do it here, I’ve started an owners wiki where I’ve begun to document the EZi’s various games and hardware. It already includes the photos and videos used above, plus Pingpong, Boxing and others, and I’m sure it will grow as I (and others?) add more. I do hope anyone else who is brave/mad/foolish enough to buy an EZi Entertainment Zone will join me there.

Recent Reading

Recent Reading (August)

  • The Autograph Man, Zadie Smith – easily the best and least irritating Zadie Smith book ever. Hated White Teeth? Try this one.
  • Choke, Chuck Palahniuk – dark, disturbing and funny in that way that Chuck Palahniuk (and, in their own way, Irvine Welsh and Iain Banks) can sometimes be.
  • Dead Air, Iain Banks – reread it again, mainly for the very-tense-can’t-possibly-put-it-down bit about 2/3 through. You know, when he’s got to do that thing wearing the gloves. Brilliant!
  • Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, Mil Millington – Very very funny book. You should read it. (Apparently I last did so in December 2007 and it was a pleasure to do so again.) You should really also read his searingly funny website which pre-dates the book.
  • Love and Other Near Death Experiences, Mil Millington – nearly as funny as the other one. (And it seems I last read this one on a trip to San Francisco in December 2006. I knew blogging my reading habits would be good for something.)

MIDIguitar patch

Remember the Rock Band / Guitar Hero MIDI guitar thing I made? I have not fiddled with it much since I presented at Playful 08.

However, since a few people have asked me for it, here’s the current version of the ControllerMate patch which contains two versions; one for Rock Band (Harmonix) Xbox guitars and one for Guitar Hero (Red Octane X-Plorer Controller) Xbox guitars.

You’ll need ControllerMate to use it of course, but more importantly you’ll need the MIDI-enabled version (which means you’ll need a registered copy) but honestly, once I’d tried ControllerMate I knew the MIDI addition was well worth the $15.

Enjoy, and do let me know if you make any interesting modifications.

Things that might help you get started:

Trials HD

When Ian recently mentioned Trials HD I was hooked as soon as I tried it. If you have not played it, here’s what you’re missing:

Trials HD is, in short, brilliant. Staggeringly simple (controls: accelerate, brake, lean forward/back. You can’t even steer), easy to pick up (you can pass the early levels very quickly) and very very hard to complete (grrnnnnghhh). The race levels are great while the additional skill games are a lot of fun and act as a reward and incentive for medal hunting in the maps. Best of all is probably the level editor. I’ve already spent nearly as long making my own levels as I have playing the game.

Here are some big swinging balls and a glass bridge I made. Careful now.

That's no moon!    The glass bridge

Unfortunately, any custom maps you create can only be shared with your friends. I’d love to be able to play the best of what’s being created by everyone, but I don’t particularly want to clutter my friends list with strangers. I wish the developers had implemented (and, more importantly, could afford to run) a LittleBigPlanet style global content sharing system. Despite that shortcoming, Trials HD might actually be my favourite game so far this year. And for 12,000 Microsoft points ($15 / £10.20) it’s also great value.

Mustache TV

Mustache TV

Jesse Thorn kindly sent me a ‘Mustache TV‘ as a thank you for supporting Maximum Fun. (Disclaimer: I donate a small amount of money each moth. As you know, I’m a fan, and a card-carrying member of the Maximum Fun club and "a proud adherent of the principles of The New Sincerity").

Mustache TV’s lovingly detailed instructions include a scoring system (3 points for a clean-shaved man, 5 points for a lady, 6 points for a world leader) and it turns out to work quite well for games too. Lots of fun.

Mustache TV - Spaced Mustache TV - Mirror's Edge Mustache TV - The Wire

Recent Reading

Recent Reading (July)

  • The Beach, Alex Garland – better each time I read it. And so much better than the film. Remarkable first novel.
  • Paperweight, Stephen Fry – quite lovely, though bitty
  • Richter 10, Arthur C. Clarke & Mike McQuay – pappy. Clarke came up with the idea and the story in 3 pages. McQuay did all the heavy lifting.
  • 2061: Odyssey Three, Arthur C. Clarke – instantly forgettable.
  • Last Orders, Graham Swift – won the Booker Prize in 1996. Deservedly so. Quite the best book I’ve read this year. If you have not read it, you really should

Holiday in Pembrokeshire

Back to work tomorrow after a great few days holiday. If you’re even in Pembrokeshire, I recommend St David’s, and Porth Clais. Between Thursday and Saturday the weather way very fine and we enjoyed long walks with the dog along the stunning Pembrokeshire coast.

Severn Bridge Bishops Palace at St David's Pigsfoot Lane Climbers Cliffs

Early Sunday morning, however, it turned not only very wet but also very very windy. Not a great combination when you’re sleeping under canvas, and we kept waking up slightly intimidated by the way our tent was being thrown around. Ray got out the camera to capture the moment (note the dog laying between our sleeping bags, 38 seconds in).

And about 20 minutes later, despite conducting emergency running repairs to the pegs and guy ropes holding us down, our tent had totally collapsed, with us inside it.

We had a lovely stay though, despite the final night. In fact, clambering out of an inside-out, soaking wet tent is a happy moment one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Microprinter Sparklines

Ever since Tom Taylor inspired quite a few of us to play with printers, I’ve been seeing what I can get mine to do. So far: barcodes were pretty quick. More recently, daily digests, twitter updates and even printing an entire a book. What’s next?

Microprinter Sparklines

Sparklines turned out to be fairly easy. I’ve written a basic Java library for talking to the printer, which I’ve shared on Github. The latest version of connects over USB to the microprinter_sketch.pde Arduino sketch which then simply relays whatever you send to it on to the printer.

The Java library contains a method called printSparkline(), which takes a label and an array of data. Here’s how you’d use it to create the printout shown above:

int[] sawBytes = new int[256];
int current = 0;
boolean flip = true;
for (int i = 0; i < 256; i++) {
   if ((current >= 7 && flip) || (current <= 0 && !flip)) flip = ! flip;
if (flip) {
} else {
   sawBytes[i] = current;
microprinter.printSparkline("saw............", sawBytes);

int[] sineArray = new int[256];
for (float i = 0; i < 256; i++) {
   sineArray[(int) i] = (int) (Math.sin(i / 5) * 1000);
microprinter.printSparkline("sin............", sineArray);

Please feel free to adapt and improve. If you make any serious changes I'd love to see them, and don't forget to get involved on the microprinter wiki.