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American megatrends bios….now that’s something I haven’t seen in ages

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Error message on Amazon box miro

Bios screen

So Argos seems to run on Tomcat…

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Argos terminal showing error and full stack trace.Argos terminal showing start of stack traceEnd of stocks Argos stack trace

From what I can tell Argos is running Tomcat version 5.5.12..possibly struts?

Error Messages in the Wild

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Error in the wild

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And the Award goes to ?

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By Prayitno [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Well, it seems that yet again the Oscars are incapable of giving away 24 gold-plated statues to a load of rich actors in designer gear without some kind of controversy. This year Bonnie and Clyde – Faye Dunnaway and Warren Beaty managed to inadvertently inject anarchy into the awards do by opening the wrong envelope. resulting in La La Land winning best picture when it should have been Moonlight. It transpired, Beaty had been handed the envelope for the previous award for Best Actress, won by Emma Stone for La La Land. The Academy have announced an inquiry but here are the basic facts

apparently, there are 2 people backstage responsible for handing the envelopes from one of 2 sets of envelopes to the presenters. You have to assume the envelopes were marked with the award on there and yet 2 people failed to give an envelope to someone who didn’t even bother to check he had the right envelope. It seems that the problem can be summed up as follows. unused envelopes had contaminated the award pool. either the old envelope opened by Leonardo Di Caprio had somehow made its way to Beaty, or the alternative Best actress awards had been handed out in error. Now I didn’t watch the awards but I would assume there would be some stage directions managing where presenters and winners would enter and exit the stage. Here’s a brief intro to stage direction terms

Areas of a standard proscenium stage; plan view This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


in this diagram, we can see that stage left (SL) and stage right(SR) is relative to an actor standing on stage and facing the audience that forestage (FS) is closer to the audience and backstage(BS) is further away. Now a lot of these awards will also have an elevated staircase that the presenters enter sometimes from SL some time from SR but always from an elevated position, meeting in the center and walking down a shared staircase to centre forestage. Once at the podium the presenters ad-lib and read the autocue to announce the nominees for the award, the envelope is opened, the winner is read, the winner receives the awards, talks for 30 seconds then returns to their seat, the presenters then also leave. Because the next presenters should already be in position, ready to come on it is doubtful the presenters will exit the stage the same way they came in. so here are our stage direction options:

  • presenters walk in either from stage right
  • presenters walk in either from stage left
  • presenters walk in either from a central staircase

once they have given out the awards they exit

  • If presenters entered Stage Right, then exit Stage left
  • If presenters entered Stage Left then exit Stage Right
  • If presenters entered from central staircase, then exit either Stage left or stage right

If there are 2 people handing out the envelopes, then I suggest that 1 of them hand out the envelope at the start, once the envelope has been handed to the presenter, the matching envelope from the alternate set is destroyed. The other person waits for the actors to exit, takes the envelope and card from the, rips them in half and places them in a bin before ticking them off a list.there should be no contamination of envelopes and if the envelopes are in order then the person handing out the envelopes merely has to hand the next available envelope to the presenters, something a robot could do.

in future, the best way to do this possibly would be to announce all the nominees on the autocue and have just a blank piece of paper in the envelope. then there’s only one person responsible for messing up, namely the person who enters the text for the autocue. The text could be signed off by the awards committee either beforehand or in situ ( to be honest, I can’t believe there is no such thing as an autocue that reads from an external file )

This kind of falls into our examination of award ceremony structure. We did look into how an open source award ceremony could be made. our method removes the need for envelopes, mix-ups and incorrect nominees as the award ceremony is generated from the votes dynamically, the only thing you need is someone to press the buttons to switch slides and then bring up the winner at the end. its possible that the next slide preview could be piped to an autocue system or the text from each slide scraped into the autocue giving the announcer the text they merely have to read.

PC just broke…

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JSfiddle – working on snapping elements to elements

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Just thought I’d pop this here. I’m working on a snap.svg application that allows the user to drag staff members between desks. I’ve got the dragging working, just need to figure out how to snap to elements.

Enter the micro:bit

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The micro:bit goes live

well it seems with very little fanfare, the micro:bit is now being distributed to teachers and students throughout the country.

With my previous post here about the micro:bit. I predict minimal uptake or impact in school lessons. The teachers will not have had any time to incorporate them into lesson plans and the probably wont happen now until possibly September.  so these year 7 pupils will actually be in year 8 by the time they actually get to do anything in the classroom with a micro:bit

The launch has been dogged by delays according to the BBC because 1 million units had to made at once, and there were design issues (watch battery could be a choking hazard)

Thing is, other companies do this sort of thing with way more complex boards  Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo manage to manufacture boards without these delays. The micro:bit is a smaller, simpler board so should be easier to mass manufacture  right?

so the Watch battery is its power source? instead of a watch battery, why not a solar panel? or a bigger battery like a 9v battery? if this was just to  make a small portable device that can be programmed, then this would be perfect, but its not. and the reason is obvious. The BBC are betting that wearable tech is the next new thing. pupils make their own micro:bit based wearable tech. problem is with wearable tech is at the moment, the data you get is completely banal, The apple watch basically, acts as a blue-tooth screen for an iPhone, and fitbits are essentially, pedometers that instead of counting steps, store data long term (say over a day) and then download that data to a computer. You cant see your results directly on fitbit. Additionally these devices aren’t waterproof.

But one of the major problems I have is that the micro:bit is free for this year only, resulting in one of 3 outcomes.

  • They prove a success in the classroom, Schools will buy a bunch of them and keep them in the classroom, contrary to the founding ethos of the micro:bit
  • They prove a success in the classroom and the cost of obtaining micro:bit are left with the parent, creating a 2-tier education system where disadvantaged children lose out because their mum can’t afford £10 on a board, especially if there’s  no way to work with it out of school
  • They prove a failure, the hobbyist market continues to buy them on occasion  but the year 8 cohort will have wasted a year learning how to make a LED flash on and off on a hardware platform that has no further relevancy in an education system that is geared towards attainment

now its possible that some children will be inspired enough to start making other things but I don’t think the numbers justify the sheer amount of money that has been sunk into the micro:bit. Don’t forget we still don’t know about how open the development platform is

Before everyone falls over themselves to jump on this platform, we should also consider the micro:bits main competition. It has competition? yes the Codebug which is a little pricey but has been open source for a while and of course the Raspberry Pi Zero which is is roughly half the price of the micro:bit but currently sold out at the moment.

The original computer boom in the 80’s was based on cheap computing hardware, however let’s get something into perspective, back in 1982, a 48k ZX spectrum would have cost £175 which taking into account inflation would actually be somewhere in the region of £600  while a Commodore 64 cost £400 which equates to £1,372!  These are hardly cheap computers compared to a raspberry pi zero or micro:bit as a percentage of a monthly salary.

These are undoubtedly exciting times for computing, with an unprecedented number of truly low cost computers, readily available with a huge potential in using them to do more than just play games. However I still think the micro:bit seems over engineered, poorly thought out with a software platform that seem to be locked behind a Microsoft or apple ecosystem with the vague promise that some day all this will be open source. The success of the micro:bit is dependant on how enthusiastically it is taken up by teachers. If they fail to respond to it, the micro:bit could end up nothing more than an interesting curiosity.

Bulding LA: doing the credits

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In the previous entries, I had built a small section of LA,placed the Hollywoodland sign, put some buildings in there and some cars. Now its time to think about the actual intro.

Talking to the Director, he wanted to have the majority of the cast over the rain in the sky, before sweeping through the streets of LA with some of the cast and crew credited in shop windows  but that would require a huge section of LA to be built, so I decided to split the credits between cast and crew, with the cast being shown in the street somehow.

I decided to make a proper animatic, I used the overture to help me time out the intro. The Cast names were added as text overlays and I added wipes in and out to give it a more retro look and because cutting to the next name seemed very jarring. Once I had the main cast in there, I was able to check how long the camera would need to hold before i moved it to the Theatre, approximately 3 minutes or so. This meant that the camera is essentially static for nearly 3 minutes before moving to the chinese theatre showing the crew in the street. There are 12 crew members to place in the street, but where? That’s when I had the idea of using the star of building LA part 1, The El capitan theatre

The El capitan theatre is just down the street from the real Chinese theatre, and has a foyer with 6 posters in it, Looking at the foyer, you can see that one side is mirrored from the other.

capitan 1

Left Side posters

capitan 2

Right Side posters – note the text is backwards






What we want to do is replace the posters with 6 different posters with 2 crew members on each and 2 with one each on

Ok, so in 3ds max, I created a set of polygons on top of each poster. I then set out to find suitable posters that could be altered to add crew members. I spent ages removing type from the posters before adding the crew member names and credits:

MoonOverMiami-Feb2012MWC  congs and costume
wallpaper-212772   credit2
 creature-from-the-black-lagoon-2  production credits
1405041892.film_.noir_.poster.-.customs.agent_.01 credit4
tophat choreographycredit
The_cameraman_poster directingcredti

I planar mapped my altered poster imaged on these newly created polygons

I then made a camera move that swooped from the hollywoodland sign down the El Capitan theatre, looking at each poster before swinging around and moving towards the Chinese theatre, I animated some cars so they could be seen

While I was working in GIMP/Photoshop, I decided to remove the shadow from the Chinese theatre front wall, and swap out the poster for the film it was showing ( 300 ) to the one in the script ‘the Royal Rascal’

it looked ok, but it really lacked pizzazz, looking at the film this is the establishing shot of the chinese theatre:

royal rascal

I decided I would replicate the same text I used a font called K22 Spotty Face and used that to make a texture that was mapped to a polygon roughly in the same place

the intro, was a massive animation in 3dsmax, which meant I had to tweak the particle system to show the rain. with all the objects in the scene, it became hard to actually update the display, it would actually take time for the screen to redraw, so previewing the results in realtime was out of the question. I made a series of small preview renders at low quality to let me see how the animation was coming along.

Once timed, it was ready to render. Render time was 4 hours after than I dropped it into the animatic, and rendered it out to an .avi file, which I then dropped into my animatic and rendered out for a final piece of animation


Phew! thats the hardest shot in the show out of the way- next up a starry night sky with some rolling clouds


Building LA: adding some buildings

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Having  previously created the landscape of LA and placed the model of the chinese theater. for a flythrough for the intro of Pied Pipers Production of Singin’ in the rain.Next thing I did was to make some rain

Makin’ it Rain

to make the rain effect, I created a simple particle flow system and altered its settings to look like it was falling like rain. I then built a simple raindrop and then made the particle system reference this one raindrop . I turned off  random rotation so the raindrops are heading straight down. Particle systems are expensive in terms of redraw and update speed so I will hide it untill I need to render it.


A single raindrop








I then placed a camera in the scene, set up some controls for it and after a bit of trial and error , made the beginings of what could be an interesting camera move.Here’s roughly what I had:

I then went on a download spree over on 3D warehouse, looking at the collections of models in LA and Hollywood checking against the map to find buildings next to the Chinese theatre. Then I got some more generic buildings and come cars

Changin’ the Format

here’s the next problem. 3D ware house has files in sketchup format, which if you remember from last time, I don’t have sketchup. but 3D warehouse also has the option to download in google earths model format – .KMZ

I renamed each of the .kmz files to .zip before extracting to new folders. Each folder has a collada file and a folder of directories. Luckily 3DS Max will import .dae files

Except when it doesn’t.  these files simply crashed 3DS Max. So I tried a different approach. I fired up a copy of Blender and imported the .dae file it loaded so I exported out to .fbx


El Capitan Theater in Blender







after a little of trial and error,  I managed to get a model into 3DS Max ! behold the El capitan theatre!


The same El Capitan Theater model in 3DS Max







hmmm. Looks a little strange. lets take a look at the 3D model in the browser again:

The El Captian model in 3d warehouse

The El Captian model in 3D warehouse







Yeah it looks like as part of the dae import, it welds/deletes faces and/or verts seems Dae importer is not very well supported in blender so, back to the drawing board. This time I tried to import the .dae into Maya and straight back out to fbx and back into 3DS Max


El Capitan Theatre, converted via Maya







Ok, that’s looking good. Let’s go ahead and put some buildings in there!

Buildin’ the town

I dropped in some generic looking buildings on Hollywood Boulevard, built some very simple buildings ( literally cubes with  texture maps on them) in there and made a starry night sky dome.

Then I found a model T ford on 3D Warehouse. I downloaded , got rid of the open bonnet, and merged the objects to make 4 new object, the car body, the back wheels, and 2 front wheels

I then modelled 2 low poly cones and fitted them to the headlamps. These cones were given a gradient in their diffuse and opacity channels to make them fade out. In effect faking the light cone you see in headlamps in fog

Model T Ford with headlamps

Model T Ford with headlamps








I then patented all this to a dummy, I made copies of the dummy and animated them driving down Hollywood Boulevard.

Paintin’ the town

The opening is in black and white, So I decided that I would have to tweak all the textures, I made an action Photoshop to convert an image to grayscale and ran it as a batch on a copy of the textures (if I ever want to swap them back then it should be easy)

the only building I am going to worry about is Graumans chinese Theater itself. It’s current textures are promoting the film ‘300’ so I need to change it to promote the film in the script.

Lightin’ the lights

Lighting this set was hard, mainly because I suck at lighting. The first thing I did was make a large blue spotlight toward the top of the skydome . This represents the moonlight

I Created some large omni lights at the edges of the planes and set them to white with -1 intensity which sucked the colour out of the scene, darkening the edges of the map when the cameras moving you hopefully won’t notice the square edges of the landscape.

I then stuck a series of lights on each car ( in hindsight I should have lit the cars first then animated them)  I put a couple of low intensity omni lights in front of the car and a free spot to represent the headlights.

I found a Streetlamp model from 3D warehouse and created a couple of lights an omni light for the glow and a spot pointing downwards. These were patented to a dummy. I was then able to mass duplicate 20  down Hollywood boulevard

A streetlamp lit rigged and ready to duplicate

A streetlamp lit rigged and ready to duplicate







A lot of the buildings in my section of Hollwood Boulevard have lit signs .I will mke those textures be self illuminated.

Next up, Balancing Textures and animating the camera move