Posted October 25, 1999 at 2:25 am | No Comments

Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt. It is SO BIG.

When we visited the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas, we noticed a booth in the main lobby that was advertised as a “fully automated self-service recording studio.” It was called a “Kareoske“, which I suppose is an abbreviated name for a “karaoke kiosk”. For twenty dollars, you and your friends could enter the booth and record a personalized music video with your choices of song and background.Dave and I decided that we wanted to put our singing and dancing skills to the test. We took up a collection, and since most of our friends were eager to see us make fools of ourselves in front of a camera, we had soon pulled together enough money to enter the Kareoske recording booth.

I was faced with the song selection, and after some deliberation, I chose the classic rap hit “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot. Dave selected the background, a rodeo cowboy theme that would have been much more appropriate had it accompanied a song by LeAnn Rimes. We stepped in front of the green chromakey screen and gulped as the door locked behind us.

Making a music video wasn’t as effortless as the professionally recorded sample clips showcased on the booth’s exterior had led us to believe. When Dave and I lost the beat, we started laughing at ourselves, and didn’t know where to begin again. Most of our music video consisted of short periods of attempted rapping, followed by spurts of laughter and long lapses of awkward silence. After a while we just gave up on the words and concentrated on the dancing.Download this awesome clip to see two extremely white guys performing their rendition of a classic rap video. Unfortunately, somewhere in the recording, capturing, digitizing, and conversion process, the audio track lost its synchronization with the video, so the last 30 seconds of our reel have the feel of a poorly dubbed foreign film. Luckily, the video is so bad to begin with that it doesn’t really matter.

A word to the thick soul sisters, country style.

Dancing Robots

Posted October 21, 1999 at 2:25 am | 2 Comments

I’ve been really interested in music visualization lately.  Specifically, I’ve been trying to build a robot that dances to music.  Wouldn’t it be wicked cool to have a cute little robot on your desk dancing to Fatboy Slim?

Winamp provides a nice API for writing music visualization plug-ins.  I wrote a plug-in that sends signals to the parallel port that correspond to the waveform data in the song being played.  By setting the pins of the parallel port on and off, I can control the robot and attempt to make him respond appropriately to changes in the music.

Aww… isn’t he adorable?
The wires coming out of the back of his neck are a little creepy though.

My first dancing robot prototype was a metal and rubber incarnation of the Kinetix dancing baby.  I took the baby’s rubber arms off, inserted circular plastic joints, and soldered them onto some 99-cent DC motors from Radio Shack.  The motors were hooked up to a protoboard on which I built a circuit that turned them on and off in response to the signals from the parallel port.
Unfortunately, the baby’s thick arms were a little too heavy for the wimpy motors I was using.  Instead of a dancing baby, all I got was a baby that twitched uncontrollably to the music, as if Winamp were giving  him an epileptic seizure.I decided to try a smaller dancing figure instead, so I outfitted this Buzz Lightyear action figure with the same motors.  He dances in rhythm very well for songs with strong drumbeats, but not as well for quiet songs.

Right about now, the funk soul brother…

If you want to try building your own dancing robot, I can send you my plug-in.  Here’s a diagram of the circuit I used.  This diagram is for just one motor, but the parallel port has eight data pins, so you can replicate this circuit three more times to control four motors.The motor can be turned forward by setting pin 1 on and pin 2 off, or in reverse by setting 1 off and 2 on.  Turning both pins off turns off the motor, while turning both pins on blows out your transistors (I did this a lot).

I’m going to try to build a better version of the robot that uses servo motors to move the robot’s limbs in a more controlled fashion, but I’m a little concerned that this will make the cost of the robot too high (right now, the entire thing can be built with 5 dollars worth of electronic components).

I also want to tweak the plug-in a bit to perform some more sophisticated beat detection.  Right now Buzz dances quite well to Prodigy, but very poorly to Beethoven.  Ideally, he would dance well to many different types of music.

Bust a Nut

Posted October 19, 1999 at 2:24 am | 3 Comments

It looks as if I owe the Corn Nuts advertising executives an apology.  I was under the impression that they were unaware of the familiar meaning of the phrase “bust a nut”, and had unwittingly chosen this phrase as a slogan in a phenomenally stupid blunder.   As it turns out, the Corn Nuts advertising team is well aware of the meaning of the phrase, as evidenced by this clever radio jingle.

In case you can’t play the MP3, here’s an excerpt from the lyrics:

Go to your room and lock the door,
‘Cause when you try it once you’ll  wanna try it some more!
Size doesn’t matter and that’s a fact,
It might be small, but it’s a big impact!

Bust a nut!  Bust a nut!
Grab a bag of Corn Nutsâ„¢ and bust a nut!
They’re lightly toasted and hard as well,
Enjoy yourself, we won’t tell…

Everybody does it, they like it a lot,
You can do it at school , just don’t get caught!
It takes a few minutes, if you don’t delay;
Take your time and make it last all day!

“Corn Nutsâ„¢: An intensely crunchy corn snack.
Comes in seven nut-busting flavors.
Bust a nut at a convenience store near you.”

I wish that I came in seven
nut-busting flavors.

Bad Lollipop Designs

Posted October 18, 1999 at 2:24 am | 5 Comments

jarjarpops.jpg (16515 bytes)
The retractable pink lollipop
inside the Jar Jar dispenser
is textured just like a tongue.

Candy necklaces are a little bit weird. Tongue Splashers are even stranger. And I’m not sure who came up with the idea for Gummi Pet Rats. But these Jar Jar lollipops definitely fall under the category of “candy that should never have been made.”First of all, according to a certain survey, the majority of my readership harbors a greater enmity toward Jar Jar Binks than toward Adolf Hitler. But all Jar Jar hating aside, it seems to me that even the most fervent Binks fan wouldn’t be all that enthusiastic about sucking on his slimy Gungan tongue.

Now if they were to make a Queen Amidala version, I might have a different opinion…

monstermouth.jpg (14851 bytes)
Good thing the Monster Mouth is easy to use! There’s nothing
that I hate more than a difficult-to-operate Monster Mouth.

maulcandy.jpg (19612 bytes)
One AA Battery provides hours of
effortless sucking coupled with
simultaneous saber-stroking enjoyment.

Battery-powered motorized lollipops are another variety of candy I’ve never been able to understand. Presumably they’re designed for people who are too lazy to turn lollipops on their own. Pushing the button on this “Dueling Action” Darth Maul Spin Pop causes the lollipop to rotate while Darth Maul strokes his light saber rhythmically. I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw this one for the first time: look at that motion and tell me it’s not inappropriate for children.

The Obi Wan lollipop is even better because he holds his lightsaber out in front with both hands.


Posted October 16, 1999 at 2:23 am | No Comments
Pointillism is a style of painting that was popular among the French Neo-Impressionists of the late 19th century.  It involves the practice of applying small strokes or dots of contrasting pigment to a surface so that from a distance the dots blend together into solid forms.In a sense, this is what a computer does every time it draws an image using colored pixels.  But because pixels are so small, computer monitors don’t give us that gentle Neo-Impressionist feel.

After admiring the paintings of Seruat and Pissarro, and inspired by this clever painting tool, I decided that I would try to design an image processing filter that lent computer pictures a pointillist quality.

Detail from “Entrée du port de Honfleur”
by Georges Seurat.  Oil on canvas, 54 x 65 cm.

The filter simply samples random pixels from the image buffer and draws them at a larger size over the original image until a new image is formed.  The results are reasonably good: the picture on the right is a computer-generated pointillist self-portrait.

One of the computers in my lab has a video capture card, so I wrote a program that grabs frames from the card and processes them on the fly.  The result is a weird sort of pointillist movie, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  Perhaps I’ll submit a clip to the student film festival.

I’m no Monet, but I can BitBlt like nobody’s business.

Four frames demonstrating the pointillization process.

Corn Nuts

Posted October 15, 1999 at 2:23 am | 1 Comment

Corn Nuts may be good, but
they’re not THAT good.

When Dennis and I walked into the 7-11 last week, we couldn’t stop cracking up over the Corn Nuts display, which was emblazoned with the brilliant slogan “Bust a Nut!”I really have to hand it to the marketing executives at Corn Nuts.  I didn’t think that anyone could have come up with a catch phrase stupider than the one for Mr. Pibb (“Put it in your head!”).

Mint Challenge

Posted October 9, 1999 at 2:22 am | No Comments

Altoids are nothing but candy canes
compared to these mints.

In case that last animation wasn’t a large enough download for you, why don’t you check out this little video clip?  While we were waiting in line for the 3D Web Roundup at Siggraph, I decided it would be fun to eat an entire box of those really tiny but really strong mints.  I’m not talking about Altoids — these are even stronger, the kind of mints that make your eyes water and your mouth burn.  Get a free sample of them here.

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