Category Archives: Random

Custom Portraits by Paul Turner


I just built a website for my dad, Paul Turner. He’s a very talented portrait painter (among other things) who is starting to sell custom portraits on the web. I sent him a digital photo of my son, Caspar, and 2 weeks later I received a very nice pop-art style portrait printed on fibreboard and ready to hang. It always get compliments from guests. So support an independent artist and get yourself a portrait!

Another talented artist in my family is Abby Stiglets, who has some of her strange and beautiful paintings on display here.

Messing with P5Sunflow

Cube Explosion

Ray tracing is the CG rendering technique used in Pixar movies and most other broadcast quality CG. Basically it bounces millions of virtual photons around the scene to simulate how objects reflect light and cast shadows on each other. This produces super realistic images at the cost of being very computationally expensive.

P5Sunflow is a Processing version of the SunFlow open source Java ray tracing implementation created by Mark Chadwick.

P5Sunflow produces images with creamy shadows and a solid sculptural feel that are quite different to anything you can achieve with most real-time 3D engines. Unfortunately rendering times are really slow. The videos below are overnight renders. I’d be interested to find out if there is some kind of ‘fake’ ray tracing that produces similar results quicker.

Click through to see the HD and downloadable QuickTime versions. These work well looped in QT.

Cube Wall from felixturner on Vimeo.

Sunflow Phase Towers from felixturner on Vimeo.

You can download the Processing sketch for the cube wall animation here. To use it you need to install the P5Sunflow library as described here. To run P5Sunflow you need to use the version of Processing that comes without Java, since it requires Java v1.5 and Processing comes with Java1.4.

Top Ten Things They Don't Tell You About Switching

2 OSs

So I finally got myself a MacBook Pro. I’ve had a love / hate relationship with Apple products over the years and I’ve considered switching for a while. One of the things that turned me off was the Mac fanboys who insist that switching will bring you closer to God. This post is an attempt to give a less biased opinion on the pros and cons of switching.

In my case I’m switching from a Lenovo Thinkpad T60 running Vista to a MacBook Pro running OS X Leopard. Let me know if I’ve missed anything in the comments.


1. Design Aesthetic

Using my Mac I feel cooler, calmer and more zen-like. The makers of OS X have paid a lot more attention to it’s visual design aesthetic. OS X is nicer to look at, and there is a focus on simplicity that makes the OS a pleasure to use. If you care about visual design you should probably be using a Mac.

The hardware is also beautiful, from the glowing logo on the back of the brushed metal case to the keys that automatically light up. The magnetic power cord is another clever touch.

The built in screen savers, desktop wallpapers, and sounds are all very tasteful and well done. One niggle is the default ‘Aqua’ OS X scrollbars that are, dare I say it, a bit cheesy (bright blue jelly tubes – really?).

Fonts are handled differently on OS X. The fonts are more ‘correct’ in that they match their intended shape better, but they are also softer + blurrier. Whether you like this is largely a matter of taste. I personally like the crisper pixelated look of the PC fonts, although the OS X fonts are growing on me.

2. It Just Works

In general the Mac just works. Since I’ve been running it for the last month the OS has never crashed. Force quit always kills an app instantly (on Vista killing an app can take a couple of minutes of bashing the keyboard). You can delete any file instantly (on Vista forget about it).

There is a simplicity to OS X that is very refreshing. There are less options to configure in OS X’s System Preferences than the maze-like nested dialog boxes that comprise the Windows Control Panel. The options that are there are better laid out and make more sense. Installing new apps on the mac is incredibly simple. Just drag the app icon into your applications folder – that’s it!

3. Security Handling

Vista is like an over protective grandmother – it’s constantly trying to scare you that anything you do could lead to irrevocable harm to your machine. Even after disabling UAC you are constantly offered warnings and “are you sure?” prompts.

Mac security is fantastic in it’s simplicity. There are 2 main components: If you download and run an executable for the internet, the OS will warn you and ask if you really want to run it. Also, installers that modify system settings require you to type in your OS password. That’s it. No other warnings or prompts.

To be fair, part of what makes security less of an issue on the Mac is that virus writers target it less often. Since Windows is by far the dominant Business OS, it’s a more valuable target. Regardless, I think that Vista’s focus on security over all other concerns, throws the baby out with the bath water in terms of usability.

4. Power Management

Open the lid on my MacBook and the screen lights up and you are ready to go in 5 seconds every time. Open the screen on my Vista Thinkpad and it’s a crap shoot whether it turns on, stays asleep or requires a reboot. Mac reboots are also a lot faster than Vista, and since the OS is more stable you will be rebooting less often.

5. Multitouch Trackpad

Two finger dragging to scroll is genius – it’s so natural I keep trying to do it on my PC. I haven’t used the pinch gesture much but it’s nice to know it’s there.


1. Missing Keys/Too Many Keys

This is the biggest hurdle for I’ve found switching, and it’s the reason I’m not typing this on my Mac right now.

From years of PC usage, my hands are hardwired to constantly use the following keys: Home, End, Page-Up, Page-Down and Delete (forward delete). The Mac has none of these. Every time I compose a doc on the Mac, my hands are tripping up and I find myself laboriously cursoring to where I need to be.

I am aware that there are key combinations for the above functionality on the Mac, but using them is compounded by the other flaw on the Mac keyboard: too many modifier keys. On the PC there are 3 modifiers: Ctrl, Alt and the Windows key. In general you only ever use Ctrl. Alt is used for ‘advanced’ operations that overload Ctrl. The Windows key is reserved strictly for OS operations.

On the Mac there are 4 modifier keys: Fn, Control, Option/Alt and Command/Clover. There does not seem to be any logic as to which modifier does what. For example for Page-Up you do Fn-Up and for End you do Command-Right. Make sense?

Mac modifiers

I realize that using keyboard shortcuts is partly a matter of what you are used to, but in my opinion the windows keyboard is more usable and makes more sense.

2. No Maximize

On the Mac there is no way to have an app go fullscreen. The little green plus button at top left of a Mac window is a kind of mystery button: it may enlarge your app, it may shrink it, but it will never make it fill the screen. When my app is not maximized I feel distracted by the clutter of the dock and extra window chrome, plus it’s a waste of valuable screen real-estate. This one is odd, since it seems to run counter to the Mac UI principals of focus and simplicity.

3. No Right-Click Button

Two finger tapping for right-click is cool, but it would be cooler for Apple to finally cave on the fact that the Mac needs 2 mouse buttons. Most Mac apps use right-click (sorry command-click) extensively. Apple even sell a 2 button mouse. However they refuse to add a second button to the Mac itself. I imagine there is some pride and politics in this decision. Mac design could never follow the PC – unthinkable!

A couple of other hardware niggles: The MacBook Pro runs very hot – I mean burn your thighs hot. Also, the keyboard tactile feedback and key depth is not great when compared to the Thinkpad.

4. Finder is Lame

The OS X Finder seems a bit underpowered compared to Windows Explorer. It’s hard to copy files from one folder to another without having multiple windows open. I always seem to have way too many Finder windows open and be closing and respawning them. On Vista, I can have one Explorer window open all day and drag files between the folders in the folder tree. Also there’s no way to view file details in column view.

5. Cost

Buying a Mac is still very expensive when compared to a PC with the equivalent CPU power. Regarding the OS software price, on Windows you buy the OS once then Service Packs are free. New Windows OSs come about once every 5 years. The Mac OS seems to be updated about once a year and you have to pay to upgrade each time.

When it comes to 3rd-party apps, the PC has more true freeware, whereas many smaller apps on the Mac cost around $50 (e.g. TextMate versus Notepad++)

Regardless of this, if you are using a computer for 8 hours a day, then it really makes sense to buy the best one you can afford.

Please Can I Have Permission to Delete My Own Fracking Files?

I’ve been using Vista for about a year now and overall I’m pretty happy. It’s essentially XP with nicer drop shadows. But there is one thing that drives me absolutely nuts and I’ve yet to find a solution for it.

Almost every time I try to delete a folder off my machine I get this message: “Destination Folder Access Denied. You need permission to perform this action.” It’s my folder, I created it on my own machine. Who do I need permission from? Bill Gates? My mother?


The whole idea is ridiculous. This is my machine, I’m logged in as an Administrator – I should be able to delete any file I want. If the file is in use by another process, please let me know about it, but ultimately the decision to delete should be mine.

This issue is symptomatic of a general level of distrust in the user. It’s great to prevent newbie users from deleting the ‘windows’ directory, but please have a power-user mode where I don’t have to be nannied with warnings and wizards every step of the way.

Unlocker is a nice freeware app that sometimes fixes this problem but often it too is helpless against vista’s security restrictions. I did disable the UAC (another vista annoyance is the fact that you get a warning message every time you reboot telling you that disabling the UAC is a terrible idea) but this does not help with this issue.

(This anti-Microsoft rant is here to provide balance for some of my previous anti-Apple rants).

The 'Add to Friends' T-Shirt

Add To Friend Shirt

The ultimate blurring of the line between the real and virtual worlds? Or just a really geeky t-shirt? You decide. The ‘Add to Friends’ t-shirt allows anyone with a camera phone to friend you on facebook with one snap.

Towards the Next Generation of 3D Visualization


I love Flash – I’ve been using it for years and know most of it’s tricks. Now with papervision and away3D we have a some nice 3D APIs. While these are great, 3D in Flash is seriously lacking in rendering power. Once you throw a few hundred simple 3D shapes on the stage, your frame rate starts to plummet.

Flash is still the best choice for ubiquitous interaction on the web, but for 3D graphics, there are some better alternatives. Please note that I am not lobbying for native 3D graphic card support inside Flash (that didn’t work out too well for shockwave).

From my research so far, 2 of the most interesting apps for creating next-gen realtime 3D graphics are processing and vvvv.


Processing has been around for a while and is gaining traction as a 3D visualization tool. Processing is free and cross-platform. The flickr processing pool shows the kind of stuff you can build with it. Since Sun updated the java preloader graphic to be cool and orange, we might even start seeing some all processing websites.

proccessing IDE

I’ve resisted learning processing for a while, but when Robert Hodgin generously released some of his source code I had the motivation to download and try it out. Surprisingly, processing comes with a nice, lightweight IDE. Each project is a sketch which is basically a folder containing simple text files. Processing has a number of libraries and examples for handling 3D graphics.

Lennyjpg is creating some beautiful work with processing:


As is Flight404:


vvvv is a ‘toolkit for real time video synthesis’. It’s a crazy app built by some crazy german people. The tutorials are written with typical deadpan teutonic humor. It’s currently windows-only and free. Jitter is a similar cross-platform app.

The concept of vvvv’s UI is ‘patches’. Modules are laid out in a 2D space and patched together with virtual wires. The beauty of this paradigm is that there is no compilation – results are rendered in realtime as you tweak the patches. Since I come from a textual programming background I find this to be quite baffling, but maybe it’s good to have your head turned around now and again.


Desaxismundi has been creating some fantastically beautiful pieces using vvvvv such as this deconstructed sphere:

and these: