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Swimming the Styx

Painting with Light 1.0: Getting Started


Long exposure photography has always interested me, as have stepper motors and their various uses though I know nothing about either of them. I came up this project to try and bring the two interests together. When finished I’m hoping to have something akin to projects like this, this and this that can draw recognisable pictures with light.


Read more after the break!

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Travel: New Zealand – Central North Island


I’ve returned from a 10 day round trip of New Zealand’s central North Island. This was totally an awesome trip and I strongly recommend trying it! You don’t need much time and will get to see a lot of what the area has to offer

Central North Island Trip

Pretty pictures after the break

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Graphing the Collatz Conjecture


The Collatz Conjecture (also known as hailstone sequences or the 3x+1 problem) is a problem in Mathematics first proposed some 60 years ago. It goes like this: Pick any positive integer. If the number is positive, we halve it. If it is odd we multiply it by 3 and add 1. Keep applying this rule until you reach a repeating sequence of numbers. For example let’s start with either of the numbers 3 or 20 and apply these rules.


As long we follow these rules our numbers will go up and down for a while before reaching a repeating sequence (4 -> 2 -> 1 -> 4 -> 2 etc). Once we reach 1 we tend to stop counting. This starts slow but gets a lot cooler after the break.

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Understanding the Enigma


In World War II the German Military used a rotor cipher machine commonly known as “Enigma” to communicate in secret. Because of the seemingly random way it encrypted messages it was an extremely effective piece of equipment during its heyday. Enigma went through many iterations each of which drove interesting developments in mathematics and computer technology.

An Enigma I. From Crypto Museum

An Enigma I. From Crypto Museum

For a while I’ve been fascinated by the Engima Machine and have wanted to learn more about it. Having decided the best way to approach the daunting subject was to just build one I chose Microsoft Excel as the initial medium to reconstruct Enigma. I’ve created this post to go with it as a kind of Enigma primer, covering with broad strokes the mechanisms that make Enigma work.

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12 Months of Movies – 2013


For the last year I’ve been recording details about every movie I’ve watched. This only includes movies I haven’t seen before, or haven’t seen for at least 3-4 years (such that it’s kind of like watching it for the first time anyway). In addition to when I watched it, I’ve also recorded details such as when the movie was released, it’s IMDb rating, the genre keywords associated with it and other similar bits of info. The list of movies is embedded below, but can also be viewed at googledocs if it doesn’t load.

The rest of this post is a quick look at what my favourite and most hated films watched in the year were. It is a good representation of the kind of movies I watch, though I realised while writing that it does gloss over certain things. Since I was only recording the first time I watched a movie it does skip a lot of things. For example there is no mention of the fact that I must have watched Iron Man 3, The Avengers or the last two Fast & Furious movies 3-5 times each in 2013.

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A Month on the Styx: October 2013


What I’ve been playing

  • GTA V: Finished story mode after about 45 hours play time. The campaign is an epic feat of storytelling. I was fairly skeptical going in, but Rockstar nailed it. Some aspects of the game I thought could be improved but overall it’s an amazing game. 9/10.
  • Dishonored: Only 5 or so hours in so far. Liking this a lot. TBD/10.
  • Super Meat Boy: This game is so hard but I love the sheer simplicity of it. Music and artwork are terrific too. 8/10.

What I’ve been eating

What I’ve been watching

  • Toy Story (1995): Fun, but different to what I remember. Was interesting to get all the jokes meant for adults I didn’t get as a kid. 6/10.
  • Carlito’s Way (1993): Al Pacino crime drama set in 70’s NYC? Yasssss. 8/10.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013): It’s breaking my heart but I’m not really liking Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at all. It has a strange soap opera vibe to it and all the characters are tacky overused archetypes. I had a strong urge to punch my TV at various points in the fifth episode. 5/10.
  • Adventure Time Season 2: Batshit insane as ever. Love this to death. 10/10.
  • The Incredible Hulk (2008): Meh. Wasn’t really a fan. 5/10.
  • Moneyball (2011): I liked the movie, was definitely well made but a lot of it was lost on me considering I know absolutely nothing about baseball (apparently it’s the one with the bats that isn’t cricket?). 6/10.

What I’ve been doing & upcoming projects

How To: Using Relays and an Arduino to Control the Lights


For my plant growth project I want to control a fluorescent bulb (among other things) with an Arduino. Fluorescents can’t exactly be powered by the measly 5V available on an Arduino so instead we’ll be using a relay to control mains power. I’ve structured this post as a tutorial so that hopefully it might help anyone learning to use relays with an Arduino.

Safety Warning: This is dangerous, mains power isn’t to be trifled with. If you don’t feel comfortable playing around with mains wires then don’t try it! There are kits such as the Powerswitch Tail Kit that will do this job for you. You can get the 120VAC model prebuilt, but it looks like you have to put the 240VAC model together yourself.

Parts list:
  • 3m Extension cord (must be the 3 prong variety)
  • 1K Resistor
  • 2N2222 Transistor
  • 1N4004 Diode
  • Appropriate mechanical 5V relay (250VAC rated for Australians)
And of course
  • A lamp to test with
  • An Arduino to control it with

Assuming you already have an Arduino and other bits and pieces lying around this is a pretty cheap project. The most expensive part is the relay which will only set you make $10 or so.

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Gaming PC Build

My old gaming PC died recently at the hands of an Intel SSD firmware bug. My old PC was 2-3 years old (depending on component) and wasn’t exactly top tier when I bought it. I’ve been wanting to upgrade for a while and having to start a new installation of Windows from scratch finally tipped me over the edge. Not going to do this like a proper how-to… If you are looking for PC building guides try Lifehacker or Tom’s Hardware.


What could be inside… PC_01

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Nicolas Cage Research Part 4 – Wrapping Up

Nicolas Cage

This is the final post rounding out the series of posts analysing and speculating over his career. So far we’ve had a retrospective look at his career, tried to work out if he is a good actor and also looked into whether his movies are getting worse.

To say Nicolas Cage has had an exceptional career is an understatement. He has starred in over 60 films which have collectively grossed over five billion dollars, won an Academy Award for Best Actor and is one of the most well known actors of our time. Despite this he has also developed a reputation for being one of the most eccentric actors in Hollywood and to match the highs of his careers he has also had some horrible lows. He has made movies that are undoubtedly awful, rightfully earning him considerable criticism and four Golden Raspberry nominations for Worst Actor (though he is somehow still yet to win one). To many it would seem the quality of his movies and acting was deteriorating with each film he made.

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Nicolas Cage Research Part 3 – Are Nicolas Cage movies getting worse?

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In order to determine if films with Cage are getting worse, comparisons of his movies over time will be necessary. A lot of this has already been touched on in previous sections, but it will be done with a bit more rigour here. There are several ways of judging a movie, and using only one of them might not give the most reliable results. So to properly judge film performance over time, a way of comparing all of them at once has been devised. This is called The Cage Coefficient.

The Cage Coefficient is a weighted average of various key performance indicators after they have been normalised in order to show how that indicator has performed over time relative to itself. The indicators and their respective weights are:

  • Normalised Rotten Tomatoes Rating (0.175 Weighting)
  • Normalised IMDB Rating (0.175 Weighting)
  • Normalised Total IMDB Ratings (0.325 Weighting)
  • Normalised Film Profit (0.325 Weighting)
This provides an indicator of film performance as the aggregate of what people think of it, how many people have seen it and whether it was a financial success. It is presented below: CageCoeff The value of the Cage Coefficient can then be used in a Linear Regression with the following equation:

This will be used to test two hypotheses:
  • Have Nicolas Cage Movies been getting worse since he first started acting?
  • Have Nicolas Cage Movies been getting worse since his initial breakthrough in the mid 1990’s?
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