Award, Artefact, Apparition

Two things on the agenda today, the first being a brief announcement: apparently Crysis: Legion has made the finals for some kind of award called the Scribe. It’s handed out by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, in categories that include original works and adaptations, general fiction and speculative.

Legion‘s been nominated under the “Best Adaptation/General or Speculative” category, and it’s the only game adaptation in the running. It’s up against three movie novelizations (Conan the Barbarian by Mike Stackpole, Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon by Peter David, and Cowboys & Aliens by Joan D. Vinge). I rather suspect this kills my chances, or at least kicks them into a coma. All those other guys been doing this tie-in thing for bloody decades, for starters, while I am the merest noob. Also it’s trivially easy to weigh a movie tie-in against its source material; just sit back and watch the movie. Can’t really expect the jury to play an FPS for twenty hours just to figure out which parts of the book are invention and which are mere dictation. Which is a minor shame, since there is a fair bit of original stuff in C:L , and — while I wouldn’t have described it as an award-winner — given the constraints of the form, I was pretty happy with the way it turned out.

Given that I didn’t think of it as an award-winner, though, the fact that it’s at least an award nominee is tres cool. I am pleased.

*

Don’t get the wrong idea: the following images are for reference purposes only. They are not presented with any erotic intent:

 

A few weeks back, pursuant to an ongoing investigation into which of the cats was leaving pungent little puddles o’pee outside the litter box, I installed a motion-sensitive webcam down in the laundry room. Although I identified the culprit in short order (it turned out to be Caitlin, surprisingly), I never got around to uninstalling the little gizmo. There’s something curiously compelling about watching various felines taking their respective dumps up in the corner of your monitor; something about it reminds me of the writing profession in general, perhaps. At any rate, the camera remains active and alert; which is how it collected the following top-to-bottom infrared sequences when, well, whatever-this-is came calling:

May 20, 0716

May 22, 0838

May 22, 2136







This is not a cat. Even if a couple of these shots look like they might be cat tails in motion, it’s pretty obvious that none of the Gang sport a tail consistent with these images. (I might have written them off anyway, if not for that full-body shot on the left)— and that one in the middle was taken when all the cats were upstairs snarfing anyway. Also the camera saves images at 1-sec intervals, before and after it detects motion; when cats show up they hang around in frame for anywhere from five seconds to five minutes. The bogie just suddenly appears one frame and vanishes the next, boo-bang-bye.

A few details of setting: one small window across the room, facing north, in constant shade. This is not a lens flare or any kind of reflected sunlight (at least, not unless someone’s sneaking into the back end of the back yard with a parabolic mirror in hand). No one else downstairs during the events. So far the unknown has shown up in the morning and at night (we’ve never caught it in real time; I don’t find out about it until I open Thunderbird and see the snapshots Littercam has e-mailed to me after the fact). I’d be tempted to think that we’re dealing with the tortured spirit of a sheet of Bounce, torn violently to shreds by some playful cat and now haunting the laundry room, except for the fact that a) we don’t use Bounce, and b) anti-static dryer sheets don’t have immortal souls.

So, what do you all think? Anybody seen anything like this on a webcam before? Is this an artefact, or an apparition?

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday May 29 2012at 11:05 am , filed under misc . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

39 Responses to “Award, Artefact, Apparition”

  1. The two streaks definitely make me think of some kind of energetic particle impacting the sensor at an angle, and leaving a trail of excited photo-receptors.

    The rectangle is weirder, certainly, though could still be from something along those lines, but more orthogonal to the plane of the sensor.

    I don’t suppose you have a source of energetic particles in the laundry room? A small stockpile of hot cesium, or a reactor that is leaking tritium, perhaps?

  2. Looks like a “rod” to me – google image search for ‘rod flying’ or some such.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_%28optics%29

  3. Dude!!! That is so obviously Banana coming around to do his routine!!!!

    Or maybe Schroedinger’s Cat is visiting. It’s not real until it’s observed.

    I can come and burn some tobacco – guaranteed to chase out spirits. Unless, of course, you like have spirits around, your call.

    Cool picture.

  4. What you’ve captured there looks like an example of the eerie ‘rods’ phenomenon. Micro-probes piloted remotely by saucer aliens? Xenofauna escaped from Area 51? Or fast-moving insects plus video distortion? (I bet it’s the latter: http://www.amsky.com/ufos/rods/ )

  5. Cthun:
    Looks like a “rod” to me – google image search for ‘rod flying’ or some such.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_%28optics%29

    Nice call! The two “tail” photos definitely show a nice wavelength-like pattern that could correspond with the wing beat of a moth, or something like that. The rectangle is still weird, but it might just be much closer to the camera. I’m also not sure how reflective moths are in near IR, as these are perfectly saturated pixels.

  6. It is definitely a “rod”, in that rods are just what happens when you record a flying insect with a camera that has a long enough exposure time to capture multiple wing beats. The repeated patterns in the middle-right frame are a dead giveaway … those are the insect’s wings, catching light at the same angle across several flap cycles.

  7. You guys are amazing. Less than an hour and we have a solution.

    Of course, this means I can no longer tell the pones that The Thing In The Basement will rend them limb from limb if they don’t do what I tell them to…

  8. Any half-way decent IR camera these days will have a built in emitter if it’s to be of any use in total darkness. It’s basically the equivalent of strapping a low to moderate power flashlight to your optics only it’s invisible to the human eye. The closer something is to the source of illumination, the brighter it’ll be.

    M.S. Patterson: I’m also not sure how reflective moths are in near IR, as these are perfectly saturated pixels.

    Back on my SQ exercises in Meaford we got to try out the NVGs on night patrols and I can tell you from experience, when you’ve got the IR lamp on it makes the moths stand out big time. Also, looking up at a cloudless sky makes you want to drop everything and become an astronomer. Seriously, the sky just explodes with stars, it’s unbelievable.

    So anyway, yeah, I vote moth. Now the question is are moths attracted to IR the way they are to artificial light sources in the visual spectrum?

  9. I was going to say, “moth,” and now I don’t feel so smart.

  10. I was going to say insect crawling on the lens (leg in #5), but the moth makes better sense given shot #6.

    Speaking of moths, I am forbidden from squashing the things around here because they bear some special meaning as part of a an alleged post-life visitation of an elderly matron. This was especially disturing to me when “Moth-Prime” (there is a boss moth, I swear!) decided to join me for my first shower in the house.

  11. When I had three furbags I had to do the same thing, only with an old RCA VHS monster with a 1-second film/15-second delay feature. Turns out two of the beings were working in tandem. Tabby would #2 outside the pan while standing fully inside; Black George would come over later and paw litter out of the pan, and onto the speedbump. No ghosts, though. Cheers!

  12. I learn so many new and coolneato things coming on here. Thanks everybody!

  13. Moths sounds pretty reasonable. The original post left some room for speculation, as you said that it happens morning and night, but you weren’t specific as to whether it was “highly repeatable” and possibly on some sort of predictable schedule. Google also for “sun dagger”. ;)

    BTW, today was Manhattan-Henge.

    I was thinking that perhaps this was that sort of artifact of alignment and process. (Moths also sound good.) There’s a sort of solar alignment artifact we get in my neighborhood twice a year, probably due to all of the really large “picture windows”. These 4×3 meter expanses of slightly rippled glass facing streets aligned 13 degrees off of true North (cross streets have the perpendicular alignment and also hill contours) catch the sun in a certain way on certain days, if the clouds aren’t in the way. This sudden immense flash comes around and you might think you just got nuked, for a moment strange flashes and shadows flit and slide, and then it’s gone in all about 5 seconds.

    See also the phenomenon of the Rockville (MD, USA) Death Ray, which ranks up there with the Cloverleaf Exit to Nowhere. Both of these rank high under the category “Urban Planning WTF Were They Thinking”, but your moths in IR look seriously more freaky and mysterious.

  14. Whoever:
    Speaking of moths, I am forbidden from squashing the things around here because they bear some special meaning as part of a an alleged post-life visitation of an elderly matron. This was especially disturing to me when “Moth-Prime” (there is a boss moth, I swear!) decided to join me for my first shower in the house.

    LOL landlords :)
    At least she doesn’t have rats as part of her otherwordly ritual behavior, right ?

    And congratulations Peter!

  15. On a non-moth note (although yep, moth) – I actually really enjoyed C:L :)

  16. 03: LOL landlords
    At least she doesn’t have rats as part of her otherwordly ritual behavior, right ?

    And congratulations Peter!

    Ah, the bright side!

    And yes, gratz on the nom. I enjoyed it as well.

  17. Looks like now that we have a plausible explanation (the moth), we have to find a way to test it.

  18. There has to be a null hypothesis, too, right?

    First, get a large clear plastic bag and put several moths in it and then inflate it. Film it with that same camera. See what it looks like.

    Secondly, if the cats and their deuced high susceptibility to insecticides wasn’t a complication, I’d suggest hosing the place with some pyrethrin-type insecticides. If the phenomenon doesn’t repeat until the insecticides degrade, that might be considered as supporting the hypothesis, and an alternative hypothesis that it might not be moths, but might be some other type of flying insect.

  19. I think it is an unfolded piece of white standard paper that has slid off your desk. It fell, curved slightly, and caught the air. Its momentum sent it over the litter box and square to the camera. It slid upwards in the air and the camera caught it at 90 degree angle to the floor, and thus it appeared as that blurred line. Then it slid out of view. It is probably now under your couch.

  20. I am too late and not nearly…. what ever. Vote moth and I second the motion to try and validate the null hypothesis. Come on let’s go catch some moths for science, then we can go back to making flamibile lemons.

  21. Moth.

  22. @seruko: And mantis men, don’t forget the mantis men. For science.

    And Peter, don’t underestimate the usefulness of Crysis as a Wattsian gateway drug: I got some of my more litterature inclined coworkers to check out Blindsight on the strength of it (they especially liked that Ken Lubin quote on page 196, but then again we are grunts after all).

  23. Filled with “red shirt” fun isn’t it? I know it provided some laughs as well as some mind provoking “what if.”

    Unfortunately my copy is not at hand. What’s the quote?

  24. “Grunts look the enemy in the eye. Grunts know the stakes. Grunts know the price of poor strategy. What do the generals know? Overlays and Tactical plots. The whole chain of command is upside-down.”

    – Kenneth Lubin, Zero Sum

  25. I’m more astounded by the following:

    Peter Watts:
    Also the camera saves images at 1-sec intervals, before and after it detects motion

    We have somehow developed precognitive cameras and nobody’s told me?

  26. We have somehow developed precognitive cameras and nobody’s told me?

    The camera likely has a constantly running buffer that resides in RAM. When motion is detected, it writes out those buffered images (now a couple seconds old) to more permanent storage.

    No pre-cogs needed :)

  27. Yeah, I figured it was something like that, but it was more amusing to me to imagine the other way.

  28. Um actually this reminds me that Peter had asked something to the effect of “have you ever discovered artifacts of process anything like this weirdness in the photos”.

    I had a certain model of webcam that could operate in a variety of modes., CIF, QCIF, VGA, etc. As it turns out, the “best quality” setting (800×600) was actually the purported second-best quality (640×480), just padded with some MPEG/JPEG type algorithm. So you know, MPEG encoding works best when you have slight movement against a stationary background. These are the key-frames or A frames, where the full data array is transmitted. The B frames or fill frames only record a delta, or change in state, per-pixel in the array. The human eye, and “persistence of vision”, being what they are, for most human uses this is just fine. The firmware on this camera used comparable “fill in the blanks”. This was discovered by some crypto geeks who used webcams as a source of computational randomness or “entropy”. It seems that the best-quality setting was actually less random than the next-best-quality setting. They dug into the firmware and made their discovery.

    The artifact of process that I saw, by which I was sort of freaked out, was observable only in time-lapse. Like Peter’s catbox surveillance camera, mine took once-a-minute stills, and if motion was detected, took an “A frame” every second and 30 frames/second of “B frames”. If motion wasn’t detected, at the end of the shift, it would make an MPEG of the once-a-minute shots. Silly, but thorough.

    In those summary videos, doubtless due to the effects of the MPEG-like padding from VGA to SVGA, it appeared that there was a rather large, highly fractal, and very nearly (but not quite) invisible quasi-tree-like thing planted in my basement floor, slowly twisting rather like a big fat grapevine in a light breeze. Tendrils coiled and reached, heliotropism-like motion was ongoing, and the roots slowly inched it across the floor.

    Same damned thing, slightly different motions, night after night after night.

    When I set the system to record in VGA rather than in the computationally padded SVGA, it totally disappeared. Thank goodness for me being able to figure out the proper sysadmin magic; I was starting to get seriously spooked about it. Shades of Ambrose Bierce and “That Damned Thing”. ;)

  29. I haven’t seen anything like that, but I immediately thought “insect” as well. In any case, I am for some reason pleased that I am not the only person to have used a motion-activated webcam to find out which animal was peeing inappropriately. Technology at its most pragmatic.

  30. Thomas Hardman: In those summary videos, doubtless due to the effects of the MPEG-like padding from VGA to SVGA, it appeared that there was a rather large, highly fractal, and very nearly (but not quite) invisible quasi-tree-like thing planted in my basement floor, slowly twisting rather like a big fat grapevine in a light breeze. Tendrils coiled and reached, heliotropism-like motion was ongoing, and the roots slowly inched it across the floor.
    Same damned thing, slightly different motions, night after night after night.

    Maaaan, do you still have the video ? Cause it sounds wicked cool.

  31. I wish I still had those. But like I said, it was seriously spooking me. Not as bad as the one with my mom with a can of insecticide in one hand and a steak from the refrigerator in the other hand and this… look… on her face. Still, some things you want to just bury in the compost pile or redirect to /dev/null lest you melt your own brain from pondering it.

    More seriously and with less hyperbole in the writing, it was a sort of subdued version of the sort of patterns you can get when your cable feed is momentarily interrupted. Sort of like Louis Wains’s cat paintings, just way more subtle. An artifact of process, no doubt of it. I[‘m sure of it, I am quite sure. Yes, certain… eGADs wtf was

  32. Pardon the non-sequitor:
    Any of you mugs who are interested in our place in the solar system, Venus is going to transit the face of the sun tomorrow and not again for 105 years, so grab your black out lenses. Transit times for Canada are at NASA:

    http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/tran/TOV2012-Tab02.pdf

  33. Funny, I was looking for a place to post this non-sequitur and you gave me the opening, Hljóðlegur.

    Much of this article seems to be pseudo-science to me, though it walks the line at times (talks about how we are not as reasonable as we think we are, that emotions are often involved in decision-making), but I wondered if there was any truth to the stuff on page 2 regarding the heart having its own neurons capable of firing independent of the gray matter:

    http://www.care2.com/greenliving/tips-for-the-decision-making-process.html

    Sounds like a sales piece for these HearthMath folks, but interesting to know if there is a “fourth brain” (after consciousness-construct, unconscious and lizard).

  34. The greatest honour available for any cat:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePNdcdNm9fY

  35. On the computational space between svga and vga:
    It’s fanciful and fun all at the same time to think that the tree was REAL, in some alternate reality’s sense of the word. That it did branch and grow, turning in some pixel wind for several elseyears. Its “being” fleeting or eerie or nonsensical to us, but of significance in some other realm. Makes me wonderhow much of our own existence seems bizarre or unlikely from some other perspective.

    The crysis dude is still one of my wallpapers. Thankfully I chose a head/shoulders shot, but it still manages to be hopelessly homoerotic :-) Congrats on the nomination.

  36. Peter Watts: Can’t really expect the jury to play an FPS for twenty hours just to figure out which parts of the book are invention and which are mere dictation.

    Luckily Youtube is full of walkthrough and Let’s Play videos for just about every game under the sun, including Crysis 2. I wouldn’t worry about it.

  37. Never mind the bugs, what are you going to do to stop Caitlin peeing on the floor?

  38. What makes you think I want her to stop?

  39. Don’t sweat it, its probably a glitch… Feel free to go back to sleep and not worry about whether it is an alien that wants to deposit a larva into your mouth :)