February 20, 2009

The alternative

Using the delight­ful­ly inflam­ma­to­ry title “Stu­dents to be taught there’s no God”:


I remain respect­ful­ly cyn­i­cal of any organ­i­sa­tion preach­ing eth­i­cal stand­points to chil­dren in the absense of parental super­vi­sion, but I might be a lit­tle less cyn­i­cal in this case; like many cen­tre-left thinkers (read: aca­d­e­m­ic snob) I believe break­ing the cycle of the all-see­ing author­i­tar­i­an father-fig­ure is a wor­thy goal. The ener­gy we inject into feed­ing reli­gion could be bet­ter spent on edu­cat­ing the incom­ing gen­er­a­tion on the need for com­mon moral­i­ty and respect built from our own expe­ri­ences, not from sources irra­tional­ly divi­sive and sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly and soci­o­log­i­cal­ly thousounds of years out-of-date.

To be blunt I’ve always seen San­ta Claus as a micro­cosm for the greater reli­gious direc­tion: as irra­tional, inex­pe­ri­enced chil­dren with no under­stand­ing of the mores of larg­er soci­ety, most of us need a struc­ture to keep us in check until we learn to ratio­nalise on our own and out­grow the need to per­form for the omnipresent being. Have we as adults ever out­grown the next phase?

(This bypass­es the entire dis­cus­sion on whether young chil­dren are even sen­tient, which is inter­est­ing in its own right.)

On the prob­lem of export­ing ideals and com­mon­al­i­ty to chil­dren, I think we’ve lost a lot by becom­ing a media-dri­ven cul­ture with­out the face-to-face fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty dis­course that ties peo­ple togeth­er through shared expe­ri­ences. And I under­stand that said dis­course is a core part of the reli­gious expe­ri­ence; I’d like that same dis­course but with­out the par­rot­ing of ancient verse and the attri­bu­tion of our moral struc­ture to mys­ti­cal beings. It gen­uine­ly speaks of our will­ing­ness to demote our poten­tial. Do we actu­al­ly want to improve? That involves grow­ing up as a soci­ety and drop­ping a lot of bag­gage, and sad­ly for many peo­ple that bag­gage pro­vides the com­mon­al­i­ty that allows us to speak to one anoth­er civil­ly, since most oth­er avenues of bond­ing are closed off.

As a race we’re intrin­si­cal­ly attract­ed to sto­ry­telling and the want to believe in some­thing greater than our­selves; I think that’s because we nom­i­nate any height we can’t yet reach for idol­i­sa­tion. Maybe that ten­dan­cy is inescapable with­out a change of wiring… but a dis­cus­sion of vol­un­tary human­i­tar­i­an eugen­ics and genet­ic engi­neer­ing is some­thing I’ll leave for anoth­er post.

posted by Andrew

Graphic Improvements

A long stand­ing prob­lem with graph­ic files on the web is that there’s no lossy for­mat with trans­paren­cy options. Three options are incom­ing, all real­is­ti­cal­ly long-term if you’re devel­op­ing for the entire web and not one par­tic­u­lar platform.

Alpha Trans Kitty 2

JPEG + SVG Fil­ters in HTML = masked lossy images. Allows for both raster and vec­tor mask­ing, but only for Fire­fox 3.1 for now. This brings the addi­tion­al ben­e­fits of the entire SVG fil­ter line­up avail­able any­where in HTML.

Webkit’s CSS Masks applic­a­ble to any visu­al ele­ment entire­ly using CSS pro­ter­ties. Allows for a raster mask or ref­er­enc­ing an SVG. Isn’t as exten­sive as the SVG Bling approach — it’s intend­ed pure­ly for mask­ing — but has low­er bar­ri­er for entry.

JPEG-XR, a new JPEG for­mat seem­ing­ly unre­lat­ed to the orig­i­nal bar the name. High­er qual­i­ty, small­er file­size, options for loss­less encod­ing, and an alpha chan­nel. Con­spir­acists may ques­tion Microsoft­’s involve­ment after the OpenXML trav­es­ty but as long as licenc­ing is free and adop­tion high­er than the wavelet-encod­ed JPEG stan­dard from a few years back, I’m happy.

That which rates a last men­tion is Microsoft­’s Com­pos­i­tor fil­ter. The doc­u­men­ta­tion hints at being able to per­form cal­cu­la­tions using an alpha chan­nel, but I’ve no idea if that trans­lates to final ren­dered trans­paren­cy since the exam­ples are too com­plex for me to spend time decyphering.

A while back I cre­at­ed a test design called Sans & Serif that need­ed a large high-colour trans­par­ent image with alpha blend­ing (the leaves). PNG 32 did the job, but it’s non-lossy so the file size was ~210k. I end­ed up con­vert­ing the leaves to 8‑bit with some visu­al trick­ery to hide the aliased edges. I’m look­ing for­ward to doing this properly.

posted by Andrew