Aractus

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Archive for July, 2016

More changes are coming…

I want to let YOU know about upcoming changes here.

I’m developing my own ‘wordpress theme’, which in other word means my own code. It will look substantially similar to the current ‘wood is good’ theme, but will be pure XML (as opposed to pseud-SGML) and optimised for different resolutions (responsive). In addition I’ve been updating some of the graphics, such as the banner links I have in the footer. Those links are all based on this Maxthon graphic:

Maxthon

Well it’s actually two graphics that I found on maxthon.com and saved as a single graphic. Ah that takes me back. Good quality banner-link graphics are hard to come by these days, so I am hoping to bring everything to a consistent quality level. I have also been working on a brand new tiling brick background that looks like this:

Tiling Bricks Preview

It’s not a photo, but it is based on this photo I took:

Bricks Photo

I found it quite challenging to make the mortar look realistic, however I’m very pleased with the result. Here’s a full size comparison…

Photo:

Bricks Photo Full Size

Tiled image:

Tiled Image Full Size

You might wonder why I don’t just go grab a readily available free stock image off the internet.  I could do that, however this is my chance to make everything the way I want it, not just use things other people have created for other purposes. It also allows me to express my own creativity and personalise the website to be the way I want it to be.

My congratulations – Shawn Farquhar!

Shawn Farquhar has become the first magician on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us to win twice. Now I want to preface my praise for him by going over what I (and a lot of others) have seen throughout the second season of the show – and in fact in the other tricks in the first episode of the third season. And that is that magicians are designing “traps” for Penn and Teller into their tricks. And I don’t really like that aspect of the show, because it makes the tricks much less impressive when you can think of a whole handful of different ways it could be performed.

Now with that said I can’t offer greater praise than I will for Shawn, because not only did he not do this: he’s a true “fooler”! Before going further you may like to view his performance yourselves:

Here is his previous performance on Penn and Teller:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes book
Shawn holds the book.

So first let’s break the trick down a bit. I was way ahead of Shawn, and as it appears Penn and Teller as well, and in fact I have a theory as to how the illusion could be performed (but I don’t know the method Shawn has used for sure). Now the first thing I noticed when he brought out the book is that it looks like a prop and not a book he’s plucked off his shelf at home.

There’s a couple reasons why, and they are subtle. Firstly this is an old out of copyright book, meaning anyone can download it from the internet and have it custom printed. Secondly, the cover is “cheap”: the words are not embossed, and the cover’s picture is not professional. For example, notice the magnifying glass magnifies the words of the book’s title, but not the pages of the book behind it, and there’s no “glass” depicted in it either. You can notice further on the book does not have a barcode on the back as well, but just from seeing the cover of the book it appeared to be a prop.

Once I had worked this out, from the moment he brought out the second book I expected it to be blank. I also expected, like Penn and Teller, that he was using just two books throughout (the one he gives to Alyson and the blank one he “reads” from). I also did not believe this was a memory trick (which Shawn confirms a bit later on). So it did surprise me a bit that Penn and Teller’s guess was that it was a simple memory trick. One must realise that magicians are master liars, and when they say “this is a memory trick” you can bet that it’s not, unless they’re doing a double-bluff!

His earlier trick from Season 1 (Signed & Sealed) could have been achieved in at least three different ways. I don’t want to spoil the method so I will be as tactful as possible: I originally thought that he used a duplicate signed card – and you could do the trick that way, at least in theory. There’s at least two more ways to do it, either with a “pre-sealed” pack, or perhaps without one as well. With all these three or maybe more different possible methods however, you are still using two different packs of cards – I think most people would know that. With all this said, the one thing that surprised me is we see Penn and Teller “examining” in the wrong place at one point not realising they’ve been duped by a complicated illusion.

Now what do I mean by a “complicated illusion”? Well I’m not a magician, so I don’t know if I’m using the term correctly, but in essence what I mean is that you build the illusion up. Here’s an illusion performed on Penn and Teller by Jay Sankey (torn & restored playing cards starts at 3:40 in the clip), and the instructional video he put on Youtube explaining how to perform it:

Now we can discuss the method for this trick in all the detail we wish because the trick’s author has made the “secret” public knowledge. I wasn’t fooled by his torn-and-restored card trick, for the record, I had assumed he had simply folded the cards and created the illusion they were torn. But I want you to notice this is a complicated illusion: it’s not enough to simply create the visual illusion of tearing the two cards in half; you must also create the sound of them tearing, and be able to show you have a number of individual “pieces”, before preceding to restore the cards. A bad magician, takes a complicated illusion like this one, and does not perform all the illusionary steps involved in progressing the illusion, and consequently it becomes less convincing.

So let’s get back to Shawn’s book illusion. I think if a magician is going to use a magic prop – no matter what the prop is – you need to make it look as convincing as possible. As I mentioned, the look of the book was “wrong” for me and I correctly guessed that it was a prop. Not all books have embossed wording, a glossy cover, a barcode, a less ‘amateur’ picture on the cover, a less ordinary typeface, and the title and author not in all-caps. But most of them do, or at least have a few or most of those features. I therefore think the illusion would have been more entertaining with a more authentic looking book. At the end we’re still going to know it was a specially printed prop because the duplicate book is blank, but if that was the case I would have been less likely to immediately suspect the book was a prop and not a real product sold in book-stores everywhere.

But, with that said, and here’s where the praise comes in, I think Shawn’s performance was wonderful – and much improved upon “Signed & Sealed” which is a good trick, but not my favourite performance of the series. And I must also say, while the books are props because he needs one to be blank, besides that they are what they appear to be – two identical books, one printed from start to finish as if it were a real book, and the other completely blank. I don’t think there’s any trickery involved in the book he gives Alyson, and she could take it home and read it and it would be a normal book.

And to give another direct comparison, here, the very next act after Shawn’s is Michael Kent presenting Multiplying Bottles. Now I don’t want to get into the mechanics of the trick, but I do want to show you this version performed by Matt Franco on America’s Got Talent:

Now the thing that I like about this presentation is that Matt has used ordinary packing tubes, and shows them empty throughout. I think that’s much more convincing to an audience than brightly-coloured magician’s props that are never shown empty! However that said, I do believe the Multiplying Bottles trick is fairly easy for an audience to work out, therefore the real value in it is not so much mystifying the audience as it is entertaining them. Look up the way that Tommy Cooper and Hugues Protat perform the trick – clearly interested squarely in entertaining the audience. So again, Michael Kent’s performance is – at least for me – underwhelming. He does a number of things I would consider “wrong” for a complicated illusion: he skips steps and presents things wrong (duplicating bottles in the wrong sequence, never showing the tubes empty, etc).

In conclusion, my warmest congratulations to Shawn! I am a stickler for fine detail, and I would assume that magicians want props to look like ordinary household items. I mean no offence by my comments, and I don’t think discussing it reveals the trick’s method in any way. The title of the show is “Fool Us” which invites us the lay-audience to view the acts critically. I do have a couple of theories as to how the trick could be done, so I don’t feel fooled – but what a great trick and performance!

Welcome to my blog. Let me make this clear from the outset: I don’t share visitor information (in fact I barely even look at it myself). My blog does not set any cookies unless you interact with it (i.e. submit a comment or attempt to log into the administration panel), and is used purely for WordPress functions. Even if you do this you are well within your rights to delete cookies or block them altogether, I don’t care.

If this is your first visit then please check out what I have had to say about internet privacy in the past. To sum it up, my stance is that advertisers and others that store unnecessary information is an invasion of your privacy, and I highly suggest taking measures to ensure you can browse the web privately, and securely.

From today on my website is now secure. For you, that means that no one else can see what you browse on the https://blog.aractus.com/ domain. For me, it means more secure access to the administration panel. You will notice a green coloured padlock to the left of the website address in your address bar, which will also display “https://” showing it is a secure connection. You can also view the SSL report for my domain at any time on Qualys (now” A+”):

Qualys

Many thanks to Let’s Encrypt, SSL For Free, and hell IX too for allowing creation of the CSR in the control panel.

I have also tweaked the now well out of date theme from XHTML1.0 to HTML5. This means I can now host my own videos without needing to rely on external services such as Youtube. I have also converted the old flash video that links to Operation Clambake to .mp4 (yes it is 4x the file size, but, it’s still only 158kb!) Here is the new video:

If you didn’t know any better you’d think it is an animated GIF, and it’s about time we freed ourselves from these old outdated formats! The original flash video (41.0kb) is here, and a larger video render is here.

Please continue reading and enjoy your secure and private experience!

-Aractus

PS I have identified the first other website so far to use LE’s SSL: Thimbleweed Park! That’s quite appropriate considering the fact I need to redevelop and relaunch ScummGames!

PPS: I have now identified many more and it’s so great to see the web using such a great free resource!

Marcin Poloniewicz
Marcin prepares to stab TV presenter with magic prop.

Well, there’s a wonderful video of this incident, as it happened live on Polish television. I have embedded the video at the end of the blog post if you wish to view it. The Magician is Marcin Poloniewicz, reportedly a semi-finalist of “Poland’s Got Talent”. Ironically this is exactly the same magic trick that was performed in 2014 on America’s Got Talent in the semi-finals by magician duo David & Leeman. The trick itself was created by magician Jon Allen, it is a commercial trick called “The Pain Game”, he himself performed the trick on the first season of Penn & Teller Fool Us, and to quote the description of his trick verbatim: “once set there is categorically no chance of you impaling your hand on the nail”.

I will give a basic description of this trick. It is a Russian-Roulette style trick where a dangerous six inch nail is placed through a piece of wood, and then put inside a paper bag. There are three other identical paper bags, each with their own palm-sized block of wood inside, and they get mixed up, and crushed one-by-one by the magician until there is only one left, which is revealed to contain the block of wood with the nail in it. It is a variation of an older trick involving paper cups and spikes (personally I think it’s a much better trick because the props are quite a bit larger).

This is how the trick is supposed to look, performed by Allen himself on Fool Us (I have edited the video to remove some of Penn’s comments at the end). If the video does not play smoothly for you in your browser then feel free to right-click and save the video and then play it in Media Player Classic or your player of choice. I have actually tweaked my blog theme and converted it from XHTML to HTML5 in order that I can embed this directly for you. Video copyright ITV (2011):

As you can see it’s a pretty good trick, and I think a very good performance. Notice he says this: “There are videos online of people doing this type of effect and getting it wrong and badly injuring themselves. And because of that I have to say a couple of things. First of all check out the videos because some of them are quite funny, but also please do not try this at home.” Well. Until now that was true. There are videos online of magicians doing a similar effect with paper or Styrofoam cups and injuring themselves, and injuring themselves, and they are indeed funny. But until now there was no one that had performed his trick that went wrong, and the video is not funny because the magician’s incompetence injures an innocent aide.

Here it is performed by David & Leeman on America’s Got Talent. You’ll notice they have presented it in their own way, and have used their own props (in particular they have used a fat stumpy spike instead of a six inch nail), but they are presenting Allen’s Pain Game. I think their presentation is very good, I think Jon Allen’s presentation above was also very good.

So what went wrong and how did it go wrong? Well here’s the video for those of you who wish to view it, but otherwise I’ll explain what happens in the video in a moment (video copyright Fairfax, 2016):

Firstly let me say that this is Allen’s trick (Pain Game), and you will notice the props are identical (in particular the blocks of wood and the nail, Połoniewicz might be using different bags). Now to describe what happens for those of you who are squeamish: Połoniewicz begins the trick as usual and places the block & nail in one bag, then mixes them up, then plunges his hand down on the first one. Then, and this is where it goes wrong, he takes the female presenter’s hand and plunges it down on a bag and straight onto the nail. She screams in pain (and shock), Połoniewicz realises the trick has gone wrong and he pulls the nail out of her hand. She was not seriously injured, and just required having her hand bandaged.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll note that Allen himself in the description of his trick guarantees the safety of his trick. So what’s going on? Well, Allen clearly designed the danger in the trick to be a cleverly crafted illusion. What Połoniewicz has done has taken Pain Game, and made an otherwise safe trick dangerous. Now I actually found a video of yet another magician (which I won’t name or share here) performing Pain Game in a dangerous way (but without it going wrong). So Połoniewicz is not the only moron to “tweak” the effect to make a safe trick dangerous.

Why would they do this you might wonder? Well in a nutshell it’s because Połoniewicz is an asshole, and a complete moron. Not only does he have no regard for the safety of others, but as if that wasn’t bad enough, he also disrespects the trick’s creator Jon by using his props and his trick in a way that is not intended! It would be life if I loaned a friend my car and he drove it drunk – that would be disrespectful, regardless of whether anything “went wrong”. Połoniewicz would rather face a real risk then perform a risk-free illusion. Now of course, when it comes down to it he has decided he didn’t want to be burdened by safety procedures that impact on the way they he wants to present the illusion. Other magicians are going to see this failure and may think that Jon’s safety guarantee is worthless, and that may give them doubts about the quality of his other illusions as well. At the very least it does make his illusion look less appealing to prospective buyers. The other video also does this – if I can spot an unnecessary risk introduced into the act, then I’m sure professional magicians would see a red flag for safety if they saw that particular performance, and they might then believe the illusion is “designed to be dangerous”. I guess I shouldn’t speak for Jon since I don’t know him, and I’m not a magician: but what I can say firmly is there are certainly other magicians that design illusions who would be outraged and furious if they saw their illusions being used improperly by others.

I just wanted to go a little bit beyond the “news story” here, and look at how and why this happened, and how people in the magic community might feel about this. And of course, I love calling out assholes, and I think Połoniewicz deserves every bit of ridicule I’ve thrown his way. The media thinks he “made a mistake”, I think what he did was far worse than that. A mistake is where a magician accidentally reveals an illusion or otherwise “stuffs up”. But this is much worse than that because he chose to perform Pain Game wrong: Jon guarantees the trick is safe to perform if you follow the instructions. So that can only mean that either he lied and has been selling a trick for many years that is dangerous, or that Połoniewicz intentionally made the trick dangerous because he didn’t want to perform it the way that the instructions tell him to. That’s not a “mistake”, that’s malevolence, that’s incompetence, that’s disrespectful, it’s negligent, it’s unnecessarily stupid, and it’s just plain wrong.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the videos.