Personal website of Brian Cham, software developer and occasional designer and code breaker.
The current design
The current flag of Michigan is a typical American-style seal-on-blue-bedsheet design; as a result it is convoluted, unmemorable and uninspiring. It scored 3.46/10 in NAVA’s survey, making it the 14th worst rated flag in North America. In 2018, a state senator introduced a bill to replace it with a new design. Although nothing came of that, below is what I would have proposed:
Fiji once considered adopting a new flag. This is the design by myself, James Fitzmaurice and Rachael Radhika-Hart.
This flag is intended to be interpreted as a journey: The blue stripe provides continuity with the previous flag and thus the Fiji of old, as well as representing the ocean and the maritime origins and culture of Fiji. The white stripe shows modern Fiji, represented by the stars which are united upon the turtle, which represents the humility and perseverance that Fiji intends to display in order to move forward from the old to the new. The gold stripe represents the future of Fiji – the warm sunrise and prosperity that will come if Fijians respect and love one another, and move forward together. The three stars being the three different elements of Fiji in various areas (the geographical elements of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, and the other islands of Fiji; the ethnic elements of indigenous Fijians, Indo-Fijians, and other ethnic groups; the religious elements of Christians, Hindus, and other religions; and the linguistic elements of Fijian, English, and Hindustani). They are seven-pointed as a symbol of good luck.
Part of my 2009 flag proposal series. SVG files of the flag and its construction sheet are available on request.
At first, I did not re-upload this design from the old site, since I only wanted to present the most popular designs and this one did not have much support. Many years later, I received a sudden personal request to upload this one again. I was hesitant until I realised that this person remembered this exact design and its author even though it had not been online or accessible for over five years! That had to mean something.
This review of Interstellar (2014) comes “only” one and a half years after my previous review. You can tell that I don’t have a set schedule for these.
Considering all the intense feelings around Christopher Nolan that often rear their enraged heads through online amateur reviews, I must profess where I stand from the outset. I am neither a “fanboy” nor a “hater” of the Nolan brand. I prefer his work up to and including The Prestige, but not much of his work afterwards, so any overall attachment balances out. I don’t feel as if I have something to prove when watching or discussing his films.
That said, I am a science fiction fan (“fan” with a lowercase “f” if you know what I mean; don’t expect me at the next Comic-Con) so I thought this might make for interesting viewing. Lately I did some layman reading on cosmology for an unrelated project, so either I knew enough to grasp the scientific concepts in the film or I was delusional enough to believe so.
We start off with a dry, dusty, dismal, dying future where the protagonist (played by a perpetually bored Matthew McConaughey) struggles to keep up harvests on his family farm. We are shown (i.e. beaten on the head by) suggestions that a “ghost” is pushing books off his daughter’s bookshelf. At that point I hoped that the climax would not involve the typical sci-fi transcendence of space and time, with the protagonist becoming this “ghost” and using his new-found cosmic powers to push some books around. But more on this later.
From that point the film reveals two of its biggest flaws – bad pacing and bad characters. The family spends a long time going through exposition, bonding, baseball, education issues and hacking an Indian drone but never build much of a substantial relationship in the viewer’s mind. It just serves to repeatedly hammer in the superficial point that the protagonist is an all-American family man who loves his daughter, but not much else.
After a very long time we finally get to something related to space and the premise when the protagonist stumbles upon a top secret NASA base. The scientists all unquestioningly conclude that his finding of the base must constitute advice from magical gravity beings (what a scientific deduction) and hire him as a space pilot for a world-saving mission almost on-the-spot. Yet even after launch, the film still drags on to a degree I haven’t seen since The Lord of the Rings trilogy. What follows is more plodding filler scenes in orbit, near Saturn, in a lab and so on. Due to the effects of relativity, each hour passing on a watery planet they encounter is the same as seven years passing on Earth; due to the effects of slow pacing, each hour watching this movie certainly felt like seven years too. And this is coming from someone who could tolerate the pacing of Solaris!
At some point on the water planet a crew member dies, but I don’t remember his name, appearance or role since they were all interchangeable humans. At no point did I care about these bland, personality-deprived non-characters. This extended to the maudlin moments where the protagonist would mope over his daughter or vice versa, which just felt like shoehorned emotion without any real heart or connection. Instead of experiencing the stakes of aging, absence or the fate of the human species, I just wished for the plot to get somewhere.
The gravity of the mission never really weighs in on the audience (excuse the puns) as the characters always find ways to subsume it with their personal concerns. The protagonist never shuts up about his family and never fails to base his mission decisions on their fate only. Okay, we get it, you care about your family. Can we move on now? The primary plan of Anne Hathaway’s character turns out to be chasing THE POWER OF LOVE™. A stranded scientist played by Matt Damon jeopardises the mission and attempts to murder the protagonist to find a way off the planet. This may be intentional but it’s hard to hold any hope for humanity when these expeditions seem to be staffed by the least professional personnel available.
Near the end, the protagonist decides that he must hurl himself and a robot into the nearest black hole and send the recorded data back to Earth. He is convinced that this will work even though they establish that nothing can escape a black hole and their craft has had no success in communicating back. If the plan succeeds, the protagonist’s daughter can save humanity by using the data to reconcile General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Apparently Loop Quantum Gravity doesn’t already do that (did the science advisor believe LQG to be less plausible than five-dimensional bulk gravity ghosts?). Besides, if one end of a wormhole is a black hole, shouldn’t they have this data already?
So he executes this plan and we get the non-twist that he becomes the “ghost” from the beginning of the film, which should surprise nobody. Well, who else would it be? The daughter herself? (which was my backup prediction). Using THE POWER OF LOVE™ which transcends space and time (groan), he sends the data back to his daughter and she saves humanity. There’s an epilogue with a cheap reunion but it just fills up time.
Lest anyone think that I hate this film through and through, it does have its good moments. Even if the opening scenes dragged on for too long, they worked well to establish a dreary world where human civilisation is stagnating painfully rather than the usual sci-fi apocalypse which happens in an instant. The CGI sequences of the wormhole travel and tesseract were gorgeous and unique with interesting visual concepts like light distortion and higher dimensions. Unlike many others I found the soundtrack to be rousing and powerful rather than needlessly bombastic. It’s a shame that none of it accompanied scenes with emotion of equal intensity.
What would I do?
Hypothetically, if I could change anything about Interstellar, what would it be?
As I’m sure anyone can infer by now, my biggest problem with the movie is the pacing. There is not enough content to last for 169 minutes; cutting down to a typical runtime of 90-120 minutes would suffice. The beginning spent too long lingering on Earth introducing the setting and characters without setting up the premise. I would have majorly restructured the film so it immediately starts out in space (like Sunshine) and builds up the characters and backstory through regular, well-timed flashbacks (like Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours or LOST). These would cover all of the crew members, not just the protagonist, who would have their own distinct personalities, motivations, roles and backgrounds (more than just “I miss my father” and “I am a family man”). This would give context to their behaviour and interactions in the “present”. We should care more about these characters, who they are and whether they succeed.
At the start of the third act, the cutaways would stop going to the past and start showing the time period when the children have grown up. Until this point the messages from Earth don’t get through, so we don’t get pointless teary moments until the relationships have been properly built up for the audience.
The missions should be more coherent and less improvised. There is a proper briefing. Nobody is hired on-the-spot. The previous exploration through the wormhole used orbital and aerial robots like in Alien Planet. Who is trying to find what, where, and report it back to whom, before what deadline? Stick to one thing. Cut out the time-wasting scenario with Matt Damon’s scientist.
The general concept behind the tesseract climax is fine, though it is executed as a predictable deus ex machina. Don’t bring in ghosts, gravity messages and trans-dimensional wormhole benefactors at the beginning. That sort of mystery is on-the-nose and the audience expects it to be explained eventually, negating any potential surprise. A good plot twist should be completely unexpected. I would make any climactic time travel explain events that the audience never realised needed an explanation, but make sense in hindsight.
The time travelling actions should be more interesting than pushing books and sending data. Maybe the protagonist interacts directly with the future, or interacts with the past of a hitherto unrelated character, or something of the sort. Maybe the actions of the protagonist directly lead to human civilisation transcending space-time, so the tesseract construction concept doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It also needs to feel justified thematically. The rest of the film had a strong emphasis on physics concepts and mentioned relativity a lot, which jars with the sudden revelation of infinite cosmic bookshelves inside a survivable black hole. Starting with the same fantasy tone would make the film consistent and make the climax more palatable.
The epilogue is unnecessary. The protagonist already reunited with his daughter through all the time travel ghost stuff, which was cathartic enough. His actions have more meaning if they culminate in an ultimate sacrifice, so he should die in the black hole’s singularity.
Some other minor changes I would have made:
- Show alien landscapes that actually look alien, not just the ocean and Iceland.
- Cut out the Disney-esque, New Age, hippie nonsense about THE POWER OF LOVE™.
- Stop repeating that poem so many damn times.
- Make the robot less annoying.
Pretty sights and a booming soundtrack can’t make up for dull pacing, flat characters, a predictable plot and contrived cheese.
Note: This post lists the flag designs that are most popular with the general public. For my own judgement on the best proposals, see this post.
When I was thinking of designs for the New Zealand flag competition, I was curious about the preferences of the wider public. No doubt others are too. Unfortunately, polls had a limited selection of designs to begin with, and while the government gallery had social media sharing and suggestions for every submitted flag, there was no way to sort the gallery to show the most popular.
So I made a quick Java script to scrape all entries in the website and identify the most popular flags. This is measured in number of times each design was independently suggested. Ten was the minimum number to get on this list.
Keep in mind that popularity does not equal quality, nor is it a final indicator of public preferences. It is affected by many factors like age, status and prior exposure of the design. This list is simply for interest of the data itself.
Flags are listed in ascending order of popularity. Each one lists the three main points of the respondents.
- Similar to current flag
- Black and white are national colours. Silver fern is national symbol. These are already recognised worldwide and have historical significance.
- Māori represented by black
Here’s my first New Zealand flag proposal that I am re-uploading because it was by far my most popular design proposal based on the feedback of 120 people*. I personally don’t like it much anymore though. The name is especially stupid. In 2014 I submitted it to the government gallery for consideration but it got rejected because of intellectual property shenanigans**.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo da Vinci. This design is a simple and clean combination of the Māori colours (top left half) and British/current colours (bottom right half), acknowledging and uniting the two main founding cultures of the nation. The colours in common overlap in the middle to form a bar reminiscent of the Union Jack’s bars. Finally, in the black field is a striking Southern Cross, giving the design a single focus and establishing continuity with the current flag. SVG file available on request.
The construction sheet
* That either says something about the quality of this flag design or of my other proposals :O
** Having previously entered it into the public domain, I no longer have the rights to the design, therefore I cannot transfer said rights to the crown. Not to mention I can’t prove that I was the one who created it.
Note: This post features my own judgement on the best flag designs. For the proposals that are most popular with the general public, see this post.
Now that the New Zealand government has closed submissions for a new flag, I decided to go through and pick out the best. That’s right, I looked through all 10,293 of them. Don’t worry, it only took me 48 minutes to evaluate (about 0.28 seconds per flag; thank god for learning scanning techniques).
It probably helped that the whole gallery was a beautiful testament to Sturgeon’s Law (in this case more like 99% though), Poe’s Law and the futility of crowdsourcing design, making it easy to mentally filter out the crud and parodies. You wouldn’t believe the Nazi, apartheid, North Korea, Israel, PRC, Imperial Germany, Quebec (of all places), meme and My Little Pony based parodies that got through their filters. Seriously, the name “Moswald Osley” didn’t ring any alarms? Well done to the Lautaro joke for subtlety and this thing for sheer insanity though. All in all, an experience I would not recommend.
Anyway, here are the best I picked out, emulating the judges’ process of picking an initial list of 50-75 best designs. There were a lot of duplicates and near-duplicates so it’s hard to know exactly how to count and credit them (I’m sure I’ve missed a few credits, sorry!), but it should be around 50 some way or another.
The only restriction was that I didn’t include my own designs. Naturally enough I do like them, but including them would be a little biased! Oh, and I also automatically discarded anything too similar to another national flag, no matter how well designed or New Zealand-y it was. I hope the judging panel can do that, but since it has no vexillologists (flag experts) I don’t have a lot of faith.
This list is in no particular order.
After publishing my New Zealand flag proposal concepts in 2014, this one topped the poll by a large margin so consider it my main proposal. I have now named it the “Red, White and Blue Fern Flag”.
Update: It has been submitted into the government’s flag gallery. Share if you like it!
This article was my April Fools joke for 2015, kept here for personal history and amusement. No, I don’t believe that René Zandbergen forged the Voynich Manuscript. And don’t worry, I’m still sane!
In 2008 I became interested in the Voynich Manuscript and have been reading about it ever since. Over time I read many theories and went through different theories of my own, but one thing always got in the way – it just didn’t make sense. Like the mythical hydra, solving one issue would just raise more. Basically: the more you know, the more you don’t know. How could we possibly explain this artifact where no theory covers everything and the facts can contradict? Every now and again I felt a nagging gut feeling that something just didn’t add up. Something is just fundamentally wrong about the situation that I can’t put my finger on. It’s something that everyone here is thinking but nobody wants to say. We aren’t just on the wrong track, we are in completely the wrong field.
Eventually I gave in to these intuitions and started afresh with a blank slate. I cleared away all speculation, binned my previous work, disregarded the big names and ignored any assumptions and preconceptions that were holding me back. It was time for the bare facts, and the facts only. I built these basic truths into a new explanation without trying to prove any theory, trying to gratify myself, or considering what theories were popular. The result surprised and disappointed me. But the truth is the truth, it just is what it is, and it doesn’t change to comfort anyone. If you can’t face opposing viewpoints and prefer to hide within your own comfortable theories, I warn you not to read further.
I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter. In short: The Voynich Manuscript is a modern forgery by René Zandbergen.