Sand Mandala

Prototype for a sand mandala generator. I finally have an excuse to work a bit more on this! I was really fascinated by some monks who came to Winnipeg ages ago and produced a sand mandala on the floor of a neighbourhood art gallery. Gorgeous, colourful, temporary work.

In this version of the tool, I create a bunch of “Ants” who walk around leaving sand everywhere, each a different colour. I’m working on giving the ants different “personalities”, one ant will love spirals, and the next will be really drunk, some ants will only walk straight lines. Here’s the collective work of a bunch of wibbly-wobbly ants coming back from the pub. 😉

The circular and radially symmetric forms naturally emerge, because I’m cloning the ants in quadrants and they can’t help but sometimes walk radially. (Some of them will preferentially do this in the final version.) This is fun to see in action – there’s a lot going on when you get 40 of them walking around.



I discovered a new Google Maps mashup game last weekend that Natasha and I have been playing together, called “GeoGuessr“. Fans of Carmen Sandiego and avid travellers will get a kick out of it – the idea is that you’re dropped in some random location on the planet, and need to figure out (by exploring your local environs in google maps) where on earth you are. Points are scored based on the distance between your guess and your actual location.

We’ve had a blast (and feel very worldly) playing a few rounds and will definitely keep coming back for more. Our house rule is to never use Google for hints. A few noteable rounds:

  • We were dropped off on a dusty, featureless highway in Mexico with nothing in view but a solar-powered SOS phone. We managed to find a highway sign after about ten kilometers of clicking and nailed it to within  a couple of feet of our location.
  • We got dropped off on the island of Lampedusa, a Sicilian-owned rock jutting out of the Mediterranean just north of Africa. Flags on the boats gave away the country, and I found a seafood restaurant that  gave away the island name. (Then it took me a while to find the island on the map!)
  • Our worst performance was being lost in Novgorod (Gorky), Russia. There are signs everywhere, but everything is in Cyrillic alphabet and we were completely hopeless. Eventually we got trapped in a military park, and while I managed to figure out we were on the Volga, I put us about 400km downstream.

A few tips if you’re playing along at home:

  • Google blurs out license plates, but look at ads on the sides of trucks, and billboards. Some of them will talk about local establishments and everyone claims to serve the best borscht in Belgium. 🙂
  • Intersections of highways make it easy to nail down where you are. Most countries number their highways North-to-South, East-to-West, so you can figure out proportionally where you might be relative to the borders of the country.
  • Find the fanciest buildings in town, and read the plaques. They’re often public institutions, and have important town names and historical clues on them.
  • I’d like to think that if I knew more about tree species I’d be able to make a pretty solid guess – just based on the forests, a few times I found my self in Brazil thinking I was in Africa, and one time in South Africa I thought I was in the Caribbean. I suck at trees, apparently.

Post any big successes in the comments – I’m curious about how people do in their own wanderings!