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May 2004 Archives

May 1, 2004

Cool contrails

The Earth Observatory keeps putting out cool images. Here's one showing off airplane contrails in the Southeast.

May 3, 2004

More Windows customizations/OS thievery

I've added to new bits of software to my computer setup. iEx is an app that somewhat replicates Apple's Expose feature. After using the G5 in the lab here for a day, I grew to like that feature rather quickly, especially now that I don't have a three monitor setup. iEx doesn't have all the whizbang animations of Expose, but it has the necessary functionality.

I'm also testing out Samurize, which lets you place a lot of useful information on your desktop, like a CPU meter, network meters, weather, battery gauge, etc... (its different from Konfabulator in that you basically have one giant widget that you customize, instead of a bunch of little ones). The screenshots might make it a little bit more clear. The learning curve is probably a bit steep for beginners, but once it's runing it's rather nice.

May 4, 2004


New music stores are becoming as commonplace as new social networking sites, and Sony, inventor of the Walkman, has finally launched their effort. I wanted to write a fair review, rather than read the press releases and viscerally react at their stupidity, so I've taken the time to download the software for the new music store and I've poked around, all so that I can have a more informed visceral reaction.

I have two ways to summarize my basic reaction. One is, "This is your response to beat Apple?" The other is, "MINIDISC IS DEAD! GET OVER IT!"*

If you're interested in a slightly more detailed explanation of these reactions, you can read the extended entry, where I try to examine in more detail what Sony is trying to do, and why I think it's doomed.

* Caveat: This will probably play well in Japan where MiniDiscs have managed to survive, but it's mind-boggling to me that Sony is letting itself have it's ass handed to it on a platter in the American consumer electronics industry.

Continue reading "YAMS" »

Apple vs. PC laptops

I feel like starting a religious war. Also, rcp wrote me asking for advice, and to offer her more unbiased advice, I figure that posting this would be a chance for a Mac user to respond instead. I've posted rcp's original e-mail and my response. Feel free to rebut my response as politely or angrily as you wish.

i am considering getting a laptop. actually no, i am going to get a new laptop. but being usual me, i cannot decide. i am used to pcs, but they are more expensive and are huge. macs are nice, i like the interface, but software (free) is not as easy to come by. and i am a bit hesitant to enter to realm of non-windows.

i'm basically going to be using it for grad school, some data analysis, and my usual conquest to steal music from people if i can.

right now, it is between a new mac and an ibm. do you have an opinion one way or another?

Here is my reply (slightly edited):

First, to clear up some assumptions:
1) PCs are not more expensive. Apple is still slightly more expensive, though it's hard to compare side-by-side. Also, if you end up buying a cheap iBook, one of the first things you have to go and do is buy more memory for it. You will hate it if you don't.

2) PC laptops are actually lighter; a Dell Inspiron 600m with a 14" screen weighs the same (ed. 4.98lbs) as the 4.6lb 12" Powerbook, which is the lightest laptop Apple sells.

Now, to qualify that: IBMs are huge. They still manufacture them in the same cases they did 10 years ago. Even their small laptops feel bulky due to the big black case.

If I were to choose between an IBM and an Apple, I would go with Apple, because I think the Thinkpad line sucks. It's essentially the same laptop they sold when I was in high school; if you put a ten year old Thinkpad next to a brand new one, it would be difficult to tell them apart at a distance.

If I were to choose between Apple and PC, then the answer becomes more nuanced.

If I were buying a computer to drive my iPod, digital camera, and cell phone, and guitar, I would get an Apple. The iLife application suite is a great package of "free" software. You can get better if you buy separate software, but as free software goes, it can't be beat.

If I were to get a laptop for school use, I would get a PC. They're lighter, MUCH higher performance, and more likely to work with school software. It's hard to emphasize how much faster a PC will be. The iBooks especially are cripplingly slow, and I would rather have a PC that could run MS Office quickly for my schoolwork.

If I were to choose a PC for school use, I would probably go with Dell. Sony is too expensive, and I don't think highly of Gateway/HP/Toshiba laptops. Dell has a broad enough product offering that you can pretty much find the type of laptop you want, whether it be one with a large widescreen, or one that is extremely light.

The Mac users I know, including the people who have switched, adore their Apples, but in many ways its an emotional attachment, not one based on the economics of price-to-performance. Don Norman talks about this in his book, Emotional Design. Also, there is the simplicity that comes from having iLife and having things "just work" when they plug them in overcomes any slowness issues; the simplicity does come at a cost: the reason why Apple works so well with other devices is that there really aren't that many devices that work with an Apple; you also can't easily replace the internals of your machine. Then again, we're talking about laptops, so neither is as much of an issue.

There's also a subset of Apple users who are using it because they come from the Linux camp and enjoy having a bash shell on their laptop.

Emotional doesn't mean wrong, but it's a different metric. It's good to be fond of your machine; at the very least means that its not causing you stress, and its certainly not an adversary (like Windows can be). It also means that somewhere in the design they got it right.

My metrics are weight (I won't buy a laptop that weighs more than 3 lbs. because of my back) and performance. On both of those metrics, Apple laptops lose bigtime.

May 6, 2004

Talk: Clearing the building

Clear the building: Pursuit-evasion with limited field of view
Brian Gerkey
Stanford Robotics Laboratory
(with Sebastian Thrun)

Note: most of the notes are copied from the bullets on the presentation slides as the presentation was going very quickly.

Continue reading "Talk: Clearing the building" »

For the istuffers

bp and meta had a project where they were going to build a button next to your computer that you could press that would order a pizza for your (credit for the idea goes to jeffb). I believe one of the more difficult chains in the process was actually ordering pizza. This might help, though it will only get you Dominoes:
Pizza Party - Command Line Pizza ordering program
(via kottke)

May 7, 2004

Friday update

I haven't been posting much recently, at least compared to my normal posting rate, mostly because I haven't been up to much recently, other than reading a lot of books. I restarted Quicksilver, and hopefully this time I'll actually finish Stephenson's monstrous effort. His next one (Confusion) is sitting on my shelf, so I better get cracking.

I also haven't been posting much because I've been hanging out more on political blogs rather than technology blogs recently, and, similarly, I keep getting drawn into political debates on an e-mail list. I've tried to avoid political stuff on this blog, which means I don't have much to post. I've narrowed my main list of pol blogs down to Daily Kos and Atrios, with Instapundit thrown in for balance, but it's still a lot to go through. If the Bush Administration didn't screw up on a weekly basis I would have much more time to post other stuff.

There should be a lot going on soon, as next week I go to Boston for the first time in a couple years to see my friends. I'm also looking forward to adding more photos to my Gehry collection. Then, in three weeks, I'll be heading off to Ireland and trying to share a pint with all the O'Connollys out there; I fear this might kill me.

May 8, 2004

Movie: Van Helsing

van helsing posterThis is a brief review for those of you thinking of watching the movie; there are no spoilers here. I would give this a 2.5-3 out of 5 stars. Roughly, this means that I would watch the movie again (for free), but I certainly wouldn't buy it. The story had a lot of potential, and I liked the way that they merged the Dracula, Frankenstein, and werewolf myths into one cohesive mythology with a lot of homage to its predecessors, but there are several moments in the story where the movie falls on its face. It's frustrating, because mostly its a good movie. Van Helsing and Frankenstein, in particular, I thought were good characters in the movie.

One person I watched it with summed up one aspect of the movie well: it's as if they want to show you everything, rather than leave parts to the imagination; I would also add that what they show you, often wasn't as good as the imagination could come up with. The werewolf character is overwhelmed with special effects and takes away any presence the creature might have, as are many of the monsters in the movie.

The movie was better than it's Rotten Tomatoes score might indicate (hovering in the 20% range now), but this is a movie that I would save money on and watch as a rental instead of shelling out $10 for a movie ticket.

May 9, 2004

Stata Center opens

The Stata Center at MIT officially opened on May 7th. It's not my favorite of the Gehry buildings, but to me, at least, it's a refreshing break from the other buildings on the MIT campus. The MIT campus can be best described as depressingly ugly, so I think it will be an improvement. I'll know better when I visit next week and take lots of photos.
The Ray and Maria Stata Center - Photos

Stata Center followup

rcp posted a comment deriding my praise for the Stata Center. I imagine others will or already do share her viewpoint, and as aesthetics are a matter of personal taste, it's rather difficult to debate. A vote could give some credence to right or wrong, but I don't have a poll feature, so here is my response:

rcp: we have agreed to disagree on our definitions of art :) but i think it makes our already hideous campus look all the more heinous. i would have been happy if they had kept the 77 mass ave or killian court architecture. in their attempts to be innovative, i think they've made a mess. who cares if there's a building that's a 30-60-90 triangle or 1/8th of a sphere? with the recent addition of an oddly colored simmons and this drop of demented-looking metal, i think we have won the award for the most eclectic and yet, most uncoordinated campus ever. now, i will prepare myself to be flamed by you :).

We already had the award for most eclectic and uncoordinated campus ever. If MIT had stuck to the Killian Court look throughout, then my response would differ, but no other buildings on campus match that look, not the Green Building, Media Center, hospital, Sloan, bio building, NE43, or any of the other building numbers too numerous to list. The building that the Stata Center was built over was a fifty-year-old "temporary" building that had five coats of hideous blue paint on it, none of which matched, and none of which seemed to make it all the way around a full window frame. The building that the Stata Center replaces (NE43) could easily be mistaken for a boring office building, which its twin across the courtyard in fact is. Coordination was never a virtue of the MIT campus after its initial construction. About the only common trait they share is that most of them use lots of concrete.

If we assume that it's too late to tear down the MIT campus and rebuild it in a new image, then we have to accept the fact that nothing can be done to improve the "regularity" of the campus. That doesn't mean that we should build horrendous buildings like Simmons, where the only design consideration seems to be making the windows inconvenient for suicide attempts, but it does mean that MIT can, and should take risks in its building design to demonstrate innovative architecture.

Whether you like or dislike Gehry's designs, he is a leader in architectural design. His designs would be impossible without the leading-edge CAD tools he promotes, and his buildings are marvels that fly in the face of the principle of interchangeable parts; they demonstrate that technology now affords us the capabilities to dismiss assembly-line manufactured designs. Too many buildings resemble the parts that made them: rectangular blocks. If you look at the Disney Center in LA, you will be immediately struck by the fact that they had to individually bend each sheet of metal that covers it; no two are the same. The fact that this can be done without astronomical costs is additionally impressive. At the very least, the Stata Center will be a case study in modern design and construction technologies for architecture students.

Go into any other building on the MIT campus, and go to any floor. Take a look around. Then go up or down the stairs, and take a look again. Look familiar? Other than the bathroom layout, which alternates each floor, nearly ever floor in an MIT building is a replica of the floor below, save the dreaded catacomb basements.

The Stata Center will break this tradition. It will offer the largest variety of spaces available in the entire campus, from large lecture halls, to individually shaped tutorial rooms. Each floor, room, and stairway will have the opportunity to make unique impressions. At the very least, it will make it very challenging for the AI lab to program their robots. When I wandered around the Disney Center, each vantage point revealed something different about the building; you never got the same view as you walked around. From the photos of the Stata Center I have seen, I believe the exterior and interior will offer a similar variety.

I believe this unconventionality will be useful, because one of the things that impresses me about PARC, now that I work at SRI, is how important the building is for the culture of the lab. SRI's building, I'm told, is a former hospital, which has the consequence that there are no common spaces, and all the hallways and stairways are in the interior of the building. At PARC, much of the building faces the outside. Anywhere in PARC, you're never more than a hundred feet away from a patio or a courtyard. The building is also subdivided into pods, so and each pod is centered around a common space. All of this fosters social communication at PARC at a level that far exceeds that of SRI. Pixar had a similar approach in their building design: the bathrooms are all placed at the center of the building, so that people are encouraged to run into each other during their bathroom breaks. Neither PARC's or Pixar's building designs are responsible for their culture, but they are consonant.

I do not know if the Stata Center will encourage social communication on campus, though I do think that the amphitheater might be only large outdoor social gathering point in the entire East Campus. I am fairly certain, though, that the unique design of the Stata Center will make an impression on the research culture. It is hard to predict cultural shifts, but my prediction is that this impression will be a positive one.

May 10, 2004

Sony bloggin'

After blasting Sony in my review of the Connect service, it's only fair that I list some of their cooler announcements that have hit the Net today.

VAIO PocketSony has finally launched a real iPod competitor. The VAIO pocket appears to be slightly larger than an iPod and features a color screen, ability to sync with digital cameras via USB, 20GB of storage, video playback (where does this video come from?), and weird G-Sense touchpad that you have to watch the flash animation to even begin to grok (instead of a dial, it's a 2-D raised grid that you move your thumb across). It's only in Japan, and it also costs over $500, so Apple probably isn't going to worry just yet. It also doesn't appear that it will win any beauty competitions.

In typical Sony fashion, it comes with an uber remote with LCD display. Also, in typical Sony fashion, they've stubbornly insist on converting all of the music into ATRAC format when transferred. I've already discussed how annoying this is. To me, this one annoying feature ruins the whole deal. Another deal-breaker for me is the fact that you have to use Sony's SonicStage player, which I also already discuss my annoyances with, as have others (Note: apparently Sony has already announced that there will be an update to SonicStage by summer's end to address the rampant criticism).

sony u70Another bit of news, and my reaction on this isn't as mixed, is that Sony has released a not-quite tablet PC, that IMHO is pretty innovative. It's very small as computers (click on the photo for more images), and I think it would be a good device to have around the house for channelling your media. In that regard, it may be difficult to find a niche: the screen is too small to make it usable as a day-to-day laptop, and despite the remote and earbuds it's not really a portable music player, so it all comes down to how many people have an extra $2K to spend on a computer that's easy to tote around the house as well as read e-books on (a market that still as yet has not materialized). I withhold judgement for now as to whether or not it would be useful for watching movies on airplanes, as I can't tell whether or not it has a built-in DVD drive.

Finally, Sony has finally released a widescreen laptop.

One more G.Mail in.vite

I've got another G.Mail in.vite that I can hand out. I debated polling people via e-mail, but I think a fair metric is that whoever endures reading my blog should get rewarded :)

So who's interested? Please respond via e-mail. Also, please only respond if you intend to use G.Mail as your primary e-mail account, i.e. if you are currently using Hotmail or Yahoo as you main e-mail, then you are a likely candidate; if you run your own mail server, please hold your request.

Note: this entry will self-destruct in 5, 4, 3... 2, 1, BOOM

I just have to post everything Google

Google, owner of Blogger, now has an official blog: Google Blog

Lord of the Rings RISK

I picked up Lord of the Rings RISK (the expanded Trilogy edition). Who's down to try it out? It's basically normal RISK on a map of Middle Earth, with even more complicated rules :)

How to meet strangers on the Internet

Earlier today I posted that I had one invitation to give out for G.Mail. I had assumed that I had phrased the post in such a way that only friends that knew my e-mail address would respond to it. Of course, I was wrong.

I did not intend to word that entry as a challenge to scavenge for my address, but, in retrospect, it's easy to see how it was construed that way. Two Three diligent people (attracted here by Feedster and the like) have already gone through the effort, only to be turned away as I explained that my offer was intended only to attract friends.

The first person, though, impressed me with the manner in which he derived my address, first searching my blog entries to find where I mentioned the domain of my address, then using my memorylane pages to guess the particular handle that I might use, and then confirming the full address using a search engine (pointing out pages that I didn't realize contained my address). NOTE: this isn't the easiest way to locate my e-mail address, but it has the most spirit, and is the most Google-like.

I also did say that I wanted to reward readers of this blog, and even though that person is not a regular reader, he did meet all the requirements set forth, so much to my surprise and amusement, I'm going to give the account to him, currently valued at $20-40 eBay dollars :).

May 11, 2004

Good thing I'm only half...

I don't have a great adjective to describe this entry. Ironic? Oxymoronic? Moronic? If you were to visit, what type of site do you think it would take you to? How about I were to narrow it down and say, if a restaurant were to own, which restaurant would it be? And, what would happen, if I then told you that the restaurant claims to own the trademark on "I am Asian," what would you think?

BTW: I now take this opportunity to claim the trademarks, "I am Half-Asiantm" and "I am Hapatm" for the blogging domain; other hapas beware, I'll be feedster-ing and pubsub-ing your asses to make sure you don't step on my turf.

(via boingboing)

My plans for the future

will involve playing a lot of this

For all you doubters/haters out there: I finished the previous one, though I did have to quit my job to make enough free time...

Where do they go?

If you've ever wondered what Gary Burghoff (aka "Radar" O'Reilley) has been doing since his MASH days, I've found out the answer. He starred in a DARPA video about AI-based personal assistants. Paraphrasing:

"Hi I'm Gary Burghoff. You probably know me as Radar O'Reilley on MASH, where I was known for my ability to anticipate the needs of my commanding officer. In the future, personal cognitive assistants will...blah...blah"
He then transforms into a 3-D animated pair of glasses and flak helmet that floats around and points out all the capabilities that personal cognitive assistants will provide, and it culminates with Burghoff making startled noises as he gets beamed up ala Star Trek.

It reminds me of Jimmy Buffet playing at the birthday party of the Tyco CEO's wife, and it also reminds me of all the old sci-fi-series actors at Comic-Con who sit in their autograph booths with absolutely no one in line for them.

I only post all of this to ask the question: How much do you get paid to lose all your dignity after your fall from fame?

May 12, 2004

Moblogs go the way of the dodo

HP Labs' has posted a study of moblog usage that shows a precipitous drop-off in moblog usage after several weeks. While a drop in use is to be expected in any service (e.g. blogs), only 7% of users continue to use the service after 30 weeks, and by week 4, the median user is posting one photo per week (zero photos per week by week 5). There are several reasons one could use to explain the steep drop:
- moblogging isn't compelling to people
- the moblogging sites don't offer enough features to keep users engaged
- it's too difficult to post photos using a cameraphone
- added: (via dave) cameraphone photos aren't high-quality enough

Given the huge popularity of cameraphones, my best guess is that it's either the second or third reason, and my best hunch is that it's the third. The phone UIs really aren't designed for posting photos to TextAmerica and the like. IMHO, the value that a user gets from posting a single photo is not commensurate with the amount of effort it takes to send the photo to the service. For similar reasons, I can't envision services like Dodgeball surviving the current generation of phones.
(via engadget)

Update: should've figured that Josh had a little bit to do with this. I wonder if he used his own moblog as a data point :). I notice his fits the curve well...

Oh poop

I was looking forward to reading PyZine's article on POOPy (Programming with Object Orientation Python), but it looks like it's only available to subscribers. The acronym seemed so appropriate.

May 13, 2004

Off to Boston tomorrow

Hopefully will have plenty to post when I get back.

May 16, 2004

Book: Beowulf

book image

I finished Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf during my flight to and from Boston and enjoyed it greatly. I think it will stand up to multiple readings, as there is the Beowulf story, the poetic style of Heaney, and the side-by-side comparison of the translation and the original Old English. Heany also writes a good introduction to the text, that gives insight into the influences of the text as well as the guidelines he followed in the translation.

Apparently, you can order CDs for the "Electronic Beowulf," which contains scans of the original manuscript. From the few images that I have seen, I think it would add a lot of character to see the text in that form, even though I would be unable to read it.

If you are a fan of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, you might want to read this book; at least in my reading, it seems to me that Tolkein took a lot of his influence for those works from this poem. Perhaps this is an obvious fact that I was previously unaware of -- it helped that Heaney's introduction mentioned Tolkein's paper "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," but it seems even without this setup the similarities are striking enough to come through.

May 17, 2004

Back from Boston

More entries await after I get more sleep...


Help: GarageBand

This is another request from the Mac camp for some info, though I might not have a large enough audience to get an answer. GarageBand 1.1 was released and apparently fixes some of the performance problems of the first release. The original version, for all intents and purposes, required a G5; running it on anything else was a fairly painful experience.

Until I had witnessed the dreadful performance, I was considering buying an iBook, upgrading the RAM, and installing GarageBand on it. It was an expensive excuse to get me playing my guitar on it. If anyone out there who uses GarageBand regularly can tell me whether or not the performance upgrades make it usable again on iBooks, I would appreciate the feedback. Positive or negative feedback is good; if it's positive, then I have an excuse to buy another toy; if it's negative, I have an excuse to save a lot of money.

Tangible gum interfaces

gumMy 1010 bookmarklet is down, so I'll post this here.

In London they've come up with a new "tangible" interface, psychologically similar to the fly in the urinal interface. In order to encourage people to not put their gum under tables, on the ground, etc... posters featuring a grid of "celebrities" are being deployed with the message: "Who deserves your gum?" An astonishing $265M is spent every year in the UK cleaning up gum, which this solution hopes to cut into. Perhaps this could be used to replace Gallup polls.

BBC NEWS | England | London | Celebrities used as gum targets

MIT ch-changes

In the three years since I've graduated, MIT campus has changed a lot, and my general impression is that it has become a much nicer place to go to school. The biggest factor in this is the new Z-Center, which replaces MIT's 50-year-old scummy pool and basement weight rooms with a modern, three-story complex with two pools, tons of workout machines, and lots of TVs. It also appears that there are more dining choices close to campus, and I also happen to like the addition of the Stata Center. The number of buildings that MIT has built or is building since I left is astonishing -- my current count notes that at least five large buildings have been completed, and there is also a gigantic building being constructed for the cogsci department. Of the buildings, the only one I wish MIT could take back is the Simmons dorm, which is ugly beyond description on the outside -- I hear that it's even worse on the inside.

I can't speak for changes in student life. It was hard to tell in the space of a weekend how the changes to the freshman programs, from changing the timing of rush, to requiring freshman to live on campus, to eliminating two-term pass/no record, have harmed or improved interactions on campus, but I will note that I even noticed that the toilet paper on campus has noticeably improved, and that certainly improves day-to-day life.

Fire ch-changes

Following up on the theme of change, another big change had less to do with MIT, and more to do with a fire that started during a cold snap, which was followed by thousands of gallons of water that was used to put out the fire, which was accompanied by the gutting of walls and ceilings to contain said fire, all of which resulted in crispy wood encased in sheets of ice. The event I'm describing occurred in one of the houses I lived in during college that I got to tour while I was in Boston.


The actual fire damage was very little, but the water and the gutting ruined most of the walls, floors, and ceilings, from the fourth floor all the way down to the basement. The biggest loss is the Lounge, which had accrued much of our culture over the years. When people move through a place at the rate of four years per stay, much of the memory of the organization has to be carried in the place itself. So, as much as the fire will provide a phoenix-like opportunity for rebirth/remodelling, it also represents cultural amnesia that the current members of the house will have to work hard to repair.

You can view more of the current state in the extended entry.

Continue reading "Fire ch-changes" »

Stata Center: Roof

photo One of the things we discovered while wandering the halls of the Stata Center is, despite the numerous active doorlocks, you could actually go into nearly any room you wanted if you were adventurous enough. For example, the control room for the big 123 lecture hall has a combination lock on it, but it turns out that if you just twist the handle, it opens. Another example is roof access. I assume that, in the future, MIT will want to block access to the roof, but, for now, you can walk up a stairwell and right out onto the roof.

The roof offered many interesting views of Cambridge, the MIT campus, and Boston. It also makes for a fun mini-maze as you try and navigate through the vent-works to get to the outer roof edge.

If you examine the photos carefully, you might be able to notice some mounting stands that are regularly spaced near the edge of the roof. They have four holes in them as if to bolt on something important, but their main use to me was a good solid base to stand on and look over the high roof edge.

Roof Gallery (29 photos)

Related: Index of other Stata Center entries

Stata Center: Interior

photo As I wandered the interior of the Stata Center and into the various "tribal" lab areas, I was under the impression that the building was still under construction. This was true: Brooks' robolab and the fourth floor commons were still being built. There was also building materials scattered about, including numerous items made out of plywood, such as benches, tables, and most commonly, cubicle-like dividers (example). It turns out that the plywood was actually the finished product.

When I first found this out, I was in disbelief. I had wandered the building for half an hour thinking that I was just seeing more construction materials, but then hogue pointed out that the plywood was actually a theme for the furniture, a cheap, ugly theme. The Stata Center in many ways represents leading-edge use of materials in construction, and it is simply mind-boggling to me that plywood would play a prominent role in furnishing the building.

That said, the rest of my impressions about the interior of the building were mostly positive. The most compelling design theme was the manner in which Gehry cleverly allowed the exterior of the building to penetrate into the interior; walls that were external fascade often continued into the building, usually with a skylight demarking the separation of spaces. Gehry places windows everywhere, allowing light from the outside to penetrate nearly every part of the building; conference rooms generally had three windows, each allowing sunlight to penetrate.

The combination of the two elements create the an interesting inversion: even interior windows have the appearance of opening to the outside, as what you see out of an interior window is often the same as what you would see out of an exterior window (example).

Other elements of the interior that I liked include the spiral staircases and the 123 lecture hall. I also think that the two-story lab areas will be very interesting work environments, as they offer a more three-dimension workspace.

Other elements of the building design I didn't like were the lack of power outlets near desks in the classrooms (not very laptop friendly), and the extensive use of exposed concrete (not always bad, but in the case of office ceilings, ugly). One of the worst design decisions, in terms of building function, is that the separators between the hallways and the workspaces is incomplete; there are glass dividers separating the two, but it turns out that above head height they didn't put any glass in, so there is actually open air between the two. I have been told that this makes the building very noisy.

Stata Interior (82 photos)

Related: Index of other Stata Center entries

Stata Center: Modifying the Building

Another interesting design decision for the interior of the building that deserves its own post is that the interior is very hackable. Most of the interior spaces are complete open with reconfigurable separators to adjust how the space is used, and there are large, open spaces, some of which extend sixty feet into the air.

There is also extensive use of glass invites people to write messages or draw pictures on it, or in some cases, paper up the glass entirely for privacy. One of the more morbid window drawings I saw can be viewed here (hard to see).

Gehry I believe has taken to using the euphemism "modifying the building" to describe some of the modifications that people are making to correct some of the building design. We took to joking around with this saying as we wandered around; e.g. when we propped open one of the doors using construction material, we were "modifying the building." One of the more humorous modifications I've heard about is that in one of the conference rooms someone placed a box with a brick in it over one of the buildings floor vents and labelled it "temperature control." It is good to see that Gehry doesn't take offense at these modifications, though I'm sure that some of the denizens wish they were unnecessary. In all fairness, at least they have control over their spaces in the Stata Center; the old NE43 building offered little opportunity.

There are also plenty of fun reasons to hack the building. The "Gates Building" logos are numerous and pristine, the MIT library terminals are running Windows and frequently bluescreen (they were hacked to run Linux during the dedication), and the Dreyfoos building has already spawned the Dreyfoosball table.

Related: Index of other Stata Center entries

Stata Center: Exterior

photo The exterior of the Stata Center has invited a lot of criticism and not much defense, so let me be one of the few voices out there to say, "I like it." It's different, it's looks like got damaged in an earthquake, and it's strange, but it's also very interesting, open, and thought-provoking. It has towers with a gentle curve that enhance their height, Gehry's signature use of metal, and the appropriately dedicated Dertouzos amphitheater, which I hope will invite people to hang out in nicer weather. Unlike most MIT buildings, it also has a parking garage (added after the building was designed) and day care center with playground.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the exterior design is the still-incomplete robotics lab (photo). With its shiny metal exterior, separation from the rest of the building structure, and conical chimney, it almost seems like a cottage to the rest of the building. In most of the sight lines for the building, it seems to stand out most prominently, which perhaps was the intent of Gehry when he chose for it to be the shiniest.

In comparing the Stata Center and Disney Center, I would say that the Stata Center has a much slower rhythm. When I visited the Disney Center, I found myself taking a photo, walking two feet, and finding a completely different view that I had to take another photo of. The variations in the Stata Center design are much more spread out, and while it does have a greater diversity of design elements, it doesn't have as many interesting angles from which to view it from.

Stata Exterior (100 photos))

Related: Index of other Stata Center entries

Stata Center

photo One of the highlights of my visit to Boston was visiting the nearly complete Stata Center at MIT. Ever since seeing photos of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, I have been a fan of Gehry's work, and this was my second opportunity to see one of his buildings in person (the first being the Disney Center). I've already expressed some opinions on the Stata Center prior to visiting it, so you can compare and contrast my pre- and post-impressions if you wish.

I've broken my impressions and photos of the Stata Center into five parts, partly to separate distinct parts of the building, and mostly because I took over 200 photos and need to make the image galleries consumable.

Modifying the building

May 18, 2004

Purple audio

I enjoyed this Jon Udell post that discusses adding the feasability of linking to any portion of a larger audio file, which can be viewed as equivalent to Purple Numbers for audio.

Feedback for Sixapart

Sixapart asks, "How are you using the Tool?" I have two answers, as I have two separate Movable Type installations.

1) On this site, I use it to run my personal weblog as well as manage the static content of the site (ala Brad Choate). I also use it to manage my DVD collection, and, strangely, to write presentations (each entry == slide). I also keep one additional weblog which is there for me to store random content on my home server, i.e. the equivalent of a textual FTP server. This brings my total to five weblogs, and one 'active' author (and one inactive guest account). I am uncertain, reading the new definition of 'weblog' and 'author' set forth whether or not this is reducible to one author/one weblog, given that the blogs drive one main Web site (

2) on, I use it to host personal weblogs for four friends of mine, and in the future I plan to host even more people who are in need of a Web server for their own blog. There is one additional blog, which is a commons area for the site. This configuration would equate to five active authors, six blogs, and likely to slightly increase (by less than a factor of two).


Scribe seems to be a rather cool new Firefox extension. It allows you to load and save text that you are typing in a text box.

I often compose meeting notes in a emacs and then copy the text over to MovableType, where I then do some additional touchup. A plugin like this might help me keep the two (MT entry, text file) better in sync. It will also help in cases where the wireless suddenly drops out mid-way through composing a post.

May 20, 2004

Sony loses

If my reviews of Sony Connect and the VAIO pocket weren't negative enough, you can read this combined Sony PSP, VAIO Pocket, and Sony Connect review:
How Sony Cemented iPod's Supremacy

May 21, 2004

For (ex-) Xerox employees

(click comic to view full size)

Up until PARC spun out of Xerox, there was this insistence that everything was a 'document,' from what you print to e-mail to just about anything with text in it, and many of the area names at PARC used the word 'document.' As soon as we spun out there was a great rush to rename any group that had the word 'document' in it.

Uber-bookmark list

komlenic posted a comment link to a list of keyword bookmarks for Firefox over at adot. I've already used it to update my amazon search bookmark, as my old one was broken.

For those of you not familiar with keyword bookmarks, they are a powerful way of quickly searching for information from your address bar. For example, if I type "imdb Finding Nemo", my browser will take me to the imdb search results for Finding Nemo. If I type "amazon Beowulf", it will take me to the Amazon search results for Beowulf. The one I use most often is "bm python", which takes me to all the python-related links I have in my bookmarks.

There's a tutorial for using keyword bookmarks here.

May 22, 2004


With all my posting of media related to my trip to Boston, I never took the opportunity to do a simple post on what I actually did, as opposed to what I saw.

The trip didn't start of auspiciously. United cancelled my flight and put me on one five hours later, and that flight was further delayed both on take off, landing, and during the taxi-ing to our gate, but my luck turned around as a nice person from Genentech gave me a ride from the airport to j and hogue's place. Among other things, we joked about the flight attendant who was more than a bit overzealous in her enforcement of emergency exit row qualifications and procedures.

The alumni party BBQ was fun; during the course of the weekend I found out about two babies on the way, caught up with a lot of friends, and saw the immense damage to one of the houses used to lived in. I also watched a lot of NBA playoff games, had some good serious discussions with friends, saw the tremendous changes to the MIT campus (Stata, Simmons, Z-Center, and toilet paper), and managed a couple of sinks during beer die (though I shamefully had to use proxies for defense).

My only disappointment was that this was one of the lesser turnouts for an alumni event that I had seen in the six-or-so events I had been to; most of my class was absent, pretty much no one from the previous three classes came from out-of-town. The low turnout was understandable: this year's event was much more low-key since our venus was destroyed, and next year's event will certainly offer much more interesting sights with a newly renovated house to gaze at. Also, I did manage to see a lot of this year's seniors (who were freshmen when I graduated) before they take off.

May 23, 2004

Deserted island

photoThis is a deserted island of a different sort. Gunkanjima is a very small island in Japan where coal was discovered. As with the discovery of any valuable natural resource, the land was quickly developed, and then abandoned once it was no longer viable. The pictures of this now-deserted island are eerily interesting.
- gun-thumbnail
(via boingboing)

Style Invitational 555: NeoPets

The Style Invitational (

Report from Week 555, in which we asked for wholesome sentences that would be rejected by the filter of the very careful Web site. We heard from several actual Neopets aficionados with actual tales to tell: Donna Metler, for instance, reports that "I have learned the hard way that I can't tell people I play sax, as opposed to saxophone." And Andy Schwartz of Long Beach, N.Y., says the robo-censors wouldn't let him announce, "This Funny Pen is my badge of honor as a member of the Neopian Space Cadets."

This week's entries were especially repetitive; if your idea is credited here to someone else, well, life on Earth can be unfair. Feel free to take your Petpet and relocate to the Neopian Moon of Kreludor. Watch your mouth, though.

DSecond runner-up: The aspiring painters and sculptors even created a Web page, which may be viewed at (Elden Carnahan, Laurel)

DFirst runner-up, winner of the Feb. 25, 1972, copy of Life magazine: "My horse is injured, but I'm going to win the race anyway," Steven insisted. "I'm just going to do it with a pony." (Dan Steinberg, Falls Church)

DAnd the winner of the Inker: Visiting cousins in Guadalajara, young Guillermo got lost and burst into tears. "Don't cry, little fella -- Tio is right here!" said his uncle. (Jane Auerbach, Los Angeles)

DHonorable Mentions:

Rev. Roberts had many evangelical achievements, but building his university in Tulsa really gave Oral

satisfaction. (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)

I commute from Maryland, see? So

every morning I enter Virginia, I screw around all day, then I pull out of Virginia and go home. (Tom Witte, Montgomery


"Ho! Ho! Ho!" cried Santa. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge; Jerry Pannullo, Kensington)

Texas Instruments invites hearing-

impaired customers to contact us on the TI TTY line. (Elden Carnahan, Laurel)

Jimmy felt cross burning his ex-

girlfriend's letters, the white sheets bound tightly in leather. (Bill Spencer,

Exeter, N.H.)

Today's Bible reading is Zechariah 9:9, King James Version: "Behold, thy King cometh unto thee . . . riding upon an ass." (Elden Carnahan, Laurel)

We were admiring the splendid rainbow when a sudden cloudburst brought pink and golden showers. (Chris Doyle, Forsyth, Mo.)

Virginia Catholic School Girls Dominate Ball Game, Snatch 69th Victory (Erika Reinfeld, Somerville, Mass.)

On our trip to California, we peeked into the downy nest of a pair of bushtits. (Janet Millenson, Potomac)

Before erecting structure, assemble pieces on bare surface: wooden parts A through G, screws and nuts. For best

results, rub parts gently with oil. (Mary Eaton, Arlington)

Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Tom DeLay are Congress's staunchest defenders of family values. (Peter Metrinko, Plymouth, Minn.)

Eddie hated to walk home along

Connecticut Avenue. Every day he was hassled by a group of Dupont Circle jerks. (Chris Doyle)

My brother once made a sandwich with Miracle Whip, Ding Dongs and a chicken breast -- the same brother who

graduated summa cum laude from Yale! (Stephen Dudzik, Olney)

The job listing, perfect for Mic's friend, was on As Mic looked at it with Liz, they found exactly the right

position. (Jane Auerbach)

May 24, 2004

WiFi as GPS

My PubSub subscription pulled up some interesting tidbits for me today. Ian Smith (formerly of PARC) is now at The Place Lab, which is providing a toolkit for mapping WiFi locations to map coordinates. This already has some interesting applications, such as a location-aware Todo list and location-aware IM with privacy controls.

Another interesting tidbit from the same entry was that Trevor Smith (also formerly of PARC) is now at Transmutable, which is working on creating HTML-based photo maps, so that the photos you take can be arranged geographically. Although unrelated to The Place Lab, the two dovetail quite nicely.

I look forward to the day where my media and communication applications will have a common location-aware framework, and my photo software will be able to figure out the location of a photo from its timestamp and my blogging software will come with a map-based view.

(via trevor smith via pubsub)

May 25, 2004

Threat Modeling

Microsoft is offering a free download for a Threat Modeling Tool written by Frank Swiderski (author of Threat Modeling). I haven't tried it out yet, as I am no longer involved in security-related issues, but threat modeling tools, in general, are good for focusing attention on what you are actually trying to protect. Supporters of DRM software, for example, would benefit from using one of these tools, if only to notice how broken their model is.

Style Invitational 554: Anagrams

The Style Invitational Week 554 results

Contestants had to take current headlines and rearrange them into creative anagrams (most with the help of Anagram Artist).

Ads for men are trying to sell Viagra, Levitra, Cialis.
I find vitals are larger, also staying more vertical. (Milo Sauer, Fairfax)

"In Other Words: A Book of Irish and American Anagrams": Bob Dylan, age sixty-two, appears in a Victoria's Secret commercial, singing while Adriana Lima slinks around in her undies.
Ridiculous ad attacks women, i.e., insists sex appeal is a rich, incoherent old man and a servile bra-baring girl. Oy, I'm yawning. (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)

I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
We, Karl Rove and G.W. Bush, do solemnly swear that we'll faithfully disinfect this here tainted office of President and, to the best of our ability, update the effete Constitution to help us to get elected next time. Yes, sir. (Chris Doyle, Forsyth, Mo.)

The United States Department of Homeland Security
Taut, tense men fondled my chest at the airport. I sued. (Chris Doyle)

The American Association of Retired Persons
Fact: I am seniors, diapers, coronaries, no teeth. (Chris Doyle)

Richard Clarke: "The CIA, FBI, NSA, DoD, and I failed you."
Dick Cheney: "Torrid liar! A fib! CANADA failed us. D'oh!" (Chris Doyle)

Earth Day: April twenty-second.
Hardy planet? We CAN destroy it! (Jesse Frankovich, Lansing, Mich.)

One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Or one Bible nation, riddled with injustice for all uninvited gays? (Chris Doyle)

In Baltimore, the Orioles team kicked off their new season; their Opening Day pitcher was Sidney Ponson.
With beefy ace pitcher, inane errors and weak hitting, I see no trips to Disneyland soon, folks. Oh me, I mope. (Brendan Beary)

May 26, 2004

Blogroll Rank vs. Permalink Rank has posted summary results from his paper Audience, Structure and Authority in the Weblog Community, which analyzes two different rankings of blog popularity: blogroll links (links to the site front page) and permalinks (links to a specific entry). The summary results show that the two are not highly correlated; while some sites like Slashdot, BoingBoing, and MeFi have a high degree of popularity in both, many do not.

(via kottke)

Japanese postcards from the start of the 20th century

postcardI found this collection of postcards from early 20th century Japan interesting as they track the influence of Western cultural on Japan during a period in which Japan was rapidly industrializing and building diplomatic relationships with European nations.

There are examples of art nouveau and art deco, some with a purely Western feel, and some that mix Japanese and Western styles together. MFA - Exhibition - Art of the Japanese Postcard (via boingboing)

Caltrain bot

After all my previous whining about the horrid online Web pages for getting access to Caltrain's schedule, I've now found a way of quickly accessing the schedule that I like (and no, it's not offered by Caltrain or transit511). Apparently someone on orkut is hosting an AIM chatbot called 'caltrainbot' that responds to simple requests. It's faster than the transit511 site, and it lets me get arbitrary station-to-station schedules based on the current time much faster. It's also a lot easier to access using my cellphone.

Here's a chat log:

me: next menlo park to mountain view
caltrainbot: Next train leaves menlo park at 4:04p and arrives mountain view at 4:18p
me: help
caltrainbot: Actions:
next (station) to (station): show the next train from station to station
remaining (station) to (station): show today's remaining trains from station to station
all (station) to (station): show all trains from station to station stations: show 'official' station names
fortune: display your fortune
about: show info about this bot
help: this message
me: remaining menlo park to mountain view
caltrainbot: Remaining trains from menlo park to mountain view:
Leaves 4:04p, arrives 4:18p
Leaves 4:34p, arrives 4:48p
Leaves 4:57p, arrives 5:11p
Leaves 5:18p, arrives 5:31p
Leaves 5:43p, arrives 5:57p
Leaves 5:55p, arrives 6:08p
Leaves 6:09p, arrives 6:23p
Leaves 6:41p, arrives 6:54p
Leaves 7:04p, arrives 7:18p
Leaves 7:35p, arrives 7:49p
Leaves 8:04p, arrives 8:18p
Leaves 8:34p, arrives 8:48p
Leaves 9:04p, arrives 9:18p
Leaves 10:04p, arrives 10:18p
Leaves 11:04p, arrives 11:18p

(via John R Chang: Blog: caltrainbot)

May 27, 2004

Leavin' Here

05-27-04.shamrock.jpgI'm headed off to Ireland tomorrow morning. I'm not bringing my laptop, so my posting will be confined to what whims allow while in Internet cafes. I'll be back two Sundays from now, full of Guinness and Kilkenny.

If you have any suggestions for Ireland, please post quickly before I go, as we have no plan as of yet.

May 29, 2004

Temple Bar

meta and I are in Temple Bar now (part of Dublin). Just arrived so not much to report, other than that meta's hair, five weeks since dyeing, now has the appearance of faded denim. Also, my blog's already had two comment spams, which doesn't bode well for the maintenance while I'm away...

BTW - Why is it that even English-speaking nations don't have the same freakin' keyboard layout? The letter keys are fine, but the shift and enter keys are screwy so I keep having to delete \# characters...

Off to go find a pint of Kilkenny

Dublin I


We didn't do much the first day here. We checked into Cobblestones, which is a hostel in the middle of Temple Bar. We ended up not liking this choice, as they don't seem to do too good of a job monitoring who actually enters the place, and the 'breakfast' wasn't much more than tiny bread rolls and tea (then again, didn't really expect that much from a hostel). The main problem was that there didn't seem to be much of a noise difference between the windows being open and the windows being closed, which is a problem when you are staying above all the bars and nightclubs...

Most of the day involved exploring Dublin on foot, stopping at the occassional bar in Temple Bar and elsewhere. Dublin is remarkably walkable, so we had explored most portions of our map by the time the day was up. meta made me promise to wait for Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery until the drunken louts showed up.

My first $50 was gone by the afternoon, as it would appear that Dublin is ridiculously expensive.