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November 2005 Archives

November 1, 2005

Hands on iPod with video, mixed impressions

I got my first hands-on experience with the iPod with video yesterday. My immediate impression was, "It's bigger," even though it's smaller. They aided this illusion by shrinking the scrollwheel (comparison pic). The more interesting comparisons came once I picked it up and started playing with it. Perhaps it was a matter of expectations. If someone had said, "Checkout the new iPod photo with new screen," I probably would be more favorable to it. Two disappointments came to mind:

  1. I felt strained watching video on it's tiny screen, though this may have been because the first video I watched was the Fantastic Four trailer. Although the screen had beautiful colors, I felt that I had to concentrate to watch, something I don't have to do when I watch video on the larger screen of my PSP. I was biased against it going in and nothing I experienced changed that.
  2. The ergonomics are much worse. I appreciate that they made the iPod thinner, but they also decided to change the plastic face of the iPod. Instead of the smooth, rounded edges of the third- and fourth-generation iPods, it's back to the old sharp edge of the first-generation iPod. It didn't feel as comfortable sitting in my hand as I tried to manipulate the smaller scrollwheel.

I hope that this is not Apple's final statement on handheld video playback. Apple usually tries to one-up it's competition when it enters a new space, but now I feel like they have to catch up. The only advantages they have are in video content and software, especially now that I see that Sony wants to charge $20 for software to put content on your PSP. These are not advantages that I underrate, but the handheld experience currently does not measure up to them.

Republican sex

Making Light pointed me to this New Yorker article about the amusingly bad sex scenes in Scooter Libby's 1996 novel, The Apprentice. To prevent innocenty bystanders from being injured I won't put any quotes here, so you'll have to read the article yourself if you are one who is entertained by such things. You'll also be rewarded with best-of sex scene excerpts from Safire, Buckley, and O'Reilly if you read the article, though Lynne Cheney's lesbian masterpiece Sisters didn't make the cut.

I went onto Amazon to see if the review of The Apprentice had been co-opted yet, but all I could find was this insightful review from 2002:

Personally, I find the Japanese weird and constipated beyond all reason. But they have developed a helluva good cuisine (love that wasabi!), have fought some amazing fights and are pretty fabulous engineers. So, if you find them strange but fascinating, this book will enhance your understand of their tortured, demented souls.

November 4, 2005

Book: Gehry Draws

Amazon Image

gdrawing.jpgThis is not your pretty-color-photo architecture portfolio books . As the title suggests, it is mostly a book of Gehry's drawings, all of which are about as detailed on the one shown here; in other words, it is many, many pages of scribbling. Ignoring the pretentious-art-historian essay at the start of the collection that compares Gehry's sketches to Durer's works and extols Gehry's use of grundlinie, the truth is that many of Gehry's sketches are thirty-second efforts (p. 126). I would prefer if the book focused more on the models, but then it wouldn't be called Gehry Draws. Also, as the models are built by his staff, it is really only the drawings that can be said to be Gehry's work.

This is not to say that the drawings are not interesting. At first I was put back by having to look at scribbly sketches, but after awhile you get a sense of the rhythm and form Gehry was trying to communicate. I still find it impressive that his staff can look at the drawings and translate them into 3-D models, then again, I don't have Gehry standing next to me to pantomime the form in the drawing. It is these models that are the key to the book -- the juxtaposition between drawings and models makes the models Rosetta Stones for scribble interpretation. Also, the models are pretty.

I most enjoyed the section on the Lewis Residence, which was a house designed in collaboration with Philip Johnson and Richard Serra (among others) but was never built. Six years were spent iterating the design for the house and it reads as a transition point into the trademark wavy style -- Serra's influence on Gehry becomes more obvious. Gehry has described the project as being like a research fellowship where they got to hone their physical- and computer-modelling techniques.

There are occassional quotes by Gehry and his staff in the book (though they are poorly edited tnough to have frequenty spelling errors). I especially like Gehry's quote, "There was a period when I used to look into my wastepaper basket and fantasize buildings and forms," as well as this quote about designing the office space for MIT's Stata Center:

We then made models showing [the MIT faculty] the ways different cultures might deal with this problem. We had a scheme based on a traditional Japanese house with panels that could open to combine spaces and close shut for privacy. They hated that because there was no hierarchy. Then we gave them a scheme based on a colonial American house with a central hall and rooms around the bottom and rooms around the top. But they didn't like that either; it was too formal. Then one of our team members made an "orangutan village" around a tree with elders higher up and the children below it. At first they were insulted. They thought we were calling them apes. But in the end they chose the orangutan village.

more quotes in the extended review

Continue reading "Book: Gehry Draws" »

Yahoo Maps (beta) and Local Events

The Local Events Browser mashup is a nice demo of the new Yahoo Maps beta. It helped me find out about the "Gross, Gruesome, and Gothic" exhibit (10/1 - 3/12) over at the Cartoon Art Museum (I keep meaning to go there sometime). It is also a good visualization of how lame Peninsula life can be: zoom out a bit and the Peninsula looks like the eye of the hurricane, the perfect nothing calm surrounded by the torrent of SF, Berkeley, Oakland, and even San Jose.

November 6, 2005

Great weekend so far

  • Trader Joe's sells Niman Ranch organic bacon. d and I finished off the whole pack. Actually, we finished off all but about five pieces. The remaining pieces must have been finished off by bacon gnomes chomp munch chomp
  • Got tix to the Live 105 Not So Silent Night concert on Dec 9 with The White Stripes headlining
  • USC clobbered Stanford 51-21
  • Two of my pants were rescued from buttonlessness
  • Bought an R/C car (still need to pickup a radio and battery)

The only bad news is that I bought the R/C car because it was on sale at San Antonio Hobby Shop's going-out-of-business sale. Their banner says that the owners are retiring after 40 years. I may have to make several trips there before they close, though the shelves are already starting to look pretty picked through. I should have gotten started on my kite camera project earlier as I don't know if there are any local shops that will be able to sell me all the parts I need anymore.

November 7, 2005

Yahoo and TiVo

I just setup Yahoo TV to work with my TiVo, which restores some of the usefulness of My Yahoo homepage. I can now click on any program in the Yahoo TV listings and have it record on my TiVo. It was surprisingly easy to setup and Yahoo even detected that my TiVo had a different schedule listing and offered to switch to that. About the only hiccup was that I have two Series 2 TiVos -- one in Berkeley and one in Mountain View -- and it isn't quite smart enough to deal with that oddity seamlessly. It would be nice if I could set my Mountain View TiVo as my default TiVo and if I could also easily switch between Mountain View and Berkeley channel lineups (or have Yahoo manage the difference).

Epic battles, with hornets and bees

parakkum has noted that historic battles with swords and such never really occurred like they did in films. IIRC, they usually just had some mild skirmishing, followed by one side getting scared, retreating, and getting slaughtered as they ran away.

Bees and hornets, on the other hand, do full, thrash-'em-out, give-no-quarter, gore-fest battles. This video of hornets attacking a beehive would certainly get an R rating and use up plenty of the special effects budget. WARNING: do not watch the film if you find bees gore disturbing.

November 8, 2005

Child's Play - Oakland

The Chlid's Play 2005 site is now up. Child's Play is a charity that lets you buy toys, books, movies and music for kids in hospitals in the US, Canada, and the UK. They have Amazon wishlists setup for each of the individual hospitals including Children's Hospital Oakland. Everything from Nintendogs to books in Spanish are available for you to choose from so that you can click-donate to your heart's content. It's also good Uncle/Aunt practice -- I took some mental notes on what to get my nephew when gets older. You can also make a direct cash donation by check or PayPal.

What you don't see

I thought this was an interesting meme: Jeffrey Veen asks on his blog post, "So what's in your Drafts folder?" (aka "Folder of Shame"). Here you go, a sampling of my unbaked ideas:

  • Redesigning kwc.org soon
  • Tag
  • Sony copies, changes
  • More auto-captions
  • 4th Rule of Robotics
  • Bias in voices
  • Post-Tour wrapup
  • Comic-Con: T-shirt ideas
  • My own crazy conspiracy theory
  • Removed photos
  • On airports

November 9, 2005

Brilliant Apple engineering

As my co-worker heads to the Apple store to get his iMac repaired, I think I have finally deduced Apple's Master Plan. Many of you are familiar with the bugginess of the first revision of any Apple product. These first revisions tend to be recalled or otherwise need repair. These first revisions are also most frequently bought by early adopters and Apple's most devoted. So here it is, Apple's secret Master Plan:

  1. Intentionally introduce flaws into first revision of product
  2. Customers bring in products for repair at the Apple Store, where they see shiny new Apple products
  3. PROFIT!

Treasure Island being redeveloped

treasure.island.plan.jpgd knows I'm interested in SF's Treasure Island -- last year she showed me another class' studio where there were maps of Treasure Island GIS data and development ideas that I wanted to rip off the wall and run away with... I'm strange enough to find such things very cool. It's a good thing that I didn't steal all their work: d just forwarded me an article that says those proposals may become a reality: Towers, farm seen for Treasure Island: Self-sustaining neighborhood of 5,500 residences proposed.

November 10, 2005

Free-Fi

Our little city of Mountain View is going to be the first city to receieve free city-wide Google wireless. Just think, I could convert my R/C to run off of 802.11.

November 13, 2005

Braille-Encoded City

Braille Encoded City-1 Braille Encoded City-5

Braille Encoded City-2 Braille Encoded City-4 Braille Encoded City-3 Braille Encoded City-1-1

I noticed special tiles running along the sidewalks while I was wandering around the cities of Sasebo and Fukuoka in Japan. My mom explained that they help blind people navigate the city. With my mind now aware of these tiles and their purpose, they became a secret code for me to try and decode. Straight-lined tiles indicated a path to follow; dotted tiles could be arranged to flag a split in the path or a waiting point (e.g. crosswalk or bus stop). At the Fukuoka airport, the trail leads you through the automatic doors to a split: the side-branch takes you to a map of the airport. The secret codes also had their secret hiding places: tiny balled-headed pins were embedded in a railing, nearly invisible to the naked eye, which they are not meant for, but easily detected by anyone using the railing for assistance up the stairs. I wonder what the message is, something informative, "Ten paces to next set of stairs," or something cloak-and-dagger, "Secret meeting when the thunder whispers, follow the trail."

In the US, I've seen similar sorts of tiles to guide you from a Mountain View bus stop to the Caltrain station, but there is less code and the implementation is incomplete. I was able to wander most of downtown Sasebo by following the trail at my feet, though there are gaps and it will not get you far into the residential areas. At Fukuoka airport they lead you to a map, but inside the airport there is no guide on the floor to lead you; perhaps the map provided an answer I could not read.

November 14, 2005

$10 dressup at Threadless

The $10 sale at Threadless started today. Too bad I'd already ordered my You Are What You Eat and Pandamonium shirts. Of course, with all good sales come the lines -- cheap t-shirts require great patience.

November 15, 2005

Amazon adds tagging

You can now tag products on Amazon -- I've already tagged some of the ink cartridge supplies my printer uses so I can find those pages again easily. I see this feature being useful as both a bookmark manager to find a product again at a later time and a discovery feature to help me find accessories or similar items. Amazon doesn't have a good way of finding supplies for my PIXMA ip4000R printer, but one PIXMA ip4000R owner tags their supplies then I'll have an easy way to search using tags.

Unfortunately Amazon deployed the current tagging feature in a non-commital manner. The tagging interface doesn't always show up for products and it's currently difficult to search for products based on tags. It also takes three clicks from the homepage to find the page that lets you manage your tags (__'s Home, Your Amazon Home, Manage Your Tags). I'm cautiously optimistic.

FYI, you can search for products with a particular tag like so:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/tagging/glance/yourtag/

For example, http://www.amazon.com/gp/tagging/glance/printer/

It's a bit obtuse but it saves a bunch of clicking.

November 18, 2005

Lost in Translation

The same person responsible for distracting me with various puzzles is also working on a portable English-Arabic translator for US troops: Wired article on the project. Such a technology is clearly important and could save lives, but I find the goal of translating troops amusing. I spent several of my formative years living next to Marine barracks. Are there really enough phrases in Arabic to cover the various ways that you can insult someone's mother? Perhaps, but you do you translate the insult literally or do you choose a comparable Arabic phrase with an equivalent level of insult?

November 23, 2005

CS2: Smart Object and Layer Comps

I just got a copy of Photoshop CS2 at work so that I could do some software UI mockups. I've already discovered two features they've added since Photoshop 7 that are huge timesavers for this type of work.

Layer Comps: With mockups I often have to toggle different layers on and off to show different steps or variations. "Here is a mockup with the button to the left and here is one with the button below," or "Here is the first step where the user types in, 'I want a pony,' and here is the next step where the results for ponies are returned." Layer comps let you save the current state of your layers so you can easily switch between the different variations all within one Photoshop file. These presets let you save the visibility, position, and styles of each layer.

You can access Layer Comps by going to Window -> Layer Comps. Here is a tutorial on using Layer Comps.

Smart Objects: In UI mockups you often have a lot of repeating elements. You may have the same set of buttons appear four times on a screen and if you want to change the appearance of one of the buttons you used to have to edit all four copies. With Smart Objects you can edit the original and have all the copies update. Smart Objects also keep all the original data, so you could paste in a photo, shrink it down to 10x10 and then later decide to resize it to 100x100. I'm told that this is the same as the 'Place' feature that other Adobe products have had for some time now, which makes me wonder what took them so long to put such a useful feature into Photoshop.

There are a lot of different ways to create Smart Objects. You can use File->Place to create a Smart Object from another file. You can also select a bunch of layers and group them together into a Smart Object.

Note to self

It is much easier to locate your lost cellphone if it is not in silent mode.

Note to others: yes, I have my cellphone again. It was wedged in the couch.

TiVo Download Trial experience

I watched my free TiVo download of Red Trousers last night. TiVo is experimenting with letting users download video over the Internet and this free offering was either a beta test, publicity, or both. Red Trousers wasn't exactly the best video to judge the new technology. It's been awhile since I've last saw it so I don't know if some of the poor video quality was because it is a cheaply shot documentary about Hong Kong stuntmen or because TiVo compressed the heck of it.

The video quality is akin to VCDs -- it doesn't really look like the Best/High/Medium/Basic settings that you might be used to. It doesn't have the big blocky jumbles that you really notice on Medium and Basic, but it is clearly lower resolution than Best. Text is bit harder to read and there were a lot of edge artifacts. There were also spots in the video that seemed jerky and the color levels seemed off (blacks weren't right), but I don't know if that was the compression or the way Red Trousers was shot.

There is a blue recording icon when you are downloading the video. Unlike streaming video from other TiVos, you have to wait until the entire video downloads before you can start watching it, which probably means they don't think they can transfer it enough to show it in real time. I have no idea how long it took, but it doesn't matter too much as you can still record other shows at the same time. It would probably be more annoying if you were trying to have people over to watch the video and you were all sitting around waiting for the blue icon to go away.

It's hard to rate the overall the TiVo download technology as this wasn't the full experience. How much will it cost? Will you get to keep the video? Is this targeted at movies or TV shows? How will I choose what video I am downloading? I'm a bit annoyed at the lower video quality, which is probably enough to make me pass this up for movies, but for the right price the sit-on-your-butt convenience might be worth it.

November 25, 2005

Upgraded to Photoshop Elements 4.0

photoshop.elements.jpgI've been a devout user of Photoshop Album for organizing my photos, but my copy was getting a bit old and I've been looking to ditch it for something faster and with improved organizational features. I took advantage of the Black Friday discounts to get a copy of Photoshop Elements 4.0 packaged with Premiere Elements 2.0 for $50. I skipped Photoshop Elements 3.0 because, even with the 'stacks' feature, it wasn't worth $100 to upgrade from Album.

I only care about the organizational features of Elements -- I do all my edits in Photoshop -- and so far the upgrade has been worthwhile. Several things stood out immediately (NOTE: the Mac version is very different from the Windows version): * Most important 'feature': faster browsing performance. It's hard to organize your photos if you can't quickly scan through them. * Stacks and version sets let you group similar shots and different edits, respectively. Very nice. * Tags are now stored within the image so that it is easier to share that metadata with others. * The biggest timesaver will probably be "Find Faces for Tagging." The name says it all -- it scans your selected photos, finds faces, and then lets you tag them. The tagging interface for faces is much improved over the generic tagging interface. It keeps tracks of your most recently used tags so that you don't have to keep scanning over all your tags to find the ones you need. I used it on some wedding photos and it almost did too good of a job picking out everyone in the dance photos. * The documentation notes that there is a Photomerge utility, which has to be better than the one that Canon gives you, but I have not tried it out yet.

The only disappointment so far is that it is less well-integrated with Photoshop than Album is. Album doesn't have a builtin editor so they made it very easy to do your advanced processing with other applications. Although Elements allows you to do external editing as well, it appears to be much less smart than before. It doesn't notice when you've finished external edits and it tries to import the edits as new photos instead of new versions of the original.

Elements is not a bad photo-editing tool, so I don't know how much I'll hate upon it. I'm planning to move to Photoshop CS2, which includes it's own photo workflow features, so it may not matter too much in the long run. I may just end up using Elements to organize and CS2 to edit, but this will take some time and money (to buy CS2) to sort out.

I'll end this quick impressions review noting that the Amazon reviewers don't seem happy with the new version, with several complaining that they prefer Photoshop Elements 3.0. I've never really used the previous versions of Elements, so my ignorance in this case appears to be bliss.

November 26, 2005

A nano case, sort of

I've been stopped by several Apple accessory stores over the past several weeks to try and find a case for my iPod nano. I've been using baby socks (0-3 months) as my Nano Case 1.0 and I've been wanting to provide it with slightly better protection for pocket travel. No affordable case has yet to catch my eye, so I've decided to upgrade Nano Case 1.0 from soft cover to hard cover. Nano Case 2.0 uses the same baby sock, but the sock now has a hole for viewing the screen. The modified Nano Case 1.0 with hole now sits inside of an Altoids case. A hole drilled in the bottom allows me to plug my headphones in. As soon as I find a metal file to file down the sharp bits it will be ready for primetime.

nano case nano case

Photos: Kumo (Spiders)

Kumo-1-1

Mt. Yumihari, which overlooks the town of Sasebo, is covered in spiders. Between a pair of trees you might see up to a dozen spiders hanging in mid-air. The top of the mountain was formerly a World War II outpost, but now all that is keeping watch are thousands of spiders and some feral cats. The spiders have some great designs on their bodies, with underbellies often resembling a demon mask.

Flickr Photoset of Spiders

Photos: Nagasaki Peace Memorial

Nagasaki Peace Memorial-21Nagasaki Peace Memorial-10The Nagasaki Peace Memorial in Japan is a newly built memorial to the atomic bomb victims and survivors in Japan. Much of the complex is underground, with the above-ground portion serving as a public space to walk around and explore. The actual memorial is at the heart of the underground complex. An antechamber with video screens lets you learn more about each of the individual victims before entering the main memorial hall, which has lighted pillars that lead to a skylight above. In a roped-off portion of the hall is a lone dark pillar that contains the registry of all the victims.

Nagasaki Peace Memorial-13I left with mixed impressions of the building. From an architectural point of view, it was disorienting for me. It looked much like a Tadao Ando building, including a staircase that emerges out of the center of an elliptical pool, yet enough elements were slightly different from Ando's style that I could tell that it probably wasn't. The exterior layout was somewhat haphazard with very little to draw the eye, the dome was oddly placed, and the grounds weren't very well kept. I was happy to learn it wasn't an Ando building because I have higher expectations. The one element of the building design I did like was the finish on the interior concrete: it was very porous, almost wood-like in feel.

Nagasaki Peace Memorial-14The memorial itself was pretty, but it felt lacking in humanity. The use of pillars was familiar from the Holocaust Memorial in Boston, but unlike the Boston memorial that allows you to read the names inscribed, the main pillar with the names is roped off from exploration. Rather than express the human loss, it conveyed the sense of a vault. The antechamber's tech-y video screens combined with the sterility of the hall made me think of scenes from tech thrillers where the hero must break into the vault to steal the McGuffin.

Flickr Photoset of Nagasaki Peace Memorial

Book: McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

Amazon Image

It seems a bit hackneyed to complain that a collection of original short stories is uneven at best. We don't expect every author to be firing on all cylinders with their contributions. However, with a unifying theme of "Thrilling Tales," with Michael Chabon editing and with short stories by Neil Gaiman, Nick Hornby, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and Dave Eggers, I had higher expectations. It is strange, then, that it was none of these authors that delivered my favorite stories of the collection. That title would go to Glen David Gold's "The Tears of Squonk, and What Happened Thereafter," Rick Moody's "The Albertine Notes," and Elmore Leonard's "How Carlos Webster Changed His Name to Carl and Became a Famous Oklahoma Lawman." I thought Gaiman's and Hornby's were entertaining, but not great, King's was only interesting to Dark Tower fan, Chabon's was only an introductory chapter of a serial, and Egger's, while good, is burgeoning with the "epiphanic dew" that Chabon rants against in the collection's introduction. The collection has a sequal, Astonishing Tales, which I may pick up, but with more selective reading.

November 30, 2005

TiVo beta stuff

I'm excited to see some of the TiVo Beta photos out on the Web. It looks like TiVo is partnering with Yahoo to link in weather, traffic, and photos into your TiVo. There is also podcast, Live365 radio, and Fandango support.

I see a lot of exciting potential here. Why watch the weather channel for your forecast when your local weather could be streamed to your TiVo and accessible on demand? How about watching trailers for movies to help you decide which movie to buy tickets for? To be clear, I don't think the first generation of these TiVo apps will do this, but they are a start towards erasing the divide between Internet content and TV content, combining instant access with easy viewing.