Results tagged “personal” from kwc blog

Life is weird


There's a time I would have loved to see my work on Slashdot. Now, in a period of two weeks, the previous project I worked on gets on /. -- I have nothing to do with Siri:

As well as the stuff I'm currently working on:

And, in the weirdest twist, the same article that's referenced also gets posted to BoingBoing:

Really, we're on BoingBoing? That's still cool, right?

Lance Fest

Lance Armstrong Attacks - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Lance Armstrong Post-Race - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

All you Lance Armstrong fans my like what's going on over at my Spare Cycles blog.

Belatedly back


Sea Turtle

I had a much needed sea turtle adventure in Hawaii last week and finally got some surfing in.

More sea turtle photos



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One of the reasons this blog has been quieter this past year is that I've been working hard to help build our communications framework and toolchain for our robots at work. At long last we have our first real release: ROS 0.4. It's a stable release, but we weren't quite ready for a 1.0 designation as there's a little more we want to add before we're ready to put a bow on it. Our code has been out in the open on SourceForge from the start, but we're ready to finally commit to an API now that we've got some real robots doing real tasks on a day-to-day basis.

It's crazy to think that about a year ago it was just Morgan, Eric and I coming up with a next generation version of his Switchyard framework. Then Brian from Player came aboard and now there's open source repositories of ROS-enabled code at Stanford, CMU, and TUM. There's a lot in between, including the contributions of many more people, but it happens so fast.

We can has nother kitteh


House Elf

Ninja, Pirate, and now House Elf. She's due home before Thanksgiving. We'll eat turkey and she'll get a dirty sock.

Pirate, almost as good as that other cat


After Josh sent me that video of the 'Ninja' cat, I had to let Pirate have her go. She did really well -- until I got the camera out. This is the best I got. As you can tell she was eager to charge the camera.

And, for comparison:

'Tis mine



I know I have issues when I go to buy boxers and I come back with a MacBook Pro. I've avoided buying laptops as I've always had a work laptop, but that was before I was really into photography. Apple's revamp did my wallet in and is my first Mac purchase, though I've been using Macs at work for the past several years. Now that the case is much stiffer and has a virtual right click button, I can mostly shut my mouth about the differences between PC and Apple hardware.

I like the new revamp a lot. It feels much more sturdy, which is good considering that I bent the CD drive out of shape on my old Pro. The case also has the subtle detailing that I found lacking in the previous Mac Pro design and feels like a much more worthy successor to the Ti design. The trackpad is much smoother and the entire-trackpad-is-a-button is pretty sweet. I'm not sure about gestures yet: four-finger and three-finger swipes are pretty cool, but I'm still not used to accidentally triggering the resize gesture. It is inevitable that one of my nervous habits will collide with a new feature: tapping the mouse 'button' looks a lot like a pinching motion. Windows broke me of my shift-key tapping habit and Google Desktop broke me of my ctrl-key tapping habit -- I may go into nervous breakdown if I can't find a free key.

Oh, and I did manage to get the boxers.

Zero-g: Worth Every Ounce I Lost




So, what is zero gravity like? I've looked at other people's explanations and the consensus seems to be that the English language is lacking proper frames for explaining it. It's an entirely familiar yet wholly new experience. In fact it's so familiar that it ends up making normal gravity seem abnormal. Perhaps the most eye-opening revelation of zero gravity is not what zero gravity feels like, but rather understanding normal gravity for the first time in your life. The first time the plane straightened out again after zero gravity I remember feeling so heavy. It was hard to walk and I wanted to lay down rather than continue to feel the inexorable pull of Earth.

I have trouble deciding whether the familiarity of zero gravity is because it's some amalgam of experiences I've had throughout my life, or whether it's because it's a sensation I've felt before but only in a fleeting moment. I've thought of describing it as the instant at which you're jumping in the air and coming back down -- with that instant magically extended for 30 seconds. But that isn't right because you're entirely free. I pushed off a handhold and sent myself instantly spinning around the cabin. I also crawled around the hull of the cabin in a 360 and flew down the center with a Superman-like launch. There's no up or down and no control if you don't have something to push off of. I thought about doing handstands, then realized was no different from reaching up and touching the ceiling.

As for the Zero-G experience itself, it's best describe as organized chaos and total sensory overload. There's thirty people in the hull of a plane divided into three groups. There's some program to it all -- one parabola you do water, another M&Ms, another you do Superman -- but the reality is that there are tons of giggling adults bouncing off every surface for 30 seconds. You try not to hurt anyone else, but you will collide with people because there's no way to change direction without pushing off a wall or a person.

My favorite trick was eating the M&Ms, which surprised me. I wasn't expecting it to be that fun, but I was immediately enthralled the moment you see the M&Ms spinning like little jewels. I then felt like Homer in a Simpson's dream sequence, doing my best to guide my mouth towards spinning M&Ms as I floated down the cabin. Water is also fun as it immediately turns into little globes in front of you, but most of it will end up on your face instead of in your mouth. One of our groups launched 400 ping pong balls. I didn't get a good view of it, but it looked cool from a distance. I'm looking forward to the video.

I did get sick -- I wanted get rid of some extra weight for the weightlessness -- though I managed to get sick between parabolas and return immediately for the next. Others weren't so lucky and a much worse shade of green. They limit their flight to 15 parabolas because the majority of people won't get sick with that number and our flight seemed to back that up. What got me wasn't zero gravity, but gravity. You pull 1.8g in order to get to the top of the parabola and there's also the bottom of the parabola to deal with. This is fairly intense on your inner ear and they tell you to pick a spot on the ceiling to stare at. There's a couple of times when zero gravity will end, there's bodies that have fallen on top of you, and you find yourself doing a little more movement than you'd like under the influence of changing gravity.

Zero-G: Boom-de-yaddah


I'd love to write more about it, but, honestly, my brain is just fried right now. Perhaps tomorrow. It's such an intense and amazing experience and my mind is still trying to digest it all. I've wanted to do this for over a decade and it's with absolute gratitude to my employer Willow Garage that I can add this unique experience to my life. For some reason I feel like singing the Discovery Channel commercial, "The World is an Amazing Place." boom-de-yaddah

Zero-g Photos and Video

She is Ninja


Ninjas can warp time and spaceIn a display of her ninja-prowess, we just found out last week that our 1-year-old dog Ninja was never spayed. We -- and our vets -- had previously thought she was simply spayed improperly, but a more careful examination reveals no scar. More sophisticated ultrasound equipment was actually required to make the discovery as well as four trips and two attempted operations.

Ninja was also never microchipped, despite the tag around her neck that lists the number of the microchip that we now know is not inside of her. Some day another dog will show up on our porch and Ninja will greet her with a wink and a hug.

We're unsure what else to continue believing about our dog -- if that is her actual species -- but we're wise to her trickery now. We are still mystified as to how she evaded the original operation, but her records do leave some clues. There is a full medical chart for Ninja detailing the operation and mutliple followup checks. More careful examination reveals the method to Ninja's deception: she tricked them into spaying and microchipping her shadow.

The chart shows a photo of a dog remarkably similar to Ninja, except entirely black. A simpler explanation would be that they mistook Ninja for another dog at the shelter, but her continued evasion of all surgical procedures since then says otherwise. Ninja has such control over time and space that she is able to create a shadow of such detail that it is capable of being spayed. Amazing.

First ReviewMy first review for is up. Hopefully the first of many. Please check it out and let me know what you think.

I reviewed Phoxle's white balancing products, which I was first introduced to when I attended a Camera Owners of the Bay Area meeting. I was impressed with their ingenuity and sought them out as a review target. If you're wondering what the big white disc is that I have with me when I'm shooting, you can checkout the review for more. Chris Pedersen of Phoxle was a stand-up guy throughout the whole review process and his presence on message boards out there showed that his friendliness is not reviewer-biased. So, to summarize the review before you read it, buy the SpectraSnap.

It's been pretty busy between reviewing camera equipment, reviewing bikes, reviewing pens, and writing web sites to collect cycling links. I've also been doing more studio work with bikes and holding down the day job building robots. I was a bit ashamed to have to use official shots of the Phoxle equipment instead of taking my own, but the time is just crazy hard to find I say, crazy. Of course I'm not complaining because all of this is a lot of fun.

Tour de Comic-Con: Friday's Stage


comicconsplash_ccilogo.gifkwc arrived in San Diego just in time to walk over with the rest of Team Uni (bleusky, ota, parakkum, and littlestar -- m had already gone on a solo breakaway) to the Convention Center.

The big panel on the day was Joss Whedon, plus the writers and actors of Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. The line for Ballroom 20 was once again a nightmare, but kwc was able to guide littlestar and bleusky through the special door he found last year, past the cast of Stargate: Atlantis, through the security guard check, and into the ballroom. A harrowing course, but easier with experience.

The first goal on the day was to obtain the Lego pieces for the Joker figure, which like all good schwag, is upgraded to even better schwag when completed: you get a display box that also contains a Lego Batman figure. It was time consuming, though easy to complete, and Team Uni now has six Lego Jokers, seven Lego Batmans, and an extra Lego Joker head.

Nathan Fillion and Neil Patrick Harris dueled on stage in real life as on screen and Whedon answered the many questions with the normal entertaining, sarcastic responses. There didn't seem to be much difference between Captain Hammer and Nathan Fillion, and much of Dr. Horrible's character was formed out of Neil Patrick Harris' amusements for boredom. Felicia Day was forced to keep her hands on the table after the audience misunderstood what it meant to be "twittering".

The sketches today were few but quality: a couple Attaboy sketches, a Pirate Scratch by Kurtz, the yearly Stan Sakai sketch, and some monsters by Rodolphe Guenoden. parakkum collected some signed Queen and Country definitive editions from Greg Rucka, who entreated parakkum to "Please, don't blow me up." Yes, Rucka can peer into men's souls. There was also a bit of 3D to this year's sketch haul: a Gary Baseman-drawn Vimobot.

Team Uni regrouped at the end of the day for the Avatar finale. The audience was tested with long lines into Room 6CDEF and the verbal challenge: "If you get out of line to go to the bathroom, the line is closed, we will not let you back in. If you have to go to the bathroom, you will have to chose." The crowds where huge, the silhouette of a Fire Lord logo was visible -- MST3K style -- at the bottom of the video screens, the fan art and costumes were entertaining, and the finale was epic.

The Tour de Comic-Con is a go


comicconsplash_ccilogo.gifSchedule conflicts and sold out tickets had me thinking that I would have to miss Comic-Con this year after five straight years of attendance. I was forced to think what my life might be without the crushing crowds and schwag schwindling. But Team Uni has proven that the Tour de Comic-Con truly is a team event. littlestar, parakkum, and m on site braved the volatile Wednesday parcours to secure a last minute entry for me. Southwest frequent flier vouchers took care of the rest.

I'm a bit out of form and I'll have to ride into form for the event. It took the help of d to help find my sketchbook (sitting on the bookshelf, where you'd naturally expect it). There's only ten pages left so I'll have to be selective tomorrow. I'm also forced to travel without many accessories as Comic-Con does not allow rolling luggage on site and I'll be flying directly to the event. Five years and I'm still a rookie.

Nevertheless, I'll put everything I can into the event because there is so much to be seen, so much to do, so much Comic-Con.


Movie: Iron Man


ironman.jpgI saw Iron Man last night and enjoyed the movie. All jokes about Robert Downey, Jr. and how he didn't have to act aside, lets think about the boldness of the movie's construction for a second.

Most hero origin movies (Spiderman, Batman Begins) spend the early part of the film having the protagonist become the hero and then you get a bunch of bad-guy-butt kicking to fill the rest. Almost the entire Iron Man movie consists of Tony Stark building the Iron Man suit. The bad guy fights are essentially debugging. I can just see the writer/producer meeting now:

"Fans love superhero origin movies. Let's make the entire movie about Tony Stark building his suit."

"I dunno, can we really fill two hours with him building his suit?"

"I know! We'll have him build two suits!"

Kudos to Robert Downey Jr., who as a result of this writers' decision shares most of his screen time with robotic arms (whose last roles were suicial GM-car-building robots) and a cellphone. Even Gwyneth Paltrow takes her acting cues from the robotic arms, dutifully holding items for Tony Stark while he shouts orders at her.

But really, it works somehow.

Before Iron Man was the Incredible Hulk preview. It's the only movie I can think of where a remake was justified by how bad the previous movie was. Another Marvel property, The Punisher, comes to mind, except that I don't think that anyone expected either version to be good.

New Bike!


Pirate Fest!


Pirate Fest!

Savannah straddled a fine line between old charm and decrepit, winning me over as I got to see more of the town outside the historic district. Tybee Island won me over more easily: Tybee Island Pirate Fest, Oct 10-11. Oh, and their mayor looks like Marky Mark.

At the Tour de Georgia


Tybee Lighthouse - (c) Ken Conley

Covering it over on my spare cycles blog



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d and I went on a hot air balloon ride over Napa on Sunday -- quite a blast. It floats so smooth and gently over the valley, highly recommended. All of the balloon rides happen at sunrise so it's like seeing a secret side of the valleys: hot air balloons being inflated on railroad tracks and parking lots, flying over the vineyards, and then landing in whichever field the winds take them to. By the time the first winery opens they're already gone.

More photos

Ninja false pregnancy update


Our dog Ninja has been going through a "false pregnancy": she wasn't spayed correctly and apparently after a dog goes into heat, it thinks its pregnant regardless of the facts. Naturally, because there is a 'pregnancy', it is followed by a 'puppy': any object will do.

We were hoping that Ninja would adopt our kitten Pirate as her puppy and cement their odd relationship for eternity, but after several weeks we concluded that Ninja skipped this phase of bitch confusion entirely. We were wrong.

Ninja has had a habit of hiding in the bushes whenever I took her into the backyard these past several weeks. She would stand there and poke and prod things around for a few moments until I usually yelled at her to get out of there. Today, though, was time for her 'puppy' to have its first run of the yard. Ninja emerged from the bushes with a tennis ball in her mouth; she had been such a good mother to it these past several weeks.

Exercising to eat, and sleep


I've been riding a stationary bike at work during the rainy months, but yesterday's Road Bike Review ride was my first time on the bike in a couple months. We spent about 3 hours on the bike on mostly flat terrain, which I followed up with a burrito, four tacos, and half a bag of chips -- the lady at the counter gave me two cups when I asked for a glass of water. Then I slept for a couple of hours. Then I ate some pizza. Then I slept for a lot more hours.

Silicon Valley Dinner


amazoncardsWe pigged out at the delicious Alexander's Steakhouse to celebrate a friend's birthday. When it came time to settle the bill there were five Amazon credit cards. As it turns out, we all enjoy that post-Christmas Christmas from Amazon: the day the envelope of $25 gift certificates arrives.

Off to Missouri


I'm headed for a journey across Missouri to follow the Tour of Missouri, then off to West Virginia to visit with family, and finally a quick stop off to say hey to bp in Pittsburgh.

Tour of Missouri, looking for free couches


I've gone ahead and booked a ticket to Kansas City to watch the Tour of Missouri bike race (Stages 3-7). In the spirit of excellent planning, I haven't figured out any of the other planning. My tentative schedule is:

  • Sept 12th: Springfield/Branson
  • Sept 13th: Lebanon
  • Sept 14th: Jefferson City
  • Sept 15th: St Louis
  • Sept 16th: St Louis or somewhere closer to Pittsburgh

I'll be driving over to West Virginia afterwards to see my family. If you know of anyone near any of those locations who's willing to spare some couch space, it'd be much appreciated. I'll just need somewhere to crash between the end of one stage and the start of the next. My goal is to get as close as possible to breaking even on this by selling photos, though that is extremely unlikely.

Announcement II


July has been a busy month, as always. d and I are still getting settled into our new place, my sister just gave birth to my niece, I've been waking up at 5am every morning for the Tour de France, and Comic-Con is less than two weeks away. But that wasn't enough, so I had to throw in one more move.

In August I will start my new job as an engineer at Willow Garage:

Willow Garage is a research institution dedicated to building prototypes of autonomous devices. We have an autonomous car entry in the 2007 DARPA challenge, and are also working on building a boat that can sail autonomously around the world.

Many of you are aware of my fascination with robots. bp will recall my constant planning for building a WiFi robot while I was at PARC, which fell through due to cost and broken laptop. Now I get to finally build that robot, except it will be... bigger. And I will get to do it while working with some old friends from PARC.

Although the combined move distance for both home and work is only about 2 miles, this caps a month of big changes for me that leaves me extremely excited. After working for two historic research institutions in the field of computer science, PARC and SRI, I'll get my opportunity to contribute to a brand new research lab.

Uncle kwc II


I'm happy to announced that I am now an uncle twice over. I couldn't be there like last time but look forward to visiting soon. At 8lbs, 12 ounces, 20", my new niece isn't quite the heavyweight that my 10 lb, 23" nephew was, but she'll hold her own.

APE 2007


I try to make it to APE every year so I can buy some indie comics from the creators themselves and find stuff that would often fall below the radar at my local comic shop. There are panels -- this year included Art Spiegelman -- but I find that I really only have energy to do those once a year at Comic-Con. This mostly makes APE a shopping experience for me, so without further ado, here's what I shopped for:

Ancient Book of Myth and War

This was the only item I went in intending to buy. It is a themed art book that Pixarians Scott Morse, Lou Romano, Don Shank, and Nate Wragg put together. I had read about it on Scott Morse's blog and figured that at least Morse would be in attendance. It turned out even better than expected as Morse, Shank, and Romano were all on hand to do free sketches (in the case of Morse, a painting) in the inside cover. The result is pretty awesome:


A great book and what you see above for only $20.

Kitosan Tea . an Eastern Beauty Tea Brewing Instruction Book

I know a fair bit about tea already, but this clever packaging of a tea bag was too good to pass up. Contained within is a single tea bag plus cute illustrations that take you through the proper steps for brewing tea, including how to brew the same leaves up to four times. I don't see how you can order them online, but I'm sure if you e-mail her arrangements could be made (only about $5). Afterworks 2 features the story of Kitosan.

Too Much Coffee Man


Friends of mine are fans of the book and I couldn't go yet-another APE without buying an issue -- I was lured by the Too Much Coffee Man guitar picks.

Gallery Nucleus/Christopher Appelhans: Last of the Unicorns shirt


Who knew unicorns could be so big, ugly, and cute? I picked one of these shirts up for d.

Super7 T-Shirt

Super7 had at least 3 t-shirts I wanted. I ended up going with an camo-silhouette of a AT-ST, Star Wars dork that I am (not listed on Web site right now). I almost got the Star Wars spaceship lineup or the Godzilla lineup instead (also not listed on Web site).

Kazu Sketch

left: APE 2007 sketch, right: Comic-Con 2007 Amulet sketch

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Kazu Kibuishi of Flight/Daisy Kutter/Copper fame does amazing sketches. I didn't buy anything this time around as I pretty much own everything, but Kazu was kind enough to do this sketch and also let me read through an Amulet draft -- there were some amazing pages in there (as expected). Amulet is an epic effort for Kazu. Book 1 will come out in Spring 2008 and will weigh in at 200+ pages. If I recall correctly, five whole books are planned, though Scholastic has only committed to two so far.

Bean's Song (Book 1)

This was one of those books that just caught my eye. Artist Travis Hanson was working on inking a print, it caught my eye, and next thing you know I have a book to read. It is an illustrated novel (think Stardust). Book 2 is coming out in a couple weeks, so if I like what I read I'll have even more to read. I was told by a Super-Con organizer that Travis Hanson will be there.

Branching out with a new lens


crossposted from spare cycles

canon1635II.jpgThe newest lens in my small arsenal is the recently released Canon 16-35 f/2.8 II. Its bigger, badder, and more expensive than its predecessor. The Mark I was known for being a bit soft at the edge, so much so that some people have gone for the half-as-expensive 17-40 f/4 instead. The Mark II helps re-justify the 16-35's greater price tag. Of course, none of that really matters if you're shooting with a Canon 10/20/30D or Digital Rebel -- the 1.6x crop factor of those cameras cuts off all the fuzzy bits -- but lenses outlast the bodies they're attached to. One day I hope to have a full-frame camera for shooting architecture.

I was in a bit of a rush to get this lens because I want to break it in at Sea Otter this weekend. The wideness will be more useful for MTB shots and will also help me get some nice panoramas of Laguna Seca. It will also be useful for road shots where I'm standing really close to the action.

Rather than recommend the same course of action to others, I'll list the pros and cons I debated in choosing this rather extravagant purchase.

Pros: * f/2.8 is fast and you'll need if you are planning on shooting in the woods or in bad weather * better edge sharpness than the Mark I, though not applicable for 1.6x crop cameras * 1.6mm wider than the 17-40mm f/4L on a 1.6x crop camera

Cons: * $300-400 more than the Mark I * Over twice as expensive as the 17-40mm f/4L. In fact, you could almost buy a 17-40mm f/4L and a 70-200 f/2.8L for the same price.

Arrived, finally


My Mimoco Chewbacca usb drive has arrived at long last (Mimoco wrote a letter to apologize for the long preorder delay). It's all good -- the protohoodie is even more hilarious than I thought it would be.

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Snorkelling with Sea Turtle

Swimming with a sea turtle ranks as my top moment from our Hawaii trip. There were many moments high on the list -- dolphins, humpback whales, pretty fish -- but its hard to beat having a sea turtle swim right past your face. We were already pretty happy after having seen a dozen or so sea turtles up on the North Shore, but the waters there were too choppy to get in. Having this little guy unexpectedly swim past us completed our sea turtle adventure.

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Underwater Camera 2 photos (more sea turtle plus unicorn fish and others)

Spinner Dolphins



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We took an fun (and complimentary) dolphin boat cruise off the coast of West Oahu. The dolphins came up right to the hulls of our catamaran and surfed the tiny wake before swimming off with a couple of spin-breach flourishes. Quite fun.

Spinner dolphins photos

Underwater photos 1


Humuhumunukunukuapua apua'a

above: Humuhumunukunukuapua apua'a

d and I picked up some cheap disposable underwater cameras at Costco to use at the lagoons around our hotel as well as up at the North Shore. The photo above may not be the best off the reel, but Humuhumunukunukuapua apua'a (aka reef triggerfish) is too cool of a name and too cool looking -- it's also the unofficial state fish -- to not give some love to. I also managed to get some underwater takes to go with my previously Turtle Beach sea turtle photos.

Underwater Camera 1 photos

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Quick post from Hawaii



IMG_3048Hawaii goes well -- our hotel room feels larger than our apartment and we're overlooking the beach. Today we went up to the North Shore and watched about ten different sea turtles feeding on seaweed. A very nice guy on the beach whose job it is to watch after the turtles told us a lot of interesting facts about them, from describing the satellite transponders on the backs of the turtles picked as most likely to visit the breeding grounds to anecdotes about having to free some of the smaller turtles that get wedged in the rocks. The turtles definitely need their hard shells to protect them against the crashing waves as we saw at least one turtle get flipped over. I'm posting photos of them from my digital camera but I'm hoping for even better from my disposable underwater camera.

On the way back we visited the set of Lost -- you walk down a public beach and there it is, a bunch of huts made out of airplane siding and bamboo. There was some Dharma Initiative food within grabbing distance, but I had no desire to outrun the security guard.

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Computer World and Slashdot pseudo-fame


The project that I am ~1/300th of made it to the front page of Slashdot. My personal experience with Slashdot is that I generally cringe when I see anything on the front page I am closely familiar with. I cringe with newspapers as well, but its a different sort of cringe. Both have gross generalizations, but Slashdot usually adds in an element of techno-hysteria.

I can't entirely blame Slashdot for the cringe this time around, but they did manage to select this single paragraph in ComputerWorld's five-page article to quote:

"Later in the program, Holland says, PAL will be able to 'automatically watch a conversation between two people and, using natural-language processing, figure out what are the tasks they agreed upon.' At that point, perhaps DARPA's PAL could be renamed HAL, for Hearing Assistant That Learns. The original HAL, in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, tells the astronauts how it knows they're plotting to disconnect it: 'Dave, although you took thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.'"

A HAL joke? Forty years of evil AI and we're still going back to 2001: Space Odyssey jokes?

Wii'd up


I got my Wii, an extra Wiimote + nunchuk, WarioWare Smooth Moves, Madden 07, and (of course) Zelda: Twilight Princess. I played a game of Madden '07 so I could ignore the Saints being beaten by the Bears, broke-in my Mii on Wii Sports, and I played several crack-smoking levels of Wario -- odd(ly) fun(ny) is how I can best describe it. Zelda: Twilight Princess remains on the shelf -- I wish to savor it, much like how one saves the best part of a meal for last.

My Wii Code is 1418 3492 0962 8370. Get your own WiiBadge at!

FYI: Although it was not my source, I highly recommend Target for future Wii purchases (unless you're going for the $50 trade-in that Gamestop is offering). Targets in Sunnyvale and Mountain View had 70-80 Wiis. Best Buy had 30. Circuit City had 18.

Rose Parade


Rose Parade - bird

New Year's celebration this year was done on East Coast time in a West Coast setting. Knowing we had to be on the road by 5am for the Rose Parade, we did our toasts at 9pm and went to sleep.

My aunt and uncle helped us choose good grandstand seats, just a few blocks down from the start and with the rising sun at our back. We sat half-asleep -- d humming Star Wars themes -- watching the preparations on the road in front and the braying of mules on the highway below.

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I was able to pass much of the time waiting in line for coffee and soon enough the armada of rose-covered police motorcycles and pace cars started the whole thing going. I didn't think much of the fact that one of the pace car passengers was wearing a Darth Vader mask, only really noticing the "Our Good Nature" theme of the parade. Later I saw George Lucas' highly recognizable poof of hair in the Grand Marshal vehicle, and the march of the Stormtroopers made much more sense.

The floats were fantastic -- all naturally decorated in flowers and produce. Some were gigantically tall, one frog stuck its tongue out, and others rocked. The horses were also great fun: horses with My Little Pony manes, miniature dog-sized horses pulling carts, horses with glitter stars on their rumps, shaggy horses, and more. And lets not forget classic cars and marching bands, marching bands, marching bands. Most bands carried their banners in front, but Porterville had a better solution for the 5-mile route.

The Rose Parade is perhaps an event best done twice. From our seats in the back of the grandstand, we had a great view to take in the floats from above and we didn't have to worry about blocking anyone's view. But if you are in the front row, I hear you can smell the floats as they go past and, looking at my photos, I see that there are quite a few details that I missed: the frog was made out of broccoli and apples, the lizard is made out of large leaves, etc... We could have seen these details if we had gone to the float building or the float display afterwards, but we ran out of time. Although it pains me to think about waking up at 4:30am once more in my life, I think it would be worth it for a close-up experience.

Lizard - "Natural Beauties" "Nature Rocks" Frog

Two dalmations, one seems to not notice the parade going on:

"Discovering Underwater Nature"

Getty Villa



I'm a fan of the Getty Center in LA and have been looking forward to the opportunity to visit the Getty Villa ever since it reopened in the beginning of 2006 after extensive renovations. The villa was constructed as a semi-recreation of the Villa of the Papyri, so named because many rolls of papyrus were discovered inside. Since its restoration, it houses the antiquities collection for the Getty. Architects for the Getty Villa relied on detailed floorplans drawn by Karl Weber, who excavated the Herculaneum villa in the mid-18th century. Volcanic gases forced the original excavation to be halted, and parts of the original villa remain unexplored.

The Getty Villa recreation is fun because it is a fake recreation: the architects were free to take odd liberties that restorations must avoid. Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic columns are intermixed, a Pompeii fountain recreation sits at the end of one of the villa's axes, travertine connects it to Meier's Getty Center, and other historical anachronisms and locational amalgams are present throughout. The architects even went so far as to add a modern "excavation" theme to the renovation. You're forced to walk up flights of stairs so that you enter the villa site from above. You then descend down stairs surrounded by concrete pressed to look like layers of wood. An archeological-styled ramp allows you to cross artificially added levels of the dig.

On the one hand, the architects went to great lengths to use Weber's floor plans of the buried Roman villa -- they even located atrium designs from other villas to determine whether or not the atrium should be one or two levels -- but then they throw accuracy out of the window to represent architectural cross-sections of history, ancient Roman and modern. Perhaps the cross-section is useful, because the Villa is there to house real artifacts of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman past. It is easy to discern simulcra from relic.

I have visited the actual archeological sites at Ercalono/Herculaneum and Pompeii in 2001, seen the old mosaics and paintings, and walked the layers of excavation. More than those sites, though, I was reminded of Forest Lawn Memorial-Park and Cemetary in Glendale, CA, which has a stained-glass recreation of the Last Supper, a full-size David statue, and many other replicas that I briefly talked about here. I had visited Forest Lawn because Umberto Eco mentioned it in his essay on "hyperreal" museums in Travels in Hyperreality and my frequent visits to Glendale made it an easy stop. I dug out my old notes on Travels in Hyperreality for this post to try and find a Forest Lawn quote that would describe the nature of the Villa. Surprisingly, I found this quote instead:

...We try to think how a Roman patrician lived and what he was thinking when he built himself one of the villas that the Getty Museum reconstructs, in its need to reconstruct at home the grandeur of Greek civilization. The Roman yearned for impossible parthenons; from Hellenistic artists he ordered copies of the great statues of the Periclean age. He was a greedy shark who, after having helped bring down Greece, guaranteed its survival in the form of copies. Between the Roman patrician and the Greece of the fifth century there were, we might say, from five to seven hundred years. Between the Getty Museum and the remade Rome there are, roughly speaking, two thousand. The temporal gap is bridged by archeological knowledge; we can rely on the Getty team, their reconstruction is more faithful to Herculaneum than the Herculaneum reproduction was faithful to the Greek tradition. But the fact is that our journey into the Absolute Fake, begun in the spirit of irony and sophisticated repulsion, is now exposing us to some dramatic questions.

I'll have to thank my past self for anticipating the reopening of the Villa and my eventual journey there.

I took a lot of photos and instead of processing them, I went ahead and posted a full set: Getty Villa Photoset (~200 photos). For those that want a briefer tour, I also put together a set of highlights

IMG_1069 IMG_1040 IMG_1183 IMG_1244 IMG_1209 IMG_1147 IMG_1115 IMG_1217 IMG_1199 IMG_1251

Spy Museum


The Spy Museum in DC is a fun way to spend an afternoon. It's full of real-life spy gadgetry like cameras and bugs as well as historical artifacts like a letter from George Washington directing the creation of a spy network (more about George Washington, spymaster). There are also interactive touchscreen displays, such as exhibits that invite you to spot the dead drops and a visualization of the Enigma encryption engine.

The museum starts off with the tools of the trade. Some of my favorites included a beautiful example of hiding in plain sight -- a camera hidden in the side of a camera case -- as well as a camera attached to a pigeon. There was also a great display of various bugging techniques and a replica of a bug so ingenious that I still don't understand it: Russian school kids gave an American ambassador a carved eagle seal with a hidden air cavity and passive antenna, which could be activated as a bug by aiming a particular frequency at it.

The museum then moves you through a wide swath of spy history from historical figures like Sun Tzu, George Washington, and Harriet Tubman, to historical events like World War II and the McCarthy trials. Of course the vast majority of spy history may never be known, but its fun to peruse some of the more notorious cases.

There are side-games to participate in as you journey through the museum. One is keeping your cover, which requires you to memorize an identity and mission. I thought this would be fun until I discovered that it just involved answering questions at a computer screen -- it would have been much more fun if employees were trained to come up to you and ask you questions about your cover; it just isn't scary when you walk up to a computer screen vs. someone walking up to you.

A less official side game is sneaking into "secure" areas, such as a door with a combination lock that opens into a "Top Secret" room -- actually just a facilities room with the air conditioners. This is a more difficult game to play because it requires you to distinguish between allowed secret areas and actual private areas. I had to debate for awhile whether a staircase marked "No Admittance" was truly that, or just another opportunity to test my covert skills (I figured out that it was the stairway to the administrative offices, so I aborted).

Headin' to DC, West Virginia


I'm off to Virginia. On Sat/Sun I'll be in West Virginia. I'll be in NoVA/DC the rest of the week until Saturday.

Stormtrooper mimobot



The Stormtrooper mimobot has been announced -- one more left to go (big bets on Leia). I couldn't hold off any longer so I ordered Chewy.

SF bike ride


On Sunday, bp, d, joy, ota and I went on a ride from the 4th and King Caltrain station in San Francisco to Sausalito. Along the way we passed by the Folsom Street Fair (heralded by naked man on bike), the new de Young museum building, and the Golden Gate Bridge. We ate lunch in Sausalito, drank wine, got ice cream, and then took the ferry past Alcatraz back to the Market St terminal. The weather was oddly terrific -- it was the weather I had been waiting for all summer.

I highly recommend the ride -- the more adventurous can do an additional leg from Sausalito to Tiburon and catch the ferry there. Make sure you know the bike lanes in SF: I failed to print out a map and we had some additional adventurous path finding as a result.

The photos from the trip were a bit of sadness to go through -- I had my camera set on ISO 800 by accident, so they are all pretty noisy. I can always take similar photos on later trips, but having to wait for such great weather again might take awhile.

San Francisco-07 de Young Alcatraz San Francisco-01 Alcatraz San Francisco-06

San Francisco-11

Caltrain vis take 1


I believe a fair assessment of the new Caltrain schedule is that there are a lot more opportunities for shorter commutes, but those opportunities come at the cost of increased complexity. In addition to all the problems of what train stops where and which train is which, there's one more bit of complexity in my commute: the gaps between trains during rush hour have been increased to 50 minutes at my closest station.

The larger time gap presents a new choice: do I walk five minutes to my closest station, Menlo Park, or do I walk 15 minutes to the next closest station, Palo Alto.1 It takes a bit of calculation to answer this question with the variety of schedules. I could slice and dice and annotate my paper schedule to answer all these questions, but that's no fun.

I decided instead to write a little Python program to visualize my options, borrowing extensively from my understanding of Visual Display of Quantitative Information. The end result reads chronologically from left to right with each red line representing a commute option:


I have grander visions for this little program, but for now I have a something that I can glance over at the end of my workday. Some potential next directions: * nicer fonts, higher resolution for printing on paper * hooking this up to a Web server so others can get schedules * go one step further and try to do a combined Caltrain, BART, N Judah visualization (Caltrain -> BART Millbrae -> Embarcadero vs. Caltrain -> 4th and King Muni -> Embarcadero)

1I could bike to Palo Alto, but the Baby Bullet that stop there has less room for bikes, which means I might to be able to board there. More complexity that I haven't modeled here..

Gehry's House



Over the weekend we swung by Frank Gehry's house in Santa Monica. The location suprised me, as I expected someone like Gehry to live in an ultra-exclusive, gated community with huge walls and attack dogs keeping people away. Instead, his house is relatively modest on an open public street in Santa Monica.

His house isn't in his blobular, twisted metal style. Rather, it has more in common with his earlier works like Edgemar that emphasize simple rectilinear forms. The materials are also fairly modest, making use of both wood and corrugated steel, as well as copious amounts of plants to provide some sense of privacy. Although you can see a large portion of the house in this photo, the actual front of the house is well-protected by dense foliage. Driving down the street it is a home that you notice, but it does not overwhelm the neighborhood that it is in.

I felt rather bad when I noticed his dogs come out onto the patio, as architectural appreciation shifted into the realization that I was point a camera at someone's private home, and it's understandable that he's building a new house (so I hear). Even with his windows set relatively high, it must be disconcerting to regularly have cameras pointed at your home.

Gehry House Photo Album

Back from SoCal


I had a good weekend with d down in LA, where we toted our twin Canon Digital Rebels around and snapped photos of everything vaguely building-like. From my previous entry, you can tell that I spent some time at the beach. We also spent part of the weekend watching a table 20 LA'ers go ga-ga over the new PSP, eating dinner with my Aunt and Uncle, and discovering that, contrary to common sense, other Yale women have dated MIT men (Friendster collision!).

Most of our weekend, though, had more of an architectural theme as we saw Gehry's home in Santa Monica and the Getty on Saturday. It was my first visit to Gehry's home, d's second; d's first visit to the Getty, my second. On Sunday we went to the Renzo Piano exhibit at LACMA, which should be there awhile considering how much money they raised to build Piano's future extension to the museum.

I just upgraded to a Flickr Pro account, which means I should have plenty of storage space to blog aplenty about Gehry's home and the Getty (no photos of the Piano exhibit allowed), but for now, the beach entry will have to do as I must find a way to sleep off my Red Bull and coffee.

Why the Millbrae station is failing


I read an article in the Palo Alto Daily News awhile back about how the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station isn't doing as well as planned. Let me elucidate my reasons for why I think it sucks with an example. I have aligned the schedules for the two systems side-by-side for riding into San Francisco in the afternoon/evening. As a reminder, you ride the Caltrain to the Millbrae station, and then switch over to the BART to ride into the city.

BART 5:18 Caltrain 5:20
BART 5:33
BART 5:48 Caltrain 5:50
BART 6:03 Caltrain 6:06
BART 6:18 Caltrain 6:35
BART 6:48 Caltrain 6:45 <- We have a winner!
BART 7:03 Caltrain 7:04

Does anyone else see this as downright malicious?

Updated to my transit511 rant


After my previous rant about how Transit 511 took over Caltrain's schedule and made it completely unusable, there's finally been some improvements. I claim no causality between my rant and the change, but I would like to believe that a chorus of similarly peeved individuals led to the change.

You can once again select and start and end station and view the schedule for just those two stations, a feature that existed on the Caltrain site before Transit 511 took over.
[Here's an example with Mountain View and San Mateo][sched].

<newrant>From the example, you can see that they are still really stupid and stick the schedule inside of an embedded frame, which makes it really hard to print. Interestingly enough, if you click on "accessible version" or "printable version," it gets rid of this stupid embedded frame. It's not that they don't have a usable version, it's just that you have to request it specially.

They also don't have the old feature that allowed you to select a start/end time so that you don't have to view the schedule for the 5am trains you'll be sleeping during.</newrant> [sched]: STATION - MOUNTAIN VIEW&mc=stops&tst=23%2CCALTRAIN STATION - SAN MATEO&image1.x=15&image1.y=9

Last day


Hey y'all - today's my last day at PARC. Next up: three weeks of vacation (inc. Maui), followed by my new job at SRI.

My new job


Next month I'll be starting my new job at SRI's Artificial Intelligence Center, where I'll be working on the CALO project. I'm really looking forward to starting there. From their Web site:

SRI International's Artificial Intelligence Center (AIC) is one of the world's major centers of research in artificial intelligence. Founded in 1966, the AIC has been a pioneer and a major contributor to the development of computer capabilities for intelligent behavior in complex situations. Its objectives are to understand the computational principles underlying intelligence in man and machines and to develop methods for building computer-based systems to solve problems, to communicate with people, and to perceive and interact with the physical world.

I had two fun years at PARC - the culture and the people there are really awesome. It may seem disingenuous to say, but I really wouldn't take back my decision to work there. In many ways I was spoiled with the fun I was able to have there, and I know that much of what I learned at PARC will help me in my new job. In the end, though, things change, you change, and you have to figure out where and how you most want to contribute, and for me that will be at SRI.