30 June 2006


Thank you for the helpful credit card suggestions. Back to the world of links.

A Troubling but Oddly Captivating Tune
Heard this morning on Boston's WFNX: Panic! at the Disco's "I Write Sins Not Tragedies." (What gives with this stuff? It's over a mellow violin synth background.)

In Portland, OR? Check out McMenamins
This is a fun, artsy, hip reconfigured old school - into a bunch of bars and B&B. It's wacky. McMenamins - Kennedy School. A business trip took me there; one of its restaurants is in an old science classroom with bunsen burners.

"Yahoo" is a Backronym for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle"
Find this and many, many other explanations for how companies got their names at Wikipedia. "CVS" stands for "Customer Value Stores."

A Song Made Out of PC Sounds
I still think this is neat. (It's a Shockwave file.) (Actually, it appears that it may not be working.)

The Guy in Harvard Square Who Plays that Few-Stringed Instrument and has a Faraway Look in his Eye
Enjoy this collector's item, this sure-to-become-an-heirloom, from hsquaredesigns. I won't credit the artist unless he wants to give up his anonymity.

Did I spell that right?


Like Polaroid Art?
Then check out polanoid.net.

Vik Muniz Rocks the House
Visual artists as talented as he is make me wonder why I bother getting out of bed in the morning. In the gallery, check out "Pictures of Thread" and "Pictures of Chocolate" (around 1995). Yes, that's really thread and chocolate.

Bono is Interesting. No, really.
At least, I think so. I picked up (what one might consider to be a pulp biography) Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas in the airport. Ever since I read Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices, I gained an admiration forBono, and a sudden liking of U2. Just sayin'.

More Pointers to Edgy Science Books
edge.org has a new list, along the far righthand column of the site.

The Geneva Drive
A neat-o mechanism. Check it out. No, really. Ever wonder how movie film zips through the projector but the image at the screen is fairly stable? It's because the film isn't zipping continuously through the projector. It goes in little jerky steps; each frame is held in place (by something like a Geneva drive) and flashed twice on the screen.

Back with more useless knowledge,

ps Those 11pm - 4am'tween T-Fav bottle feeding times are great for my Nintendo DS "New Super Mario Bros." addiction. Man I love it. And mini-games, too!

23 June 2006

Credit Cards


Can anyone recommend a "good" credit card? I suppose this means a decent mix of low rate and getting something in return for use, like a discount, miles, or something like that.

J-Fav has done research on this but it's always possible we've missed something.


20 June 2006

Optics nerd camp

The University of Rochester's Institute of Optics is one of the finest optics schools in the nation. Poor saps like me, who learn the field skimming textbooks at cafes, finally have a way to attend. For a couple of days. In the summer.

Ok, look, it's summer school, and I'm excited about it. They offer classes on geometrical optics and devices! Fourier optics! A holography lab! And... polarization (cough).

I had to miss the first day, but here I am after a few travel hiccoughs. Which put me in after midnight.

In a pickup truck.

At a Best Western.

Across the street from a Hooters.

Yee-haw! I'm driving a "Colorado" pickup truck.

Food? Word from a co-worker is that I should try the "garbage plate," a Rochester college-town specialty. (Honest, it's worth clicking here to see some photos. The thing even has a WikiPedia article.)

Day 1: Nerdvana!

Oh my God. I cannot believe what I just injested. More on that in a sec. First:

I am in absolute nerd heaven up here in Rochester, after spending 9am to 8pm learning and doing nothing but optics. Fourier optics (how edges of things bend light, optical "computation," etc.) and polarization, complete with a little take-home baggie of polarizing filters, cellophane, and other neat stuff. This is perfectly incredible.

Took two lab courses tonight. In the first, we studied a 4F Optical Processor; that is, how sticking various filters in a two-lens laser-illuminated system with the lenses in just the right spot can optically process the pattern on a slide. (This was big in the 1950s, when computers took way too long to do Photoshop-like stuff such as "image edge enhancement" or "blurring in just one direction.") Although it must sound esoteric and dorky, it's something I've read about for years and never quite believed could really truly work as advertised. It does!

In a second lab, we made a rainbow (i.e. "Benton") hologram. That I am taking home. Hoo-ee!

To celebrate all this opto-goodness, I broke my promise to myself and found Nick Tahou Hots for a garbage plate.

This was the most amazingly gawd-awful styrofoam-enshrouded concoction I've ever seen. Even getting it was a challenge:

"Hi, I'd like a... 'plate' please. With hamburger."

"What sides?"

"Uh... fries. And macaroni and cheese."

"The works?"

"What's 'the works?'"

"First time here?"


"Then don't ask any questions." (Turns back to yell at chef-crew.) "Hamburger garbage. The works. Fries. Mac." (Back to me.) "You'll like it. If you don't, money back. You won't hear that anywhere else."

He handed me a box of... jeez, it looked like a squadron of eagles barfed carrion on a macaroni salad. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was a pile of cold mac salad, chunky hamburger, mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, onions, fries, and... oh, two tightly-wrapped pieces of unusually dense bread.

Like this, with hamburger pattis and fries: (There's even a version called "Fish." Sounds like evil punishment.)

Image hyperlinked from What's Cooking America.

I ate it.

Well, 80% of it.

Then, I found a Krispy Kreme, polished off two donuts, took a coffee back to the hotel, and read about more optics.

Tomorrow? Radiometry, which in the real world could be called, "How to have educated arguments over what power light bulb belongs over the oven as not to spook the neighbors or irradiate your pet."


ps I followed a suggestion from JPod and looked on top of the TV armoire. Nothing.

pps Actually, this Best Western is ok by me. Sure, it's run-down and the hallways smell like a combination of body odors from 1962, but the rooms are nice. Flat-screen TV, DVD player, free Wifi...

17 June 2006

2 1/2 Months of the Tobe-ster

Toby is beginning his third month, and Father's Day is almost upon us. My little buddy and I have been having a wonderful time together; I can't believe that 3 months ago all we knew about him (or potentially her) was that he responded kick-ingly well to the sounds of Brazilian drumming!

This morning we decided to hang out on the couch:


16 June 2006

Morphovision! / Buzzword Soup

SIGGRAPH 2006 (Boston)
Some very innovative scientists at NHK combined a swiftly-rotating physical 3-D model, a structured-light stroboscope, and a GUI to create the illusion of objects that twist and warp right before your eyes:

Brief description of Morphovision @ SIGGRAPH

Very cool movie of Morphovision and other emerging technologies @ SIGGRAPH

"The bloatware factor is cross-media"
I love 37signals. Whereas most firm's applet's example text is the standard "lorem ipsom dolor" stuff, the example for 37signals's writeboard web application is THIS humorous piece.


09 June 2006

JPod (Douglas Coupland) & "Wiffiti" in Davis Sq.

My Poor Excuse for a Book Review

I am entranced and comforted by Douglas Coupland's new book, JPod. Coupland's streak of modern tech-kid references, impersonal and detached observations of the Gap- and Mc-ification of the world, and the unique sorrow of what it's like to be, well, us, continues in JPod as it surged through Microserfs and Life After God.

I really, really like this book, and I bet you will too. Unless you're one of the too-many people who continue reaching this blog looking for Andre the Giant has a Possee references, in which case you scare me.

In Susan Tomaselli's review at 3AM Magazine, she notes, "Depending on your viewpoint, JPod is either a case of great art meeting literature, or more zeitgeist junk. Either way, it's very Douglas: crisp, dark, very funny and, though not as urgent as those earlier ground-breaking books, far from obsolete."

Here, Bree, one of the 20-something video game programmers in the story, explains why Sundays suck, and Thursdays are clearly the best:

"Look at it this way: Mondays suck because you're resentful that you can't sleep in, and it's also the day on which sixty percent of life-sucking meetings occur. Tuesdays suck because the week has four more workdays left; you hate yourself and the world because you're trapped in this wage-slave hamster wheel called life. Wednesdays are bad because you realize around noon that the work week is half over, but the fact that you're viewing your life in this manner means that you're nothing more or less than the third pannel of that old, unfunny comic strip Cathy, where she realizes she's a fat lonely spinster and her hair flies out and she makes the augghhhhhh! noise. Fridays are bad because you feel like a rat waiting for a food pellet to come down the chute, the food pellet being the weekend. Saturdays are okay, but only barely. And Sundays, as mentioned before, are like the day that time forgot, when nothing happens and when, perversely, you start wishing for Monday again. So give me a week of Thursdays any time. Everyone's in a good mood, people actually get stuff done, and a glint of Saturday puts a sparkle in your step."

(Coupland, pp. 196-7)

The book is dotted with pages of Helvetica-set snippets of pop cultural snapshots; Doritos ingredients, O/S warnings, and package label text. Somewhere between here and there is another example of why I recommend this book:

I keep on receiving spams where they've put random words inside the body copy to trick anti-spam programs into thinking it's a real letter. There has to be some other form of coded message in operation here.

clams evil garage clowns bogey lie saran in depart wait celery drooling puncture at bartend the pronto thought luxurious of earthmoving ripping arabesque at hypodermic your orchid lazy carrion human recriminatory flesh never bulkhead...

(Coupland, pp. 185-6)

So, there you have it. A pulpy, techie read that's endearing for its portrayal of isolation and impersonality.

JPod [Amazon] [author's site] [official JPod site]

Have any of you read it, or other Coupland works? Anything you recommend?


ps For those of you near Somerville, Mass. - ever wonder what the text-messagey-sans-serif flat panel display is in the bowels of that coffeehouse that smells like an unclean bathroom, the Someday Cafe? WELL, wonder no more. It's a "Wiffiti" screen from LocaModa. You can text message this visual electronic ephemeral bulletin board and... well, I don't know. But it's neat to look at. Click here for a live snapshot of what's on the SMS wall of several coffee houses.

pps Direct mail ads that you get at home almost always have a "ps" because people almost always read the "ps" section. Really. Check it out next time.

04 June 2006

28 1/2 Songs to Choose From

Here are 28+ songs for a change of pace, for improving your ride to work, for resonating with difficult times you're going through, for hearing something new. Just 'cuz.

With links to the iTunes store, because we're all lazy.

Footnotes contain embarrassing personal admissions.

Alternative (actually, this is my "best find of 2006" so far)
"Heartbeats," Jose Gonzalez, Veneer [iTunes] [1]
"Deadweight on Velveteen," Jose Gonzalez, Veneer [iTunes]

"A Letter from Home," B. Fleischmann, Welcome Tourist [iTunes]

"Older Chests," Damien Rice, O [iTunes]
"Cold Water," Damien Rice, O [iTunes]
"Comfortably Numb," Dar Williams, My Better Self [iTunes]
"Little Wings," Kris Delmhorst, Five Stories [Free MP3 from artist]
"Lullaby 101," Kris Delmhorst, Five Stories [2]

"Bring the Noise," Public Enemy, Power to the People & the Beats (greatest hits) [iTunes]
"Damn it Feels Good to Be A Gangster," Geto Boys, Uncut Dope [iTunes] [3]
"No Tears," Scarface, Office Space soundtrack
"Lose Yourself," Eminem, 8 Mile (soundtrack) [iTunes] [4]

"Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)," Nine Inch Nails, Further Down The Spiral [iTunes]
"Eraser (polite)," Nine Inch Nails, Further Down The Spiral [iTunes]

"So What," Miles Davis, Kind of Blue [iTunes]

"Heaven," Bryan Adams, So Far so Good [iTunes]
"Name," The Goo Goo Dolls, A Boy Named Goo [iTunes]
"Faithfully," Journey, Greatest Hits [iTunes]
"When the Levee Breaks," Led Zeppelin, IV [go to the freakin' store]
"Small Town," Pearl Jam, 04/19/03: North America - #27 Atlanta [iTunes]
"Lead a Normal Life," Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel [iTunes] [5]
"Right Here," Staind, Chapter V [iTunes]
"Fields of Gold," Sting, Best of [iTunes]
"Plush," Stone Temple Pilots, Core [iTunes]
"Bad," U2, The Unforgettable Fire [iTunes]
"Numb," U2, Zooropa [iTunes]
"Eminence Front," The Who, It's Hard (remastered) [iTunes] [6]
"In the Dark," Billy Squier, Don't Say No [iTunes] (also, "Lonely is theNight") [7]

[1] I admit to listening to this 4 times in a row at work last week. I apologize to my cubemates.
[2] Tearjerker. Haven't heard Kris yet? In person? My goodness, I don't even respond to much folk music, but this, this... Please, get out there and do so. And Richard Shindell, while you're at it.
[3] I learn my rap from the movie "Office Space." Also, this is a surprisingly good song to play loud in one's car when feeling overwhelmed.
[4] I can't believe I like this guy's music. I predict you'll enjoy this song if you're trying hard to pull something off, like get a Ph.D., or start a company, or do just about anything.
[5] The very isolationist, depressing, freaky lyrics to this once hung in my senior year dorm room.
[6] I limit the number of times I hear this song because I am afraid that I'll stop finding it so moving.
[7] Even more so, for sentimental reasons that I will never make light of.

play very loud. cheer up. enjoy.


Weekend Update

(Welcome to Beantown, Fergusbergs!)

Attention-Juggling, again
In today's online New York Times, "Attention-Juggling in the High-Tech Office." An excerpt of this brief piece:

Q. Do all the distractions mean that people don't have time to think deeply about what they're doing?

A. There is certainly some indication that in middle to upper management, that can be a problem. If you don't properly organize your thinking and your time, you can end up concentrating on the urgent rather than the important. You can get tied up being a traffic cop in terms of answering e-mails, when in fact those things can be answered later. Management, particularly the more senior management, needs time to think.
Yes, the online NYT went through a relatively recent redesign. Like the look. Hate the slowdown.

I'm an unsigned long int and you're an 8-bit char
Even a year later, I'm still laughing at the CS rap So Much Drama in the PhD.

Citing Technical References: Technical Writing Handbook
Personal preference: what writer's reference gives the best advice for multiple referencing schemes, like APA, IEEE, and MLA? I spent a while @ B&N with T-Fav and chose a handbook written by MIT professors: The Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing. It has style sheets for reports, memos, and agendas, grammar guides, and concise advice about literature citing. It is online for free and is available at Amazon.

It contains many examples of technical reports and illustration-types pulled from real texts at NASA JPL and MIT.

Maybe Overlooked Magazines: Science, Design
There are a few magazines at your bookstore (B&N, Borders) that may have missed your glance & I recommend you check out:

Seed Magazine is a science magazine that appears to be well-researched, have good depth, and also has stunning and creative graphic design / layout.

I.D. - The International Design Magazine. This is what I review every month for high-end industrial design (i.e. new products found anywhere from the supermarket to the office supply store to new medical devices), graphic design, etc. This is a different publication than i-D.

New American Paintings. A guilty pleasure of mine, this small softcover publication highlights 3 works each of maybe 30 artists; I end up liking 10% of them & check out the prices in the back. I feel like I could build a good-quality contemporary art gallery from the work in this magazine alone.

Wallpaper*. A snooty, hipper-than-thou international publication about architecture, fashion, and design. Reviewers on Amazon warn that subscriptions are unreliable.

Make. A thick, glossy, fun, readable, electronic do-it-yourselfer. Make a robot out of your mouse! Convert your VCR into a timed cat-food dispenser! Get into digital graffitti with LED throwies! Single issues are costly: $14.99 (or thereabouts), compared to a whole year (4 issues) for $34.99.

Other design-related pubs I like: Print, ARTFORUM (contemporary stuff), and Communication Arts.


02 June 2006

more Nerdcore Computer Science Rap

CS Rap: The Pimping Lemma

Stanford's "Monzy" produced another piece of nerdcore gangsta' computer science rap in an effort to get a response from his East Coast rivals.

"The Pimping Lemma" [lyrics and MP3] is dedicated to the women of CS. It features lyrics such as:
I'm accumulating cuties from across the nation, | Pull 'em in like neighbors in a Delaunay triangulation, | I got hoes from different area codes and IP ranges, | Swap 'em round like VMMs making page exchanges, | Yeah I round 'em up like ceil() and I add 'em to my stable | And I offer them a spliff from off my hash table.

Monzy updates us in his blog.

Optics Rap

Watch out, sucka' 3-D engineers, G-Remedy's comin' to git'cha...