28 February 2007

Where MSWindows Wallpaper Comes From

Ever gaze at those rolling green hills or that island getaway on your Windows machine and wonder... "where is that?"

Ted points us to "Autumn and the plot against me," a journalist's effort to find the location of a serene yellow leaf-covered allee that adorns his computer screen. (A thumbs-up from me on this brief Vanity Fair piece.)

By coincidence, a work-project had me skimming Flickr. I bumped into an album by Hamad Darwish, a young and talented photographer who had only been at it for a few years when he was tapped by Microsoft to shoot the wallpaper screens for Windows Vista. Here is a Flickr album of the Vista rejects.

Toby emailed me a good-luck note re:the work project, with this photo:

I'll try to spare you the introspective bit about why I find anonymous artwork fascinating. But I do; I always have. Anonymous faceless art intrigues me - e.g., I don't like hotelroom art, but I like wondering who on earth comes up with such obscenely unoffensive stuff.

Looking back, when I was in high school, I used to stay up until midnight to watch the Lifetime channel, because at midnight, it switched into a nameless, almost surreal mode in which detailed, fine-print text from pharmaceutical inserts scrolled by on the screen while incomprehensibly bland and depersonalized new age music played in the background. Woah! It felt like it was beamed in from another planet! Who wrote this stuff? Who's sitting in the control room entering all that text about "myocardial infarction" and "syncope"?

Thinking back further, when I was more ignorant about how products are made, I was equally mesmerized by the little-noticed objects in our lives that hold the world together. Who makes the electrical outlets lining the walls near the floor in the local mall? Who makes the drain grates on the bathroom floor in the bookstore? Those stop signs that swing out from the side of schoolbuses.... where are those from?

J-Fav thinks it's creepy that I like such desolate stuff. Rather, she thinks it's desolate. I think it's the opposite. My mind just automatically falls into a psychoanalytical groove whenever I stop to consider any person-made artifact. It's like my graphic design professor used to tell us, "Absolutely everything you see is the result of a conscious design decision." Who was this person? How sympathetic was he or she to the user's needs (or the viewer's preferences? or the listener's opinion of what background noise is conducive to reading pharmaceutical data?).

I wonder if my aesthetic response to imaginary maps and aerial photographs is part of this psychology. Heck, even the design of you-are-here maps. And QSL cards.

Well, that was much more self-absorbed than I intended.


22 February 2007

Musical Interlude

Have a decent web connection? Here are nine videos from YouTube:

Some electric guitar shredding:


  • Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich "Drum Battle" (Sure, Buddy's single-stroke rolls are amazing, but I still prefer Krupa)
  • Blue Man Group, doing a cover of The Who's "Baba O'Riley"
  • Blue Man Group, "Drumbone"

And something that followed me in my Walkman everywhere I went... in 7th grade. I know it's weird, but give it a chance:

  • "Who am I?" by Peter Kruder (also, you get to see this intriguing multi-touch table designed by NYU's Jefferson Han)

Oh, and - been listening to this group over, and over, and over, for the last week (no, they're not from the 1980s):

The Knife: "You Take My Breath Away"


21 February 2007

More high-tech graffiti, and other links

Graffiti Research Lab

From the people who brought you LED Throwies: Post-Circuit Board. Sure, it's just a 555 and conductive paint, but it's probably exactly the wrong idea in terms of terror scares.

Much cooler idea: L.A.S.E.R. Tag. Projecting imagery onto buildings with a DLP projector, as guided by a laser pointer.

Lorem Ipsum
Ever wonder about the default text that comes with graphic design software?

Harvard's Math 55: Wicked Hahd!
Article in the Harvard Crimson about a notorious and difficult math course. Maybe now I shouldn't feel so bad about not having been able to finish reading the text book over the last few years.

History of Electronic Arts
"We See Farther," in Gamasutra.com.

"Seven steps to remarkable customer service"
by Joel on Software

Science vs. Faith
This picture has been making the rounds. It's inflammatory enough that I probably shouldn't propagate it; from www.wellingtongrey.net/miscellanea.

Behind the scenes, working at Netflix.

Unbearable Jealousy (does Dave Shechner read this?)
I am having trouble coping with the fact that I won't be attending TED 2007. Check out that list of speakers! Here are some brief talks from last year: inventor Saul Griffith (3-D self assembly, biology...), and MIT Media Lab's Neil Gershenfeld (the revolution of personalized fabrication).


14 February 2007

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day from Toby.

(Don't worry, that's not plugged in to anything...)


10 February 2007

How to do Great Research

Mac FireFox and Blogger ate my draft last night. Grr. Here were some highlights:

How to do Great Research
Artist John Maeda points to this transcription of a speech given in the 1980s by Richard Hamming, a quite famous mathematician. His "You and Your Research" is about how to do reserach, (not how to manage research).

I think his talk is relevant to just about any field. Here, Maeda quotes Hamming quoting Bode:

"The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunity -- it is very much like compound interest. I don't want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime."

However, he points out, that usually requires neglecting loved ones.

He also delves into how to choose a great research project, not just research; how to dress (!); and one notably Rain Man-esque passage that reads:

"By taking the trouble to tell jokes to the secretaries and being a little friendly, I got superb secretarial help. For instance, one time for some idiot reason all the reproducing services at Murray Hill were tied up. Don't ask me how, but they were. I wanted something done. My secretary called up somebody at Holmdel, hopped the company car, made the hour-long trip down and got it reproduced, and then came back. It was a payoff for the times I had made an effort to cheer her up, tell her jokes and be friendly; it was that little extra work that later paid off for me. By realizing you have to use the system and studying how to get the system to do your work, you learn how to adapt the system to your desires."

And for something completely different:

Two Presentations on Scientific Illustrations
One of the top computer graphics researchers, Pat Hanrahan, has been studying the distant history of scientific illustrations, partially to help predict where computer graphics might be going.

Here are two of his talks that I particularly enjoyed. The slides have the text underneath them.

Self-Illustrating Phenomena and
Realistic or Abstract Imagery: The Future of Computer Graphics?


03 February 2007

The Future of 3-D Displays: SD&A 2007

3-D Is Coming - from SD&A 2007

(Photo of Perspecta Display and radiation oncology data courtesy Rush Univ. Medical Center)

I have returned from the San Jose, Calif. conference that brings together researchers from around the world, united in the view that 3-D imagery should be liberated from the flat surface of your computer and TV screens. Here are some standout accomplishments reported at the SPIE's Stereoscopic Displays & Applications XVIII conference, part of Electronic Imaging 2007:

[Meanwhile, see photos of many years of demonstration sessions, such as 2006.]

  • Tom Peterka of Univ. Ill. (Chicago)'s Electronic Visualization Laboratory reviewed the progress of the "Varrier" 3-D display from 2001-2007, a head-tracked parallax barrier system that's evolved through a variety of resolutions up to 55 Megapixels.

  • Joel Kollin (U. Wash.) and Avi Hollander (Imprint Interactive) revisited the 1800's work of Wheatstone, discussing their modern use of a simple plane mirror with two LCD monitors to enable an immersive stereo display. Also, Avi reviewed the work of VR for burn victims and veterans suffering PTSD.

  • Dr. Ilgner (Aachen) reported on the use of a stereo microscope for various surgeries, using technology from Mike Weismann's Micro Vision.

  • Attendees were treated to a two-hour collection of stereo movie shorts that were graciously presented by chairman Andrew Woods. (2006 collection.) This was followed by the annual dinner at a family-style Chinese restaurant. Good eats! (photos of previous years)

  • Several groups discussed progress on presenting autostereoscopic 3-D content on mobile devices. Roughly 2 million 3-D cellphones exist in Japan. An Australian firm, DDD, sells the enabling software - the session was chaired by their CTO, Julien Flack.

  • Philips reviewed progress on their 9-view switchable 2-D / 3-D lenticular displays which are beginning to find application in European casinos. On view at the demo session, Philips's displays showed at least several inches of depth for a variety of viewpoints.

  • Folks from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology continued impressive progress in a highly-multiview display. Their 128-view system incorporated 128 LED-illuminated microprojectors in a staggered arrangement.

  • H. Ebisu et al discussed and demonstrated a truly compelling 3-D display in a cellphone from NEC. Cellphones are good homes for few-view displays because the user's hand is able to position the "sweet spot" effectively. The system equalized the horizontal resolution, which is normally halved. (Yes, perhaps one day we'll be watching floating video e-mails and playing 3-D games on our cellphones.)

  • Several other posters and presentations of note: Osaka Univ.'s Hisatake et al made a swept-screen volumetric display based on laser excitation of a Lanthanide screen; and Miyazaki et al's work in an unusual scanner-based dual-concave mirror real-image volumetric display.

  • In the demonstration session, the Planar StereoMirror was a real standout, as was the NEC cellphone display. Nick Holliman depicted astronomical data in a 30+ view lenticular made by Ocuity.

We didn't demonstrate Perspecta this year, but perhaps in the future we will have some interesting advances in 3-D to share...