March 2003 Archives

Campus Protests

protest-thumb.jpgToday there was a series of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations on the Columbia campus. The chants of "U.S.A." and "No More War" drifted up to the 5th floor of Hamilton and made it difficult for our German teacher to expain the finer points of extended-adjective constructions.

Later on, while walking through the crowd on my way to lunch, I snapped a few quick pictures. They're mostly out-of-focus and skewed - I wish I had the camera when I was up in the Hamilton classroom, as it had a terrific view over the quad.

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Midnight's Children

mc-thumb.jpgWe launched the Midnight's Children Multimedia Study Environment today - in preparation for the play and Humanities Festival this week. (The site will only be available to those of you physically connected to the Columbia network.)

I didn't have much to do with the site, aside from the QA process, but I've worked on many similar sites using the same ideas and back-end tools. It was interesting to watch a new team solve some of the problems and issues that I had encounterd on previous MSE's - there were some nice interface advances made in this particular project by the graphic designer, I think.

Here is some general information on MSE's, as well as a list of those we've done so far.

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Landslide on 110th

lsthumb1.jpgApparently the rain we had last night was too much for the retaining wall on the 110th side of St. John the Divine. A huge portion of the stonework has collapsed, spewing boulders and dirt over the sidewalk.

Check out the pictures here.

The chainlink fence you see in the pictures has actually been up for about six months - they must have known the wall was structurally unsound for a while. Looking at the amount of material that hit the sidewalk, it's amazing nobody was hurt - the fence was barely able to contain everything that fell.

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Citibank Wall Collapses

citithumb.jpgBoy, not a good day for masonry here in Morningside Heights. On my way to photograph the collapse of the wall along St. John the Divine's 110th Street side, I noticed that the Citibank on 112th and Broadway had apparently shed its exterior plaster in sympathy. Pictures here and here.



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Baghdad Sky

CBSNews.com has an amazing 225kpbs RealVideo 8 feed from a roof in Baghdad.




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Lordy

icemate_clear_120.jpgThis has got to be the silliest Mac product ever. It's a translucent base puck for the Griffin PowerMate. What's the PowerMate? Why, a $45 metal button that rotates, linked to your Mac via a USB cable. A blue LED shines from beneath the base. What would you do with such a device? Apparently, change the volume on your MP3's.

Now, some claim that you can use it as a Non-Linear Editing jogdial, but there are plenty of other devices which do the job a whole lot better.

OK, so none of them have the cool blue LED.

I suppose if you'd gone ahead and blown $45 on the PowerMate, where's the harm in spending an additional $20 for the IceMate. It will apparently amplify the blue light through transparent or semi-opaque acrylic polymer, thus turning what was a subtle effect into a glowing distraction that will cast your face in a ghastly blue pallor. But sometimes I wonder about all this materials fetish in the Mac market. As well as the fact that, although there have been no updates to Internet Explorer for a few years now on the platform, and all development seems to have stopped on 3rd-party media apps in the face of iLife, these goofy accessories for accessories seem to command more and more mindshare.

Pretty soon, the only thing that will be selling well will be translucent holders for adaptors for stands for connectors for iPod engraving instruction booklet sheath mounting rivet carrycases.

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Wearables

wearables.jpgSome interesting design studies of wearable PDA components, linked together through BlueTooth, from FrogDesign and Motorola.

It's hard to believe that multiple, interdependant components will be more compelling than a single, lightweight device, especially considering the hassle of recharging each one and putting each one on in the morning when you rush out the door. This is sort of the reason guys don't wear more jewelry.

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John Galen Howard

ucbcampus.jpgUC Berkeley just put up a neat slideshow of architectural renderings, drawings and photographs of their campus, focusing on the legacy of John Galen Howard. Howard was a Beaux Arts-trained designer who helped spawn the regional "Bay Area Eclectic" style in the Berkeley hills.

nghall.jpgI grew up hanging out in an office in a building designed by Howard, the old Architecture School. Most of his work for the campus was neoclassical and of stone, but North Gate Hall was a graceful shingled building which followed the grade up the slope of Hearst Avenue. The old drafting rooms, now newsrooms, were lit by fantastic expanses of skylights and walls of windows - a reminder of when natural light was a neccesity for drawing and not the glare-inducing impediment to CRT legibility it is now.

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Margareta Garpe

mgarpe.jpgJust got back from a talk by Margareta Garpe, a well-known playwright in Sweden. We had a staged reading of her play Alla dagar alla nätter (All the Days, All the Nights) last semester at Columbia, but this was the first time I had seen her in person.

She spoke specifically about relationships between mothers and daughters in her plays, including her most recent, Limbo which just had its premiere in Stockholm. She's interested in the ways that daughters rebel against their mothers, or fail to do so, compared to the dynamics of father-son relationships. The desire for independence, versus the responsibilities of caring for others, are common themes in her work as well. Beroenden, or dependency, binds some women to sublimate their own interests and desires to husbands or parents, in exchange for the psychological security of a sure place in the world.

Bio from Columbia's Swedish Program site:

Regarded today as one of Sweden's leading authors, Margareta Garpe has created dramas with feminist themes for Stockholm's Municipal Theater and has also been active as a film director.

She has written film scripts, cabarets, songs, and monologues, has worked with translations and adaptations of drama classics, and has done reports and interviews.

In addition to staging her own plays, Ms. Garpe has also directed and adapted Henrik Ibsen's
Ghosts and Hedda Gabler for Swedish television as well as the drama series Skilda världar (Separate Worlds) for Swedish TV;s Channel 4. Her drama All the Days, All the Nights was performed at Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theater in 1992, on Swedish television in 1996, at Copenhagen's Royal Theater in 2002, and as a staged reading at Columbia's Deutsches Haus in November 2002. Her most recent production in Stockholm is the play Limbo, premiering at Stockholm Municipal Theater on February 28, 2003.

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Worst. Infographic. Ever.

sec.gifI know! The best way to visually represent a proportion is through dozens of miniscule, ill-proportioned flags! And let's draw a random white streak across some that have a "veto" attribute! Because nothing signifies "special importance" like thin diagonal effacement!

Too easy? Let's add microscopic, all-caps text below! Which makes no visual distinction between the category and the relevant nations. Better: We'll eschew indenting, to rob the text of even the most basic visual organization. Hah!

You can view the offending article here.

(Perhaps this is just a big PR move by the Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa to increase public awareness of the flag of Angola.)

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Vegas Brunch

cpvegas.jpgJust made reservations for an April brunch at Commander's Palace in Las Vegas. Located somewhat incongruously in the Aladdin Desert Passage mall, this place allegedly has very good Cajun food, served to the accompaniment of a jazz band.

All this talk of Louisiana has made me think I should dig out my pictures from the educational conference in New Orleans I went to a while back. Stay tuned for that.

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Blade Liger Review

My first Liger was a Zero, and based on how enjoyable that Zoid was to build and display, I decided to order the earlier Blade Liger model. Black, gray and blue with touches of white are the main colors for this Zoid. Old-timers will rejoice at the nondescript gray rubber cap color.

I did a bit of painting with Gundam Markers - check out the exhaust grille behind the "whiskers."

The Good:

Bade Liger surprised me when it turned out to be bigger and bulkier than LZ - I thought of Zero as a Zoid with lots of add-on parts, but Blade manages to out-do its more recent cousin. BL's add-on parts extend well beyond the body and are hinged to allow them to stick up like a porcupine. This flexibility of the design - sleek and streamlined, or large and prickly - means it can take on a variety of appearances depending on the situation.

Perhaps because if its bulk, BL comes with an extra-long tail and a custom horizontal stabilizer. Don't make the mistake I did, of installing the standard one, and being forced to prise apart the case many steps later when you realize your mistake. :/ Somebody who has more Kanji than I do can explain exactly what the Tomy instructions say to do - they seem to suggest you should install the standard tail and then in a little bubble mention the extra-long one.

The namesake "blades" are pre-painted gold on dark gray. They are well-scaled for being tucked up atop the Zoid's back, but are a little small when unfolded and deployed into position. Still, their thickness and shape matches the blue and white "whiskers" and other fold-out parts, lending the Zoid a nice look when all parts are extended and deployed.

Instead of Liger Zero's discrete plastic toes, BL comes with each "paw" fully formed. However, the paws are molded in die-cast gold-painted metal instead of Zero's gold plastic. Also, the paws are slightly spread apart, like a real cat's would be when it was walking. They also match the bulkier, wider design of Blade as compared with Zero. Teeth are the same metal - nearly as long as Sabre Tiger's!

The walking mechanism is the same as the Zero, complete with the cat-like motion of all four legs. The Liger leg mechanism is, I believe, one of the best designs the Tomy team came up with - multiple joints per leg, as well as tabs and grooves that ensure parts of the leg move opposite the main leg's motion. The front feet in particular demonstrate this.

In addition to the above-mentioned tail options, BL comes with two different back-mounted accessories. The main one is two rocket engines which emerge from a blue cover and slide out, raising the cover in the process. The other one seems to be some sort of gun, but since it doesn't include the neat connection which automatically raises the blue cover, I decided against installing it.

The Bad:

The two horizontal cylinders which hold the blue wing hinges don't seem like they will last. Inserting the blue hinges makes the cylinders bow out slightly, which then provides the tension they need to stay attached to the two gray pegs on the main body casing. However, this friction is not enough to overcome the force you sometimes use to swing the gold wings down and rotate them. Long-term, I'm afraid the plastic may fracture due to the inherent stress placed on the pieces. (These cylinders are present in Liger Zero, in white, but they only hold two vestigial wings and thus stay on pretty well. Anyone know if they exist in any other Liger variants?)

On the movement front, after two Ligers I'm still mystified as to what the heads are supposed to be doing. I've examined the internal mechanism, and although the jaws on both cats open and close properly, the head itself is rather strange. Due to the non-centered levers inside, the (very small) vertical motion of the head is accompanied with a slight side-to-side motion. This happens on both BL and LZ. Are the cats supposed to be shaking their heads, or is something else supposed to be happening?

The Ugly:

There are a few pieces which are pre-painted and attached to sprues in such a way as to result in ugly scars when the pieces are removed. The white armor on the legs and the horizontal tail stabilizers in particular have this problem.

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SCSI Solution

nslogo.jpgThanks to my boss, who brought in a vintage 1996 CD-ROM drive, I'm now happily upgrading my NeXTStation to OpenStep 4.2. This drive has no problem reading the CD-R that failed on the other mechanism, so I'll chalk it up to a dusty lens or some other age-related failure.

This upgrade is really just to prove the drive can read the disc for long periods of time; I have a much larger, quieter SCSI drive I eventually want to be the main drive for this system. At a whopping 4gigs, it will need to be carefully partitioned to avoid running into OpenStep's myriad limitations of 1 and 2 gigabytes, depending on the phases of the moon and which patch level you're running.

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Time to upgrade?

t610_96_199.jpgEricsson introduced their new t68i replacement today, the t610. It's got the same Bluetooth, IR, SyncML and vcard/vcal support as my t39, which enable it to work with iSync and similar services, plus the gratuitous camera that everyone seems to be adding to their phones.

What I'm confused about his how this device is supposed to complement the P800. As far as I can tell, they're both bulky, java-based, camera-phones. The P800 has a touch-sensitve screen and a loss-O-matic removable keypad, but that hardly seems like enough of an advantage to outweigh the accompanying size, weight and price penalty.

It's interesting that you can now get a t68i for nearly free on Amazon, if you agree to a two-year contract. Of course, those phones are probably SIM-locked to a particular GSM provider, but since there are only two big ones in the US, I don't know how much of a problem that would be. I've always just my US-based SIM when I'm in Europe, as it enables people in the US to call me using the same NYC number they always do. Figuring out a foreign cell company's pricing structure and byzantine long-distance policies has never seemed worth the savings in making local calls within the country, at least for me.

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NeXT!

nextstation.jpgIt's amazing how hard it's getting to work with vintage computers nowadays. The relentless pace of change seems to leave many systems, especially those outside the mainstream, stranded in time.

I'm trying to load the last iteration of NeXTStep, OpenStep 4.2, on my NeXTStation. Many applications (including the only thing that could be accused of being a web browser on the NeXT, OmniWeb) require this OS because of the changes it made to support things like a multi-threaded text object and the Foundation Class Library.

But the NeXTStation lacks an internal CD-ROM drive. Finding an external drive a big problem. All the external CD-ROM drives in my department, if we ever had any, are long gone. Turns out we kept an old SCSI CD-R (4x, w00t!), which does work on the NeXT as a reader.

Now the problem was that the OS disc I had was burned at 32x. The drive couldn't read it reliably - the upgrade application would bomb out with SCSI errors written to console, and attempting to boot from the disc would freeze early in the process. Even burning the image at 1x on a modern CDR seemed to work only partially. I knew that early CD-ROMs had difficulty with CD-R discs, but it never occured to me that CD-R mechanisms could fail to recognize discs burned at faster speeds.

I finally lugged whole drive over to a SCSI-equipped Mac - the last one we had on the floor, an ancient beige G3 which we had used for disc burning æons ago. Then I had to dig up a program that could burn an .iso format image (but which did not require OS X). I figured that if this mechanism could read any CD-R discs at all, it should be able to read those it burnt itself.

Stay tuned for exciting updates throughout the evening. :-/

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

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