Existence Proof

imageThe picture is evidence that bug-free Skype seminars are possible! Well, I suppose it only captured an instant, and not the full hour’s worth of two separate bug-free talks each with their own Q&A, but that is what happened. The back story is that two of our invited speakers, Lara Anderson and James Gray, had flight delays that prevented them from arriving in Santiago on time and so I spent a bit of time (at the suggestion of my co-organizer Wati Taylor, who also could not make the trip) figuring out how we could save the schedule by having them give Skype seminars. (We already had to make a replacement elsewhere in the schedule since another of our speakers was ill and had to cancel his trip.)

Two Skype talks seemed a long shot back on Sunday when Wati had the idea, but after some local legwork on my part it gradually because more likely, and by lunchtime today I had the local staff fully on board with the idea and we tested it all and it worked!

It helps that you can send the whole of your computer screen as the video feed, and so the slides came out nicely (I’d originally planned a more complicated arrangement where we’d have the […] Click to continue reading this post

Just Jiggle It

Frustratingly, I lost several hours this weekend on a new computer problem, when of course I’d planned to work on several things before turning my attention back to teaching and other matters of the week. I needed to install a new piece of software and strangely my computer’s optical drive could not read the CD-R that it was on. The computer kept reporting a blank disc had meen inserted. I checked on another computer and the disc was fine so the problem had to be with my computer. I tried to get it to recognize an audio CD but that was rejected outright. But what was the problem exactly? Investigation involved taking care to restart, attempt to reset firmware, PRAM, etc., trying to figure out how to run the hardware test (on a late 2008 unibody model macbook pro), etc. The latter involved me discovering that the hardware test software was no longer on the machine (since upgrading to Mountain […] Click to continue reading this post

A Mighty Pen

Wow, Friday already! It has been a busy week, but with some good stuff here and there, I’d say. “Good Busy”, as I sometimes say. I’d like to dig into some work this early morning before the day gets into my head (although I’ve already been emailing with the East Coast) and so I’ll be brief.

One of the things I’ve been doing is experimenting with Pencasts, for PBS. What are those? Well, after I agreed to do one, the main instrument needed arrived in the post. An Echo smartpen, by Livescribe. It is a pen that records (when you write on the right paper) every penstroke you make digitally and you can play back that page elsewhere…It also has a microphone built in, and so what you can do is play back the writings/scribblings/drawings, along with the sounds that were playing at the time you were drawing. You can play them back right from the pen’s little speaker, or upload the whole thing to your computer or to the web and have the whole thing playback there. It is an excellent and powerful tool. The people who make this are heavily advertising it to students as a tool for studying, which I don’t have a problem with, but a lot of the sense of the marketing (and discussions I’ve seen on the web) seem to hint that it is somehow a magical substitute for actually learning how to take notes, since you are recording the lecturer’s voice… That I do have a problem with. Making good notes is an important skill and the act of paraphrasing and distilling what is being said is vital to learning… it is arguably the most important stage now, given that students seem to have less and less time to re-work and supplement the lecture’s material in their own non-class time… These pens should supplement that process, not substitute it… Like all tools, they need to be used properly for best results.

But anyway… Where was I? Yes, so the pen arrived, and I experimented with it a bit […] Click to continue reading this post

Heads Up

The last day or two I’ve paused from various things due to various other things intervening and competing for time. For work toward the project in the in-betweens, I’ve decided to do a bit of study (really, re-study and move things forward a bit) of head construction… mostly working on two key things: (1) Variety of types and (2) more solidity and, er, sculptedness…. This will help with improved production and character design and so forth later on, for The Project.

All while still keeping speed at a good clip. At the right is a quick study I did toward the end of the day today. It is rough, and I am focusing on overall structure, so forgive the crudity. I’d been working entirely with pencil earlier in the day, so this was a change of medium, and a change of pace, that is often useful for getting nice flow. The medium? I used the app Brushes on the iPad. So there’s the one thin stroke of black, using a stylus. I’d done a rough framework of blue underneath first, for layout and bulk.

Just for fun, I’ve included something else you might find interesting. I have […] Click to continue reading this post

A Letter For You…

Well, there was a lot of interest in the iPad discussion I started on Friday, with hundreds of people viewing the post, and several interesting comments either put after the post or sent to me in email. Note taking to the device via handwriting seemed to be a major thing that people are keen on, and I admit that it is also something that, as I said in the Friday post, made me see the device firmly as a primary work tool here on out. But some are unsure, perhaps unconvinced. So, I decided to reply to many of the comments by writing a letter, including a diagram of sorts. I did it on screen, while riding the bus home, using the excellent program Note Taker HD that I told you about in the post, mostly in “edit 2” mode, allowing for compact and relatively neat writing with just my finger. Here it is (just click on an image of a page for a larger view, and be warned that a few full stops (periods) at the end of sentences did not show up so well in the images):

letter_to_readers-2010-08-30-page-1 letter_to_readers-2010-08-30-page-2
[…] Click to continue reading this post

My Office in My Handbag: The iPad as a Serious Work Tool

l-1560-1321-fb0479b6-b1bb-4da3-87f6-d149fe2833c8.jpegOne of the things I’ve been meaning to tell you about is my recent explorations of the capabilities of the iPad. I’m extremely impressed with it, and want to tell you a bit about how I use it in case it might work for you. There is a lot that is being said out there, and lots of yelling and whining about what it is not, and so a lot of people are a bit confused, it seems. I’ve a nice chunk of time here on the bus, heading home from my first day back on campus, just after the end of my first class of semester, where in fact I used the device a lot, and so this is a good time to begin to tell you a bit about it.

Bottom line? The small bag I carry that you can see in the picture to the left contains everything I need for a huge number of day to day work tasks, for the research, teaching, and administrative tasks that are part of the standard Professor gig, and a whole lot more. It is all I carry, even on a longer business trip.

The main complaint that a lot of people had was based on dashed expectations. Lots of us, and I include myself in this camp, wanted Apple to produce something like a tablet computer. A “real” computer. One that you can program and so forth like you might do your laptop or desktop, or at least run a lot of applications that are considered the business of serious computers these days, even if not writing machine code or C++ or FORTRAN…(You know, the stuff of Real Programmers.)

So typically, when the iPad is discussed, people give a list of queries about what they want it to do, and if it does not do those things, it is dismissed as a toy, essentially. End of discussion. You can find lots of shouty discussions about the iPad on the web, with lots of accusations about how Apple let people down, and the phrase “dealbreaker” being tossed around as though its some discussion about dating criteria. Ok, so the iPad might not work for you, but make sure it is really for the right reasons.

The bottom line, I realized after having my own list of disappointments, is that the more useful approach might be to figure out what sort of things it does well, and to not think of it as a failed laptop or tablet, but an opportunity to learn a new workflow […] Click to continue reading this post


five_finger_shoes_in_actionWell, I got some. I recall blogging about seeing these some time back, and am impressed with them now that I’ve been trying them out for a week. Let me say however a couple of things. I’m not going to spout all the stuff being said about how this is all so much more “natural” than shoes, and so on and so forth. There’s a lot of that being said and I find myself generally deeply suspicious of the way the word “natural” is used to sell products, especially to a certain type of crowd who falls for this stuff. What does “natural” even mean, anyway?

I like these because they are like being barefoot without the pain and discomfort that often comes with it (stubbing toes, icky or sharp things underfoot, etc). I do not think these “five-finger” shoes (as they are called) will replace shoes for me in most circumstances. Apparently people are running in them, hiking, even mountain climbing. Good for them. I want much more support on my feet when I’m doing those things and that is why shoes were invented. Marvellous invention, shoes. Not clear to me shoes are any less “natural” than these are. They’re just different. Like cycling is not “natural”, but is a rather splendid thing humans came up with that I see nothing wrong with on the “natural” vs “non-natural” front.

See also shirts, pants, skirts, etc. Same thing.

But, in short – these are great. I was told by the fellow in the shop that they are becoming hugely popular now, although I am not sure I believe that since I’ve only ever seen one person out there wearing them, and that was a while back. (It is in shoe-sellers’ interest to make these claims.) I got them because I’ve a bit of a heel […] Click to continue reading this post


newyorker_june_09The cover of the June 1st edition of the New Yorker (see right) was done by artist Jorge Columbo on an iPhone, using an application called Brushes. (Story here and here*.) This all smacks of (more) free iPhone advertising, on the surface, but there’s something impressive here.

The New Yorker’s website displays a video of the layering of paint brush strokes that he did, showing the process of constructing the art. I’m impressed. Not by the iPhone aspect of it so much as the painting technique and approach itself, especially in such a small space, and that he did it while standing there looking at the subject for the scene in question. It is fascinating to see his strokes. Have a look: […] Click to continue reading this post

The Chronophage

I’m back home in Los Angeles now, after four days in Cambridge (UK) trying to pay attention to several interesting talks and meetings while being eight hours out of sync with my sleep. It has been interesting, but it is good to be back and getting on with the business of starting the new semester. I gave my first class of the season yesterday (upper division electromagnetism), and it looks to be a good group of students. I expect we’ll have fun! Additionally, two research meetings with graduate students meant for a nicely balanced first day back.

It’s (of course) 5:18am, and so while I sit here, wide awake, I’ll tell you about something I saw earlier in the week. chronophage_corpus_clockWhile wandering around for a bit in Cambridge on Monday, I stumbled across the Corpus Clock and the Chronophage. It’d been mentioned to me about half an hour before by a friend, and I made a mental note to ask about it, but did not realize I’d stumble upon it so easily. Did you hear about it last year? I must confess that all the fuss about it totally passed me by. There’s been a lot of silly stuff said about it, including the usual sensational things about time and so forth, but at the core, the whole thing is quite marvellous. I’ve an old-fashioned streak to me, as you know by now, and so that it is essentially a traditional mechanical clock (despite the presence of LEDs to show the time – they are not controlled electronically, but are on all the time and the mechanical works moves slits to make them appear to go on and off) appeals to me immensely. The whole effect of using modern technology to […] Click to continue reading this post

iPod Resurrected

Feeling smug, and silly at the same time. Some time ago, I stopped bothering to take my ipod anywhere with me, except on long car trips, since it couldn’t really hold much of a charge on its own. In the car, I can power it from the car itself, and then it is a great asset for singing along to (if alone in car of course). On non-car trips, it was mostly just an annoyance. I’d charge it the night before a flight, and by time the plane had leveled off and it was time to order the ginger ale to go with the nuts (or little packets of gravel, depending upon the airline), it would shut down due to a dead battery. If it was a trip on which I’d have my computer with me (not always the case) I could dig out the coupling cable and run it from the computer’s power, but I did not always want to do that. So on most trips I’d just be carrying around this elegant white and silver brick with me, and then bringing it back home.

My pod is one of the third generation pods that had a defective battery. Apple had acknowledged the fault after a class action lawsuit and owners were invited to get their pod battery replaced for free, several years ago now. Of course, I never got to it […] Click to continue reading this post

More Encounters On the Road Less Travelled

Julia Russell - eco homesHey, guess who I saw today! Recall, that I passed a woman on a tricycle a while back? Well, at exactly the same spot, I passed her again today. She’s called Julia, as you may recall from her comment on the blog sometime later, (as I’d met her subsequently and said hello properly). I briefly said “hello and how are you” this time as our bike and trike passed each other, but I apologized for having to rush off, and rushed off. I was trying to catch the next bus in order to get to my classroom by 9:55am. The class’ first midterm was at 10:00 today and I wanted to make sure to be on time. So I dashed off to the stop…

…Only to be accompanied five minutes later by Julia, calmly arriving on her tricycle. She was also catching the same bus, it turned out, and I’d landed in the gap between buses and needed to wait anyway. After checking with me that this was indeed the stop she needed, she chained her splendid red machine to a tree. I contemplated taking a picture of us and the two extraordinary conveyances together to show you. However, while I dithered over this, the bus came. So I’ll cheat and re-use the old picture (right).

Anyway, we chatted quite a while about things (including the frustration of trying to […] Click to continue reading this post