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

I’ve Got Next

Ok. So I want to make this post timely, but it means that it will begin to let a cat out of the bag. We’ll see how much I can save for a later post as I write1.

So, as I walked to the subway this morning (yes, they have one in LA), I went through my little checklist of things I take on self-assigned assignments of this sort.

Notebook for scribbling: Check
Pen for scribbling: Check
Camera: Check
Phone (now with decent back-up camera): Check
Spare battery for camera: Check
Decent excuse/reason for being spectacularly late: Check
Water: Check
Good footwear for endless walking back and forth: Check

By now you get it. I’m either doing one of my parade reports, or perhaps a street fair/party, museum exhibit, or some random science fair, object or installation or other. Yes, but which? Well, apparently I was going to the future:

nextfest visit photo

The scene: The Los Angeles Convention Center. The event: The NextFest, brought to […] Click to continue reading this post

Reluctant Retirement

Well, the time came last week. After several years of service, and a valiant attempt to stay in service even with illness and infirmity, there was nothing to do but go for retirement, and let a replacement take over.

Wait – No, not me! I’m talking about my trusty Sony Ericsson T616, of course. A bit of gadget babble follows. You’ve been warned: It is a wonderful phone, and of course, being the conservative (read: boring old) person that I am, I pretty much wanted the same phone again. Of course, progress (as they ironically call it) meant that it can no longer be found in any store, so I tried to find whatever phone Sony Ericsson had made to replace it. (Side note: I’m waiting a few years for the iphone to get to a sensible price and go through an update or two before I go in that direction.) They’ve made some good-looking ones with excellent specs – proper grown-up looking phones with grown up capabilities. Not hip toys for the (post post) MTV generation, you understand. They’re fine (and often full of great features too, I know), but just not me.

retiring the T616 phoneDoes my phone company (AT&T) do them? Strangely, not any more, and hardly any others, as far as I could see. Meanwhile, you can get them in Europe all over the place (what with their being so far ahead on these things, as usual), which is really no use to me here. So this put me into a bit of a haze for a few days since I really don’t want to go the way of the cutesy flip phone – like one of those RAZR, KRZR, etc., models that everybody -and I mean everybody- seems to be getting. I’m not a huge fan of flip phones in general (I went through that phase a while ago) and furthermore a lot of […] Click to continue reading this post

iPhone Madness

As you might have guessed, I could not resist having a look at the line at the Grove shopping mall/village/whatever. Here’s an overhead shot of a cluster near the Apple Store’s entrance just after the launch at 6:00pm:

iphone madness

(Click for larger.)

line for iphoneWhat you can’t hear is people cheering as people either enter or emerge from the store (I’m not sure which). It’s not everyday you see this many people (in a very long line indeed – see one of four segments at right) waiting to shell out so much money for something that they all know will be very obsolete a year from now. They just want to be part of what is (seriously for a moment now) a true […] Click to continue reading this post

iLike iPhone

My lovely Sony-Ericsson T616 is just marvellous. I can use it all over the planet (more or less), it talks to all my other devices using Bluetooth so that I can sync calender and other data seamlessly. But it is old and falling apart. My ipod is a bit frustrating because I got one of the bad battery batch from long ago, and never got around to getting the replacement battery from the class-action suit. So it runs out of charge really fast.

But I’m not one for rushing to the new gadget until something really moves me, and so I’ve managed this situation quite well for some time now. Well, this could be the device I’ve been waiting for – Just announced by Apple at the CES in Las Vegas MacWorld in San Francisco: […] Click to continue reading this post

The New Plastic Revolution

The writing’s on the wall. Well, it really will be, and in several other places. The revolution’s very nearly here, you see. We’re on the cusp of it. It’s been talked about before, but it’s really here. Within a year or few we’ll be carrying around completely new devices based on this technology, and there’ll be all sorts of things in the household and office. You may have heard the buzz, but if not, I’ll say it here too. It’s all about microscopic electronic circuitry based on polymers that conduct electricity. The novelty here is the plastic nature of the resulting circuitry and devices that you can build, where I am using the word “plastic” in its descriptive sense – it is flexible and can take lots of shapes quite readily.

There’s a revolution on the cusp, not because this is hugely new (it is not, and the […] Click to continue reading this post

Field Testing

Well, ok, it is working well out in the field. (See here for what I’m talking about.)

Keys started out a little sticky, but are loosening up with use. Good. Ok, here’s a secret: I admit to feeling a little (just a little) smug among the group of people sitting here, ‘cos you see they’re all the same – all five of them, in one tiny cafe – with their normally individual and cool-looking macbooks (it’s one of those ‘hoods), now looking unneccessarily big, heavy and clunky in comparison.

Ok, I’ll stop being annoying. It was just a smug moment, and now it has passed. Here’s the setup in the field: […] Click to continue reading this post

Sunday at the Shops

Lots of shopping today. Among the places I went to was Fry’s Electronics. The particular one I went to is always fun since it has an aliens theme. They don’t do the theme in a subtle way…. it is all over the shop…. it starts with the big alien spaceship that has crashed into the front:

fry's electronics

…and all through the shop there are little aliens in the rafters, and on the ground you have members of the military shooting up at them….it is the middle of a big battle you see (the military jeep has been cut in half by a ray gun of some sort – was not able to get pictures without risking my place in the 45 minute-long (!) checkout line….).

I go to Fry’s Electonics for actual electronic components. It is in fact quite good for that […]
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