Monthly Archives: March 2005

How do you decide whose life to value?

The same George Bush who claimed to value life as he tried to intervene to keep Terri Schiavo alive, executed more people when he was Governor of Texas than any other Governor in history. He did it easily, without seeming to feel a thing about it.

If memory serves, one of the women he executed, Sandra Fay Tucker, was a born again Christian who seemed to have changed her life around for the better, but Bush would not give her a second chance. However, after he got religion he gave himself a second chance by sweeping his coke-head, draft-dodging, money-enabled past under the carpet.

How can Bush say he values life, claim he is a Christian (and I’m told one of the Commandments has to do with valuing life) yet clearly not value all lives?

Cutting up the log pile, day 1

log pile

Having just been under the weather for 8 weeks with a sinus infection I’ve been putting off cutting up the logs that were just delivered but time’s a wasting and when you have a spring day like yesterday you have to make firewood while the sun shines.

log pile

I know these before and after shots don’t look like much work got done but in fact it did and I have the sore back to prove it.

However, between lack of energy from being sick and it having been my first day out doing heavy physical work this spring, I took it a bit easy and quit after two hours.

Lawn BuddhaWatching over me the entire time was our faithful “lawn” Buddha who is sitting in a patch of pachysandra. Every now and then when I do something stupid I look over at him knowing he knows that I know that he knows… and he’s giggling with his cement tummy jiggling and he just doesn’t care.

Email newsletters vs. RSS

Are email newsletters still effective? (vs. RSS) is an interesting question and there are many things to consider in answering it.

Email, even in this time of heavy spam, is the most broadly used internet technology.

RSS can (although doesn’t have to) involve a non-browser client and many folks are stuck in the paradigm of “the internet is the web” so have no clue about Sherlock, stock tickers and weather information outside of a browser, etc.

Those who have produced email newsletters and who also run web sites know well how much of a pain it is to reproduce the web content in another form (maybe print form as well). It would be so much easier and better for the reader if the web form were the only form and people were notified of updates (via RSS, of course, not email).

The comment string on this post at the WG site will be interesting to track.

(Via Airbag.)

Chipwits

Mr. ChipwitJust after the Macintosh came out there was a rumor about a programmable robot game called Chipwits that was coming out within year one. It sounded great to me and I was an early buyer of Chipwits.

Chipwits was one of those hard to describe applications: sitting on the fence between game, simulation, and programming instruction. As soon as I got it and ran it (from disk, of course) I realized that what sounded cool was going to take a bit of time to learn.

Chipwit in Greedville

Chipwits consisted of a number of “environments” or rooms with different layouts and different obstacles. The object was to program the chipwit to navigate the room, zapping bugs, eating pie, and turning when necessary before his energy level ran low.

Chipwits Brain

The programming was done, in typical Macintosh fashion, by dragging tiles around into logic arrays, then saving them and running the chipwit in a room. This was an interpreted environment so if the chipwit ran into problems a few clicks and you were back in his brain futzing with his logic.

What was great about this application was that it was hilarious while at the same time challenging and fun.

Chipwits was soon out of sync with the Macintosh world as more powerful programming languages supplanted MacForth and the program grew incompatible with newer systems. I like to think of Chipwits as my pre-HyperCard warm up with amateur programming. It was also a load of fun and as I remember it, a number of people in the Eugene Macintosh users group got deeply into it along with me. Wow, 20 years is a very long time.

Incoming call…

ACLU Pizza is a video about privacy issues, connectivity, and what can be done with information.

The upside of this much connectivity and overview is that it certainly would have prevented 9/11. The downside is evident in the video. I guess, like everything, it matters who gets their hands on this information. On the other hand, government in the wrong hands is about as bad as a take out pizza order taker.

Source: Leavenworth Jackson

Upcoming.org

Upcoming.org is a free, community (world community) social events calendar. It has RSS feeds on any city or event and you can track what’s happening close to you or in some city you plan to visit. Like Flickr and del.icio.us, Upcoming.org is all about tags, an active community of users, and heavy use. I’m gonna give it a go soon I think but I doubt anyone else in Warren, CT will know about it. Hey Martha, let me know if you want to test this with me.

Social ADD = ADT

CNet has an interesting article on one of the ironies of “the information age” Why can’t you pay attention anymore?. Hallowell has come up with yet another label: Attention Deficit Trait or ADT.

This is what I’ve been calling “cultural ADD” for years. Fast workplaces coupled with a barrage of information to every sense and an inability to process it all makes for problems. Now those problems have a label although it will be interesting to see just how fast fast-trackers back off and take care of themselves. One of the reasons we live in “the slow lane” is the sensory barrage that is city life.

(Via Justin Blanton Bits.)

Kanjira

KanjiraThe kanjira is a small (8″ x 2″) Indian tambourine with a single jingle. The one pictured here is made by The Cooperman Drum Company in Vermont.

One of the more famous kanjira players and the person who designed this one for Cooperman is Ganesh Kumar. For a great demo of this little drum, watch this video which is a piece of an upcoming instructional DVD Ganesh is making.

Spring is here

Kitty Rolling in BirdseedI was up in the office, feeling sorry for myself that I had sold my long lens (Canon 70-200 f4) to a friend and good pictures were still happening while I awaited the arrival of a new long lens (Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS) when I noticed that the cat, who is now officially 15 was outside rolling in chewed up birdseed. Our cat has not been out of the house much for a while, let alone rolling around on the ground. This is definitely a sign of spring and I sprung into action with the only long lens I have and captured it.

Heron on PondWhen it rains it pours: just as I was taking the above picture Anne yells out from the living room “heron!” and so, I run downstairs with camera now really feeling bad about not having a long lens and sneak into the living room. There he was, standing on the bare patch of grass on the other side of the pond. I lurked to the sliding door to get a better view and he saw me and crouched to spring to flight. I caught him just as he was airborn although through the door, which is coated glass (same with the cat shot above). When that dude comes back I’ll be ready with a long lens, tripod, and better vantage point. Spring is here for sure now. I have on my calendar that the wood ducks should land next week although the pond better thaw a bit more first or they’re gonna have a rough landing.

Log delivery

Log Truck1Yesterday a neighbor with whom we trade firewood for web-related work came to deliver the logs that will be next year’s firewood to burn in our woodstove. This is the first part of a process that we’ve been doing at this house for nine years now. Each year the process gets better: easier, more efficient, more fun. We are about to get about half of this load which will split down to four or five cords of finished firewood.

Log Truck2In order to get the logs where I need them: out of the way, close enough to the splitter so I don’t have to move them, and on relatively solid ground the truck had to pull in next to the garage in such a way that the claw had to swing over the newly roofed garage to get them stacked. Good thing the operator has skill (a lot of it) ’cause given that my truck was in said garage and that any single log dropped from height would have penetrated said roof and impaled truck, dropping one would have been, well, not good.

Log Truck4This load came from around here: when you’re dealing with thousands of pounds of green firewood, you don’t drive it far. A truck like this costs a lot of money to get from one place to another. Logs bound for lumber are another story as they’ll fetch more money on the receiving end so they can be driven a bit further. We ask for and get a nice mix of wood: soft and hard maple, red and white oak, shagbark hickory, ash and a few other varieties I’m not sure of yet but will find out about soon.

Log Truck5This pile grew relatively fast and part of me was loving the size increase (more wood, yeah) and part of me was dreading each big new log that got dropped (more bucking, moving, splitting, stacking). Firewood is a process and this is just the first step. Well, there was a step before this one and since we have a few trees in the far back that need to come down, we’ll show that process as soon as I’m well enough to don chaps and get outside to work. Spring is here and the outside work begins.

The Bee

The Bee

A long time ago there was this amazing multimedia development tool for the Macintosh called HyperCard. I got deeply into HyperCard in the nerdiest sense and built a lot of things with it. Most of the things I was building were reference tools for people with learning disabilities. After talking with a good friend who developed animated software using a competing product, HyperStudio, I decided it was time I tackled something animated with Hypercard. The result was a small piece of seemingly useless software called The Bee.

I built The Bee over an intensive two week period in about 1990. My wife thought I was nuts and couldn’t believe I was putting so much effort into this totally useless piece of software but as I got deeper and deeper into making it work, the rest of the world fell away and it was just me and The Bee and HyperTalk.

The Bee

The idea was this: A bee would randomly fly around in a room with a person’s face in it. If the bee landed on the person’s nose it would sting them and their eyes would roll around (like little marbles). If the bee hit any solid wall 10 times it would turn upside down and gently glide to the bottom, dead. If the bee flew through one of the four openings in each room, the little window would animate so that it looked like the room was shifting to the side to display another room with another, different person. This room movement would go on forever with the bee buzzing and bumping into walls (making a bump noise) until the bee died or the user got tired of this stupid thing and held down a key to stop it.

The Bee

To get the bee to fly randomly and keep all he rules going and hit the wall and make sound with the right timing to make it feel realistic was tough. However, I was up to the challenge and pulled numerous all-nighters getting this thing working. I scanned funny faces and put in numerous easter eggs: certain people had “wormholes” through their ears and if the bee entered one of their ears it would disappear, seemingly banging around inside their head, then emerge, either out of their other ear, or, if it was a special case, the window would shift and the bee would come out another person’s ear in another room. This, of course, delighted me and the more of it I figured out, the more I wanted to do.

The Bee

After a few close friends helped me debug The Bee it was ready to give away. However, since all of the other software my wife and I had built was being sold (successfully I might add) as $5 shareware, we thought we might as well call The Bee shareware too and see if anyone was crazy enough to buy it. $2000 later my wife wasn’t laughing at me anymore. The Bee was getting around and people actually liked it, or, liked me enough to say that they liked it.

The Bee

After a while my wife and I got very tired of filling software orders, copying and labeling disks, shrink wrapping jewel cases, printing invoices, mailing dozens of envelopes out, etc. Remember, this was pre-web and even though much of our software was up on AOL our biggest orders came in via the mail. So, eventually we stopped filling orders (sent checks back, etc.) and later, when I had a web site I put all the software we built up on it for people to download for free.

Flying Toaster Award

A few years later I heard that Berkeley Systems*, makers of the infamous After Dark Screen Saver program, first for the Mac, then for Windows, had an annual screen saver contest. On a whim, I decided to enter The Bee, thinking it might be an interesting screen saver if scaled up and colorized. It was no big deal to enter, sent them a disk and cover letter and promptly forgot about it.

Amazingly, a few months later I found out that I’d won first place in the contest and that a bunch of Mac hardware was on its way to me plus a check for $2000, plus a trophy. Well, the only thing I have left is the trophy and I must say, it’s a beauty and I feel sorry for anyone who tries to break into our house ’cause this trophy is heavy.

From time to time my wife looks at the trophy, then at me, laughs and rolls her eyes. She’s wondering when the next “bee” is gonna fly.

* The team who started and sold Berkeley Systems, Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, later started MoveOn.org.

Glen Velez

Glen Velez and DodhranLast night a small group of us drove down to New Jersey to hear Glen Velez do a concert with his wife Lori Cotler, an incredible South Indian vocal percussion (Konakkol) singer.

Glen is the most famous frame drummer on earth and has influenced world music far and wide, won a Grammy Award, and collaborated with dancers, orchestras, singers, and more. In this first picture Glen is playing an Irish frame drum called a bodhran which he plays from both sides, stroking, snapping, warping, rubbing, and more to get an enormous amount of sound and mood out of it.

Glen Velez Students Play TarOne of our drum group members, Jenn Whitney (blond girl facing the light) is now one of his students and she and other top students of his played in the beginning and the end of the concert and they were fantastic. They played smaller middle eastern frame drums called tars.

Glen Velez, Lori CotlerGlen and Lori clapped a south Indian rhythm and then she sang it in Konakkol style. Many people who have heard expert Indian tabla players have heard fast recitals of strokes prior to playing but Lori takes this ancient Indian musical tradition and pushes its boundaries in much the same way that Glen pushes the boundaries with percussion and the result is astounding. Listen to more of her here.


Glen Velez and PandeiroGlen had two plastic-bodied, clear plastic-headed pandeiros with him. Pandeiro is a Brazilian tambourine but Glen played his more like a riq, a middle eastern tambourine which he also played (see next picture). The great thing about the pandeiro having a clear head was that we could see how Glen used his left hand to warp it to change its tone. He played it warped most of the time and we only heard it’s lowest, seemingly unwarped sound occasionally.

Glen Velez Plays RiqGlen played the middle eastern riq both traditionally and in ways I’d never seen before. He has such a light touch and is so in command of his fingers, hands, arms, the instrument’s position, and his distance from he microphone that he was able to envelope the entire room in sound with just this small tambourine.

What is great about Glen’s music is that he knows the deep history and culture behind each of these instruments and that knowledge influences his playing, but it does not restrict it; he crosses all sorts of cultural boundaries and doesn’t treat instruments and their traditional capabilities rigidly but as a starting place for his own thinking, improvisation, and collaboration.

Glen Velez and SticksGlen started as a drumset drummer and his independent use of all of his limbs is evidence that he’s not just about hands. He put a maraca in his shoe and used both slap and buzz sticks and voice to create a fantastic array of overlayed sounds. This was not only a demonstration of skill but of deep musicality and as the evening went on it was obvious to me and probably most people in the room that Glen could make music with anything: the music and rhythm is completely within him and sticks and pandeiros are simply vehicles to let it out. In a very amateurish kind of way, I have a similar feeling as I play middle eastern rhythms each morning on the edge of our stainless steel kitchen sink while waiting for the coffee to drip. Give me a butcher block table or a dumbek; give Glen a nice riq or a piece of tin with plastic wrap over it, he’ll make music.

Glen Velez and MaracasWe all came away from the concert in awe of one of the great percussionists of all time and the fact that we were sitting ten feet away from him watching him play, think, make music and what experiencing that will mean for our small drum group. Jenn has already started teaching us some of his gross motor technique (stepping metronomically to make a back beat) and we hope to learn more from her and maybe, if we can arrange it from Glen if we can arrange for him to come up to Connecticut for a workshop. Stay tuned.

Explore Glen’s web site for more on his drums, CDs and technique and there is a great interview with Glen that N. Scott Robinson (another gifted frame drummer and student of Glen’s) did for Modern Drummer in 2000 up at Glen’s site: Glen Velez: A World of Sound in His Hands.

Switcher

about box for Switcher

I was a very early Mac user, having gotten my first one (an early production 128K model) from Steve Jobs and Mike Murray at the West Coast Computer Faire in late 1984. Once I had it I did what most people do who get something new, I looked for other early adopters. At the time I was living in Eugene, Oregon and the place for Apple users to hang out was The Computer Store. So, even though I’d not gotten my Mac from them I went down there and hung out.

Over the next few months as more people in Eugene started getting Macs I thought it might be a good idea to start a Macintosh users group as I’d had great luck with the PC users group I was a member of. So, I got a list of names from The Computer Store and called them all up and we came up with a time to meet at the store. The group grew and we moved from the store into a more public meeting room and in time it evolved into a full-fledged Macintosh users group.

A group of the most die hard of us (including me, of course) decided to attend the first Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Macworld and the companies that exhibited at it was a lot smaller and more personal in those days and as we were walking around the show floor we spotted various members of the original Mac team who had rock star status.

We spotted Andy Hertzfeld walking around the show floor with his worn out backpack on. I walked over, tapped him on the shoulder and said “hi Andy” and he said, “hi, are you guys serious Mac users? If so, I have something I want to show you.”

I said that we were and he walked over to the nearest booth which happened to be the MacBottom booth (early HD that sat under the Mac) and asked if he could use one of their machines. The guy in the booth hesitated but we all simultaneously told him that Andy was a member of the core Mac team and he calmed down.

Andy was talking a mile a minute while loading the contents of a single disk into the Mac. Then he was messing around with stuff we’d not seen before (setting up a switcher set) and then he said, “check this out.”

He hit the little arrow and the screen shifted from MacPaint to MacWrite and he hit it again and it came back to MacPaint.

He said “So, what do you think?”

We were speechless.

Unlike the others in my group, I had used Memory Shift on a PC and had a sense of what he was doing but still, the animation made it so much better.

After we told him we loved it he reached into his pack and gave each of us a disk with Switcher on it. It wasn’t shipping yet and he asked for our feedback.

I still have that disk and will always remember how wonderful it was to experience Andy’s generosity and enthusiasm for something he enjoyed making and sharing.

For more background on Switcher and Andy, see Switcher at Folklore.org.