September 2006

12 Sep 2006 [link to here]
burned man

I've put up a few photos from Burning Man. Most of them are of our project: You Are Here, which was a bit of cartographic concept humor.

We constructed a large wooden "You Are Here" arrow in our camp. (And by "we", I mean one awesome person.) Then we (actually plural this time) posted around 60 city maps all over town, each with a red "You Are Here" arrow indicating not the location of the map and its viewer, as most maps would, but the location of You Are Here (the camp) and of the real-life You Are Here arrow.

We only posted maps on street signs, so people only had to look up to see where they really were, but I'm sure we confused a lot of people anyway. Many of the maps were hacked during the week. The red arrow sticker had been peeled off and moved to its more typical position, indicating the location of the map itself.

A few people got the joke and turned up at our camp to visit the arrow, which was nice. Lots of people who wandered by took pictures of themselves with it, sometimes sitting in it (the arrow was also a chair), and it was fun to have our camp be a local landmark used for navigation.

13 Sep 2006 [link to here]
copyright traps

The other day I was trying to think of the word for an error deliberately inserted into a map to help the publisher determine and prove whether another map is a copy of theirs.

As far as I can tell, there is no such word. There's just a generic and bland term, "copyright trap". This saddens me. I thought cartographers, encyclopeds, and dictionaristos were creative and expressive enough to coin a better phrase.

For interesting reading on this topic, see Wordspy, The New Yorker, The Map Room, and Wikipedia

18 Sep 2006 [link to here]
nasty habits

I'm sitting in a coffee shop. There's free wireless, people are lounging on the couch, and the employees are free to express their personalities through conversation and music selection. Right now they're playing Oingo Boingo. I don't understand why anyone goes to Starbucks.

20 Sep 2006 [link to here]

Today I came across the word "rubric" used in a way that didn't seem right. I consulted a dictionary, and in addition to its more common sense, it can also mean "an explanation or definition of an obscure word in a text", which I thought would be fun to mention.

21 Sep 2006 [link to here]
weighty musings

It occurred to me that it might be fun to have a replica of a reference kilogram sitting on my desk (because I'm a total geek). A shiny cylinder 39mm tall and wide, weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 1kg. I don't need it to be precise, so it need not be expensive, right?

Unfortunately, there were good reasons to make the real ones really dense (to reduce surface area, which would contribute to degradation, and buoyancy, which contributes to measurement errors) so they're made of 90% platinum and 10% iridium, which are incredibly dense (only osmium is denser), but also incredibly expensive. 900g of platinum and 100g of iridium would cost about $34000. That's a pricey paperweight.

Other obvious choices for a cheap knock-off are lead or silver, but since they're so light and fluffy, the cylinder would need to be about 25% taller and wider (48mm for lead, 49mm for silver). But lead is toxic and silver is $350/kg. Ah, well. I don't have any papers to weigh down anyway.

22 Sep 2006 [link to here]
forces of nature

Most cats will madly chase a dot of light from a laser pointer. Tearing around a room, running in circles, jumping up walls, it almost seems like the cat is attracted to the light by a powerful force. Well, it turns out rabbits are the opposite polarity.

25 Sep 2006 [link to here]
a week in the desert

My friends Jonathan and Soyan have been traveling all over the world for months, posting fantastic pictures and stories. So when do I finally think to mention them here? When they happen to go where I am. That's right, it's all about me. I've long since given up any hope of explaining Burning Man, but Jonathan expressed his impression and I thought I'd share it. And I love this bit:

To say it is annual festival in the desert of Northern Nevada is to say that that sex is the human behavior we evolved to encourage procreation. It is succinct and accurate, but it doesn't give you a very good idea of what to expect.

The one thing I want to add is that nearly all the amazing things he mentions are not provided by Burning Man Enterprises, Inc., but are created by you and the other people who turn up. This part of the process is more important to me than the result. I'm not a fan of passive consumption as a lifestyle, so an event that involves stepping up and creating something appeals to me for its values and its contrast. But in this case, it does result in quite a spectacle, and I enjoy that too.

Their stories of South America and Africa are even more interesting, and now they're off to Asia!

26 Sep 2006 [link to here]
listening post post

There are a bunch of exhibits at the San Jose Museum of Art that are somewhat interesting, but there's one in particular that's worth hauling yourself over there to see. I sat and watched the Listening Post, by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin, for about 45 minutes. It's been winning awards for a few years, but I hadn't heard of it before because I live under a rock.

It's just a bunch of text, displayed and read by a computer, much like a painting is just a bunch of dried up oil and pigment on a canvas. Two things make it captivating: the source of the text and the fantastic presentation. The text is scraped out of online chat rooms. It's not what a couple artists came up with as filler, it's what real people are saying to each other. And I saw some references to current events, so they didn't just package up some data and ship the exhibit. It must be actively overhearing conversations even while it's in the museum.

As for presentation, you'll just have to see it for yourself. Text snippets are chosen automatically, using rules, to fit the theme and aesthetics of one of several scenes, each of which has its own dynamics and washes over you in its own way. I could explain some of the details, but I would fail to convey the overall effect. It's not just a neat concept, but it's well executed and well worth seeing.