Saturday, February 27, 2010

Somebody Hook Google Earth up to that thing!

Relief: Physical 3D Interactive Maps: A Step Towards the X-Men GI

Relief is an actuated tabletop display, which is able to render and animate three-dimensional shapes with a malleable surface. It allows users to experience and form digital models like geographical terrain in an intuitive manner.

The tabletop surface is actuated by an array of 120 motorized pins, which are controlled with a platform built upon open-source hardware and software tools. Each pin can be addressed individually and senses user input like pulling and pushing as the clip below illustrates:

TEI 2010 / Relief: a responsive 3D surface from benny on Vimeo.

The system is termed a "scalable actuated shape display", created by Daniel Leithinger, Adam Kumpf, and Hiroshi Ishii of MIT's Tangible Media Group. In the chat about this around the office it was suggested was that it reminds us of the maps used in the X-Men films, now that would be a neat way to display data.

Picked up via Make.

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The Spectatorium, 1893

I'm putting "Chicago, 1893" on the list of preferred time-travel destinations.

via InfraNet Lab by mwhite on 2/10/10

[Steele MacKaye's Spectatorium was intended to re-create the landing of Christopher Columbus, complete with mini-ocean, waves, and an island.]

With seating for 10,000, an eight foot deep concrete tank under the entire stage complete with wave machine and wind machines, railroad ties to aid in the shifting of three dimensional scenery behind a “light curtain,” the Spectatorium was envisioned for the 1893 Chicago Exposition. Conceived by the engineer and dramatist Steele MacKaye (father of Benton MacKaye), the Spectatorium was intended as a “mechanical duplication of nature.” In fact the spectacle was intended to be so immersive that the play was written intentionally to contain no speaking parts.

[The Spectatorium, a twenty-five stage theatre designed to mount Steele Mackaye's play about Christopher Columbus for the Chicago Exposition of 1893, unbuilt.]
[A section through The Spectatorium, a twenty-five stage theatre designed to mount Steele Mackaye's play about Christopher Columbus for the Chicago Exposition of 1893, unbuilt.]

Recommended reading: Pictorial Illusionism: The Theatre of Steele MacKaye by J.A. Sokalski.

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The thrill of curling

We've actually seen quite a bit of curling coverage on BBC Sport this year - British men and women both made it pretty far into the tournaments, and we just watched the women's gold medal game between Canada & Sweden (see below). It is sort of dreadfully slow at times, but it has grown on me and I can see the strategy and skill involved. My friend Andy recently described curling as "the nail-biting action of bowling with the glamour of sweeping your entryway." In a way he's still right, but I think curling is going to take its place among Winter Olympics sports I am willing to watch (and not just because of the moment captured below).

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Curmudgeonly essay on "Why the Internet Will Fail" from 1995

Curmudgeonly essay on "Why the Internet Will Fail" from 1995 via Judd, Tommi, and Boing-Boing.


via Boing Boing by Maggie Koerth-Baker on 2/26/10

In 1995, astronomer, amateur hacker tracker and Klein-bottle maker Clifford Stoll wrote an essay (and a book, too, but I haven't read that) explaining why this Internet thing will never work. His main argument seems to be, "Hardware and software will all top out in the mid-90s and, thus, the Internet will never ever get any more user friendly or portable. Also, it is different and scary." Hilarity ensues.

The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works ...

What the Internet hucksters won't tell you is that the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data. You don't know what to ignore and what's worth reading. Logged onto the World Wide Web, I hunt for the date of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up, and it takes 15 minutes to unravel them—one's a biography written by an eighth grader, the second is a computer game that doesn't work and the third is an image of a London monument. None answers my question, and my search is periodically interrupted by messages like, "Too many connections, try again later." ....

Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet-which there isn't-the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

Why the Internet Will Fail, essay reprinted from Newsweek

Via Unlikely Words

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Monday, February 22, 2010

How to Make Goat Cheese

Oh wow this looks good. I will be trying this soon-ish. Has anyone out there made their own cheese before? How did it work out?

via Serious Eats by Erin Zimmer on 2/17/10

From Recipes

"It's almost as easy as making a pot of tea. Except you also need cheesecloth."



[Photographs: Erin Zimmer]

This super-easy recipe for goat cheese seemed too good to be true. No backyard goats required? No rennet? (The animal enzymes usually required for cheese production.) No help from an older, wiser dairy farmer?

Nope. It's almost as easy as making a pot of tea. Except you also need cheesecloth and one other maybe-you-don't-have-this-lying-around-thing: a candy thermometer. But that's really it. In less than two hours, you'll have a little pouch of soft, fresh goat cheese.

Goat Cheese

Adapted from Kiss My Spatula


1 quart pasteurized goat's milk (avoid ultra-pasteurized)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 clove freshly grated garlic
A few pinches coarse salt

Herbs (up to you) but recommended: Rosemary, chives, parsley, herbs de Provence, fennel fronds, dill, and other non-herbs like dried apricots.



1. Fill a medium saucepan with goat's milk. Heat gradually until it reaches 180°F. Watch closely. You can run in and out of the kitchen, but don't get too distracted. It shouldn't take more than about 15 minutes.


2. Once it hits the magical temperature, remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let stand until milk starts to curdle**, about 20 seconds.

**Don't expect curdles, like cottage cheese curdles. As you can see in this photo, slight clumping will occur, but nothing too drastic. Don't go pouring in a bucket of lemon juice, thinking nothing has happened. But you can add a few extra droplets if nothing is actually happening. Also: blood orange isn't as effective as lemon in creating the right curd texture, just sayin'.


3. Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth—really, several. Otherwise you'll lose precious goat cheese through the soggy cloth. Place over a large bowl to catch the whey drips.


4. Ladle milk into colander. Pull up and tie the four corners of the cheesecloth together and hang on the handle of a wooden spoon. (This was my favorite part, second to eating it of course.) Set over a very deep bowl.


5. Allow whey to drain (drip, drip, drip) until a soft, ricotta-like consistency is reached inside the cloth, about 1 to 1.5 hours.


6. Transfer to a bowl and fold in salt, garlic, and flavors of your choice. Serve on fresh bread, salads, with fruit, or just straight-up. Can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, but after a few days, the consistency isn't as lusciously smooth and spreadable.


7. Eat it on everything.

8. Repeat. Make as much as possible.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Civ 5. Oh Yes.

You had me at hex-maps. I may as well plan a week off from work when I get this.

via Joystiq by Ludwig Kietzmann on 2/18/10
In its latest, unyielding attempt to subvert societal productivity, 2K Games has announced Sid Meier's Civilization V, the latest entry in the venerable strategy series. Set to debut on PC this Fall, Civilization V brings "an astonishing new engine" to the polite, turn-based proceedings and promises to excel the franchise with "the introduction of hexagon tiles allowing for deeper strategy, more realistic gameplay and stunning organic landscapes for players to explore as they expand their empire." Most hexcellent news indeed.

"Each new version of Civilization presents exciting challenges for our team," said Sid Meier of Sid Meier's Civilization fame. '"Thankfully, ideas on how to bring new and fun experiences to Civ players never seem to stop flowing. From fully animated leaders and realistic landscapes, new combat tactics, expanded diplomacy and shared mods, we're excited for players to see the new vision our team at Firaxis has brought to the series."

And expect to share your vision with others, as 2K notes that Civilization V will feature an "extensive suite" of community, modding and multiplayer components. It just wouldn't be an accurate model of civilization if you couldn't diplomatically destroy your online friends.

JoystiqSid Meier's Civilization V coming to PC this fall originally appeared on Joystiq on Thu, 18 Feb 2010 11:40:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Daniel is talented

My friend Dan is exceedingly talented. Here are his most recent costume creations (ostensibly for last halloween).

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Secret Entrance

They'll never look for it between the chippy and the money shop, Robin!

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London Weekend: Books Purchased.

Top 2 books I purchased for myself this weekend:

1) Renaissance Secrets: Recipes and Formulas (description & review)

Bought at the bookshop of the V&A. So far I've learned the secrets of Venetian crystal, Medici porcelain, Raphael's favorite glue, and more. If I ever get sent back in time to the 1500s, I will be a very wealthy man.

Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant-Lore and Healing, by Stephen Pollington. Purchased at the bookshop of the British Museum.

Although this does deal with early (pre-Norman Conquest) medicinal traditions in England, the title doesn't refer to leeches in the familiar, annelid, sense. Apparently the term in Old English refers to medicinal practitioners themselves. Thus, it is a book about herbs and remedies (including 3 early translated texts on the subjects). Mostly I just love reference books.

Top two books I purchased for my daughter:

50 Dresses that Changed the World - at the V&A, she was absolutely fascinated with the fashion exhibits, so I picked this up for her at the bookshop. Since then she's read about Princess Diana's wedding dress, Queen Elizabeth IIs coronation dress, and more. She loves it.

Then, when she wanted to be with me in the British Museum bookshop, this caught her eye and she begged me to buy it for her.

Iznik Pottery, by John Carswell.

What's a caring father to do when his six-year-old daughter suddenly takes an avid interest in ancient Turkish pottery? She spent a good part of the train ride home either reading captions or asking me to read bits of it to her. I have a feeling I'm going to know a lot about Iznik pottery before long.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Persian Expedition

The Persian Expedition The Persian Expedition by Xenophon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Gripping, fascinating story of highly disciplined Greek hoplites stranded in hostile territory far from home who must regroup and force their way through Kurdish territory. After the famous 'The Sea! the Sea!' moment, however, the book was considerably less interesting - the army begins to fracture and strain under lack of supplies and lack of real leadership (author Xenophon notwithstanding). It was a quick read, and a very enlightening one for me.

It also strikes a little bit of a chord with me - I occasionally reflect on the kind of education that educated men (and women, but lets face facts: mostly men) would've been subject to a hundred or so years ago. I wistfully imagine what kind of person I might be with years and years of studying Latin and Greek in the original might have made me into. I probably would have hated it. But read something written by an educated person from the 1800s or early 1900s and every bit of prose reads like a kind of forgotten poetry. The last century brought so very much technological advance, but at the end of it all I wonder whether we understand what it is to be human as well as somebody who had to read volumes upon volumes representing hundreds of years of human thought.

I read recently that many universities are dropping Philosophy and Classics programs because of low enrollment because our generation in particular understands that education is only a means to employment, and Classics is no path to riches unless followed by Law. That makes me a bit sad - it's totally understandable of course, but a little piece of me wants everyone to be exposed to enough (eloquently written) Thought and Culture that they have a decent chance of improving the society we live in with their own Thoughts. Basically I'm just a crotchety old man that hates turning on the TV only to see another reality show pandering to the lowest common denominator and lowering the denominator even further in the process. RRrrgh.

Oh, right. Book review. Yes: good book. Good enough that I'm picking up Herodotus' _The Histories_ next. It will probably only make me more wistful and crotchety.

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Your Jazzy 80s Action Theme of the Day

I now give you permission to rock out to the theme from Delta Force. Its a bit quiet so you may need to turn your volume all the way up first. Syth whip-crack will rock your world.

Delta Force by Alan Silvestri  
Download now or listen on posterous
07 Delta Force.mp3 (4034 KB)

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The 7 Somewhat United States of Facebook

stolen from a friend's shared items.

via GigaOM by Mathew Ingram on 2/8/10

Peter Warden, a former Apple engineer, likes to analyze data — so much so that he started scraping public profiles and photos from hundreds of millions of Facebook accounts about a year ago, and now has data collected from more than 200 million around the world. He wrote a fascinating post recently on his personal blog about what that data shows about how interconnected (or disconnected) users in the various American states are. The graph below is reprinted from that post, with Warden’s permission:

In a nutshell, Warden’s data analysis showed that Facebook users in the U.S. can be roughly segmented into seven regions, which he named facetiously:

  • Stayathomia: This belt’s defining feature is how near most people are to their friends, implying they don’t move far.
  • Dixie: Like Stayathomia, Dixie towns tend to have links mostly to other nearby cities rather than spanning the country.
  • Greater Texas: Unlike Stayathomia, there’s a definite central city to this cluster, otherwise most towns just connect to their immediate neighbors.
  • Mormonia: The only region that’s completely surrounded by another cluster, Mormonia mostly consists of Utah towns that are highly connected to each other, with an offshoot in Eastern Idaho.
  • Nomadic West: The defining feature of this area is how likely even small towns are to be strongly connected to distant cities; it looks like the inhabitants have done a lot of moving around the county.
  • Socalistan: LA is definitely the center of gravity for this cluster. Almost everywhere in California and Nevada has links to both LA and SF, but LA is usually first.
  • Pacifica: Tightly connected to each other, it doesn’t look like Washingtonians are big travelers compared to the rest of the West, even though a lot of them claim to need a vacation.

Of course, Warden’s data — which he collected in the course of analyzing Facebook profiles and fan pages worldwide for various corporate customers — only reflects what users of Facebook choose to reveal about themselves, and many don’t include all their friends or other information in their public profiles. As large as it is, Facebook also still represents only a small slice of the American population, and likely a fairly homogeneous slice at that, although the social network is becoming more cosmopolitan, according to the most recent demographic survey of Facebook users. Marshall Kirkpatrick has more detail on what Warden is up to in this post.

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