September 29, 2005
Bernal Heights Park in San Francisco caught on fire tonight, up at the top of the hill, two blocks above my apartment. We worriedly watched it spread, as winds blew it steadily to the east. Fire crews arrived on the scene and went to work on the blaze with both the hose and the pick axe. At one point, a firefighter perched on a steep part of the hill slipped, falling towards the fire while his hose sprayed around out of control. Fortunately, he caught himself, tackled his wayward hose and went back to work. Overall, they made quick work of putting it out, saving the rest of the park (as well as our homes).
March 30, 2005
haptic nostalgia induced rambling
i pulled out my old laptop today to search for some software i wrote long ago. it was a surprisingly jarring experience - like revisting the touch and feel of an ex-lover, incessant daily interaction now nearly forgotten. that is not to say that i harbored romantic notions for my thinkpad (quite the opposite), but sensing that haptic habituation anew threw my motor cortex for a loop. imagine being back in the driver's seat of your high school car... the feel of its transmission, the knowing vibrations of the engine, that specific curve of acceleration. so familiar, yet so distant... and with so many memories attached.
here touch served as a trigger, can it be further "elevated" to a semiotic sign? what aspects would be pre- or post-linguistic? for example, in visualization we often map abstract visual attributes (location, shapes, sizes, colors) to linguistic/symbolic structures---hence the familiar numerical axes and legends of data graphics. the power comes in our ability to perform analysis using the visual features pre-linguistically: by "effortlessly" perceiving contrasting shapes, sizes, colors to "understand" differences. some largely subconscious semantic coupling then allows us to articulate what these percevied differences mean back in the linguistic realm, the land of signs and symbols. intense visual analysis involves the dialogue between these modes, thinking with and about images.
through both crafting visualizations and reading about craft, i've been wondering how far the concept of "direct manipulation" can go... at what point of perceptual richness do representations "become" objects themselves? and as a result of human perceptual malleability--as opposed to technological sophistication--are we already there? were we there as early as sketchpad? even if so, how do richer experiences change the game? what affordances should an object maintain such that you can purposefully break this perception and inspect its virtuality (e.g., the "view source" link in your web browser). and of course there's the requisite and dangerous challenge: what do we obscure in our attempt to enlighten?
maybe i should wait until post phd work, but i would love to play with these ideas in more senses than just the visual (+mouse/keyboard)... from visualization to perceptualization (anyone want to get me a smell-o-scope?). especially as i become more interested in social visualization, incorporating texture, temperature, and touch, and therefore also crafting abstract proxemics, might prove quite appropriate (e.g., non-textual testimonials in social netwoking sites - imagine warm or cool, soft or rough friendsters). who knows, the internet archive may some day enable you to wallow in nostalgia when you reunite with the forgotten feel of a web site you once loved.
August 19, 2004
krugman on 'neoliberalism'
At the invite of one my sociology friends, I went over to the American Sociological Association (ASA) conference in downtown SF to see their closing plenary. The speakers were Paul Krugman, Princeton Economics professor and New York Times columnist, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, sociology professor and former two-term president of Brazil. The topic of the day was "The Future of Neoliberalism," in reference to the plans for the economic development of third-world nations that began in the mid-70's and today is embodied by agencies suchs as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is certainly out of my own area of expertise, so it was a great learning experience in addition to a wonderful opportunity to hear from two highly qualified high profile speakers.
My notes from the talks, which concerned economic policy, social development, and sustainability, are in the extended entry.
President Cardoso, the first speaker, was imminitely likable, a very charismatic man who would switch between an infectious demagoguery (of his own admission) and a more rambling reading of academic material. Cardoso's notes concerned not the future of neoliberalism (he claimed it has no future), but supposedly it's past. In fact, we got a retelling of the economic policies and endeavors of Brazil, which Cardoso claims was not guided by neoliberal doctrine. His most important message was his belief in open and democratic processes as the key to future success. Though I enjoyed much of his talk, he did tend to draw things out, often spiraling into anecdote and digression, which combined with the accent at times made things hard to follow. How does "brevity is the soul of wit" translate into Portuguese?
Still, this whole time I didn't quite understand what the tenets of this so-called "neoliberalism" was. I'm still shell-shocked by neoconservatism. So I was very appreciative when Paul Krugman began his talk by deconstructing neoliberal doctrine into what he saw as four independent, but often conflated, strains. Prof. Krugman identified which of these strains he personally supports and those with which he has qualms.
The first strain, and the one which Krugman endorsed, is free trade, or reduced or non-existent tariffs between nations. In 1975, Krugman said, development economics looked bleak - the club of developed, advanced nations appeared closed. Then the "Gang of Four" - South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore made rapid gains in economic output and standard of living through an export led growth. Krugman claims these nations as success stories for free trade. However, he was careful to point out that he believes additional, as of yet undetermined factors, in combination with free trade, made this growth possible. He offered the impressive educational level of these nations, despite their previously economically depressed state, as one candidate factor.
The other strains of neoliberalism Krugman viewed with many qualms. One strain, the rejection of Keynesian economics, or the dilution of the role of the government in the economy, he targeted as disastrous. He cited the Argentine financial crisis, caused by the Argentine peso being tied to the U.S. dollar disallowing the necessary flexibility of the government to inflate or deflate their currency. Another strain, financial liberation, or the free movement of captial, Krugman derided as not being well grounded in theory. While the final strain, privatization (for example, the running of public utilities by private companies, as tried in Bolivia and now being carried out in some U.S. cities, including my adopted hometown of Stockton, CA), Krugman claimed was being practiced ahead of our knowledge of its effects and in contradiction to economic knowledge that we do have. (btw, see the documentary Thirst for more about utility privatization). In particular, market power is real and its effects here can severely impact people's basic conditions of life, and furthermore monopolies are real and dangerous (and not just invented by leftists, he joked).
So in the end, Krugman stated that we have reasons to be chastened about neoliberalism. The "Asian tigers" provide examples of success, but many failures abound. No "Latin jaguars" have yet arisen to the levels of their Asian counterparts, and inequalities abound. So what to do? We hold less confidence that we have the answers - acknowledge our uncertainty. However, in no way should we roll back completely, the recent past is more dismal than the present. But we must also recognize that economic growth and improved social indicators do not go hand in hand, and must be jointly promoted.
The question section afterwards brought up the topic of environmental concerns. Clearly more economies that followed the U.S. model will simply not scale ecologically, the Earth's limited resources would be exhuasted. Krugman hopes/believes that economic forces will come to buoy environmental issues - costs associated with the environment will become more dominant and thus play a larger role in economic planning. Krugman envisioned regulatory solutions such as corporations bidding for pollution licenses from the government.
Finally, I'll end this somewhat incoherent retelling with the joke Krugman opened his talk with, credited to his former professor. When it comes to the transmigration of souls, a good economist is reincarnated as a physicist. A bad economist, however, returns as a sociologist. Way to play your audience.
July 27, 2004
hunting and politics
At first I was a little worried, as some over-zealous visual montages and ominous soundtracks made me wonder what the next 90 minutes held in store for me. Fortunately the film settled down (or perhaps I acclimated to it?) and then stepped through some interesting perspectives on the right's efforts to bring down the Clintons. While most of us know that way too much money and time was wasted on an unmaterialized financial scandal, in the end disrupting our democracy to parade some extra-marital fellatio, I for one was not familiar with all the strange peripheral characters involved in the tale. Accuse me of being a west coast elitist, but Arkansas has some pretty crazy cats. My favorite in the film is Larry Case, a detective (of sorts), who, backed by right-wing patrons, travels around recording various conversations trying to dig up (mostly sexual) dirt on President Clinton. And for some reason he eerily reminds me of Larry Flynt. I also learned that Ann Coulter is an elf -- who knew?
I guess I never quite understood the extreme, and in many cases irrational, hatred of the Clintons. And though I suppose many on the right may feel the same way about today's anti-Bush sentiment, I feel that (Fahrenheit 9/11 notwithstanding) today's rancor is rooted much more in policy than personality. I wasn't much of a Clinton fan during my youth, but the past four years have created a nostalgia in me that I would not have thought possible.
So go grab some 90's nostalgia while you can. Outfoxed will be playing here in a week, so then we can all revel in the glorious present.
July 23, 2004
Since moving to SF, I haven't yet procured a parking permit, so I've been parking my car away from my neighborhood, where I can find permit-free parking. This has the benefit of letting me leave my car somewhere for a week without having to move it, and leaves my car far enough away such that is helps me reduce the amount of driving I do. It also gives me the chance to take some nice walks and/or jogs up and down the hills of San Francisco. After moving my car today, I was walking down upper market, thinking about the qualitative research methods class I took last semester, so thought I'd try a simple experiment.
For everyone I saw as I walked down the sidewalk, either other folks walking or people in nearby stores, I would try to make eye contact just to see how people would respond. I tried to keep my face very neutral, with a slight smile, so as to be basically friendly but not overly inviting. I then just tried to keep a tally of reaction types as I walked (a total of about 7 city blocks).
The vast majority of folks struck me as "commuters": other people walking on the sidewalk apparently trying to get somewhere. About 80% of them were not looking around, and did not even notice my sweeping gaze, let alone react to it. A few couples also passed by, with their attention locked solely on each other. About another 15% or so of walkers would see my eyes and immediately look away. The remaining folks would meet my gaze, let the connection linger for a moment, and then hit a natural break. For the most part such exchanges matched the friendly/neutral disposition I was trying to project - it felt to me primarily as a mutual acknowledgement of each other's presence.
The only real uncomfortable reaction was from a rather large man walking with an attractive woman, both of whom looked to be in their mid to late twenties. I looked to the lady first (possibly my mistake), but she was looking off elsewhere. I then looked at the man, and soon found his gaze baring directly down on mine. I couldn't read the reaction - it wasn't overtly hostile but it was anything but friendly. Was it a defensive instinct due to the woman, old-fashioned machismo, or just discomfort from some stranger looking you right in the eye?
Also interesting were the folks sitting or standing along the street. Unlike the commuters, they weren't going somewhere, they already were somewhere. While some where engaged in an activity such as having a conversation or reading a newspaper, others were just watching the street. Most of these folks would find my eye contact and immediately look away, but then I would catch them looking back, again breaking away once they saw my gaze was still there. I interpreted this in most cases as a desire to watch without being accountable for it. That is, to watch with impunity. That's fine by me. It's why I love sunglasses.
July 09, 2004
i am a golden god
You are a WRCL--Wacky Rational Constructive Leader. This makes you a golden god. People gravitate to you, and you make them feel good. You are smart, charismatic, and interesting. You may be too sensitive to others reactions, especially criticism. Your self-opinion and mood depends greatly on those around you.
You think fast and have a smart mouth, is a hoot to your friends and razorwire to your enemies. You hold a grudge like a brass ring. You crackle.
Although you have a leader's personality, you often choose not to lead, as leaders stray too far from their audience. You probably weren't very popular in high school--the joke's on them!
You may be a rock star.
Golden god, huh? Well, I am wearing a yellow t-shirt today.
June 24, 2004
I finally got off my lazy ass and posted my euro-pics. Unfortunately the script I used to generate the albums didn't do any thumbnailing, so it isn't exactly the most bandwidth friendly of photo-albums. Hopefully I'll do something about that soon...
The pictures live at jheer.org/photos/Euro2004.
Here was the actual itinerary:
If nothing else, check out the town of Dozza in Emilia-Romagna. This small, scenic city on a hill is a living art gallery and hosts a wonderful wine cellar that treated us quite well.
May 31, 2004
guess who's back...
Just got back from Europe this weekend, from which I was immediately plunged into additional festivities with visiting friends from out of town, culminating in the Primus concert at the Greek Theatre last night (which rocked by the way... for the second set Primus played their first album "Frizzle Fry" in its entirety. I was having flashbacks to my freshman year of high school).
Anyhow, I'm now rebooting my American life, looking forward to enjoying the summer, and ignoring the fact that most of the faculty in my research group have now all jumped ship. Though my euro-blogging was largely non-existant, I did keep a pretty thorough journal of the events of my trip, as well as all the digital photos I could fit on my memory cards. I hope to get an online version of my travel journal up within the next few weeks.
Although I honestly never felt the desire to leave Europe and come home (and I will find a way to return to Berlin, damn it), it's nice to be back regardless. I have a lot of catching up to do, so I'd love to go grab some drinks with all you co-conspirators out there... I even have a story or two to tell :)
April 30, 2004
Just a note to let all interested parties out there know that I am doing fine and loving life out here in Europa. My talks at CHI2004 went really well and catching up and going out with the other conference goers was a blast. Vienna is an amazing city, like the best of Germany and the best of Paris wrapped into one (and with a little Italian influence mixed in as well). And I have yet to tire of beer and sausages.
Tomorrow we're heading out to Prague, which is also joining the EU tomorrow. Should make for some good times, though my German is almost passing while my Czech is non-existant. Hopefully I will blog later with some more substance, but in the meantime check out Amanda's blog (metamanda.com/blog) for additional Europe info...
April 18, 2004
the Pixies are playing in my backyard (UC Berkeley's Greek Theatre) in late September. Tickets went on sale today. And I got six. I just checked, and as of now (12:19pm), tickets are still available, so get them while you can. I am definitely into throwing a pixies pre- and/or post-party out here in Berkeley, so let me know if you're going to be around. Unfortunately, I don't know yet where that party will be held, as our current landlords are selling our house :(. but who cares? I get to see the pixies!
April 13, 2004
r.i.p., my bike
This is my 200th blog entry, but rather than wax philosophical on the nature of blogging or any other such things, I'm posting in memoriam of my bicycle -- a silver, black, and red Specialized Hard Rock. It wasn't much of a bike... I got it for cheap when I moved to Palo Alto almost 3 years ago, and it's model was already 2 years old at the time. Still, it served me well, never broke down, and had been my primary mode of transportation for navigating the Berkeley Hills and exploring the regional parks near my home.
But last morning I walked out to my car to discover the car's contents in disarray... cassette tapes, car manual, registration, etc all tossed about. Then I looked in the back seat and realized my bicycle was gone. I had packed it up for a trip back home to visit the family for Easter, but upon coming back to Berkeley late at night, decided I'd wait until the next day to unload it. Never got the chance. The thieves also took my mag-light and leatherman, but fortunately neglected to take my umbrella, snow chains, meter change, and old high-school punk rock tapes (which are, of course, invaluable). My car shows no sign of damage, which only makes me wonder if after multiple trips bringing items in from the car I forgot to lock it. My bad, perhaps. But they're still assholes.
I wouldn't mind a little danah-style digital vigilantism, but I don't have any evidence to work with. But if bike thieves read blogs, I guess they should know that you'll need a socket wrench for the left pedal, it comes loose every once in a while...
March 31, 2004
Last night some scotts and i went out to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I'm a big fan of Charlie Kaufmann (the screenwriter), whose other noteworthy works include Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. I was already familiar with his loopy, often self-referential psychological themes, so they didn't carry the novelty that I felt in some of his earlier films, but still very clever and entertaining, and with a bit more heart this time around. Anyone who has ever felt socially awkward can likely appreciate the hyperbolic lens he brings to these things...
The most moving part about watching the movie, though, was my own personal reactions to it. As you travel back through the memories of Carrey's character I couldn't help but start to reflect on my own host of memories from the last 24+ years. All the recessed memories that barely come out to the surface... sights, sounds, and smells that evoke these buried experiences, and people who, through distance or estrangement, are more real to me now as characters in my mind than they are as actual people. How realistic are the models our mind constructs of our friends, lovers, and acquaintances... aren't most of our friends' behaviors wholly predictable to us?
Furthermore, Kate Winslet's character was, to me, an interesting juxtaposition of personality traits of women (mostly high school intimates of one form or another) I once knew many years ago. Seeing them mixed together into an interpolated, adult persona sent my mind a-resonating -- the what ifs, what nots, and what have you's. Of course, it doesn't hurt either that Winslet is quite attractive, regardless of the hue of her hair dye.
So anyway, if you like interesting psychological loopiness with humor to boot (and an amazing 20 minute, falling in love introduction), check it out. Now it's on to the Ladykillers... I gotta keep up with those Coen brothers, too.
March 21, 2004
Yesterday in San Francisco a most enticing event was held: the Whiskies of the World Expo. I was prepared, too, after consuming the knowledge imparted to me by perhaps the greatest Christmas gift ever given to me by my mom. And I missed it. I was supposed to hang out with an old friend who was coming through town. When she called me around 9pm to announce she was only in Redding, I realized I had thrown my evening away. D'oh!
So if anyone wants to hold their own mini-expo, I want to be involved. Besides, this week is spring break, and unlike some of my jet-setting friends, I'm staying behind to work on my master's thesis so I can escape to Europe with a clear conscience come late April. The upshot is that I'm around and have more free time than usual this week, so if you're around and doing anything exciting, drop me a line! I'll bring the whisky.
March 14, 2004
gardens and discs
Whether hanging out with friends or giving campus tours to prospective grad students, I've been asked multiple times recently if I ever get tired of Berkeley. In some cases, it was implicit in the asking of the question that the people assumed this was an expected thing, especially in my case. After all, I did my undergrad here before returning for years of graduate schooling. But no, this place has become home, and when I ever start to feel tired with it, it's only because I've started taking it for granted. Fortunately, this wonderful weather we've been having brings plenty of opportunities to appreciate one's environment.
Yesterday I rode my bike over to Tilden park's botanical gardens, where I met up with some friends. Absolutely amazing. The gardens, of course, are gorgeous, as was the entire ride in and out of the park. Redwood trees, lush grass, ponds, creeks, and even a view of what the east bay looked like before being overrun with European plants. I've become completely spoiled by living in an active urban environment on one side of the hill, and then having regional parks (almost literally) in my backyard... no car required.
Then today I headed out with some buddies to play disc golf on the Berkeley campus. I don't make it around to the different regions of campus nearly enough anymore... the creeks, groves, fields and diverse architecture are one of the many reasons I love Berkeley. A definite draw in comparison to the homogeneous look and feel of another prestigious bay area university that will remain unnamed. There was even a movie crew filming on campus today... The name of the film is "Bee Season"... apparently Richard Gere was spotted walking around campus. Unfortunately, the only person we saw was a stagehand who felt the need to be a jackass. I guess some people just can't hang with the disc golf.
February 23, 2004
vienna waits for me
When it rains, it pours. Now with three papers accepted to the CHI conference in Vienna, I was just notified that our AVI submission (to be presented in Italy in May) has also gotten in. This has an important implication: in order to reduce air fare costs I must make the sacrifice of staying in Europe for a month between conferences. So I will be a bum, but only out of consideration to the financial concerns of my advisor and the good folks at PARC. Looking at the preliminary CHI conference schedule, it looks like Nathan and I are scheduled as the first talk in the first listed session (entitled "Keeping Safe"). This means that not only might we be the very first paper in the proceedings (yay visibility), but we get our talk out of the way early (translation: more time to enjoy Austrian beer halls free of all worries).
To make things even better, I just got back from STA travel on Telegraph and was able to get a one-way ticket for under $500. I'm not sure how much more round-trip costs. The only catch was that you had to be a full time student and be 25 or younger (at least for the Northwest flight I got, I'm not sure what availability for other airlines is like). One-way tickets through other carriers (ITA, Orbitz, Expedia) were coming up ridiculously expensive, with the exception of a previously unknown-to-me Polish airline that routes you through Warsaw and includes a segment in a prop plane. I'll save that adventure for another day. So if you're a student going to CHI, check them out (www.sta.com). Of course, the sweetest part will likely be the layover in Amsterdam. Good times :)
January 31, 2004
On Thursday I was Captured! By Robots and treated to a re-enactment of the Greatest Story Ever Told. Lederer thinks that while I was in capture the robots replaced my biological self with a mechanical counterpart. Still, sounds better than being borg-ified.
p.s. in my esteemed judgment, hardened through years of scientific research and musical experience, being able to control robots with your guitar is wicked cool.
January 30, 2004
Just found this photo on a friend of a friend's website and I had to save a copy here. How often does one get to feign cocaine use with a priest and a walking roll of duct tape?
December 23, 2003
sin city survives
we fought fiercely. we struggled bravely. there we stood, five berekely grads, and an affiliated sphere of loyola law schoolistas, and for three days and two nights gave it our all, with zanshin unrivaled.
we battled vegas, and she won. we return triumphantly defeated, further plans postponed. tahoe will have to wait for another (none-too-distant) day.
we attempted to make up for a steady decline in chips by an accelerated intake of free drinks. it should be noted, if not already obvious, that this strategy has difficulty finding an equilibrium, and will never, no matter how much AC/DC is pouring out of the ceiling speakers, put you back in black. it does, however, lead to all sorts of great stories that, given the varied audience of this blog, will be saved for more intimate environs.
despite our passing, we must still give thanks to all the fun and friendly dealers who journeyed with us (many of whom are quite a bit richer for having engaged our generosity). so cheers to cynthia, vicki, dave, nava, mark, and the other D's who double downed their way into our hearts as well as our pocketbooks. we still love you, and we'll be back... but when we do, keep your own hand the hell away from the number 21.
December 18, 2003
as of last friday, school is over. as of today, my research paper is complete and submitted. as of tomorrow, the adventure begins... los angeles awaits our arrival tomorrow night, followed by a pilgrimage to las vegas, land of all that is unholy. whether exhausted and broke or alive and enriched, we then sojourn to tahoe, to hurtle down mountains at high velocity. and to top it all off, i will be home in time for christmas.
so happy holidays to you all. i trust i will have some stories for y'all upon my return.
November 23, 2003
the hills resound the cry
They had a rocky start, but the Bears came back to emerge victorious... and the Cal fans apparently were better behaved then usual... magnanimous in victory, voracious in defeat?
Cal is now eligible for a bowl game for the first time since 1996. So are we going to Vegas, El Paso, or Phoenix?
November 16, 2003
An old-fashioned rout, viewed from the comfort of Tightwad Hill. Roll on you Bears. Get ready Palo Alto, you're going down next weekend...
November 15, 2003
On Friday the 14th my roommate (affectionately known as "the Rookie") completed another trip around the sun, so we had him a little party. From what I remember it was a great time for all attending... though I think I've learned that the "one for you, one for me" policy should not be applied when you're mixing Manhattans for folks all night long. Thanks to all of my friends out there in the blogosphere who attended. Hope you had as much fun as I think I did :)
And to anyone out there who thinks it's ok to puke outside someone's front door and not tell them so that their landlord can discover it instead... it's not. seriously. just don't do it. and if you do, get over the embarassment and tell someone. we'll forgive you. maybe not immediately, but we will. i swear.
November 13, 2003
secret agent man
... well, not quite, but I was down in San Diego presenting my summer work on visualizations and interfaces for intelligence analysts to ARDA's Novel Intelligence from Massive Data research program. As part of the team representing PARC, I got to showcase some of the work we did this summer, which I can't discuss here, but some of which I hope to have published in the not-so-distant future. We presented with dramatic flair, including wall-size posters of extracted data and an 8-monitor, 1-machine setup running various visualizations and analysis applications across multiple displays. We got a great response from people, including some folks who were dying to get their hands on our stuff right away.
The most useful and interesting part of the conference, however, was listening to the experiences and needs of actual analysts. Contemporary HCI design methodologies are hard to follow in this realm, as classified data prevents really getting inside the working world of the analyst. As such, every window we can get into the analysts' work and skills is welcome and enlightening.
After the conference, I was able to go hang out with an old friend and get some ol' fashioned partying done. So if you're in San Diego on a Wednesday night, know that Bar Dynamite has some decent house music and great gin and tonics, and even better, they have a Valentine's taco shop next door, and it's open all night. I recommend the cheese-rolled tacos.
October 26, 2003
Yesterday we went down to Pier 30-32 to check out the Red Bull Flugtag, watching people hurtle themselves into the bay on all sorts of crazy contraptions. With some notable exceptions, performance art upstaged engineering merit, but it was a blast regardless. My favorites were the boys from Cal trying to fly a super-sized paper airplane, the giant red bull with the embedded catapult, and El Toro Guapo, a giant medieval-style catapult that launched a man 61 feet! Aw, good mindless fun.
Next year I want to build a flugtag. I know enough engineers and artists that we could do something fairly interesting. Right now I 'm thinking of a slingshot catapult that launches a man into the air -- with the man hooked into a spring-loaded hang-glider that he can deploy at the apex of his flight. That would be dope. Let me know if you want to join the team.
October 24, 2003
concert: prefuse 73
On Wednesday night I took a break from school to see one my favorite electronic musicians: Atlanta's Scott Herren, aka Warp records recording artist prefuse 73. We sauntered into Bimbo's 365 a bit late, so missed the first act - Beans from the Anti-Pop Consortium. What we did catch, however, was an amazing set by Four Tet. The beats, grooves, and melodies he threw down were awesome, and at many points mesmerizing... I'd come-to after a minute or so, realizing I had completely spaced out on the music, losing my sense of place (and I was dead sober, I swear). Four Tet would then glitch out, turning all the knobs higher and higher until the music transmogrified into pure cacaphony. The glitchy madness would then cut out, and you'd feel your self synesthetically plummet, until at the last moment the near-forgotten beats and melodies of 3 minutes ago would swoop back in, catching you at the last second and setting you back down on the dance floor to resume your groove. Great stuff. I have got to go pick up some of his albums.
Then Senor 73 took the stage, but he didn't come alone. In addition to a back-up DJ spinning, there was a drummer on stage. The drummer was pretty awesome, keeping up with prefuse's constant changes and really enriching the percussion (the double effect of both live and synthesized beats was great). The songs played mostly came from prefuse's latest installment, the sublime one word extinguisher (though also check out the nearly-as-wonderful vocal studies + uprock narratives and the all too short '92 vs. '02 collection EP). The set ranged from rocking to revelatory, and was over much too soon. For the encore, Beans came out and "jammed" with Mr. Herren for a nice little number that would have made a great little lulla-good-bye. Would have, I say, because I was still pumped up for more.
October 22, 2003
Eric Paulos, one of the demonstration chairs for the recent UbiComp 2003 conference, put up a page of photos of the conference's demonstrations. Check it out for some glimpses of next generation systems and interactive art projects: UbiComp Demos Images
October 19, 2003
I got back from my trip through the northwest late Wednesday night. Since then, life has been a mix of insanities both good and bad, so I'm just now getting around to blogging my travels.
My trip started with a visit to friends and family out in Portland, OR. On Friday, my grandfather and I traveled out to Silver Falls State Park, where we took a five mile hike past numerous beautiful waterfalls. It was great spending the day with my grandfather, a most impressive man. It's a rare 82 year old who can take a five mile hike with plenty of elevation changes, polish off a nice beer afterward, and then drive over an hour back home.
I also got to sample some of the local Portland nightlife. I spent one night over in the southeast side of town, hanging out in the Hawthorne and Belmont street areas. There are some fun bars (though be cautious of anal-retentive bouncers) that have a distinctively northwest feeling to them... among other things, I was treated to plenty of classic Soundgarden in the jukebox. The Hawthorne area also has some cool book and record stores that kept me busy (and weighted down my backpack) during the day. Scored a couple nice discs, plus a pile of books ranging from aikido and eastern religion to chronicles of the automobile's influence on the evolution of the American city. The Powell's book store has an impressive collection, but is not nearly as overwhelming as the time-vortex, multi-block city of books they have in the downtown area.
Other highlights from the trip include lunch with my family at the Portland brewing company, and partying in downtown, lounging at Shanghai Tunnel and clubbing at Berbati's. (btw portlanders, prefuse 73 is playing there this week, so don't miss it...)
The best part about Portland, however, was just the chance to catch up with my family and friends. It never ceases to amaze me when I reunite with long lost friends to discover that we're more alike in thought and outlook now than we were back in the days we saw each other constantly.
October 08, 2003
concert: the streets
After weeks of hard work and paper writing, it was time to have a little fun. So after a trip by the bars, I headed into the city Monday night with a friend to go see the Streets, a British "rap" act infused with a heavy dub influence. So right as we rolled into the Fillmore, the opening act had just taken the stage -- a rap act named Phoenix and the Shadow, or something like that. For the most part they were fun to watch, but they did have a rather abysmal song "The First Time I Had Sex." It was so bad, I felt embarassed for them.
Then the Streets took the stage, opening with the first two songs from their album "Original Pirate Material". Their performance was short but sweet, lasting little over an hour and fifteen minutes. Though the set was little more than a direct rehash of their album, it was still a lot of fun. The musical highlight was probably their rendition of their popular radio hit "Let's Push Things Forward." At the end they changed the lyrics and instead starting singing "Ghost Town" by the Specials over the same musical backdrop. I love ska, especially the Specials, so this got me excited, though I was saddened that most the audience had no recognition of the song.
The real highlight of the show, however, was the drunken antics of the lead singer. We were informed that it was back up singer Kevin's last night performing with the band, so we all had "to get pissed." And so the lead singer proceeded to do so with his apparent drink of choice, a large bottle of brandy shared liberally with the front row crowd. At some point in the night it became apparent the brandy was missing, which sent the lead singer running frantically through the Fillmore searching for it, all the while exhorting "Brandy makes you randy!!" through his wireless mic. Failing to find the brandy, he instead emerged triumphant with a bottleof vodka -- "The brandy is gone... but WE GOT STOLI!!" This, too, was liberally dispersed to the front row fans. Then, in the middle of a song, a fan hands a note up to the singer, who walks off stage in the middle of the song to read it, and then comes back exclaiming, "I've just been informed that security has taken my brandy!", launching a tirade against the injustices of brandy-snatching. This somehow instigated the return of the brandy, allowing the lead singer to be jubilantly reunited with his drink of choice... "THE BRANDY IS BACK!!!!!!" Everything in its right place, we partied until the Streets exhausted their repertoire. Good times.
The lesson: drunken Brits with thick accents can be damn entertaining.
September 28, 2003
I was at this amazing game yesterday, watching from "Tightwad Hill" above the stadium. The sun came out just in time for the game and the Bears did not disappoint. Apparently our gang on the hill was on television, too... though we may not have been in our most telegenic mode :)
September 24, 2003
Last night I was treated to a performance by my favorite contemporary rock deities: radiohead. As expected, they did not disappoint. After braving the shoreline amphitheatre parking, we arrived in the amphitheatre about two minutes before radiohead took the stage. We then snaked our way to a nice spot above center stage, with a clear view of the band and all the displays (crucial for seeing Thom's piano-cam).
They opened with the first two tracks from Hail to the Thief, great starter songs (I'm addicted to "2 + 2 = 5" and had to restrain myself from flailing about uncontrollably). Early in the set they played "Lurgee", which surprised me since you don't often see them play songs from Pablo Honey. One highlight of the main set was a great rendition of "My Iron Lung" from The Bends. The only drawback was that the crowd just kind of stood there contentedly, rather than completely rocking out as the music warranted. Another highlight was in the midst of "No Suprises" where "tear down the government" brought an unbridled wave of cheering. GWB is obviously a popular guy with the fans. The first set wrapped up with a truly wonderful version of "There There".
Things got even better through the encores. The last time I saw radiohead, for their Amnesiac tour, their rendition of "You and Whose Army?" was a heart-wrenching emotional experience, practically bringing the whole audience to tears. This time it was a gas, with Thom making faces into the piano cam between lyrics. Didn't know that song could span such a range of experiences. This was followed by "The National Anthem" which always rocks. The most gut-wrenching song of the night for me, though, was "A Wolf At The Door". Watching, hearing, feeling Thom venomously spit out the spoken-word, psuedo-rap of the verses very convincingly communicated the anger and helplessness underlying the song.
Finally the second encore brought out old favorites "Airbag" (I called it before it came on!) and "Everything In It's Right Place". And everything was. Perhaps not "forever" as the scrolling on-stage display advertised, but at least for the whole drive back home to Berkeley.
Here is my attempt at reconstructing the set list. I will update this once I can get the middle songs back in order (I'm trying to do this all from memory).
2 +2 = 5
[ dunno the order here ]
September 16, 2003
wrestling as art
I guess I should get around to posting something about this past weekend. Last Wednesday night, in my post-prelims glory (and hence the beginning of my weekend), I went to the SFMOMA to watch Mexican professional wrestling. SFMOMA and wrestling? Not two things you might normally associate with each other (though that being said, I have friends who've been to raves there more than once). Regardless, it was a blast. The wrestling was incredibly acrobatic, the wrestlers--despite (or because of?) their masks--were quite charismatic, and the ring floor was designed for maximizing the volume of all cracks, bangs, and smashes. I'd love to have a floor like that in my living room (much to the dismay of the inlaw apartment beneath us).
Here's part of the placard they were handing out at the match:
Afterwards, a friend and I were wondering why the SFMOMA hosted the event. Some hypotheses were: (1) to take an important cultural phenomenon and place it in a new context, highlighting it's cultural and theatric value, (2) MOMA is trying to popularize itself, or, my favorite, (3) Mexican wrestling is just damn cool. Who could turn it down? But what do I know of art...
I also went to the White Stripes concert this weekend, where I met up with some fellow friends and bloggers. It was great. There was the weird yet ultimately endearing "tour of the 80's" opening act, whose lead singer I christened "Rotten Bowie". Then there was the White Stripes, who fucking rocked. Though I rather detest a lot of radio rock, I must admit a soft spot for the Stripes--especially the insidious "Hardest Button to Button". But the strength of the concert as a whole rested on Jack's ability to summon the spirit (if not the virtuosity) of old blues men and throw it right at you. The Johnny Cash tribute ("I Got Stripes") was well done, too.
Read Conley's blog for another perspective on the night, and the spoken-word Johnny Cash lyrics.
September 10, 2003
I am done with my prelims!! I think I did alright... we'll see what happens. One of the questions, though, was about information visualization, in particular focus+context visualizations. Those of you familiar with my work know that I had a real tough time with that one :).
So enough school, time to hit the town and have some fun... Here's a smattering of this weekend's upcoming events. Come join me if you can!
August 11, 2003
I just got back the pictures from last month's dive trip. While the cheapo underwater camera I bought did stand up to the water pressure, it had a hard time standing up to the bad visibility and lack of light at the bottom of the ocean. Here's some of the photos that did develop:
I think next time I try this I will focus more on better-lit shallow water areas, or do close ups where the flash is more effective (like the starfish on the pipe). And hopefully next time will also be on a day with good visibility. On a bad day in Monterey you can only see 7 ft ahead, and eyes are much better at adjusting than disposable cameras.
August 04, 2003
movie: coral reef
Despite the logical and narrative structure designed for 8 year olds, this movie was incredible. I'm intensely interested in diving (I've been certified for about a year now), and this film is visually magnificent... showcasing amazing coral reefs and tracking aquatic life across the South Pacific. Some of the highlights include witnessing and learning the ecosystem of the coral reefs (the kind and number of symbiotic relationships between species is amazing), watching how an octopus scavenges along for food, discovering the difference between a standard island and an atoll (yes, I'm a dork), seeing divers descend over 350 feet (!) into reefs thousands of years old, and watching the divers find a school of over 300 reef sharks while caught in a current leaving them unable to control their trajectory!
I'm now all the more amped on upping my certification level to advanced open water diver.
July 24, 2003
Last night we headed into the city for some musical mayhem. We arrived around 11pm at the Mezzanine, a large club tucked away in one of the alleys between Mission and Market in the SOMA district of San Francisco. Alterna-kids, ravers, and the assorted lot of hipsters (ourselves included) had all come out to witness the spectacle that is Squarepusher (aka Tom Jenkinson), Warp Records recording artist and drum and bass virtuouso.
When we arrived, Luke Vibert (aka Wagon Christ), was working the crowd, while appearing to passively meditate over his laptop. He played a great mix, with lots of elements of dub, funk, and soul. My only gripe was that he overdid it on the dub vocals, as I have a rather low threshold for crazy over-stimulated rastas yelling incessantly in my ear. Just after midnight, Luke stepped off and Squarepusher came on.
I've been a fan of Squarepusher for about a year now and was excited to see him live for the first time. He didn't disappoint. Many electronic artists spend their sets twiddling knobs or playing with their laptops, trying to imbue the pre-programmed set with a little live performance. Squarepusher, on the other hand, walks out carrying a giant 6-string bass, with a fret-board so big you could eat thanksgiving dinner off of it. He didn't waste any time. He set the programmed tracks rolling and just went nuts on his bass, with hard-hitting, insanely fast breakbeats and improvised, lightning-quick bass runs pulsing through the Mezzanine's $10,000+ sound system. Acoustic energy saturated the room, so thick it penetrated every part of your body, even parts you didn't know you had. In addition, there was particularly intense rapid strobe lighting throughout the performance, resulting in a nearly complete sensory overload. My eyes and ears were crying rape, but my brain was begging for more.
The show was great, though certainly indulgent. I usually think of Squarepusher as being a bit more accessible than some of his colleagues (e.g. the ever enigmatic Aphex Twin), but his performance was anything but restrained. Tom would let the drums accelerate out of control, many times creating a cacophany that was nigh-impossible to dance to (with your feet, anyway) and went on many extended bass-outs (impatient souls might even refer to it as "wanking"). Squarepusher would stop at fairly regular intervals to throw his hand up in the air, his prompt for the crowd to shout. It was almost as if the music was so overpowering, the crowd had to be told when to cheer as opposed to hold on for dear life. The highlight of the set for me was the performance of Squarepusher's single "Come On My Selector" (the same track that was adapted into a wonderful music video by Chris Cunningham). It struck the right balance between out of control drums and spiraling bass licks, coming down to earth just enough for you to be compelled to dance, commanding you to throw your body every which way before being re-inveloped in auditory chaos.
July 22, 2003
dive trip: 7/19-20
This past weekend I went on a diving trip to Monterey, getting in two dives on Saturday morning and two on Sunday morning. We spent our first dive out in the metridium fields, a garden of giant, white-plumed anemones that is situated fairly far out on the west side of San Carlos Beach (aka Breakwater), about 55 ft deep. The next dive we spent exploring the rocks of the Coast Guard pier. On Sunday we first headed out through a rich network of kelp forests (during which we surfaced and ran into a sea otter!), and then spent the second dive exploring the rocks of the pier again. I brought a disposable waterproof camera down with me and took a bunch of pictures. Hopefully at least some will turn out alright... I'll post any good ones once the film is developed. (btw the water was the coldest I have yet to experience in Monterey - as low as 46 degrees! My hands were about to fall off. yikes.)
In between dives on Saturday, we walked out on the Coast Guard pier (finding the fence unlocked) to check out all the sea lions lazing around on the rocks. We returned to find ourselves locked in, so had to ask a young lady to let us out. As we walked down the pier we talked to her and it turns out she works for a nature conservatory and told us some interesting facts about the migratory patterns of California sea lions. They start from the Channel Islands (off the coast of SoCal) and head up the coast way north, as far as Canada, before returning. She also made clear, for anyone interested, the distinction between seals and sea lions.
Seals as you can see, are paler in appearance, have no external ear flaps, and have very short pectoral fins.
The sea lions are browner in color, have external ear flaps, and have large pectoral fins.
Aren't you a better person for knowing that?