red echo

A web journal by Mars Saxman: my life, reflected and filtered

December entries

Archived Entries for November, 2004

November 30, 2004

More laser coolness: the “Raver's Warehouse” offers a dangly, motor-driven laser on a lanyard. It's not audio-driven, and it's not terribly cheap (though the price is listed in Australian dollars, so it's not as bad as it looks), but if I can find a wholesale source for these they might make a nice component of my laser-audio-visualizer Burning Man project.

November 29, 2004

New low price on the standard keychain laser pointer: 75¢ each in packages of 240.

Life would be so much simpler if I had a time machine. Anytime I wanted to record a choral part for one of my songs, I could just write out the parts, sign the paper "J.S. Bach", zip back a few centuries and plant it among his papers. Then I could return to the present, walk over to any ol' second-hand CD shop, pick a recording of my brand-new chorale out of the bargain bin for $2.99, and start sampling.

November 27, 2004

Carkeek Park

U. Village Apple Store

November 26, 2004

No, really, that shiny new switched outlet was there when I moved in! I have no idea who installed it

November 23, 2004

The barista at the coffeeshop down the street has gone back to calling me Lars. I paid with my debit card once, and he noticed then that he'd been using the wrong initial consonant, but he's apparently forgotten again. At the bagel shop, the guy who took my lunch order got my name as "Myers". I've been called Mark, Marcus, Morris, Marris, March, Marsh, Marx, Marcy, Mares, Marks, and probably others I've since forgotten. In fact I'm surprised, anymore, if anyone believes their ears the first time I tell them my name. "Hi, I'm Mars." "Morris?" "Mars - like the planet." "Oh, Mars! Hi."

It isn't that they can't hear me correctly - they just assume they must not have heard me correctly, and try to interpolate something that makes more sense. As evidence for this, people are far less likely to get my name wrong at Burning Man-related gatherings - they just assume that I've given them a "playa name". "Hi, I'm Joe! Who are you?" "Hi, nice to meet you, Joe, I'm Mars." "Oh, heh, hello Mars, well, they call me Fireboy, heh heh."

November 22, 2004

Somebody really needs to bring this to Burning Man and set it up on the Esplanade. Life-size playstation shoot-em-ups, anyone?

November 19, 2004

The proposed burn ban at Golden Gardens did not pass. Whew!

November 14, 2004

Six in the morning, just got home: wow what a night out. I haven't been out so late since... um... since Burning Man, I guess. I stopped by the BATTL cd-release party at the Mercury for an hour or so, then headed over to Ballard for Seacompression. Lots of the Seattle-area burners were there, some good friends and lots of acquaintances. The music worked well, the space was elaborately decorated burner-style, there were three fire performances, everyone was dressed up and the mood was good...

The laser system worked as well as I had hoped, and people really seemed to like it. I got a lot of questions and compliments - and there were plenty of people who saw the laser pattern but couldn't figure out where it was coming from. They seemed to have an easier time figuring it out when I was dancing, presumably since the laser pattern would move in sync with my body.

The attachment system did tend to sag a bit if I didn't keep the vest buttoned. A little foam block under the bottom end of the housing might keep it pointed away from my feet a little more, but I'm not sure it's really worth bothering.

November 13, 2004


It's a laser light projector, running on batteries, strapped to my Burning Man vest so a little light show will trail behind me everywhere I go. It's just in time for tonight's
Seacompression party... Given the powerfully dark evenings on the Black Rock Desert, burners like to wear accessories that flash, glow, and blink; it's hard to stand out, but I think this may do the trick.

November 11, 2004

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration has a site promoting "scenic byways" throughout the country. The project has a lot of polish, with colourful maps, loads of detail, and a prominent "share your experiences" section; whoever designed this really seems to understand the web. I really want to like it, since it looks useful and I love the kind of back-highway wandering the site promotes, but the site looks so much like standard corporate ad design that I keep waiting for something to jump out from around a corner and try to sell me something. They don't help matters by trademarking the phrase "America's Byways™" and referring to the site as a marketing effort. Why exactly do highways need to be marketed, anyway? It's not like the FHA makes any more money if you drive on them.

Oh, well. It's not their fault, really, but that of the corporate world in general, for so thoroughly commercializing the 'net that I can't relax anywhere unless the design looks like it was built in a weekend by an amateur. The site is a great little resource, and I'm linking to it here partly so I will remember it.

I'm not sure whether this version of the county-by-county election results graphic is the most encouraging or most frightening version I've seen yet. It certainly puts the urban/rural divide into a particularly vivid perspective.

November 9, 2004

I went up to Greenwood for an hour or so last night and played through a few songs with a guitarist/singer who is recording an album and wants to add some keyboard parts. It was a low-key audition, well suited to his temperament and the style of his music; I didn't feel like I played particularly well, but I was improvising accompaniments to chord charts for songs I'd never heard before, so I don't feel too bad about stumbling a bit. It would be fun to broaden my musical experience and get my name in another set of CD liner notes, but it was kind of a lark, so I'm not going to be too disappointed if he doesn't call back.

Meanwhile, I continue to scan craigslist and The Stranger, looking for some or all of a bassist, keyboardist, cellist, v-drummer, dj/turntablist, and backup singer(s)... or maybe just a "keyboardist wanted" ad for some band with a heavy, electronic, danceable sound.

Ernst Horn is a genius.

November 8, 2004

Obtainium: scavenged components for LAVI-one

November 7, 2004

La Bête

November 5, 2004

Description and schematic for a 16x16 LED matrix driven from a PC parallel port.

Poorly described but complex and interesting gadget to display a 32x32 LED matrix (that's 1024 LEDs!), controlled by serial port.

8x8 LED display controlled by a PIC chip. No idea whether this could be adapted to computer serial port control, but that big LED grid schematic is starting to look familiar.

A 336-LED scrolling message kit, sadly discontinued, driven by a PC parallel port.

Looks like these systems typically work by scanning rapidly through the LED matrix and lighting each pixel individually, which probably works fine when animation is the goal. I had imagined a system where each LED would have a 1-bit memory which could be flipped arbitrarily by the computer; each LED would remain lit continuously.

Here's a cheap scrolling message board system; probably not usable as is but the array of LEDs might be scavengable.

This kit isn't what I want, as it is not computer-configurable, but might have some useful parts.

Components that look like you can build an LED sign system to more or less any arbitrary size, with controllers supporting 5 or 8 rows of text.

Cheap scrolling LED sign, programmable with a remote control. Wonder if it's possible to make it *not* scroll?

Laser pointer prices have dropped since I last looked: here are some silver models at $48 for 48, and these folks offer an equivalent model in black at the same price in arbitrary quantities.

This kit looks comparable to the Laser Widow gadget I bought last month. Looks like they simply connected the power lead to the inside terminal on the laser pointer, then clipped the ground to the pointer's case, and used a cable tie to hold the power button down! Simple and effective; I'd been wondering what to do about that power button.

November 4, 2004

Conversation with a couple of other dorkbotters last night prompted an idea for a new art installation piece, possibly a Burning Man project. An hour of refinement with my friend Adam turned it into this: a big LED display on a pole, driven by a wheel, a button, and a dial at the base. User spins the wheel to select a word and whacks the button to append it to the text on the display. It's a bit like magnetic poetry: you get a limited set of words and try to create something interesting and maybe even profound from the pieces available.

The whole thing is driven by a cheap old laptop computer; the software is based on Markov chains. It picks a set of perhaps two dozen words that are most likely to follow the preceding text; the user selects one of them, by spinning the big wheel left or right. When the user whacks the button to commit the word and move on, the software picks a new list of words likely to follow whatever you just entered, and the fun continues indefinitely.

For more variety, the dial would let you pick one of several different compositional styles. Each style would be the probability map derived from a single literary work, or body of similar work; you could choose a probability generator derived from Poe, perhaps, or switch to the vocabulary of the Psalms, or carry on in the mode of a Shakespearean sonnet.

I think this would be a lot of fun: interactive, creative, social, and a bit silly. The predictive input system would keep the interface simple, and would help you keep from getting stuck in a creative rut, but it would still give you a lot of latitude to express yourself and entertain your friends.

November 3, 2004

It's not official yet, but it's getting close: a good majority of the citizens in the country I live in took a look at George W. Bush, considered the trail of lies and blunders he has blazed across the last four years, reflected on his ignorance, arrogance, incompetence, and cock-headed cowboy machismo, and said something like: "Yeah, we like that. He's a good man; let's have four more years of that."

What am I supposed to do with these people? How can I feel like I have something in common with a country that would voluntarily elect George Bush as president? Here we have an election which amounted to a referendum on the bizarre, cruel joke of a war in Iraq, and the American people gave it their stamp of approval.

I truly thought Kerry was going to win. I'm not particularly interested in him as a candidate; he seemed like your average business-as-usual corporate Democrat, and his vote for the Iraq war permanently tainted his credibility in my eyes. But the breadth and intensity of the disgust for Bush I have seen building up over the last couple of years was so powerful, and the rumours of unusually successful Democratic voting drives so persistent, that I had convinced myself that Kerry would win a clear victory simply because he wasn't Bush.

We've been awash in "go vote" propaganda for the last couple of days, and now it all rings hollow. What good is voting when there are so many people who will support a candidate like Bush? How am I supposed to find common cause with them?

There's one bright spot in a sea of mostly-discouraging election news: I-83, the proposal to "recall" the monorail (not by actually recalling it, but by denying the Elevated Transit Co. permission to build over city property), has gone down to resounding defeat: according to the Seattle Times, two out of three Seattleites thought it was a bad idea.

I'm very happy to see this. Seattle needs rapid transit already, and the monorail project has been doing a good job of developing their plans in the open, responding to community opinion, and sticking to their budget. It'd be a thorough shame to cancel the effort now, especially in such a sneaky round-the-back fashion. I'm glad that Seattle has decided to continue building the monorail, and even more glad that the mandate is now so overwhelmingly clear.

October entries


photo © 2001 Stacie Mayes