red echo

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

July entries

Archived Entries for June, 2005

June 30, 2005

June 29, 2005

I've uploaded my photos from Critical Massive last weekend. It's pretty heavy on photos of the rave-o-matic, as you might expect. I've also updated the rave-o-matic page with a comprehensive report on my experiences with its first test run.

June 28, 2005

The Seattle Monorail Project just released the details of the contract they have negotiated with Cascadia Monorail, and the predictable barrage of complaints, gripes, criticism, and second-guessing began almost immediately. They're all missing the point, and I'm getting really tired of hearing so much shallow nay-saying. Yes, of course the monorail is going to cost a lot of money - it's a transit project! Yes, of course this means lots of taxes and/or lots of debt - that's how governments build things! But complaining about the cost doesn't make it shrink, and if we don't build the monorail now it's just going to cost us even more money whenever we do finally get around to it.

We will eventually build a citywide rapid transit system, have no doubt about that: Seattle is growing, and there is no evidence that it will stop growing anytime soon. Transportation will only become an increasingly difficult problem, and auto-based fixes will only grow more expensive and less effective. Geography constrains us: Seattle cannot sprawl out to the horizon like Phoenix or Los Angeles, cannot build a subway like New York or London, cannot - unlike Portland, Dallas, or Atlanta - pipe street-level light rail through its existing transportation bottlenecks. No, Seattle will eventually build its monorail, or a system functionally identical to it; or Seattle will suffocate itself in an unworkably congested automotive grid.

Since we know we need to build it, then, what are we waiting for? Sure, it's going to be expensive, but it will only be more expensive later. Seattle voters have been asking for this thing since 1997; enough with the hand-wringing! On with the construction already.

June 27, 2005

Pixelvision: back in 1987 Fisher-Price produced a cheap plastic video camera that recorded onto audio cassettes. It never made any money and lasted only a year, but its low cost (under $100) and unique technical characteristics made it an underground success. I remember hearing about these, way back when, and trying to work out how one might fit a video signal into the narrow bandwidth available on standard audio tape; but even $100 would have been far out of my reach back then and I soon forgot all about it.

June 26, 2005

Back from Critical Massive. Tired, grungy, and a little hungry. Random notes, which I may (or may not!) rewrite into a coherent narrative later:

Took twice as much food as I thought I'd need. Ate all of it, and then some. Three separate camps offered me dinner; I accepted two of them. Food. Foooood. Bring more protein next time.

La Bête makes a perfectly adequate tent. The head-end is a little lumpy, but a rolled-up jacket mostly solved that. I still woke up with a stiff neck, though; should have inflated the pillow after all. My new sleeping bag performed as well as I'd hoped, though the conditions were not particularly challenging.

People love my projects. I got endless comments on the laser backpack and there was a great deal of interest in the rave-o-matic. Lots of people commented that they had looked at the rave-o-matic web site and had been looking forward to seeing it. I'm now sure that the series of light-up blinky-laser backpacks I've been planning will be a hit.

I'll write up a full account of the rave-o-matic test run over on its own site later, but here's the synopsis: the electronics all worked perfectly and the chassis was fine. The laser pole failed almost at once and the hitch design was unworkable. I made repairs and adaptations, got a reasonable evening's use out of the device, and people loved it. Now it's time to make repairs and tweak the design for next time.

I felt exhausted last night, after jury-rigging the laser system back together; I spent an hour or two wondering what the point of the project was. I left it where it was, wandered around, watched some fire performances, had a second dinner; then decided that I might as well tow it around while I was there and learn what I could from the experience. Somewhat to my surprise, people loved it just as much in its busted, not particularly impressive (to me) state as I had hoped they would with all of its components intact. I think that most people didn't even realize it was broken. Hmmm.

Kids are entranced by lasers, just like kittens. I went dancing with my laser backpack last night and in one of the domes had a cluster of littl'uns hopping around behind my back, trying to catch, or step on, or otherwise interact with the pattern projected onto the ground.

June 25, 2005

June 24, 2005

I took the afternoon off work, intending to spend a couple of hours finishing the rave-o-matic, then pick up some food and camping gear and head up to Critical Massive around five or six. At seven, though, I was still working hard and had plenty of work remaining. I decided that I would be happier spending less time at Critical Massive with a finished art project than more time there with a machine that wasn't really ready, so I resolved to work until the project was finished and delay my departure til tomorrow morning. I finally soldered the last wire and cinched the last zip-tie at around eleven-thirty: whew! It looks good and sounds great. I'm very happy. I can't wait to see what people think of it come tomorrow night.

June 23, 2005

Despite many hours spent in the basement working on my latest project over the last couple of weeks, I had encountered none of my fellow residents there until today. I went upstairs to get some more tools, and when I came back there was a woman getting some camping gear out of her locker. She had seen my wheel-brackets hanging from the ceiling earlier in the week and had been very puzzled trying to guess their purpose, so she was glad to have the mystery solved. We got to talking; in a surprising coincidence it turned out that not only had she moved to Seattle from Reno, as I did, but she had moved here from the same apartment complex I had lived in! Funny, that.

June 22, 2005

June 21, 2005

I have found a simple and effective way to avoid sidewalk solicitors: upon spotting a pair of clipboard-bearing, brightly-colored, logoed windbreakers ahead, simply whip out the cell phone and start pecking away at the keys. You can walk right past, staring opaquely at the phone, as though you are engrossed in the process of sending a text message.

In other news, it's a glorious rain outside. Lightning, strike after strike, big fat sloppy raindrops, and turbulent clouds; oh, yes. We don't get these too often. It's been an unusually warm and dry spring this year, but even under normal conditions the rain is usually more of a steady drip. This kind of cinematic burst is a treat.

June 20, 2005

June 19, 2005

I went kayaking today, for the first time since the Isuzu got wrecked a year and a half ago and I had to give up my twice-or-thrice-weekly after-work kayaking sessions. It was great: a clear blue day with a nice breeze and a few clouds, lots of people out in their boats, and some kind of street fair rollicking away in Fremont (related to the solstice parade, maybe?). Sara and I rented a double over at NWOC, where I was pleased to discover that they still recognize me despite the long hiatus and the blonde hair. It had been even longer since the last time she'd been out on the water, but doubles are really stable and we had no problems. We cruised around the northwest end of Lake Union, watched the Fremont Bridge open, cruised up the ship canal... ahh, yes, I remember why I used to love doing this. Sara seemed to enjoy herself even more than I did - I think I know what we'll be doing on sunny weekends this summer!

June 17, 2005

Snoqualmie Falls and Mount Si

June 16, 2005

The release of REALbasic 2005 on Tuesday ended a months-long feature freeze, and I promptly implemented a couple of little features I've been wanting to add since the beginning of the year. It was an instant relief: I hadn't realized what a drag it had become to do nothing but fix bugs on the same old code until the restriction was lifted. Of course there will be plenty more bugs to fix, and soon enough we'll have to stop adding new stuff and start wrapping 2005r2 up, but for today at least I am perfectly happy to fix more bugs now that I have had the chance to write some fun code too. There's nothing wrong with bug-fixing - some of the biggest moments of satisfaction in a programming career come when you work out the cause of a particularly difficult bug - but I am a person who likes to make stuff.

June 15, 2005

June 14, 2005

June 13, 2005

June 12, 2005

Kevin threw Chandra a surprise birthday party today over at China Gate. It was good to see them; Ashlyn is growing up fast, as babies generally do. I haven't had dim sum in a while - since last year's trip to Vancouver, in fact. It so happened that Mike Wimer of Musicwerks was celebrating his birthday a few tables over, so the place was full of black-wearing industrial music types.

Sara and I took a stroll down Broadway afterward and did a little shopping. We happened to pass by Half Price Books on the way back, and stopped in on a whim... an hour later we emerged with half a dozen books each. I love that store; you'll never find any specific book there, but there is always something worth reading and the books are so cheap you can pick them up without a worry.

Later in the afternoon I spent a couple more hours on the rave-o-matic. The wheel adjustment involved a little bashing about with a hammer, but it really wasn't as bad as it could have been, and now the chassis rolls straight and smooth. I took the machine out for its first road-test, and it actually rolls a bit too well - I had some trouble keeping it from running away down the hill and crashing into parked cars. It exhibits a fair bit of nose-wheel shimmy, so I will need to rig up some kind of damper, but overall I am quite pleased with its performance.

June 11, 2005

Most of the carpentry is finished now, though I need to adjust the left wheel - seems I mounted it ten degrees off true. Oops.

The front wheel swivels, using a lazy-susan bearing, and it weathercocks as well as I'd hoped (whew!).

June 10, 2005

Oh yes, that feels GOOD. I just tracked down a bug in our UI framework that had existed since before I started working here. It was a really obscure sort of problem, not the sort of thing you would run into very often, but a few days ago it started showing up in our own product. It took about a day and a half to track down, so it wasn't an extraordinarily nasty bug, and the fix was a mere one line of code; but bugs that old are awfully scarce, and it is really satisfying to squash one.

June 9, 2005

A little box of electric joy

These are my two top choices for the skybeam generators. I'm going to buy two more of whichever one works better.

I was all keyed up last night, thinking about this project and that, so instead of going to bed I decided to tinker with the little photo editor application I use to crop and resize all the photos I upload here. I ended up rewriting all of the code that controlled exposure correction: I'm particularly proud of the new all-in-one slider control that adjusts brightness, contrast, and gamma. I think this widget may be the one genuine innovation in the entire program; I want to do some user testing, now, to see if it is as self-explanatory as I hope. It's no Photoshop, of course, but most of the time I only use a fraction of Photoshop's power anyway, and my app can now handily cover almost all of that fraction. I'm tired today, but I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway, and at least this way I feel like I accomplished something.

June 8, 2005

Sealed lead acid deep cycle 12 volt batteries: 12 amp-hours for $23, 18 amp-hours for $27, 26 amp-hours for $32. Hmm. Or there's always the Optima Yellow Top, 75 amp-hours for $140 (and up), if rugged operation is more of a factor.

12V DC voltage converter for $3.95; like one of those universal wall warts, except it's designed to work on DC power. This will be useful for the rave machine; the amplifier needs 12 volts, the laser needs 9 volts, the strobe and other lights use 6 volts, and the MP3 player expects 5 volts... instead of wiring up a separate battery pack for each device, I'll just get a bunch of these converters and run them all on the 12V main battery.

I've been working hard on the rave machine over the last few days, though progress has not been as visible as I would usually like. There are a number of tricky design problems involved, relating to various limits of space, time, volume, power, and money, pushing against my desire to make the finished product as exciting, noisy, and visually impressive as possible. I finished the laser platform and its collapsible pole last night, and built about half of the speaker enclosure. I've solved the wheels problem - I'm going to use ten-inch pneumatic hand-truck tires - but I still need to actually build the swivels and mounting brackets, and I'm still trying to figure out what the electronics box is going to look like.

There is still quite a lot of work to do and a lot of money to spend before this thing will be ready to roll, and I'm still impatiently waiting for the motors I need to begin refitting the skybeam. I'm starting to feel like I've somehow, once again, managed to stretch myself a bit too thin; there are only two weekends left before Critical Massive, and I'd hoped to have both of these projects finished by then. On top of this we are still working away at the final candidate versions of REALbasic 2005, so I have deadlines bearing down in both work and play.

June 7, 2005

Seattle Central Community College

Some guy up in BC mounted an old webcam under his car's bumper and recorded some videos. They run a little faster than real time, and the effect is kind of dreamy and relaxing.

June 6, 2005

Elliot Bay from Highway 99

Austin Bell building, Belltown

The Museum of RetroTechnology: pictures, schematics, and descriptions of such unusual and interesting gadgets as the compressed-air record player, the steam lawnmower, and the propeller-driven sleigh.

June 5, 2005

University Bridge

Portage Bay

June 4, 2005

I spent the afternoon building the frame for my portable rave machine. This is a trailer I will tow behind my bike, containing a stereo and a laser projector. This would be pretty simple, except that the laser will sit on top of a sixteen foot pole, and a trailer wide enough to securely anchor such a pole would be difficult to store and transport. What's more, I want it to look cool - a little otherworldly - something more than just a boom box on wheels. My solution is a circular central platform with three removable outriggers. All of the audio hardware will be bolted onto the central platform, while each outrigger will have one large wheel and an eye-bolt for anchoring the laser pole. I like the look so far, though it desperately needs paint; it reminds me a bit of crop circles or lunar landers, sort of a miniature UFO.

June 3, 2005

June 1, 2005

May entries


photo © 2001 Stacie Mayes

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Current reading

The Fermata, Nicholson Baker
What Am I Doing Here?, Bruce Chatwin
South: A Memoir of the Endurance Voyage, Ernest Shackleton
Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein
A Widow for One Year, John Irving
The Age of Capital, Eric Hobsbawm