Mar 27, 2008


it's great to come to work and have a new gizmo waiting to be fooled around with. randy sargent from CMU west came over on monday from his office down the street to show off the latest GigaPan mountings and left some loaners behind. one of them is coming with me to costa rica tomorrow and then to iceland next week before it gets shipped off to zurich.

we messed with it for about an hour before establishing that we had an incorrectly-tooled camera mounting plate; after some experimentation and a few photos exchanged with randy while on the phone, we got the thing working. it's a brilliantly simple idea: a bracket mounting that rotates around the x- and y-axes combined with a little shutter button actuator allows most small handheld digital cameras to take a mosaic of overlapping photos that can then be stitched together digitally into multi-million pixel panoramic images using gigapan's proprietary stitching software.


i ran by lolo (22nd st, between mission and valencia) over the weekend and noticed the intelligent use of waste materials (mostly fabric and plastic offcuts, and recycled papers) in the furniture. the bar is a continuously laminated sheet of newspaper announcements of lottery winnings, and the wall of the bar appears to be made of recycled bags from colima salt from mexico. the people at the tsuji school gave me a small twist of colima salt to highlight the superiority of the hokkaido salt rubbed over the grilled ayu served at dinner.

in any case, food and wine were good and appropriately priced. lolo seems to resist classification in any cooking tradition, though there are a few unusual and ethnically identifiable ingredients (most obvious: huitlacoche) and more unusual spanish wines and latin american preparations than i'd expected. at the barman's suggestion, i got a glass of rotllan torra priorat reserve 2001 (good, but overpriced -- fortunately, a generous pour) while waiting.

  • octopus tiradito was excellent; cold, tender but not mushy, just chewy enough, and dusted liberally with something red and spicy that wasn't paprika and might have been annatto.
  • fried shrimp taco sounded lame but was actually marvellously done. it came dressed with a spicy remoulade/sour cream sauce and was served on top of rounds of thinly-shaved jicama.
  • the seafood corn sopes were filled with a barely-cooked mix of shrimp, scallop, and octopus bound with a light mayonnaise and came with a salad of shaved red cabbage and persian cucumber.
  • duck confit was DIY and came on a huge square plate with four quadrants containing a mound of shredded duck confit, a small pile of cilantro (someone had gone to the trouble of plucking the leaves from the stems and discarding imperfect ones), a steamer basket full of fresh corn tortillas, and a small bowl of a sweet/tart sauce reputed to contain grapefruit.
lolo joins the pantheon of Good Eats in San Francisco:

Mar 24, 2008

well-formed data

(again from vinay)

moritz stefaner
has a great experiment in organizing and displaying structured data -- he's taken the nobel laureate database and made it much more navigable by intelligent application of filters and by adding (though it seems a bit of an afterthought) edward tufte's by now famous sparklines (tufte himself, and diy). the display ideas in here are interesting particularly in the context of search -- for queries that have broad semantic ranges, metadata about the distribution of results becomes potentially quite useful both as a selection tool and as a filtering tool. a term like "tiger" could be most relevant, depending on your interests, to great cats, golf, public-domain GIS data, magazines, a low-cost asian airline, a traditional liniment, and more. allowing power-users to cluster results by nearby terms (something like a filter preview) would probably be really helpful.

Mar 23, 2008

traffic simulation

this neat flow simulator for traffic from ETH zurich's sociology department (the ornate Chair of Sociology, in particular of Modeling and Simulation) lets you control a few parameters (flow rate, % of trucks, etc) and see what happens to the simulation. trucks seem to have a disproportionate effect on bad traffic, which i suppose should come as no surprise.

(thanks, vinay)

Mar 18, 2008

the journey of mankind

the bradshaw foundation has an animated spatial chronology of the spread of humanity from africa to the rest of the world covering over 150,000 years of human history. the site was created in association with stephen oppenheimer from green college (and, oddly, universiti sains malaysia). the chronology was done with mitochondrial DNA analysis of Y-chromosomes. neat idea, but the visuals are clunky and look like the late 1990s. i can't help feeling that it would have been better done as a time-animated KML with plenty of image overlays.

new from the lathe #2

a few weeks ago on a sunday, jini called me from atop a mountain in san diego and asked if i wanted some lumber. the next day, i went to jess's car and beheld, in the back, an assortment of huge logs. i brought one back on the shuttle, breaking the luggage compartment in the process, and sliced it up into an assortment of small pieces, two large bowl blanks, and a pile of sawdust. two of the little pieces went back to gainesville, where dina even now is using them as rustic bookends. one of the two blanks is now a bowl. this was the palest white oak i'd ever seen, so i figured i'd make it look as unlike wood as possible:

i look like ceramic
5.5" dia., 6" high
spalted white oak

Mar 13, 2008


tengu, a USB-powered face that responds to ambient sound, joins the ranks of relatively pointless objects that are still quite nice. made, of course, in japan. the play-by-play of the design process is worth a look.


after getting through the usual silliness of certifying to a website that you are old enough to drink and of downloading the latest flashplayer, you come to absolut's latest marketing ploy: absolutmachines, remote installations in new york and stockholm (apparently) that users can line up to have a chance to control through a VERY HEAVY flash web interface. the idea is neat but someone should have debugged it.

Mar 9, 2008

type, copying, and style

and additional thoughts triggered by champion script pro:

champion comes closer to replicating a good calligrapher through brute force (ie many, many glyphs), but this approach to typesetting will probably never work well for extremely particularistic scripts like the japanese and chinese grass styles of calligraphy (草书). interestingly, another approach which might eventually lead to something is to set these complex, hand-written characters computationally, like these people claim to be able to do.

analogous, perhaps, is the chinese continuum of forgery techniques (in order of increasing sophistication: tracing [模], copying [临], imitating [仿], and invention [造]*) or the distinction between translations that capture the exact word-for-word values of the originals and those that capture their spirit. (think of orson welle's voodoo macbeth). in both cases, processes of rendering that capture flow and intent are valued more than those that demonstrate only a mechanistic and exacting ability to replicate an original -- style and intelligence, in other words.

* if you have JSTOR access, a good but dense article about this is wen fong's "the problem of forgeries in chinese paintings," another one of the class of articles that have more text in the footnotes than in body.

champion script pro

in designing typefaces, the amount and regularity of interaction between characters is inversely proportional to the complexity of the design process. monospaced typefaces like courier new have characters that never connect, and which have uniform spacing (hence monospaced); courier new thus requires only as many glyphs (distinct symbols making up a set) to be designed as there are characters to be represented. other than the challenge of creating pleasing and functional character shapes, designing this typeface is relatively simple. monospaced typefaces have their place, but that place tends not to be in the realm of human readability and aesthetic appreciation.

we like (and read more easily) type that visually flows together. due to, among many other things, the different shapes of character forms, this flowing-together requires different spacings between characters and, sometimes, special characters that represent the interaction of two or more characters or the inclusion of ornamentation to text. the set of total glyphs for a typeface that is trying to be beautiful thus is significantly larger. in the past, designers had to manually replace individual groups of characters with the glyphs that represented their interaction -- ligatures, for example. increasingly, designers are programming these glyph substitutions into their typefaces so that they occur automatically upon text entry. you may have noticed this happening in your word processor: as you type words like "final," the f and the i draw together and the dot on the i vanishes into the fi ligature, which is a single glyph replacing two glyphs. the new typeface standard, opentype, supports much more of this variety of typographic sophistication than truetype did before.

glyphs represent particularistic connections between characters and other symbolic elements of a typeface -- in general, the greater the diversity of character interaction, the more glyphs need to be created. ornamented typefaces create enormous problems for digital typesetting, even when the script being emulated is relatively formal, regular calligraphy. early attempts at calligraphic typefaces never achieved the spontaneous structure of good hand calligraphy and early attempts at handwriting (like brushscript) were reprehensible.

just today, ministry of type highlighted a great new typeface that appears to address many of the shortcomings of earlier calligraphic typefaces. champion script pro, from parachute fonts, is based on the calligraphy of joseph champion, an 18th-century british calligrapher -- and supports every major western european language based on latin, greek, and cyrillic scripts in two font-weights. it does this with a mind-boggling 4280 glyphs, where the basic set for courier new (in english only, admittedly) gets by with just 94. the story of the typeface's development is worth a read.

Mar 6, 2008


after an abortive and frustrating series of attempts to find parking on russian hill on saturday night, anne and i decided to bail on a party and go straight to late dinner at boulevard. i'm not sure where i stand on extensively-decorated restaurants; i think i prefer to eat in places that are to the point. an artificial guastavino vaulted ceiling is not critical to enjoying a good meal (at least, i think it is artificial. who would punch holes for lights in a real guastavino vault?). they also used at least four different (but similar) typefaces throughout the menu -- egregious. but the food was good.

summary: wine list is excellent, and starters were generally better than the mains. order three starters and call it a night, i think.

  • the monterey red abalone came with potato gnocchi, tiny shrimp, and black chanterelles (which i've not seen before). the abalone was warm, the shrimp cold, the gnocchi hot and crisp -- it was a collection of intensely marine flavours and a diversity of temperatures and textures and really marvellous.
  • suckling pig came in three preparations. the crisp-roasted pork belly was crackling and crunchy; it reminded me of the roast pork of home though it had not been lavished with boiling oil at the end and so was smooth and completely unmarred by bubbles. there was also a perfectly roasted chop (pink all the way through, with a fine crust -- it's a mystery how they did this in a wood oven) sitting on top of an classic flavour combination: a chunky hash of calvados apples next to a scoop of huckleberry preserves. last was a "short loin 'holstein'" (fancytalk for a piece of breaded, fried pork loin) with a fried quail egg and nettle spaetzle. spaetzle slightly mushy as always, but with nice bite from the nettles.
  • dessert was unspectacular, except for the presence of candied kumquats.
  • the swanson 2004 merlot was light with what they call soft tannins and plenty of fruit, but dry and restrained. nice.