• About
  • First time here?
  • Sitemap
  • Archives
  • Categories
  • Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

    Speaker building update 4: It’s ALIIIIIVE!!


    2011 - 04.23

    This last weekend had cause for celebration: the loudspeakers are finished*!

    *”almost finished”.

    It was a triumphant moment to sit back with a beer and just listen for a few hours.  This is the moment of payoff, with sweet sounds being the spoils of victory.

    As with so many long projects, I found myself rushing down the home stretch.  I did have one moment that sort of cut through the frenzy; when I turned the soldering iron off and realized, “Huh.  Well, that’s it, there’s no more soldering to be done.”  For a brief moment it actually bummed me out, that the section of the program flush with the thrill of ongoing creation was about to conclude.  As quickly as it came, it left, as I reminded myself that the rest of the night would be devoted to listening.  Ahh, tis a blissful thing, high fidelity.

    A large part of the joy in building loudspeakers is listening to familiar recordings on them, and finding things to hear that you never heard before.  Inevitably, a given pair of speakers will reveal something new to you, no matter how authoritative your reference set in the living room or the richness of your open-back headphones.

    Firing up the album “Arboreal” by The Flashbulb brought forth a whole slew of details that I had never heard before.  Notably, I learned that there is a low-res filter over a lot of the synths in “A Million Dotted Lines”.  Never caught that.  Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way” also makes for excellent auditioning.  “Fahrenheit Fair Enough” by Telefon Tel Aviv blew me away with the lush Rhodes intro, and the outrageous density of electronic sounds and tweaks as the beat drops.  That track is like pop rocks+coca-cola for your ears.

    The Scan Speak tweeters are crisp.  They’re quite ‘forward’ for a fabric dome but I don’t think “bright” accurately captures their timbre.  I think “articulate” would be the best word to describe the sound.  Definitely a good bang for the buck, no doubt.  Would I get them again?  Yes, if I wasn’t so curious to try other brands and types of tweeters.  I’m all but certain that my next speaker design is going to have a ribbon tweeter.  I’ve always been curious about those.

    I’m definitely glad that I included an L-pad in the design (a volume control for just the tweeter, which is a first for me).  When the L-pad is set to max, the speakers sound topheavy.  Those tweets are rated at 91.4dB with a 6 ohm impedance, while the woofer is specified as 91dB at 8 ohms.  It may be that the lower impedance causes the tweet to draw more power, in spite of the nearly identical efficency rating… although those impedance ratings somewhat come down to semantics.  Something I still need to do is measure the overall frequency response of the system.  That will be illuminating.  But with the L-pad at max, the speakers sound bright, the same way that “flat” response studio monitors commonly sound bright.  So these babies should work good for mastering duty.  And when you just want to listen, you can dial back the treble for a more balanced sound.

    When I sat down to listen to these guys, I really wasn’t sure what the ideal setting for the L-pad should be.  One surprising detail I figured out is that it really depends on what you’re listening to.  To broadly generalize, I liked them “hotter” for electronic music, with the pads at -2/3dB.  For jazz and folk music, they sounded best at about -4/5dB.  And for rock music, I liked them dialed back to maybe -7dB.  It’s pretty cool being able to control the sound quality by adjusting the tweeter output.  Next time I build a new set of speakers, I will definitely include L-pads again.  It’s almost like getting to have many different pairs of speakers all inside one box.

    There remains a few things which must be done before these guys are completely “done” and ready for duty.  Number one on that list is that I need to replace one of the binding posts: I was using a ratchet to fasten down the bolt/washer on the inside and holding the outside terminal steady by means of a drill bit inserted into the cable opening when SNAP! the post broke in half!  Apparently I don’t know my own strength?  For a brief moment I was very distraught that I wouldn’t be able to listen to them for another week!  Then I realized I could just solder the connecting wire onto the broken terminal.  A ghetto patch, but it’ll work until I can get new terminals in the mail.

    I also didn’t bond the flared port tubes with ABS cement yet.  Part of me wonders if they are really the correct length.  I used the formula that came with the flared tubes to determine the port length, which is a very short 5″.  That only left about a 1″ section to be straight, while most of the port length is taken up by the flares.  I did calculate that airspeed through the port and it was low enough that I really didn’t need to use flared ports, but I think they look cooler, and they didn’t add that much extra cost (yay sales!), so why not.

    I may or may not need to change a few things after I plot the frequency response too.  More or less foam inside, inverting the polarity on the tweet, etc.  Before I put the foam on the inside of the enclosures, these things were BOOMY.  It kind of scared me.  Thankfully adding foam made a big difference.

    So yeah!  They’re finished!  If you ignore the fine print anyway.  Some tweaking will be going on over the next couple weeks.  Expect to hear more!

    Man, Snapple, thanks for ruining my bird fantasies. Wait, that came out wrong…


    2011 - 04.15

    As seen on the inside of a Snapple cap.

    Ever dream of being a bird?  Well you would hardly get to enjoy that glorious blue sky.  It’s kind of sad to think about!

    Well.  Maybe looking down would be the more enjoyable view anyway.  I’m just going to go with that.

    Extra, Extra, read all about it


    2011 - 03.31

    New page on the site, with loads of trivia and neat knowledge nuggets: the ABOUT page, as seen in the blog header!

    Joy in Rediscovery, Part One.


    2011 - 03.31

    aka Finding  the Meaning Model Railroad Edition?

    So my model train locomotives that I’ve been waiting around a half a year for arrived in the mail last week. So. Exciting. Few people will understand why, but it is. I subscribe to the Milwaukee Road Modelers Yahoo usergroup, which is an incredible resource and a fascinating discussion forum that I’d recommend to anyone interested in such affairs. On the group, one member Eric, who is like mister milwaukee electric, chimed in that he had gotten two of them, and one couldn’t pull much weight. Naturally I had to test mine, but my train layout was packed up in boxes. What to do…?

    First, I went digging for spare track. There was an old fluorescent light cardboard box stuffed full of it out in the garage. This I had wisely purchased off eBay a long time ago, and it had formed the backbone of my old layout in Chicago. Second, a trip to the local hobby shop for some rail joiners. I know I have a ton of them somewhere, but a daunting stack of sealed boxes packed tight with many small objects stood between them and myself. Armed with these, and a power transformer which had been easy to locate among the moving boxes, I set up a long, straight test track to find out how many cars my new engines could pull.

    Somewhere along the line of setting this up, I had the thought, wow, I wonder how long it’s been since I’ve actually set up a train track on the floor? Probably not since I was a kid. For that matter that last time I ran a model train was the beginning of last June. Ten months ago.

    With the train on the track, I turned up the juice. It was the same transformer I had as a kid, the same knurled handle applying those volts to make a miniature fantasy-land come alive. A familiar old feeling I hadn’t felt in some time came rushing back; the excitement of a tiny network of gears and axles churning under my command. There is some child-like wonder inherent in the animation of these bits of plastic that takes me back to someplace hard to reach, someplace hidden. Late that night, I myself was transported; backward through time, lying on the carpet, watching the long stretch of passenger cars move back and forth.

    A friend of mine once said, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t do on your railroad–it’s YOUR empire.” Indeed. And while my empire resides primarily inside of boxes at this point, I have no doubt that these two will be big stars when it makes a triumphant return.

    Wakemate: know your z’s like your ABC’s.


    2011 - 03.19

    Alright here comes one I’ve been holding out on for a few weeks now: The Wakemate!

    What the heck is it? : It’s a wristband you wear to bed. Inside there is an accelerometer, which measures when and how much your wrist is moving during the night. This is a method of sleep analysis called Actigraphy. There are many smartphone apps that use the built-in accelerometers in your phone to measure the same thing when placed on the mattress next to you. The downside of this is that you’ll need to put the phone quite close to your body to get accurate results, and even then it’s not going to be as sensitive to small movements that a wristband like this will pick up.

    I’ve been using it for about two weeks now and I have to say, it’s pretty awesome. It connects to the phone (either Android, iOS, or Blackberry) via bluetooth, communicating once when you go to sleep and then again in the moring when it’s time to wake up. You set an alarm for the latest time you want to wake up, then the wakemate will watch your sleep patterns and wake you, up to 20 minutes before your designated alarm time. The idea is that if you are awakened during a period of light sleep, you won’t feel as groggy as you would if you were in deep sleep and jolted awake.

    While the alarm aspect is certainly a cool idea, and I’m sure some people will be all about it, myself, I’m much more interested in simply looking at the data of how well I slept last night and how much deep sleep I got. Deep sleep, where your brain switches over to delta waves, is the restful kind of sleep that will make you feel more well rested in the morning. 

    Corresponding to how much deep sleep you get, the wakemate website gives you a “sleep score” which you can view on their website, along with all the other data on how well you’ve been sleeping. Just last night I got my highest sleep score yet, an 89. Interestingly, last night I slept 5:02, where the previous night, where I slept for 7:14 and got a score of 69. The difference? Last night I got much more deep sleep, and I never woke up during the night, which is something else that can lower your sleep score.

    They don’t give much explanation on exactly how the sleep score is derived, but as you get more data on yourself and the variables start to rearrange themselves, you can make an educated guess as to how they tally it. One other really helpful thing is that they allow you to tag your nights with different labels. Some of mine are “vino,” “late supper,” or “swam”. Tracking these variables over time might allow me to see what effect they have on my alertness the next day.

    Their website also shows you a plot of the raw movement data taken from the wristband for each night. To me, this is the coolest thing to look at, because that’s really the data behind all their calculations.

    Why would you want all this data? Probably the same reason a lot of people enjoy having bike computers. It’s just cool to know stats about yourself and try to measure ways that you could be improving things, or figure out what you’re doing wrong.

    I’m guessing some of you already knew the basic facts, so onto some detailed impressions: the wristband itself is a little snug. It’s make of elastic on one side and what feels like flannel for about 3/4ths of the rest. I figured out that you need to insert the electronics so that the flat side faces your arm, and the curved side faces out. That frees up a small but important amount of stretching so that the wristband isn’t quite so tight. It also helps to insert it on the side that is under the “wake” instead of the “mate” and wear the band so that the elastic area is closer to your body. Hard to describe, so see the picture:

    Knowing these facts, the wristband is very wearable. I don’t wake up dying to take it off, nor does it distract me at all going to sleep or in the night. I suspect for some people with large wrists though, you might be finding or making your own wristband to stick the electronics inside of.

    The app (I have a Motorola Droid X, so these comments pertain to the Android version) is, how should I put it… finicky. Given, this is the first version, and it says on their website that improvements are soon to come. But I have had it crash on me at least 4 times now, and sadly if the app crashes, you can kiss that nights data goodbye. There is no way to restart the app and tell it, “hey I just woke up and there is data you need to get!” Nor is there a way to take your wristband to the computer and plug it in to upload. If the app crashes (and it does!) you’ll lose that night. That’s definitely a bummer. But I expect this will be remedied with future updates.

    On the whole, the app could use a lot of improvement, with a persistent volume setting for the alarm, a built-in viewer for your stats, a bigger ‘stop the alarm button’ (it’s tiny!), more features, and less crashing! I’d say the current implementation is spartan, but functional >70% of the time. Suffice it to say, really looking forward to the updates!!

    But all criticisms aside, this puppy is awesome. It was worth the $60. I don’t know how long the battery lifespan is supposed to be, but I intend to use the wakemate every night until I’ve run it straight into the ground. Seeing a graph the next morning of how well you slept last night is just fascinating. I can tell you that, but until you see it yourself, based on your own actual sleep last night, you won’t quite appreciate how cool it truly is.  (It is very cool.)

    I’ll update this review after I’ve had a month or two more with it, and I also might blog about using the wakemate and dreaming, which is something I’ve been looking forward to since I signed up for the preorder, over a year ago!

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Finding the Meaning: GTA Edition


    2011 - 02.26

    This is a long one, but hear me out: it ends in a great story–even if you hate video games.

    I’m a big fan of the video game blog Kotaku. Every day it’s a steady stream of news to check out, and they often have articles which are just musings upon what the editors liked about ‘the experience’ of playing a particular game. Often even more interesting is what you find in the comments on these articles; random people chiming in about their individual experiences, which is sometimes like a kaleidescope of perspectives and appreciations for different subtleties, and the stories that accompany them. I find it fascinating, reading about the reasons why people enjoy things, or that transcendent moment that ‘did it’ for them.

    One of my favorites was an article published shortly before the release of the fourth Grand Theft Auto entitled “GTA: Rememberances of Cars Jacked” which related lasting memories of experiences in the game and asked commenters what their favorite stories were. At the beginning of the article, Owen Good writes that one of the distinguishing hallmarks of the series is its ability to impart these moments of greatness “that rates the kind of visceral, first-time-ever memories that people usually have of events in the real world.”

    My friend Luke once described to me playing GTA: Vice City at a friend’s house. They were playing through the game near the beginning and had just obtained their first uzi submachine gun. Luke had stolen a motorcycle and was riding along the strip in Miami Beach, that famous stretch with all the vintage art deco hotels. Against the backdrop of neon signs, bikini-clad pedestrians, and 50’s-looking cars, he discovered he could shoot the uzi straight forward, something you can’t do in a car. He described finding the set of wooden ramps that lead to a set of daring motorcycle jumps across the rooftops, and taking that first wild jump where the camera suddenly swaps to a dramatic angle and the time goes slow motion. Through some convoluted series of police chases and blasting random cars with his new grip, he wound up back on the strip, looking out at the ocean–when right then the song “Shoot It Up” came on the radio.

    It’s one of those moments where you’ve just pulled off the craziest stunt, you can hardly believe you somehow came out unscathed, a bombardment of unexpected insanity ensues requiring deft maneuvers to escape, and then right in the thick of it all, that perfect song comes on and BAM, you’re not just sitting on the couch at a friend’s house–you’re transported. You’re in Miami. You smell the salt of seawater in the air, feel the breeze on your face, listening to the sounds of some song you haven’t heard since forever ago and it takes you back to some strangely-foreign, strangely-familiar place in your childhood. In that moment it really IS the 80s. You are THERE.

    Some of the more awesome comments from Kotaku:

    “Over the years and through three GTA games, we’d have a playsession once a week where (my friend and I would) each play a ‘turn’ wreaking havoc and trying to survive. When one of us would die in the game, we’d hand the controller over. His very first time playing GTAIII was especially memorable: after having seen me play it, he really wanted to steal an ambulance. So when he got the controller, he immediately popped a pedestrian and waited for the ambulance to arrive. When it did, he killed the EMTs and stole the ambulance, roaring in triumph and raising his fist in the air. I about fell off the bed laughing when, six seconds later, he drove the ambulance off a cliff and into the water (and died).”

    “I loved (the radio) so much, I actually bothered to rip the audio from the game discs of GTA3 and Vice City and converted it to play in my real-life car. Uncut, with (fake) commercials and all.” (I actually did the same thing for K-JAH/GTA3 and Radio Esperanto/VC)

    “The day I beat Vice City I watched all the Back to the Future movies and sewed all the Homestarrunner patches to a pair of tattered jeans I had. I was flying high and I couldn’t believe that after all the times I’d tried before, I’d finally done it. I was with my first gamer boyfriend (I know!) so for once in my life, playing a game and beating it was an event, something special. I couldn’t wait to tell him that night… then he dumped me. Ah, but I still remember the final firefight in the mansion like it was yesterday… I drove around on a bike in the gray t-shirt from the mall hitting as many pedestrians as possible in a huge victory lap around the city.”

    “My first GTA was Vice City for the PC, I didn’t have a PS2 then. I would spend hours cruising just listening to the radio station, I loved Fever. But I knew I was hooked on GTA when I was bummed out for the whole weekend that I had to take out Lance. Then, the first car I jumped in, they are playing “I Just Died In Your Arms” on the radio. It hit me so hard. Almost, almost teared up.”

    “In real life, I was driving down a street that had a cul de sac. It was winter, so the road was snow-covered and slippery. I sped up my car, and did a hand-brake turn at the end, effectively doing a 180. My passenger said “whoa, where did you learn that?” I coolly said “GTA”.”

    Vice City overlaid on a photo of the Avalon Hotel, Miami Beach
    Which brings me to this: Where things really start to take on a new dimension are the tales where video games and reality begin to overlap. Not for the illusion of invincibility or the reckless audacity it may accompany, but for the feeling of magic, of excitement, and the rediscovery of the sense of wonder, exploration, and experimentation that it brings.

    The summer after Grand Theft Auto III came out, I was living in the upstairs apartment of a house in Madison Wisconsin with my friend Rob. We had a slack-off office summer job together and lived one short block from State Street, the buzzing magnet for youth and juvenile shenanigans. The street is closed to traffic, cluttered with skateboarders, bikers, and a mix of student pedestrians from the university at one end and working professionals from the capital square at the other. Strung out in a ring around this area, our map was dotted with pubs to crash, late-night pizza joints to raid, an abundance of odd concrete begging for a freestyle, and endless question marks.

    One of the coolest aspects of the GTA series is how it constantly prods you to explore. To jump out of the car and see where that narrow crack between the buildings leads. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a little spot tucked away from view, a winding walkway ending in a fire escape climb, atop of which sits a “hidden package.” A small white box tied up with twine that is a badge of discovery. A bite-size reward, a tour of duty emblem that adds one more number to your score of how far down into obscurity your voyages have taken you and how boldly you sought out the tiny spots waiting to be stumbled upon.

    We used to take that idea into real life and go “hidden package hunting” on many a late nite bender. Hidden package hunting wasn’t so much about finding something as it was about looking. We’d take the weirdest shortcuts through people’s back yards, slipping through holes in the fences and squeezing between closely parked cars. If you were to chart our path through the city on a map, it would have been a squiggly line with only the loosest adherence to streets, blocks, or sidewalks. There was one night we went up to the top of a multi-story car park and jumped a medium-sized gap to land inside the neighboring, separate car park, working our way back down and walking past the bored attendant who gave us a funny look on the way out.

    As the summer wore on we got more ambitious and mischievous. One night involved the creative repositioning of those blinky, wooden construction markers into a narrow, twisting corridor along some minor sidestreet. Anyone who had to navigate their way through there the next day surely suffered the wrath of our annoying prank. I’m not saying it was considerate, or even a good idea. But I AM saying that it was definitely awesome.

    Another night we found this cool little area recessed below street level, filled with furniture and an expansive shallow pool. Having passed right by it many times we both kind of looked at each other and asked, “how did we not know this was here??” One way or another, some of that furniture ended up sitting inside the shallow pool, tables and chairs neatly arranged for leisurely eating cafe food and chatting. We sat in the pool-chairs and giggled over a brief conversation or two, long enough to enjoy the fruits of our little escapade before slipping away into the night to continue our hidden package hunt. Probably the culmination of these adventures was sneaking into the newly built convention center on the lakefront to see if we could make it to the top of the fountain on the roof. We did.

    We made hand holds with our feet and knees to hoist each other up and after a series of surprisingly easy clamberings, we dipped our toes in the fountain’s water of triumph, surrounded on one side by city lights and the other by lakewater. It was a sublime moment of victory. We OWNED that city. We laughed and gawked at the expansive view, maybe waxed philosophical a bit, and sat down with our legs hanging off the edge of the fountain to savor the moment. It was a glorious instant in time.

    The spell of which was broken by an inquisitive police cruiser pausing far off at the end of the long pedestrian bridge which had led us here. We froze. “Do you think he can see us?” “Nah. It’s pitch black up here.” “But our legs…?” We both looked at each other. Sure it was completely dark up here, but our feet had been hanging off the edge for some time, and the base of the fountain was brightly lit. Shit!

    Shoes and socks hastily went back on, and we made the jumps down onto the hard concrete in a frantic escape dash. There was only one way out: straight toward the police cruiser over the pedestrian bridge. Unless… the doors to a glass-enclosed stairway down to a lower level were unlocked. As luck would have it, they were. Mad laughter ensued and we took the stairs at full speed, crashing through the door at the bottom which opened up to the city street. Clean getaway. Zero stars.

    You just blew my mind: Imaginary Colors


    2011 - 02.15

    Move over imaginary numbers, there’s a new impossible-to-visualize concept in town: Imaginary Colors!

    Stick with me here: Cone cells are the photoreceptor cells in your retinas that allow you to see colors. Human beings have three sizes of cone cells, logically named S (small), M (medium), and L (large). Each of these three is best at a particular range of wavelengths of light, and the combinations of how much each particular cone gets ‘stimulated’ by a light wave will determine the color you see. The color yellow, for example, is perceived when the L cones are stimulated slightly more than the M cones and not much activity happens at the S cones. Yellow!

    So all colors are a combination of different cone responses. Here’s where things get wild: there are theoretical combinations of cone responses which cannot be generated by any physical light source! That means there’s colors that your eyes could see, but that no light could make!

    Dude.

    I found out about this when I was working on a Photoshop tutorial and started reading about Lab color. Lab color is an alternate colorspace (ie not RGB like a monitor or CMYK like a printing press) designed to mimic the behavior of the human eye. But there are a lot of colors which are possible to create in Lab color which cannot be reproduced by your RGB monitor. Or by ANYTHING!

    all the white=imaginary colors! So are you salivating yet, over these new colors that you’ve never seen before? Wanna know how to see them? Yes you do! It’s easy. And a little disappointing, because all you can get is a limited, fleeting glimpse. Says Wikipedia:

    “If a saturated green is viewed until the green receptors are fatigued and then a saturated red is viewed, a perception of red more intense than pure spectral red can be experienced. This is due to the fatigue of the green receptors and the resulting lack of their ability to desaturate the perceptual response to the output of the red receptors.”

    I think I remember having that effect at a 5th grade Science fair after staring too long at a giant posterboard colored bright neon lime. As a final note, one last anecdote from Wikipedia:

    “At Walt Disney World, Kodak engineered Epcot’s pavement to be a certain hue of pink so that the grass would look greener through the reverse of this effect.”

    Crazy!!

    Maybe someday when computers have the ability to interface directly with our retinas, we’ll be able to “see” other colors… Maybe like an augmented reality style HUD or something.  Or maybe just the most awesomest music visualizer ever.  Hello, Institute of Shockingly Incredible Research That Sadly Has No Practical Value?  I’d like to sign up for your Imaginary Colors program! ;)

    Expanding power, in your pocket! (wait)


    2011 - 02.03

    There are two new devices coming out in the (relatively) near future that have caught my eye. Both of these represent a shift toward delivering an experience, on-the-go, that rivals the ease and fullness of what you have at home. These products, to me, signal an exciting new era in which the functionality of your portable devices is held to the same standard as you expect in the comfort of home.

    Device #1: The Next Generation Portable from Sony

    This thing is a monster. As in “aaaaah monstaaar!!” Let’s go down the list: Dual analog sticks (real, honest to goodness sticks), quad core processor (ARM, so low power draw), front and read cameras, OLED touchscreen, REAR touchscreen (seriously), GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G (if you like), compass, motion sensors (not a big fan of games that use these personally)… DUDE. The games you’ll play on it will be Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, Call of Duty, Wipeout… the big guns. And not some gimped version where you touch the screen for everything, or tilt to steer, or play your shooters “on rails”; you have 2 sticks now, just like your PS3 controller at home. Meaning you’ll control the camera and you’ll have the same familiar button scheme as you do on your couch. Real gaming, for people who know games and have been scoffing this whole time at the idea of portable “gaming” on the iOS devices. It was half-baked. It just wasn’t “there” yet. Well here it is. It’s a PS3 you can stick in your backpack. Wow.

    Me personally, I don’t know if I’ll be in a huge rush to get one when it comes out. Rarely, if ever, do I game on the go. Once and a while I dabble in some Angry Birds or Doodle Jump, you know, the crème de la crème of the bite-size gaming world. This is mostly due to the fact that I commute to work by myself, by car. But for anyone who rides a train, a bus, a subway, or maybe even carpoolers, here is the way to spend your commute. Sweet Jeebus. If I were any of those people, I would be all-the-hell over this Sony NGP thingie.  Sticks man, two sticks.  See:

    Who knows, maybe they’ll even find some way to rope in the only-at-home gamers like me, maybe via minigames on the NGP that are tied to your progress in a so-called “AAA” title on the PS3. For example, maybe I’m playing Mass Effect 2 on the PS3, and instead of doing all my planetary mining activities on the big screen, maybe I pick up the NGP and go out to the backyard, for some relaxing mining while I sip a cool beverage and enjoy the sun. Or maybe, taking that a step further, a friend who’s over at my house hanging out picks up the NGP and starts doing some mining on the NGP WHILE I’m playing Mass Effect on the PS3. Maybe what’s happeneing on the NGP affects the game action on the PS3 in real time, and vice versa. And wildest of all, just maybe, for games that are less demanding, I could play matches against my friends who have NGPs across town who I riding the bus, while I sit at home on the PS3. Live cross-platform gaming is theoretically possible with the horsepower that the NGP is packing. I hope Sony pushes this direction, because it’d be, well, awesome.

    Device #2: The Motorola Atrix 4G

    Yo, dawg, I heard that you like keyboards and LCDs, so I put a LAPTOP inside your SMARTPHONE. Yeah, that pretty much says it. The Atrix is a dual core smartphone, with a dock that has a laptop-sized keyboard and a laptop-sized LCD. You plug it in, and your smartphone is now a laptop. This is pure genius for anyone who hates trying to type on a smartphone (read:everyone). Writers on the go, business professionals, students, whatever. Even just using the big screen to watch hulu, or surf your favorite sites.

    The Atrix is like seeing a glimpse of the future. Things are going to get to the point where the computing power inside our pockets overtakes notebooks, and having both will just be redundant. Convergence. All we really need then is a portable keyboard and larger screen. Which is what we’ve got here. I think the form factor will continue to evolve, with foldable displays when that becomes practical, pico-projectors for presentations or gaming on the go, and whatever input paradigm can eventually overtake the keyboard. Maybe speech recognition? I’m pretty sure Google is hard at work making computers understand our voices better…

    Honorable mention: the Playstation Phone

    It’s formally called the “Xperia Play” (dumb name!) but let’s just call it what it really is; the first-gen Playstation phone. When we put it next to the monstrosity that is the Sony NGP, it looks like a bit of a weakling in comparison, but it’s cool that this puppy is here. Ever since the original first-gen iPhone came out in 2007, I’ve been wishing that someone would make a case for it that had a d-pad and buttons for game playing. There has been one company which teased such prototypes for forever, but they are finally just making it to market now (ugh) and I bet the support for the accessory is probably low from game-makers, which cripples it at birth. So a phone with a native d-pad and buttons! It’s finally here. An idea 4 years too late, but better late than never I suppose. You won’t be playing the latest Gears of War on this hardware like you WILL on the NGP, but you could get your SNES Mario emulator rocking with this sucker like Engadget in the pic above, and I bet it’ll be a pretty sweet little game machine, albeit outclassed by it’s own Sony brethren. However, you could legitimately argue this is the best gaming experience that a PHONE has to offer, since the NGP is technically not a telephone (helloooo Skype!).

    The Spiritual Uplift of Infinity


    2011 - 01.30

    Part one: Immensity

    One of the most endlessly fascinating human concepts is the idea of infinity. It’s a concept that is referenced often, but seldom do we get the occasion to sit and deeply contemplate the idea. There are so many ways in which infinity is a breathtaking thought. Let’s delve into it!

    The marvel which immediately comes to mind is the size of it. I think of a hundred as a big number. If I have 100 blueberry muffins, I’ve got more breakfast food than I could possibly eat. The refrigerator is going to be full, and even then, some of these things are probably winding up in the garbage. As much as I hate to see anything go to waste, and as much as I love eating a fluffy blueberry muffin, I simply cannot eat 100 of them. So 100 is a lot.

    Stepping up one order of magnitude, if I had 1000 muffins, now I would have to start giving them away. There would be boxes everywhere. Definitely not enough space in the fridge and freezer combined, and now I think I never want to eat another muffin again. Even the ones with the sweet crunchy tops. Iew. If I had 10,000, now we’re dealing with a disaster. The landlord is incensed with the gargantuan piles spilling out all the doors, and there’s probably not much room to walk through the house. At 100,000 muffins, I would probably get killed. Squeezed to death by the immense force needed to cram so many into one house. Even when you compress all the air out of that fluffy goodness, we’re looking at some dangerous volumes.

    But to a lot of people 100,000 is still not that big of a number. What about a million? That number gets tossed around like nothing. A million bucks for a mansion. A million oranges in a large plantation. 310 million people living in the United States. It’s a big country. But there’s almost 7 BILLION people living on planet Earth. 310 million US residents is not a lot of people compared to the 7 billion world population. We’re only 1/22nd of the total amount.

    A billion, now that’s a really big number. The sun and the earth both formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The universe itself is estimated to be 13.75 billion years old, with a visible size of 46 billion light years. So big, you can no longer grasp how large that is. There’s easily over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. That’s more galaxies than even the widest, boldest mind can imagine. But there are bigger numbers still. And yet, the sizes of all these things are insignificant next to the size of infinity. A hundred billion is exactly the same distance from infinity as the number one. That’s the wonder of infinity!

    Just for fun, let’s keep going. The number of bits available for storage on my 1.5TB hard drive, 12 trillion. The US national debt is currently 13.75 trillion. A hundred dollars for every year in the age of the universe! The number of neural connections in the human brain is over 10^14. There’s over 70 sextillion stars in the observable universe. That’s 70×10^21. 10^80 elemental particles present in the observable universe. Google, now a household word, is an alternate spelling of googol, which is the number 10^100. Written out, that’s:

    Ten followed by a hundred zeros. But there’s even bigger numbers still! A googolplex is 10^10^100. In a scene from Cosmos, Carl Sagan humorously shows how it’s not possible to write out a googolplex because it’s simply too big–it wouldn’t fit inside our universe! Those 10^80 particles are simply insufficient for the task, even if one particle was used to represent one zero. And still, there are even larger numbers than the googolplex. Even dramatically larger numbers. But still, the idea persists that even the largest number conceivable is precisely the same distance from infinity as the number one.

    Pt.2: Park it wherever you like

    I’d like to talk a little bit about another fascinating property of infinity that gives me a lot of optimism and joy. When we think about infinity, my mind at least goes straight to the large: the vastness of the cosmos and the unending progression of time. But for all the giant spaces infinity implies, there are implicit minuscule ones as well. When we count from 1 to 2, we think of that as a finite interval. It’s easy to see, if I have one apple and you give me a second one, now I have two, a finite number of apples. I definitely don’t have infinite apples. (Although I wish I did.)

    But for every number you can name between one and two, I can give you a number that’s halfway between your number and one. You say 1.5, I say 1.25. You say 1.1, I say 1.05. You say okay wiseguy, how about 1.000001? I reply 1.0000005. We can start using scientific notation and continue this volley–until forever. And just like that, we’ve slid down the chasm into infinity, INSIDE the space between one and two. Infinity can exist inside of finite boundaries, because of the idea that in addition to being endlessly large, infinity is also endlessly small.

    This idea has tremendous philosophical ramifications. When we lay outside under the stars at night and gaze out upon the universe, the sheer scale of ourselves, compared to it, can really seem bewildering. Stupefying. Daunting. Maybe even a bit disheartening. We realize how utterly tiny we are. And how the vast spaces beyond our planet will never know our names, our histories, or the fruits of our lives work. The collective plight of our entire species will likely be a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a blink in the scale of our own galaxy alone, nevermind the cosmos. We glimpse the scope of the large infinity and all the treasure we hold special suddenly seems not just petty, but outright laughable. When our train of thought goes so far down that track, infinity seems to be a source of despair, pointlessness.

    It is in this moment we need to remind ourselves that the grandiose richness of detail, subtlety, and surprise that large infinities encompass is also fully present within the infinities of the small. And these infinities of the small reside within our familiar finite spaces. Holding two apples, one in each hand, you can hold the entire cosmos between your fingertips. That same infinity up in the sky at night is right here, literally in our hands, available to be reshaped, to be studied, played with, laughed about, and to reshape us with its own, bottomless insight. This idea of infinity, so breathtaking in immensity, is right here with us, a trove of eternal possibilities for inquisition.

    It’s a mathematical proof for the idea of interconnectedness. Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist, eloquently muses upon the idea of oneness using a single tree within the larger world:

    A tree is very beautiful. A tree to me is as beautiful as a cathedral. Even more beautiful.
    I look into the tree and I saw the whole cosmos in it.
    I saw the sunshine in the tree. Can you see the sunshine in the tree?

    Yeah, because without the sunshine, no tree can grow.
    I see a cloud in the tree. Can you see? Without a cloud there can be no rain, no tree.

    I see the Earth in the tree–I see everything in the tree.
    So the tree is where everything in the cosmos… come into.
    And the cosmos reveals itself to me through a tree.

    Therefore a tree, to me, is a cathedral.

    It inspires me so very deeply to think that infinity can be bounded within a finite space. It inspires me to think that the potential for limitlessness is anywhere you look. The comprehensive vast ‘everything’ is right here. All around us, within our hands, and inside of us. Exactly like Thich Nhat’s tree, we can look into ourselves, we can look between our hands, we can look…wherever we want, and see the whole cosmos.

    Finding the Meaning


    2011 - 01.25

    So there’s going to be a new series of posts on here called “Finding the Meaning”.  This whole idea originally got started when I was talking with my wonderful girlfriend about a poem on here.  In my spare time I’ve been reading a small chapbook of poems by the author Heather Sellers, and although it does have some nice little gems in it, I am constantly frustrated by the inaccessible nature of her writing.  Sure, maybe I’m just too dense, too much of a dolt to “get it” but then, I write poetry myself, and I’d like to think I’m at least somewhat “hip” and/or “with it” enough to grasp the meanings of some cryptic poetry–at a certain point, unless you want to explain the art (at least a little bit), it’s just meaningless to the majority of your audience.  And that sorta sucks!

    My girl and I were chatting about the poem “Fine Paisley Like Mandelbrot” and I sort of realized that I had fallen into the same trap–too much ambiguity.

    Also, another thing that had been on my mind was the recollection of an awesome article on the video games blog Kotaku, where people were discussing their favorite memories and “experiences” playing Grand Theft Auto.  I really got into that discussion, to the point where I read through hundreds of comments.  And it got me thinking: I enjoy listening to people discuss the reasons why they like things.

    So in that spirit I smash the proverbial champagne bottle over the hull of this new ship, christened, “Finding the Meaning”