Entries in Category Media

Link Dump, February 2017

I think I'll try something new and share some items recently interesting to me in the form of a link dump.

  • Last year I followed with great interest youtube machinist Clickspring as he made a mechanical pendulum-timed clock from scratch in his home shop in Australia. This year he begins an ambitious new project, documenting in a series of videos his process of replicating the ancient mechanical computer known as the Antikythera mechanism. Here's the first episode:
  • Neal Stephenson (one of my favorite authors) has announced, with Nicole Galland, a new Speculative Fiction novel featuring time-travel, the Victorian era, and a transition from a world in which magic works to one dominated by technology. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. will be on sale June 13.
  • There's a nice infrared thermometer made by Etekcity for sale at Amazon as of this writing. Even if you don't have any specific need for convenient no-contact temperature measurement, it's a great way to get an intuitive sense of heat transfer and great fun to point at everything you can think of.
  • Speaking of tools for STEM education, there's a project that makes it easy to enable visual programming environment Scratch, popular for teaching grade-school kids to code, to receive input from and pass control signals to things in the real world via Arduino. Scratch 4 Arduino is remarkably mature and easy to get going with.
  • In fact, I'm using it myself to build a system of musical swings (inspired by this traveling exhibit) that will be programmed by a talented student at a local school. Watch this space for more by the end of the month!

Batman's Grinder Use is Unsafe

Consider the following scene from Batman Begins, where Bruce Wayne, preparing for his new life as the Dark Knight, sharpens his bat-shaped throwing blades on an ordinary bench grinder as might be found in workshops and indeed, suburban garages around the world. Unlike much of what makes Bruce Wayne Batman—his bat-vehicles, his supercomputers, his Tibetan ninja training—this is low-tech blue-collar stuff, accessible to the home DIYer and therefore dangerous to the home DIYer, if the movie's depiction of grinder use should be unsafe. And it is.

Bruce Wayne attempts a DIY project

The Transporter is Underused

Although I've certainly consumed and enjoyed a lot of Star Trek in my life, I have to admit it has many shortcomings as science fiction, that is, as fiction that takes for its starting point speculations about the future state of science. Although I don't doubt that the writers of the various forms of Star Trek are both competent professionals and talented artists, they've been burdened by difficult positions taken at the very creation of the original show, and ever since have had to decide how much of this past they can shrug off.

One of the more problematic legacies of the show's origin is the transporter (another, Star Trek's laughable treatment of economics, should probably get a whole treatise rather than just a blog post, but I'll leave that for another time), which is one of those technologies sometimes posited in science fiction stories that, for various reasons, writers fail to fully explore. One of the most common reasons is that some technologies (or, in the case of superheroes, some powers) are altogether too powerful, and the consequences of that power pose a problem for storytelling; if characters have godlike abilities at their command, what room does that leave for drama, for tension and its relief, for a satisfying plot?

Auditory Relief for the Distracted Introvert

Working in open plan offices and other noisy environments has made it obvious to me that I (probably this is true for everybody else, too) can't do my best work without a certain amount of privacy. In fact, “isolation” would not be too a strong a word to describe the most productive environment for me. When my various workplaces fall short of the monastic austerity and complete solitude I imagine to be ideal, which is always, noise cancelling headphones have been an enormous help. I'm using a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-ANC1 at the moment and am very pleased with them, although their on-ear design may be physically uncomfortable for some. Of course, noise cancellation is far from perfect and voices still come through, but filling the headphones with some kind of audio signal helps make up the difference. Music is often too distracting on its own, but I have a few favorite audio loops that are just enough to mask off the world without wearing on my concentration themselves:

  • SimplyNoise is a website with white, pink, and brown noise generators, any of which can be amplitude modulated by a slowly varying sinusoid. I suspect the oscillation prevents my mind from getting too good at filtering the noise out and picking up voices again.
  • RainyMood.com offers a recording of a rainstorm with occasional thunder. This audio signal is certainly more structured than the other noise sources I use, but the sound of rain is so natural that it's not usually able to break my concentration.
  • My absolute favorite, though, has to be this 24-hour long (!) YouTube video of the ambient engine noise heard on the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I grew up with ST:TNG, and I have to admit there's something very comforting about getting some work done with this particular soundtrack!

For more on the relationship between sensory stimulation and workplace productivity, I recommend Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which, among other influences, has lately given teeth to my desire for a quiet and focused workplace.

Ruminations on Leviathan, Prompted by the Film Potiche

As an excuse to try out FAU's new Living Room Theaters I spent some time Sunday seeing a French film named Potiche, which was surprisingly and tediously political at the same time. The surprise was my own fault: I didn't research it too closely before buying my ticket. Blame for the tedium falls elsewhere! Whereas most of the audience, I expect, saw Potiche as a charming and funny celebration of female empowerment, I saw mostly a nightmare in which everything was politics, everything from business decisions to paternal pride to tender moments between husband and wife tainted with the tawdry operations of socialist democracy.

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