Monthly Archives: November 2007

Rambling Thoughts

Funny things happen to me at the end of a software release (we have one every six months) especially now that they occur at the same time as the end of the semester. My finals are almost over — less than two hours to go — but the release goes on. My mind seems to go off in it’s own direction.

It usually goes something like today’s incident. I was walking through the neighborhood supermarché on my way to get eggs for Lisa, who was at home baking cookies. I was thinking about les œufs on my way down the aisle, when suddenly I realized that I’m heading vers le marchand to give him my money without the right English greeting on my mind.

Bonsoir? No. Too formal.

Salut? Maybe. But still not quite right.

“Hi.” Yes, that was it . . . just in time.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve lapsed into French in my head since I started perusing that small Lonely Planet book about Paris the week after we returned from London. But it was the first time I’ve almost burst forth en français.

In a mostly unrelated note. I went looking in Google Earth for the antipodal point of our house (42° 8’53.36″N, 71°31’33.14″W). My hope was that whenever Lisa and I happened to be in Australia, we could say that we’re literally on the other side of the world. (An antipodal point is a spot on the globe that’s connected to some other spot by a straight line that passes through the center of the earth; so that if you had a magic bus — or the ability to realize the plot of a bad movie with an Academy Award-winning lead actress — it’s where you would arrive if you went straight down and just kept going.) Turns out, it’s in the South Seas, about 640 miles off the coast of Australia ( 42° 8’53.36″S, 108°28’26.86″E). Too bad, it would have been a great addition to a holiday newsletter.

(For those keeping track, these might be hints. . . . or maybe not.)

Posted in General, Software Engineering, Travel | 2 Comments

Everybody needs real estate

My digital darkroom

Lisa says that using two monitors moves me further in the direction of nerdy. What do you think?

Posted in Computing, General, Photography | 6 Comments

Getting to Know All about You, pt. 5 – Fun Stuff

It’s Friday . . . at least until I go to sleep, when it magically turns into Saturday. Here are some fun feeds to explore over the weekend.

Update: And while you’re strutting around the ‘net, why not visit Shoe Blog?

Posted in General, Worthy Feeds | 2 Comments

Andrea Robbins and Max Becher

Three German reenactors outside Cologne dressed as Native American Men Everything worked out fine in my schedule, and I was able to get into Boston to attend the PRC lecture given by Max Becher and Andrea Robbins. I’m so glad that I was able to go.

I really liked their way of thinking and world view, which is incredibly cerebral (without being academic) and delightful to look at. They began by showing the “transportation of place,” in particular how colonialism and diaspora — not to mention tourism — create the most unusual doplegangers: Germany in Africa, Holland in Michigan, the Alps in Washington, Native Americans in Germany, and so on. They identified several axes, spectra, and dichotomies, such as “push vs. pull” (the forces behind how places resemble others) and a “spectrum of authority” that passes from original to planned derivatives to completely coopted aculturation. In many of their series, they present the reorientation of the familiar in a foreign place into alien amid the local. People and places recreate themselves by copying the other. [1]

Robbins and Becher also spent a lot of time describing “shifts” in time, place, and physics: the differences between Star Wars action figures of 1977 and 1997; freed slaves who resettled in the Dominican Republic and whose decendants still speak English and consider themselves American; the incredible and unbelievable physical effects at the Oregon Vortex; and a poverty theme park that puts favelas and shanty towns in America’s Georgia; just to name a few examples.

All of these ideas come together to examine overlapping histories and places via dislocation and signifiers. They find it more interesting to photograph a place indirectly. To photograph France, they visited St. Pierre and Miquelon, a French territory just south of Newfoundland. To examine strip mall culture in America, they photographed big-box stores outside Toulouse, France. And to look at Lubavitch Hasidim in Brooklyn, they traveled to Postville, Iowa. (In the latter case they also took aim indirectly at Middle American values.)

It’s an interesting intellectual pursuit combined with beautiful images that spring from a love of travel. During the informal Q&A — which was as interesting as the semi-formal presentation — they talked a bit about how travel prevents (or clears up) our “cultural blindspots.” And it was intriguing to hear how two artists work together, often with one person making the exposure and the other doing the editing, cropping, and sequencing; sometimes with so much input that they can’t remember who actually “made” the image. They said that it’s also refreshing to hand off a project to someone with a similar vision when you’re sick of it. (That I can totally understand.)

[1] – I know those are terribly constructed turns of phrase that may sound like pseudo-intellectual art babble, but if you look at enough of their series, it actually makes a ton of sense. Now shut up and drink your Kool-Aid.

Posted in OPP, Photography, This is who we are | Leave a comment

Clickin’ it old school

Toyo 45CF cameraAfter about a year of thinking it over, I finally bought myself a Toyo View 45CF large format field camera. I’m now officially retro . . . old school.

More details to follow.


Posted in Large Format Camera, Photography | Leave a comment

The Cognitive Style of Microsoft Project

Salut, mes amis. It’s that time of the semester again where I don’t write as much here as I would like because I’m busy writing old school project documents as part of my coursework. Last fall I wrote a software test plan for a fictitious web-based software check-in process. Then last semester, I created requirements and design documents for a fictitious web interface for a library. Earlier this evening I submitted a Microsoft Project document with the plan for a fictitious web reservation system for a hotel.


Microsoft Project document


Toward the end of the lengthy exercise I couldn’t get Edward Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint out of my head. I took a Tufte visual design class about a decade ago and found it enlightening about a lot of things: the value of information density, small multiples, and not lying — just to mention a few things. Subtlety isn’t one of Tufte’s strong suits — unlike, say, David Allen — so I didn’t totally buy into his thesis of the inherent evil of PowerPoint:

Alas, slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis. What is the problem with PowerPoint? And how can we improve our presentations?

But there I was thinking the same thing about Microsoft Project. The hierarchical view of the software project lifecycle that Project uses has its most natural analogue in the antiquated waterfall model. Discrete phases for inception, requirements analysis, module design, coding, integration testing, and acceptance testing map directly to the traditional project management work breakdown structure and the definition of a project as a linear flow of tasks from idea to complete product without backtracking to account for reality.

Of course, you can use Microsoft Project to do agile development, just like you can use PowerPoint or Keynote to make great presentations. But you’re far more likely to end up with a ridiculous waterfall project plan that quickly falls apart or a slide show with too much text that you read with your back to the audience.

Maybe Tufte was right.


Posted in General, Software Engineering | 3 Comments

Lazyweb Requests

Dear Lazyweb and/or entrepreneurs,

Here’s what I would like for Christmas or whenever you can get around to it:

  • A smart card that stores all of my memberships and reward/affinity programs. Imagine one card that has my drugstore, supermarket, bookstore, car rental, (ahem) shoe store, pet store, outdoor store, etc., information on it. Instead of carrying around a dozen cards to scan for discounts, how about one card that I could swipe at loads of places. In the past, I’ve paid around $5 or £3 for Washington DC and London metro cards to hold my “cash;” so that seems like a fair price for convenience.
  • A web application/oracle I can query for fictitious names. I’m tired of seeing just “Sally Software Analyst” and “Peter Programmer” while reading. Were are “Vikram VP,” “Manuel Manager,” “Laticia Language Expert,” and “Wole Windows Programmer?” Tell you what, you give me a large set of first/given names, and I will give the world an application you can ask for names for your case studies. What’s more, if you give me a set of first/given names broadly tagged by ethnicity, I will give you the option to get random names in roughly the same proportion as they appear in the US population. Or you can make it yourself. Whatever.
Posted in Computing, General, This is who we are | Leave a comment

Getting to Know All about You, pt. 4 – Typography

At The MathWorks, new hires have to post a brief introduction about themselves. The messages are rather formulaic and goß a little something like this:

Hi, I’m Jeff Mather, a not-so-new software engineer in the Image and Scientific Data Formats team, which is a part of the Image and Geospatial Computing group. Before starting at The MathWorks, I attempted to defend the business model of a late-90′s dot-com start up in Cambridge, Mass., from people who said you had to sell things to make a profit.

In my spare time I like to photograph, catalog names at cemeteries, and watch obscure dramas and documentaries. A little known fact about me is that I’m a bit of a dilettante and hate bad type.

There you have it, friends, my secret shame. I’m a type aesthete who can’t abide bad page layout and artless kerning. That’s why you’ll only see em-dashes and smart quotes here. (Of course, you wouldn’t know the depth of my feeling from the current layout of this web site; but I’m working on that, and self-flagellation is a very old family trait.) But my shame is also pleasant, because I revel in good design, too.

To feed that font- and type-loving part of me, I follow these typographic weblogs:

[1] – For example:


(Click for larger…)

[2] – I love the way that text and graphics look on my Mac, but Microsoft is going to win the future if Apple isn’t careful. For several years now motivated Windows users have been able to get dead-simple multilingual support. The Windows type engine does a really good job of creating the complex ligatures in various complex scripts. Furthermore, for several South and East Asian languages, you simply type what you want in a Roman alphabet you get nicely transliterated script. On the Mac, if you don’t have a TrueType font, you won’t get all of those nice features, and forget about input method editors if you aren’t using CJK. Here’s a simple comparison that shows the incomplete support for OpenType fonts on Mac OS 10.4.10. (Note the appearance of the combining character “ ् ” and the awkward positioning of vowels with all faces except Devanagari MT.)

A comparison of OpenType and TrueType typefaces on Mac OS X 10.4.10

Posted in Computing, General, I like type, Worthy Feeds | 1 Comment