Thursday, October 29, 2009


I first encountered the Kokoromi Collective a year or so ago, when I read a bit about the music to their 2d/3d platformer, Fez, on the blog Create Digital Music. Around that time, I heard tell of a game which had been exhibited at their Gamma256 event, which was a showcase of retro-styled games with pixelated graphics. There was some buzz about it.

As it happens, I didn't download and play it at the time; I was busy. Some other things happened as well. But a few days ago, I finally took the time to download Passage.

I wouldn't say that it was an earth-shattering experience, exactly, but, there's something undeniably beautiful about the game. I keep thinking that "impressionistic" is the word to describe it: it's so simple and melancholy, oddly open-ended for so simple a's an exquisite experience, a tiny masterpiece which left me full of more emotion than I had thought a game could inspire. Download it, and play it for its entire five-minute running time, and see if it speaks to you.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


I've finally had a chance to visit the new baseball stadiums which have debuted here in New York this year, and I feel much the way I thought I might.

Disclaimer: I am not a fan of the New York Yankees. But this isn't about the team so much as the Stadium. I'll try to be objective.

At first I was unimpressed with both stadiums; compared to AT&T park in San Francisco or Fenway, baseball's oldest, both stadiums feel antiseptic and show a lot of bare concrete. But Citi Field has grown on me -- in an era of smaller and smaller parks, the Mets have bucked the trend and built a gigantic, old-school baseball stadium. It's got the modern amenities, and even the upper-deck seats in which I sat had a decent view. It's also got some old-timey brick and a few quirks, mainly the scooped out right area in right field (Mo's Zone) where a ball can rattle around or take a strange hop.

But then Shea Stadium had set the bar fairly low. Its historical highlight, after all, was probably a Beatles concert, or that game where they Red Sox almost broke their world series slump. (Ok, I understand that the 1969 had some rather magical moments, and that 1986 team also had its moments.) Nobody was sorry to see that stadium go, and it's undoubtedly a nice upgrade for Mets fans.

I had been incredulous about the Yankee stadium redux when I first heard that it was planned. Ok, the 1970s rehab project had changed it drastically from the park it was when it was built in 1923 and soon thereafter made famous by the Ruth's heroics. But it was, fundamentally, the same park. The Yanks still played on the same diamond at least. Sure it had its deficiencies: it was 1970s-feeling and concretey. The concourses were also pretty dark and drab. I can understand why an update might be desirable. But to jettison the history that came along? That seems strange, especially for a team with the storied history of the Yankees.

And then I saw the park.

I had decent seats for this one: field level, 21st row left field. A nice view, and the seats were wide and comfortable, with soft cushions. But...the new stadium is distinctly similar to the old one. Big and full of concrete. Once you get past the facade, which is reminiscent of the 1923 park and definitely an upgrade over the previous one, the park is not going to win any beauty prizes. The concourses are nice and open, the concessions are very nice (and expensive even by the standards set by other major leage baseball stadiums) but...aside from the facade, there is not even a touch of the old-timeyness which has been the rage ever since Baltimore's Camden Yards was built in 1992. Not a bit of brick is evident; perhaps it would clash too much with the flatscreen HDTV monitors?

George Steinbrenner's goal was to give Yankees fans the best stadium in baseball, to match their team. And in this "inaugural" year, the team has certainly played well; they have the best record in baseball. But the stadium falls flat, at least for me. I had imagined a place that would blend the hominess of a Camden Yards or AT&T Park with the majestic size of Yankee Stadium, a place that really had it all; it's not that. Of course, I might have a different opinion if I had visited the sumptuous VIP seating, boxes, or dining rooms; maybe they saved the best for the true elites.

Nevertheless, I'm guessing that this time, the field in Flushing is going to be the one to age gracefully; and for now, the diamond where Ruth played grows weeds across the street from the new Cathedral.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Charlie Parker and Michael Jackson were born on the same day.

Coincidence? Probably. But they were both great American entertainers, innovators who were unsurpassed in their own, self-created genres, and both of them came to an early and unforunate end: Parker died at age 35, fifteen years younger than MJ.

Today there will be a celebration of MJ's life in Prospect Park just a few blocks away; WKCR's birthday broadcast (24 hours of Bird) is going out over the air today as well.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Blight

Woe is me, my friends, for we, all of us, are stuck in a predicament so dire that it is almost beyond description. What if, I ask you, the fruit of your labors, the carrot at the end of the stick, long chased-after and all the more desirable for it, were to fall to dust suddenly upon being grasped? What if, gentelmen, a long-desired woman, finally within your grasp after years of wooing and betrothal, was overcome by stroke and died, even as she finally lay on your marital bed? Truly I tell you that you would be no sadder than I am now.

For I am stricken with the blight: the Late Blight, the very disease which decimated those potato crops, sending hordes of German and Irish immigrants to these American shores. OK, I am not directly affected by the disease, I mean, I don't have blight-sores opening up on my own arms & legs, but it's still bad. In fact, it's worse: it's hurting the tomatoes.

First, a bit of backstory: in two of the last four years, I have cursed myself by planting tomatoes. Each time I planted tomatoes, fate intervened such that I had to move, unexpectedly, on August 1st, just as the tomatoes bore fruit. Somehow, my tomato misfortune deepened last year: I was traveling in August, and was unable to eat any top-quality heirloom tomatoes at all.

But this all pales in comparison to the destruction this year: my ill luck has sunk the entire east coast tomato crop, hitting the heirlooms varieties, with their limited defenses, hardest of all.

In truth I have already eaten more heirlooms this year than last, but the Blight has resulted in a much thinner and weaker crop than I would have hoped for. For me, knowing that the Blight is waiting around every corner has, in fact, become an incentive to enjoy the season as much as I can, and I implore each and every one of you to do the same.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Heights #2

Another image from the Brooklyn Heights rooftop. The heights has such a spectacular view of lower Manhattan...

Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights

Last night from a rooftop in Brooklyn Heights -- nice clouds because of the impending storm. Not a terrible thing to see every night and every morning.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Speakers/Ethan learns to veneer

So I've been building a set of kit speakers for awhile: the Tritrix from Parts Express. They had a crazy sale for the parts -- less than $250 for the drivers, crossover parts, and pre-cut mdf for the enclosures, which is a transmission-line design.

Of course that doesn't include the money I spent on tools or the $80 I spent on the koa-wood veneer. What I've learned: veneering stuff is hard. This picture doesn't show the ripples I can't get out or the badly-matched seams. I got raw veneer (as opposed to paper-backed) and I can understand why people might want to use the paper-backed stuff; but nothing is going to beat the grain on this koa.

Update: actually you can kinda see how crappy the seam is.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grand Army Take #2

Here's another attempt at Grand Army Plaza, this time a foggy night with fairly long exposures. The fog really seemed to bring out the colors in addition to diffusing the light. The only thing I'm not totally happy about is how the light-trails end abruptly as they cross the image boundaries. Not quite sure how to deal with this but I'm fairly sure I can fix it in the gimp.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


This building just looks great at night.

I took this image with my normal camera and then corrected the perspective in doesn't look quite perfect to me, but the walls look vertical instead of diagonal. Apparently this is really important, and people buy incredibly expensive tilt-shift lenses to correct this for their architectural photography.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Grand Army Plaza

Today I did a quick panoramic of Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn; the light wasn't ideal for what I wanted, and I did it a bit too quickly: as you can see, a few features that I would have liked to preserve are cut off here, so I think I'm going to go back and try it again. The walk light also blocks the modern Richard Meier building, so I think I'm going to have to change my position a little bit; stay tuned.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pano of my new home

This is a quickie 3-shot panorama I made of the intersection just outside my new home in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. It's the intersection of Washington Ave & Sterling Place, and Tom's Restaurant is visible at the corner there. I haven't been yet, but it's on the horizon.

I made a run to B&H this morning and got a new tripod head, so be on the lookout for more panoramic images of Brooklyn, and (this is exciting) night shots!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sawin' logs

I had a nice little man-moment using power tools earlier, when I cut up these two blanks out of a board recovered from a NYC building...these guys are destined to become lap-steels. The tall one might become a bari steel, for more of a howl than a whine. You also get a glimpse into my workshop, with Jimi overlooking it all sort of like a patron saint.

What was lost has been found

After literally years of searching, I've finally found the cache of Nintendo games that were lost during the move to this house eight years ago. Included are such classics as Shadowgate, Ninja Gaiden, Kung Fu, Dragon Warrior, Snake's Revenge (Metal Gear 2) and my favorite, the original Final Fantasy. I think I recovered close to 30 games, though a several were doubles from when we consolidated our collection with a friend's a few years ago.

Oddly enough I didn't play too many of them...I guess the idea of getting sucked into a video game isn't quite as enticing as it used to be. Also, I'm sure I need to replace the batteries on most of the role-playing games that allow you to save your information. It would be a shame to lose all that progress!

There's really only one major piece that's missing from this collection: we've never had a copy of Bubble Bobble, which seems to be the most desirable Nintendo game in the used market. One day, maybe.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Panoramania #2

This is actually the first panorama I made -- this one is in Red Hook, looking back from where the Beard building juts out into the ocean. It was made up of three hand-held shots. The building on the right behind the old streetcars houses the Brooklyn Fairway, which is a worth destination in itself of course. The Statue of Liberty is visible in in the distance as well. Once again this is much smaller than the full-size panorama.


I've been in Brooklyn occasionally shooting some photos, and I don't know, one thing led to another, and, suddenly, I've started shooting some stitched panoramas. This one was shot on the boardwalk at the Empire-Fulton Ferry Park in Dumbo, out of eleven distinct pictures. There are a few artifacts (that boat is actually longer than it appears, and the railing is blurred oddly) but I'm pleased with the way it's come out.

This wasn't even shot with a tripod -- these are hand-held shots stitched together with hugin, a vigourous-seeming open-source project. Also, the version above is only about a fifth of the resolution of the actual finished panorama.

Now, I wonder where you can get this sort of thing printed (cheaply)...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

With the grain

I was wandering around Manhattan and Brooklyn snapping a few pictures today and I found myself musing on why I've taken a liking to photography recently. (If you haven't been paying attention, it's my latest obsession.)

I realized that I like taking pictures that are at the limits of a camera's capabilities; I've always liked low-light photography, and I also like images with extreme dynamic range. The phenomenon is similar to "euphony" in the sound world, which is when a sound reproduction technology fails to reproduce the source realistically, but does so in a way that is pleasing to the ear. The canonical example is electric guitar amplifier distortion: the amplifiers which created the sound of rock couldn't reproduce the electric guitar signal cleanly at the volumes guitarists needed, but the distortion added harmonic content to the signal and actually made it sound better. Today it's hard to imagine electric guitar without it.

Cameras do something similar. In fact, they capture images far less transparently than today's audio recorders do; they have trouble dealing with light levels in which our eyes function near-perfectly, and even in the best of conditions, transform the captured image. Film grain (or digital noise and artifacts, as in the picture above) can be pleasing or ugly, and of course I prefer it to be pleasing. But I think there's something a bit deeper than that at work: while audio pretends at perfection, the camera makes no attempt to hide the fact that it cannot make perfect copies of reality. As its image loses its focus or softens to noise, it allows a veil of modesty to be drawn between the viewer and reality.

Our perceptions are far from perfect, and the camera does not hide this but actually accentuates it. It tells us not that we are all-knowing (and by extension all-powerful) but reminds us that we have limitations. It advises us not to grip too tightly to our ideas, because there is some knowledge that will always be beyond our grasp. And perhaps best of all, it tells us to know our limitations, and use them to our advantage.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Windows on the world & new leaves

I bought a camera. These days, a digital camera is, just as Steve Jobs decreed a few years ago, part of the digital lifestyle. Obviously I like to take pictures of things, self-document, try to capture the beauty, wrestle it to the ground and stuff it in a bottle, lest it flits away on butterfly wings.

So with the new camera (which just means room, after all, sort of a room of one's own, where one can collect light and fix it down, just as one can do with thoughts) I've composed a paean to the amplifier, the early silverface Deluxe Reverb which a kind fellow sold to me for the princely sum of $50 when he'd decided to move on entirely to solid-state. To be sure, I've spent a few more dollars on repairs, and I even had it open myself a little while ago (I managed to escape without a jolt) but, without a doubt, this is one of the finest sources of sound I have ever known.

The image is a tricky one to capture: it's low light, and the jewel, as you can see, is overexposed: it has a huge dynamic range. One day I'd like to be able to capture the facets of the pilot light's jewel very sharply, with just a hint of the surroundings...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trad. arr EMH

I'm about to sell this parlor guitar that I've been working on for a bit, and I made a couple of demos.

In all honesty, the Poor Boy arrangement is all John Fahey's, it's basically what he played in the 1978 Hamburg concert you can see on YouTube (but not quite as good). The other one though is mine, a more or less spur-of the moment thing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Morning coffee

As I was making my coffee this morning the sun caught the bottom of my hand-grinder, which at some point last year sat in water just long enough to begin to oxidize; the sun brought out the hint of green copper. I composed this before I lost the light.

(Photo info: Olympus SP-565UZ, Super Macro, F3.5, 1/400, ISO 64, massaged a bit in the GIMP)

The Zassenhaus is in heavy use these days; I sold my grinder out in California but kept my espresso machine. Luckily, my schedule these days allows me ample time to grind coffee by hand and self-document.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Shining Stars

I was reading the Times today and saw this opinion piece, in which Judith Warner bemoans the way that Wall Street had, during our recently-completed bubble, taken far too many of our highest-achieving individuals.

This is a point that hits close to home for me. I went to an "elite" school which sends a large percentage of their graduates to work in the financial sector; I knew some people who took that path, but I rejected it because of my personal belief that Wall Street doesn't do a whole lot for society. I know that most money flows through the world of finance, but I couldn't shake the feeling that they were, at best, middlemen, and, at worst, crooks.

The recession seems to have vindicated my belief to some extent. But why did this only happen after finance has taken down the world economy? I spent the past few years wondering if I was insane: I was working in an industry where I actually made something, and, of course, I was making very little money, at least on the scale of other people with my background.

I wasn't quite alone, though: I had a few friends from college who also pursued careers non-financial careers. They were teachers and scientists; one of them got an M.B.A. with a focus on sustainability and works in the green energy sector. These people are, without a doubt, the best & brightest crowd who didn't go in for the quick buck.

I don't mean to whine, but times have been tough for us: Judith Warner points out that, aside from finance, there are few careers where people like us can be adequately compensated for our talents. Even those among us who go on to tenure-track appointments won't do as well as financial stars; with the stalling median income, those of us in the private sector have fared worse than the tradesmen who benefited from the housing boom -- and, by the way, I don't begrudge them their share: unlike financial workers, they actually create things.

For me, I think that's what it all comes down to: we, as a society, need to value jobs that create. Artisan work is almost non-existent in this country, outside of luxury food. Jobs in the arts, including journalism and writing, have been devalued almost completely. Teachers are often squeezed; I've heard many stories of public-school teachers forced to be fired & rehired annually to get around budget problems, which keeps them from accruing experience and pay raises.

As a society, we've made a mistake: we bought in to the alchemy of the market, and believed that we could create value out of nothing. We forgot that the market exists for only one reason: to make it easier for creators to do their job of making useful products and innovating for the future. Investors deserve a reasonable rate of return for putting up their cash, I don't disagree. But we should always remember that the teacher, artist, and even the factory worker are the people who create value in our society. I don't imagine that the creators will ever be compensated as well as those who facilitate the market's workings. But we do need to make it easier for the creators to do their work: without them, our finances will always be a house of cards.

I hope that this is a lesson that other people are taking home from the economic collapse.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Rihanna: Date me.

Ok, sure, this is weird because, you know, you're a huge celebrity whose personal life has been all over the tabloids, and I'm an unemployed non-celebrity who's currently living with his parents. But as it happens, I'm just back on the dating scene, and I don't think you should pass up this opportunity.

I think that we can get past those differences. I'm going to lay out a couple of arguments here that I think you'll find convincing. My basic premise is that you should date me not because of anything that may have transpired between you and this Chris Brown fellow, but because I'm such a great guy and incredible catch.

My high points:
-I'm a respectful and thoughtful guy in general.
-I have an impressive education, including top-notch universities, and a great appreciation for the finer things in life.
-I cook and clean. Ok, I cook more than I clean, but I do dishes anyway.
-No job to distract me from our time together.
-I may not be a celebrity now, but I am a pretty solid guitarist, so if it's important for you to date a celeb, we can probably jumpstart my music career with a duet or something.

Let me address some possible downsides:
-We don't know each other. Ok, there's a possibility that we might not hit it off immediately. However, I'm sure you'll warm to me in time.
-I am not a person of color. I don't know if someone's background comes into play in your thought process, but I'm sure that we can get past this issue. In fact, I think it presents an opportunity to expand our understanding of humanity. I will get to meet your family from Barbados, and you can come meet my New England folks. It'll be awesome!
-I am trying to convince you to date me in a blog post. Ok...well, you're just going to have to take the leap here.

So I think I've laid out a pretty convincing argument here. You just check out my blog here and my other website to get a feel for me, and drop me a line. We can meet up in New York, or maybe you can fly my deadbeat behind to LA or Miami or wherever you hang out...ok, Miami would be good now, but I really hate high humidity in the summer, so we'll have to talk about that later. Is that going to be an issue?

Also: President Obama, you should hire me for Culture Czar. No baggage here! Can we get some WPA-style public art going? Re-start art education in schools? We'll talk.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Exercise in Modern Dystopia #2

This one is easy. Hop on your preferred mode of transport and take yourself to a Circuit City while the liquidation sale is still going on. I think you've got a few more days.

Inside, it's a somber scene: a few remaining employees working through the remaining stock. There will likely be a large security guard posted by the door, just in case customers try to enact a deeper discount. There are large signs posted everywhere about the terms of the sale -- they're all final, unsurprisingly.

And about those discounts...most of them are 15% off, which leaves them...well still way more expensive than even the most reputable online dealers. A Canon HV30 HDV camera was still more than $100 more expensive at the Circuit City closeout than on Amazon. A Toshiba 19" flat panel TV was nearly $50 cheaper. I'm guessing that the current Circuit City prices are barely cheaper than at their arch-nemesis, Best Buy. And the current prices are all labeled with the phrase "no further discounts."

So the liquidators in charge of Circuit City are betting that people will brave the depressing experience of this sale for a few bucks, instead of hitting up the bright & cheery Best Buy, or just sticking at Wal-Mart?

I'm thinking a lot of that merchandise isn't going to move. But go see for yourself.

Monday, January 26, 2009

An Easy Exercise in Modern Dystopia

My fellow Americans: let's imagine, for just a moment, the view from outside our society, looking in. This is an easy exercise for just about anyone in the continental US to pull off. All you need is easy access to an area with some suburban sprawl and a sturdy pair of shoes.
Step one: imagine a location within this suburban sprawl that you might like to visit. This could be a big-box grocery or department store, a specialty retailer or restaurant. It doesn't matter. If you plan to do any heavy shopping, it would be a good idea to bring your own bags. This is not for environmental reasons, as you'll see in a moment.
Step two: walk to this location. If your desired destination is more than two miles or so away (depending on your physical condition) you might want to park somewhere closer and only walk part of the way. However, for the full effect, you'll want to make sure that you need to cross some highway onramps and other areas of high-speed traffic. I recommend that you walk from your home. As mentioned above, be sure to bring your own bags with sturdy handles, because the handles of plastic bags tend to become painful during a longer trip.
On your way, it's likely that there will be sidewalks within your immediate neighborhood. They will be mostly empty, with only yourself and perhaps a few children of elementary school age to be seen. Many cars will pass, however.
As you get closer to the suburban commercial district, it's likely that the sidewalks will disappear. If there are sidewalks, the only people you will share them with are, in all likelihood, recent immigrants riding bicycles to their physically-demanding jobs. This is far more likely in California than on the eastern seaboard. In areas without sidewalks, you may be forced, at times, to walk on the shoulder of the road, sharing space with automobiles. Do so carefully, as this is a very precarious position, due the size and velocity of the vehicles.
Drivers will likely allow you to proceed across roads at intersections; cross carefully, however, as automobile drivers are unaccustomed to sharing this type of road with pedestrians, or may be distracted. Some intersections, especially those with lights, may have pedestrian crossing signals; others, like highway ramps, likely have none.
To enhance the experience, you can undertake this expedition during inclement weather; this will increase your discomfort and reduce driver visibility, making it even more dangerous.
After some time, you will reach the parking lot of your chosen business. While within the lot, your relationship to society changes. On the outskirts, you must contend with cars as they attempt to turn into the lot and find parking. As you approach the entrance, however, you will enter into areas of higher pedestrian density. Once you enter the business, you will find that you have been welcomed back into the arms of commerce, and that you have returned to a common, accepted societal role. This may be slightly shocking, having just come from your walk through the nearby roads, where your pedestrian activities actively impeded the flow of the dominant automobiles.
I hope that you have found the exercise enlightening, and please use due caution on your return trip.