Making progress on a saw vise. The jaws are hard maple, adding inner bevels to fit backsaws. Hope to finish tomorrow. #handtoolschool

Hyperlapse: Creating Assets

Have you seen Google Street View Hyperlapse? It’s the latest project from the minds at Teehan+Lax. To be more precise, it’s from the Teehan+Lax Labs, an offshoot within this top-tier creative/design agency where people explore new ways to use technology to communicate.
If you want to see how Hyperlapse works, the source code is available on GitHub. Teehan+Lax is a company that really likes to share. They share source code, tools,  ideas, design strategies, business philosophy. They follow this principle: ‘create more value than you capture.’  That’s a powerful idea championed by open source crusader and tech book publisher Tim O’Reilly. It’s an idea that you’ll find embodied on many of the best sites on the web.

When I was playing with Hyperspace yesterday, I was reminded of a 2010 post (that I happened to read only a few weeks ago) by Robert Niles, former editor of USC Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review. It’s an article about the need for journalists to think in terms of creating assets instead of stories. Here’s the crux of it:

To me, that’s the word [“assets”] that should replace “stories” in your vocabulary as a journalist. Too many of the journalists I’ve seen try to make the transition to running their own blogs and websites remain mired in the “story” mindset, endlessly creating newspaper-style “stories” or even brief-length snippets for their blogs. But they fail to create assets of enduring value that ultimately provide the income that they need to remain viable businesses online.

This is as true for online publishing as it is for any other online content. Assets that have enduring value keep people coming back. But I’d add that creating a good story, or narrative, to support your assets is just as important. Teehan+Lax is a great example of how this is done. Read their ‘behind-the-scene’ story about how they designed Medium to see what I mean.

Odds and Ends

Here’s a (very) random list of a few posts and pages from around the web that have recently piqued my interest. 

  • Reeder is now free (for the Mac and iPad). For now. A good idea from the developer to build up a larger user base in preparation for the post-Google Reader era. Although I’ve recently switched to Feedly, I’m a long-time user of Reeder on iPad and iPhone. Just downloaded it for the desktop and it is, as expected, excellent. My vote is still out on which news reader I’ll end up using in the long run, but I’m digging Feedly for now.  
  • Demystifying the Lumber Yard. Shopping a lumber yard can be a daunting experience. Here’s an excellent video from the Renaissance Woodworker to get you started, which also includes a list of further resources. By the way, did you know it’s National Woodworking Month? Not to be confused with ‘Get Woodworking Week,’ which was Feb. 3-9. 
  • I just read that this smooth and zippy HTML5/JavaScript platform is going to be made free for developers. The demo is impressive. So fast.
  • Have you ever seen an atom? Worth watching this short video.
  • Quantum Entanglement Experiment. How fast is ‘spooky action at a distance?’ At least four orders of magnitude faster than light, according to new research. Fun read, if you like this kind of stuff.
  • Coffitivity. Recorded sounds of a noisy coffee house (‘coffitivity’), which you can mix in with your preferred music in the name of boosting productivity. Really? That’s the last thing I want to hear when I’m working in my home office. I’m odd, I guess, in that I prefer complete silence.
  • Tenkara. I’ve only recently learned about the traditional Japanese method of fly fishing, called Tenkara. Very minimalist, as one might expect. It really does look like a great way to fish a small stream.

LibraryThing Responds to Amazon’s GoodReads Purchase

LibraryThing is poised to gain many new users in the wake of Amazon’s purchase of GoodReads. In the interest of enticing new members, they’re offering free one-year LibraryThing accounts through Sunday. To be clear, LibraryThing has always been free to join. However, there is a ‘pay-what-you-want’ annual fee if you want to add more than 200 books (suggested amounts: $10 a year or $25 for lifetime membership). This weekend’s special offer means that, for a year, you may add as many books as you want. If you don’t pay anything after the year is up, your books won’t be deleted, but you won’t be able to add more. What’s the money for? From the LibraryThing blog:

The money helps pay for the site, and keeps us advertisement-free for members. Also, we believe customers should be customers, with the loyalty and rights of customers, not the thing we sell to our real customers.

You can join the discussion on what the Amazon purchase of GoodReads means for LibraryThing (and ponder broader questions about Amazon’s increasing dominance in the publishing/bookselling world) here


I’m inclined to yawn at the prospect of yet another weather service/app, but Forecast is making me giddy. It’s a new offering from The Dark Sky Company, makers of the eponymous app that I rely upon to get ‘hyperlocal’ weather (i.e. to-the-minute notifications that it’s about to rain over my house).

Like the Dark Sky app, Forecast is smooth, attractive, and a pleasure to use. It differs in that it builds and expands upon Dark Sky in profound ways: it promises seven-day global forecasts; offers historical weather conditions; delivers even slicker fluid animations; and adds multiple layers of weather information. There’s also an API for developers. You have to check it out for yourself.

Forecast demonstrates just how polished and pleasant a web app can be. Add it to your home screen on your iOS device, and you’ll swear it’s a native app that you downloaded from the App Store.

I currently use Dark Sky and Garmin’s My-Cast to get my weather on my iOS devices. On the Mac, I often geek out with WeatherSpark (which offers an amazing depth of information, but is lamentably Flash-based). Forecast may displace all of these services.

Building a Dry Stone Wall

Last December, my wife came across an ad on Craigslist for free fieldstone. On a whim, I decided to haul it home to build a wall. As is so often the case with DIY, it was easier to concieve than to execute. I finished my small wall only a few days ago. It took me nearly four months.

The steps for building a dry wall are fairly straightforward. The essence of it: stake out the wall line; dig a trench about eight inches deep and a bit wider than the planned wall; fill the trench with crushed gravel to form a base that will minimize shifting from frost heaves and settling; then stack rocks. The basic rule of rock stacking is to place one stone over sections where two stones come together, and two stones over sections where there is one stone. Cap the top with heavy, nice-looking stone. The overall pattern should be stable, level, and visually appealing.

That last part is the kicker. In my case, I had to contend with a three foot downhill slope in the front of the house and a one foot incline on the part that curves around the odd looking conifer at the corner, which is called a Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar. A flat wall would have been challenging enough, but the sloping ground added much complexity.

My goal was to place the stones in a cascading fashion so that they conformed to the slope of the land. That entailed placing some rocks, stepping back for a wider view from various angles, deciding it wasn’t quite right, tearing down parts that looked unnatural, choosing different rocks, then rebuilding the offending section. Then I’d build another small section and repeat the process. Over and over and over.  

I think the resulting wall looks nice, although I’m sure it would look nicer if a professional installed it. It might also be more structurally sound. Time will tell how well my amateur job holds up. I suspect I’ll know in about a year. That length of time will test the wall against the stress of changing temperatures, weather, and frost. The great part about a dry stone wall, though, is that there is no mortar. I can always adjust it. I like to think of it as a rock garden in the shape of a wall. 

Memory Locations are Just Wires Turned Sideways in Time

Wow. I haven’t posted in quite a while. Been busy with other projects. Here’s a little item that I drafted a long while back but never posted: published an interview  recently with science historian George Dyson about self-replicating code. The theme is that that we tend to talk about the digital universe abstractly, metaphorically, and by discussing how it affects us. Dyson says we’re asking the wrong questions. What we need to do is study our digital universe objectively, like scientists do, because:
…the same way life found a way to use the self-replicating qualities of these polynucleotide molecules to the great benefit of life as a whole, there’s no reason life won’t use the self-replicating abilities of digital code, and that’s what’s happening.

Dyson’s discussion about what’s now driving the growth and evolution of the digital universe was, for me, unexpected. He said that the first great leap in our digital universe originated with Alan Turing (who would have been 100 this year), who is often cited as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. The next leap came from John Von Neumann, an unbelievably prolific mathematician who fathered, among other things, game theory. He also mathematically described the structure of self-replication before the structure of DNA was even discovered. So who will take the next big leap forward? Dyson says to expect someone working in advertising. Yes, advertising.

What’s the driver today? You want one word? It’s advertising. And, you may think advertising is very trivial, and of no real importance, but I think it’s the driver. If you look at what most of these codes are doing, they’re trying to get the audience, trying to deliver the audience. The money is flowing as advertising. And it is interesting that Samuel Butler imagined all this in 1863, and then in his book Erewhon. And then 1901, before he died, he wrote a draft for “Erewhon Revisited.” In there, he called out advertising, saying that advertising would be the driving force of these machines evolving and taking over the world. Even then at the close of 19th century England, he saw advertising as the way we would grant power to the machines.
Now that’s something I did not expect. Now consider this section, which took me some time to wrap my head around: 
Very few people are looking at this digital universe in an objective way. Danny Hillis is one of the few people who is. His comment, made exactly 30 years ago in 1982, was that “memory locations are just wires turned sideways in time”. That’s just so profound. That should be engraved on the wall. Because we don’t realize that there is this very different universe that does not have the same physics as our universe. It’s completely different physics. Yet, from the perspective of that universe, there is physics, and we have almost no physicists looking at it, as to what it’s like. And if we want to understand the sort of organisms that would evolve in that totally different universe, you have to understand the physics of the world in which they are in.  It’s like looking for life on another planet. Danny has that perspective. Most people say just, “well, a wire is a wire. It’s not a memory location turned sideways in time.” You have to have that sort of relativistic view of things.

At some point while pondering this paragraph, a Proust quote popped into my head: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” This comes from ‘In Search of Lost Time,’ which helped to popularize the the idea of involuntary memory, often revealed in this Proustian tome through dreams. And that made me think, as a science fiction fan, of Phillip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,’ which somehow seemed apropros here. At any rate, here’s a link to a good companion piece to this article, a TED presentation by Kevin Slavin: ‘How algorithms shape our world.


Viewing Big History with ChronoZoom

Cell Size and Scale visualization from the University of Utah, the Scale of the Universe visualization from Cary and Michael Huang, and the Universcale from Nikon.

A new entrant in the field called ChronoZoom ups the ante. You have to see it for yourself. It’s a really impressive visualization (HTML5) tool that explores Big History. The people behind the project have lofty ambitions for the future and they’re looking for users:

ChronoZoom Beta is ready for mass consumption and feedback, structured to scale up to petabytes of content, and architected for the future of personal computing.


Reminder: Delete Your Google History by March 1

Don’t forget that Google’s new privacy policy goes into effect on March 1. Policy changes will affect you if you use Google search while logged into a Google user account.

Here are the instructions from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on how to clear you browsing history. If you use multiple Google accounts, you’ll want to delete browsing history for all of them. If you don’t take these steps, all of your browsing history will be combined with and shared across all the other Google services you use. If you’re not sure why this might be a concern, see this EFF post and this Slate article … or search on it!

You might also consider trying out an alternative default search engine. Many people (me included) are now using DuckDuckGo. This search engine does not collect user data and emphasizes privacy. It’s quite capable, although I do notice differences in terms of rankings and results compared to Google. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. 

If you’re using Chrome, it’s easy to change your default engine.  Look under ‘Preferences’ > ‘Manage Search Engines.’ It’s relatively easy with Firefox, too. You’ll find the option to manage search engines by choosing the dropdown arrow located in the browser’s built-in search box. With Safari, it’s a bit more complicated because the browser only offers Google, Bing, and Yahoo as default search engines. You can make DuckDuckGo your default, though, if you install the free Glims add-on.