The Indomitable Brick

January 29, 2008

Lego Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the Lego brick. This brings a warm feeling of whimsy and satisfaction, as Lego was such an integral part of my childhood. Many hours were spent constructing and deconstructing, fashioning tiny simulations of complex machines, buildings and living things.

Its core activity can be described as quantizing reality into discrete plastic pieces—a tidy analogue to the digital medium, substituting pixels and vectors for bricks. Unlike pixels, and in the absence of unlimited funding for new bricks, it is also a microcosm of reality: resources are limited. Scarcity is the mother of invention, and to create something new, something must first be destroyed.

Where other toys were quickly forgotten (oh how I wish I’d saved those first-edition Star Wars figurines from the early 80s), and a discovery of computers, software and writing games—I’d never abandon completely the little plastic atoms, occasionally pulling out the bags of bricks, dusting them off and tinkering again.

Can Has Permission?

January 29, 2008

Two things have been smacking me over the head on my visit to Her Majesty’s shores. One: the sheer comprehensiveness—or at least perception thereof—of surveillance via CCTV cameras. Two: the overwhelmingly common affliction of matriarchal language in advertising. How you’re allowed or permitted to do this, if you pay your taxes or tariff, top-up or submit to thus-and-so. It’s Orwellian and fucking scary, and I can’t help but think of the metaphor of the boiling frog.


January 28, 2008

Traveling has provided ample opportunity for thoughts about life, family, death and beauty. Yesterday I finished reading Michel Houellebecq’s Platform and finally watched Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, both beautiful and somber works on love, death and loss. The former deals with sex tourism, Islam, western morals and the suffocation of the capitalist rat race, and the latter a modern reentrant triptych on immortality, the inquisition, medicine, Mayan and Judeo-Christian creation myths. Both revolve around the brief span of time their respective protagonists have a clutch on true love before the respective machinery of the stories obliterate it.

I’ve always believed that someone’s death should be cause for celebration of their life, reflection rather than mourning. A few weeks ago, my grandmother’s passing provided a catalyst for bringing my father and his brothers together. It was not unexpected—the family had been prepared for this event for a while.

She was a schoolteacher, musician, a writer of letters, a virtuoso in the kitchen, the wife of a hard-scrabble farmer, orator and sculptor, and a mother of four boys who lived—in a certain sense—a very difficult life on a farm in North Dakota. My father and his brothers live spread uniformly across the country, pursuing their own lives with careers, hardships, successes and their own families. Dad shared some of their experience in the wintry north on my uncle’s ranch.

In this video, my uncle Mark describes the ongoing war of attrition with beavers and their epic civil engineering on the ranch:

The last time the brothers and their families got together on the ranch, it was summer. Clear of the enveloping winter snow, it is a vastly different place, simultaneously monumental and desolate. The land is plied by cattle, horses, coyote and beaver under a sky that stretches to infinity.

I’ve been reminded of that trip, almost four years ago. It was a short departure from my home, abutting a few transitions, professional and personal. I visited hard right-wing evangelical Christian friends in Denver, made a pilgrimage to Colorado Springs for burgers and a velodrome, and learned to ride a horse again in North Dakota. If I were to characterize it, it was travels around fantastically beautiful landscapes punctuated by intensely evocative conversations and serendipitous moments, not unlike now.

I suppose this is indicative of life being cyclical, a series of iterative improvements, sometimes failures, sometimes successes. I’m optimistic.

Less Rain Dance, Please

January 26, 2008

Ah, crap. Not. Again.

Two years ago, San Anselmo got pwned in an epic flood. The town is located in the Ross Valley Watershed, downhill from pretty much every direction. To top it off, the downtown area is built partially cantilevered over a creek. That flood wrecked two of my favorite places, Paradigm Cycles (formerly Gravy Wheels) and Bubba’s Diner. They’re back on their feet, but I fear another flood like the one in 2006 will put San Anselmo permanently out of business.

I’ve been lobbying my parents to move there (or nearby) when they retire, to be close to my sister and I. I hope my friends there—and in San Francisco—are weathering OK!

Edit: Another reason it has to stop raining: When I get back to San Francisco I need some serious time in the saddle. Road, fixie, Ducati, whatever. I need speed on two wheels, hill climbs, descents and carving turns. It’s been way too long.

Berlin Subway Map for iPhone

January 26, 2008

Berlin Subway Map Inspired by Khoi Vinh’s excellent New York City subway map, I made a similar version for Berlin’s U-Bahn and S-Bahn system.

To Use

Unzip and add the contents to iPhoto. Then create a photo album (named “Berlin Subway Map”) and fill it with the images in numeric order. To do this in one step, unzip and drag the folder onto the albums sidebar area in iPhoto. Then in iTunes, ensure the new photo album is synced to your iPhone or iPod Touch.


The Berlin transit system is incredibly large and complex. The type in this map is as small as possible, at the limits of legibility. Second, because of the legibility constraint there is no page overlap. I needed as many unique pixels as possible to cram the map in. I’d consider doing a version of just Berlin’s core A transit zone if there is desire. Also, use at your own risk. This is based on the latest map (as of December 2007) I could find. Stations change, remember to do a reality check!


Download Berlin Subway Map for iPhone / iPod Touch (368KB ZIP)

My Electro Lust Manifest

January 25, 2008

clone.nl I might just have to start buying wax again. And what better place to start than in the minimalist Dutch, moss-green linked, Helvetica articulated clone.nl, discovered sitting in the Copenhagen airport?

Meanwhile, I’m kicking back with Erol Alkan’s Justice mix + Pase Rock, murrrr. Fanks, Toof!


January 25, 2008

The gearhead inside me can’t not post this insanely stupid cool video of Ken Block and his WRX flying through the air in New Zealand through flocks of snowboarders:

Squid Repost (Because I’m lazy and the links are good)

January 24, 2008

Laughing Squid links to DPReview’s pre-PMA announcement of Canon’s newest sub-$1k DSLR, the 12MP EOS 450D (Digital Rebel XSi). Speaking of names, when is Canon going to drop the “Rebel” branding in the US? Does anyone even remember the Andre Agassi image is everything fromage?

Also from the Squid: Sean Orlando’s steampunk treehouse.

Loosely Speaking

January 24, 2008

たとえば I love San Fran

A Month In

January 24, 2008

Originally posted to ydnar.vox.com in January 2008.

29 days ago, in a flash of brilliance with a bread knife and a slightly-stale bagel, I almost took off the end of my thumb. Well-drugged and stitched a few hours later, the immediate crisis was over. But what began was a few weeks of operating with half my opposable digits. I fumbled to pick up things and learned to press modifier keys with another finger, inadvertently writing whole sentences in a gimp substitution cipher. Other limbs substituted for missing abilities, and complex two-hand maneuvers such as opening spring-loaded door latches became new challenges.

Two weeks ago I took the stitches out. This was simultaneously fun and gross, the satisfaction of removing the black nylon thread from my thumbprint not unlike popping a big zit. I’d graduated to “normal” band-aids, the daily application of Neosporin being largely symbolic at this point—a huge scar is inevitable.

29 days later, I’m celebrating by trekking across Stockholm to the biggest climbing gym in Scandinavia. It’s been almost 2 months since I last climbed, and I’m really excited. Going to boulder a bit, and maybe find a climbing partner—hoping that “on belay” translates.