29 November 2008

New Blog: Verdugo City

I've decided to start a new blog - this one will be more personal and a place for me to write about my life, review music, and comment on things that I'm interested in outside my professional life. I call it Verdugo City. I hope some of you will join me there.


07 November 2008

A Parting Gift for my Friends at Art Center

I didn't really plan it that way... but what you see in the photo is a 40 foot long high resolution photographic image of Yosemite Valley, displayed on the wall of the campus cafe. Back in the summer, Crista Copp and I saw this remarkable image at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles, and got to chatting with Eric Hanson of XRez. We thought it would be fun to show it at Art Center, so I made arrangements to display it along the wall of the cafe. It was installed this Wednesday, two days after I left.

Art Center is the kind of place where amazing things appear on the walls, and sometimes you have no idea where they came from or who arranged for them to be there. I'm really happy to think of students, faculty, staff and visitors being surprised and pleased by this striking image. I'm going to have to sneak in and see it for myself while it's there.

(Be sure to click on the photo to enlarge it so you can get some idea of what the image is like.)

05 November 2008

Always Choose Your Blog Name Carefully

As of yesterday, I am no longer the CTO at Art Center College of Design - my position was eliminated. Officially, the reason is to reduce costs.

Now I find myself in the same situation as many others - suddenly ejected from an organization where I gave the best of my talents, and I feel somewhat raw and very disappointed. I could write about my frustrations but I'd rather write about what I'll miss at Art Center:

  • the energy, enthusiasm, and talent of the students;
  • the brilliance and commitment of the faculty;
  • the magic that happens when ideas, skill, and technique all come together to make something great;
  • the amazing team in Technology that, on its best days, could create something out of nothing and give 100% to do great things;
  • the everyday determination of the Library to serve the students even when the speed of change and lack of resources made things really difficult;
  • my friends and allies in the administration that understood what was important and never sacrificed integrity for expedience.

  • I've said many times that being CTO at Art Center was the best job and the worst job I've ever had. I know that for me, the good will last and the rest will fade. Nobody can take away from me all that I learned by walking the halls of Art Center with my eyes open and simply looking. My only hope for Art Center is that the faculty and students will have a future that's as good as the one they deserve.

    02 November 2008

    Ramachandran - The Human Brain

    Now that I'm done complaining about traffic signals, let me point you at the single most interesting talk I heard at the EDUCAUSE conference - V.S. Ramachandran on the human brain. What an amazing guy he is - a theoretical scientist and a therapeutic innovator, a deep thinker and a teacher. Follow this link and skip ahead to about 9:30 for his talk. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of the mystery of how thought and perception work, I strongly recommend this talk.

    01 November 2008

    1. Press Button 2. Wait for Signal 3. Cross Illegally

    So I've just got back from the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, and I could blog about some of the interesting conversations I had, or a couple of interesting sessions I caught, or enjoyable time catching up with old friends and colleagues and making new ones, but what I want to write about today is bad traffic engineering.

    I stayed in the Peabody Hotel, directly across from the Orange County Convention Center West Hall where the conference was held, and crossed back and forth International Drive several times a day. There's a crossing with a signal and a button - push the button, the light turns red for the traffic, and you can safely cross. At least, that's how it should work.

    Instead, you press the button and wait. And wait. And wait. Until you finally get impatient, look for cars and cross illegally. If you stood there and watched you'd see 10 people cross illegally for every person who crossed with a green signal.

    A few people pay no attention to crossing lights (in Manhattan, few people do) but most instinctively press the button and wait, at least the first time. But the wait is too long - I timed it, about 1 minute and 20 seconds. After 15 seconds with no cars, your foot starts to twitch; after 30 seconds you're looking down the road to see if it's clear; and 10 seconds later you're on your way across. Each time you cross the intervals get shorter, until by the second day you might not even bother to push the button.

    So what's the big deal? Well, it's actually a pretty dangerous place to cross. The cars are moving fast, and there's a bend in the road that makes it hard to see far. It's easy to step out and see a line of cars or a bus bearing down on you.

    This is so easy to fix! The light should be programmed so if you press the button and their are no cars approaching, it immediately turns orange and then red for the cars and lets you cross in, say, 10 seconds. Of course, this would have required the extra cost of a couple of road sensors, but instead the traffic engineers who designed this crossing (or perhaps their penny-pinching managers) have created a dangerous intersection. Bad design can kill.

    Just to make it worse - Orlando is full of English tourists. In the UK, the crossings have a painted reminder and arrow telling you which way to look for traffic, but the Orlando crossing lacks that helpful amenity - and it would be easy and tragic for anyone from a country where the cars drive on the left to make the fatal error of looking the wrong direction and then stepping out into the street.

    24 October 2008

    Sometimes, the right people win

    I just got a newsletter from Creaform 3D, the Canadian company that sells the wonderful Handyscan hand-held 3D scanner. We have been using our Handyscan for the last three years, and for many projects there is nothing that can compare.

    Charles w/ Handyscan

    Three years ago I made my first trip to Quebec City and crossed the river to the town of Levis, where Creaform's HQ was. As I recall they were in a small complex of buildings with an auto repair shop and a pizza parlor. It was a chilly day in early November, but the enthusiasm of Nick Bourgue, Marco St-Pierre, and CEO Charles Mony (above) was infectious. They knew that they had a disruptive innovation in their hands, literally, and they were ready to take it to the world.

    According to their newsletter, they have been recognized as the 22nd fastest growing company in Canada. Congratulations Creaform! Félicitations! It is great to see true innovation, hard work and commitment rewarded. I'm lucky to have been able to spent a day with you at the start.

    20 October 2008

    300,000 3D printers by 2011?

    Gartner analyst Pete Basiliere is quoted in Business Week as estimating that by 2011 there will be 300,000 3D printers "on the market". Not sure what's meant by that wording - 300,000 total sold, or 300,000 in year? To put it in perspective, the same story gives Terry Wohler's estimate that just over 3000 were sold in 2007. So a hundred-fold increase in just 4 years? I thought I was bullish on the technology.

    By the way, I heard that one of the 3D printing companies was spreading rumors that Desktop Factory has "closed its doors". Well, I was down there today and walked through the door. It's true you do have to ring a bell, then they let you in, but they are working away and continuing to make good progress.

    15 October 2008

    A most wonderful clock

    Cambridge (England) has unveiled its new Corpus Clock and Chronophage last month. I was lucky enough to learn about it this morning from one of my co-workers who saw it recently. Please watch the video - it's amazing!

    I'm so impressed with the creativity of people like John Taylor, who can combine analogue and digital engineering with deep thought, drama, and humor. It's deeply traditional and absolutely of our times simultaneously. What a masterpiece! OK, now I have to go back to Cambridge just to see this.

    06 October 2008

    Sad news - Fabidoo to cease production

    Fabidoo, the custom 3D manufacturer, has announced that at the end of next week they will cease producing 3D parts. According to a letter sent to their members:
    ... for the time being, we will stop selling fabidoos and will accept orders only until Friday, 10th of October 2008, 8pm CEST (German time)!

    Apart from that, almost everything remains as it is. You can still create new designs and comment & rate other fabidoos. Via the fabidoo widget you can still put your creations on other web pages to show your design skills.

    I'm glad the name and concept will live on, and I hope that they can find a way to restart production at a future date.

    04 October 2008

    How Slow is Slow?

    It's one thing to have a crazy idea - it's another to make it happen. I'm so impressed by people who do. Usually, we call them artists.

    John Cage was one, and he constantly pushed the boundaries - what is music? what is silence? How slow is slow?

    His organ piece "As SLow aS Possible" was debuted in a 29 minute performance. But at a church in Germany, a performance of As SLow aS Possible began in 2000, and won't finish for another 631 years. If you want to hear the next chord change in the piece - an occurrence roughly as frequent as a lunar eclipse - you'll need to get to Halberstadt, Germany by November 5. If you miss that one, you'll have to wait until February, 2009.

    There's no reason to do something like this. That's what makes it so fascinating to me.

    You can read about it at the Long Now Blog - always worth a look.

    Apparently, this piece didn't make it into the popular canon - amazon.com doesn't even sell a recording of it.

    30 September 2008

    Getting it Right Before Going to Market

    Somewhere in the last 15 or 20 years it seemed to become a business axiom that getting to market fast is more important than getting the product right first. "Get it out there, grab share, and then you can fix it in version 2.0" - maybe it wasn't really Microsoft that invented the concept but they sure seemed to live off it for a long time. So it's pretty interesting to see that there are companies that refuse to follow this trend and instead try hard to make version 1.0 pretty good.

    One of them, of course, is Desktop Factory, which I've written about frequently - they could have gotten a lot of press and attention by shipping product last year - but it wouldn't have been a GOOD product, and they would have had dissatisfied customers. They are working hard, with shoestring budgets, to get it right, and then ship.

    Another example arrived in my email today. Gridiron Software has been demoing their new concept workflow program "Flow" for at least a year - in fact, I think I first heard about it in mid-2007. Here's the message I got today:
    We've just returned from IBC in Amsterdam and Photoshop World in Vegas, and the response to Flow is better than anything we could have imagined. First off - THANK YOU. Your interest is proof that Flow is a much needed product in your workflow, as well as that of your peers. So you may be asking - where the hell is it?

    I wanted to send you a quick update on where we are with the product. Flow is completely new. Nothing like it has ever been built before. With new technology comes new challenges. We also understand how you work, and that you need to depend on RELIABLE technology to get through your day to day work.

    Flow is meant for Creative Professionals. This is not a hobbyist tool - its meant to enhance the fundamental workflows that allow you to essentially put food (amongst other things) on the table. What I am getting at is - Flow will NOT be flaky; it MUST be technology you can depend on. The response to Flow is proof that it is just "that" important.

    Therefore - I wanted to let you know that although we are not far off - we are not yet there. We are holding this product to a higher standard of quality than ever before, and will NOT put it in your hands until we believe (along with our private beta testers) that it can stand the test of real-world, high stress production. Over the coming weeks, I'll send another status update with a more concrete timetable.

    In short - I firmly believe that Flow will live up to your expectations (and more) once it is cooked. Until then - please be patient and understand that I and my entire crew are literally working round the clock to give you a product you can depend on, along with technology that just might change the face of the creative computer desktop forever.

    GridIron Software Inc.

    I applaud them for working hard to get it right, and having pride in their product. I hope it pays off for them.

    28 September 2008

    Desktop Factory Field Trip Shows Huge Progress

    If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm fond of Desktop Factory, a local start-up vying to be the first to bring 3D printing within the reach of a new generation of hobbyists and educators. I got a chance to make a brief visit to their office/lab in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago, and was very pleased to see the tremendous progress they are making. To the left you can see Brian and Cathy from Desktop Factory on the left and right, and David from Art Center in the middle.

    We got to beta-test their first generation printer late last year, and while it worked reasonably well, there were several issues: a tendency for the machine to clog; rather poor resolution; and difficult-to-remove support structures. They now have a new version with a redesigned-imager that makes a big difference on the first two problems - the new imager is under the plate in the photo - and revised software that's made the supports much easier to remove. The change to the imager was small and simple and like most engineering innovation obvious once someone thought of it.

    The part shown here was printed from a file for a "real" part in a prototype of a product under development by another Idealab company. There's a little bit of post-processing here - the machine has been "flamed" with a torch - but this is a serious, working part. Last year's model could not have produced anything this nice. The Idealab partner was able to use this part and save about $1000 they would have spent having it made by a service bureau.

    Here's a before-and-after comparison - the first test part produced with the "old" imager and the second with the newest machine - and it's easy to see a dramatic difference.

    They still have work to do to turn this prototype into a product, and they still have to find financial backing - but I am more optimistic about their prospects than I have been in quite a while. They have proven that the basic concept is sound and that it can produce real, useful parts that can be post-processed in a reasonable amount of time. Their printer has gone from being a proof of concept to a real working prototype - let's hope that a product will be on the market six months from now.

    (By the way, click on the photos to see them in higher resolution.)

    24 September 2008

    Large Machinery Comics present...

    (click on the picture to visit the comic)

    19 September 2008

    Best... Warning Stickers... Ever!

    We just received our new Haas CNC Router. It was quite a job getting it in place - it was just a bit bigger than the one we had measured, so it actually required cutting holes in the corners of a couple of walls to get it into the shop. (We really did "cut corners"!)

    When we have the machine up and running I'll post some photos, but what really caught my eye (in a figurative sense) were the warning stickers. This ain't some backyard consumer piece of junk, no - this is a world-class body-destroying machine! It can poke your eyes out, crush you, snag you, I mean you name it and this thing can do it. How awesome to work in a college with equipment like that!

    I will definitely be in another room when they turn this sucker on.

    15 September 2008

    "Anything that can be personalized will be personalized"

    That's the name of Sivam Krish's new blog. Sivam's a Singapore-based entrepreneur who launched the custom 3D building for consumer site jujups.com. Sivam's an interesting guy so I'm expecting his blog will be worth following. Welcome Sivam!

    For a nice example of the maxim that's the title of the blog, take a look at NikeID.com. Now if you're like me, you can design some really ugly shoes! But at least they will be yours alone.

    At least spam doesn't need to be recycled

    In my job I get to sign off on spending money, which means that technology companies vie to get my attention. What's amazing to me is how badly some of them do it. I don't particularly want to pick on Sun, which is a company that I have some affection for, but the latest mailing I got from them and CDW was so extravagantly wasteful that I feel compelled to comment. (Maybe compelled is a strong word, but it's an easy way to pad my blog!)

    It came in the form of two identical FedEx packages, which I had to sign for - I guess because the contents are so valuable. Note that both addresses are identical - it's not even like there were two variations on my name - just two identical mailing records side by side and hence two "urgent" packages.

    What was the important message rushed to my attention? That Sun sells servers! And you can run Linux or Windows on them! (And even Solaris, if you still care.) (This has been true for, what, 4 years now? Should I be worried that they are just now getting around to telling me?) AND if I go to a special site, I can get a FREE GIFT!

    Wow, they got me now! A FREE GIFT! But there's no room in the elegant and expensively printed piece that I now own two copies of to tell what my FREE GIFT is, I have to go to the web site. So I took a look - it's a carabiner with a digital clock and a compass! Just as soon as I have the time, I'm going to get me TWO - after all, I got two invitations, didn't I? Beats that $5 Starbucks Card, the tee shirt, and the kite I got last year!

    At least when I get spam in my email box, it's just one click to discard it! What a pathetic waste of resources....

    13 September 2008

    9/11, 9/12, and other man-made disasters

    I'm not big on going out of my way to observe 9/11 - of course we can't forget, and I'm especially in awe of the many to acted with selfless bravery on that day, and I feel pain for the loss of the families. But I've been so depressed by the political uses that have been made of that event, it make me want to ignore it. Then little things creep into my consciousness....

    Like yesterday, when two trains collided in Los Angeles and at least 25 people died. It's hard to imagine the violent moment that occurred when two trains, both going about 40 miles per hour, ran into each other head on. Trains just aren't supposed to do that.

    I heard today that one of engineers may have sent a text message to a friend a minute before the crash. We'll probably never know for sure if that was the reason he ran through a red signal, but I hope it will be additional motivation for me to keep my hands off my iPhone while I'm driving. I can only imagine how I'd feel if I killed someone in my car because I was reading a text or an email - shame on me for ever doing it!

    And the abstraction of a horrific event like 9/11 - or the much smaller but no less violent deaths in the train accident on 9/12 - is brought home when you're reminded that behind the numbers are real people and real families. I was very moved by Phil McKinney's blog post about the Falkenberg family who died on the jet that plowed into the Pentagon. It sounds like the new memorial there - a bench for each person who died - is somber, appropriate, and humane.

    I shouldn't need reminders like this that life is precious, but somehow I do. We never know what the next moment might bring, so we've got to do the best with the one's we're given. There are thousands of little tragedies every hour, and if it's your family it's just as important as a big one. And if it's you, you may never know...

    (Photo my Mr. "O", http://flickr.com/photos/mr_o/, used under Creative Commons license.)

    10 September 2008

    The Rosetta Disk

    Awesome article by Kevin Kelly about an awesome project - a very long term backup of a significant portion of the world's linguistic knowledge. If I had a spare $25,000 I'd snap up one of those disks in an instant... but I'm not sure where I'd keep it. (I guess if I had a spare $25,000, I'd have a place to keep it too.)

    08 September 2008

    HP's Customer Experience Group

    Phil McKinney of HP, who engineered the HP purchase of Voodoo PC and launched the HP Blackbird 002 gaming machine, has put together a new "Customer Experience Group" headed by Susie Wee from HP Labs. A recent article in Business Week describes their apparent experimentation with customization - and alternatives to - Microsoft Vista. Most people don't realize that many HP laptops already come with a media-player mode that boots Linux - allowing you to play a CD or DVD with a quick boot and more battery life. I've gotten to know Phil and he's a visionary and an innovator, so it's going to be very interesting to watch HP and see what they can do.

    07 September 2008

    Happy Birthday, Print is Dead!

    One blog I always read is Print is Dead. Jeff Gomez usually has something interesting to say about the present and future of publishing, and he has a nuanced view of the role of print, despite the provocative name for his blog. Anybody who can publish a book called Print is Dead clearly has an ironic sense of humor. The Print is Dead blog is celebrating its second birthday. Congratulations Jeff, keep writing.

    06 September 2008

    Twitter and Facebook and Ambient Awareness

    My friend Spleeness pointed me at an excellent article in the NY Times about Twitter and Facebook, and why it's so appealing to get small and frequent updates from people about what they are doing. The article explains very elegantly why something that sounds so stupid when you haven't done it actually seems to fill a deep social need.

    I've been familiar with the way this works in Facebook but this article motivated me to finally try Twitter (as amichaelberman, in case you want to "follow me"). Life is a sequence of moments, and the sharing these moments - profound, trivial, and inane - enables us to stay connected in a world where the people we care about are distributed across the globe. I think these are real connections and they are here to stay.

    04 September 2008

    Welcome Back to School

    The man on the left is my father, Art Berman. The year is 1953, and he’s an 18 year old college freshman, posing with his roommate Stan.

    Just 8 years before, he watched his dad die of lung cancer and I can see the sadness in his eyes that never left him. Mysteriously, my Dad has decided to escape from the Bronx and he’s found himself in Yellow Springs Ohio. The two guys standing along US 68 make me think of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

    In three more years he’ll be married, and in four years a father. I’ll be there at his graduation. This is as free as he’s ever going to be. In less than 45 years he’ll be gone, and now Antioch College is gone too. But at this moment the road stretches out ahead and the path is unknown to him.

    BB King's secret fantasy

    I picked this up from the blog Knowing and Doing, written by Eugene Wallingford and always worth following if you have any interest in computer science education - one of my past lives. According to an interview, BB King wishes that he had been able to go to college to become... are you ready... a computer scientist! He would have to have been one hell of a computer scientist to make up for what the world of music would have lost.

    I guess about 50% of the people I know that work in technology harbor a secret or not-so-secret desire to be musicians.... Most of them, including myself, are just not good enough at it. There are so many amazing musicians out there! So it's a little reassuring to know that one of the great ones wishes he could do what I do. If we could only swap lives for a week! BB, drop me a line, I'll give you some technology lessons and you can teach me a few licks.

    02 September 2008

    My love/hate relationship with lawns

    For anyone who lives in a climate like mine in Southern California, a lawn makes no logical sense. We steal water hundreds of miles away and pump it here so we can dump it on our lawns and watch it evaporate in the high temperatures and low humidity of summer. I know I'm supposed to hate lawns.

    We've recently come close to finishing a seemingly-endless remodeling project, and of course as we rebuild the crushed and abandoned landscape around our house we're looking at low-water, native plants - which I do really like. But there was one section by the side that was completely bare, and while we figure out what to do long term, we decided to go ahead and plant grass.... and it looks so nice! So cool, so green, so alive.

    Someday maybe I'll give up my lawn. Then I can try to give up the other Los Angeles extravagance, driving alone in my car.... In the meantime, it just looks so nice!

    01 September 2008

    Do Libraries Matter?

    A very interesting report from the research organization Ithaka suggests that for many academic scholars, libraries serve a much less central role than they used to, and that the rate at which libraries are becoming less relevant is accelerating. The report seems to be generating a lot of discussion among librarians - see, for example, this entry in the ACRL blog.

    Libraries have established themselves as political and economic power-centers on major university campuses because they have served an absolutely essential function for research faculty. As this role matters less to a significant number of faculty, will libraries continue to receive the same kind of support? If the main role of the library is to serve students as a place to work and study - an information commons - is the library the campus organization best positioned to provide this service? Could facilities or student life or academic technology do a better job?

    It may seem almost insulting to ask these questions, given the important and traditional role of libraries, and I don't intend to question the commitment or professionalism of librarians. But I do believe that we have only begun to see the impact of a historic shift that will result in the library becoming a significantly different institution on campuses, in a role that may not be as central as it has been for so many years.

    30 August 2008

    Fab@Home Model 2 project underway

    Evan Malone, "father" of the Fab@Home Model 1 DIY home fabber, has put out a call for requirements for the next generation Fab@Home printer, and is enlisting those with the "skills, motivation, and time to make a serious contribution to the hardware, software, electronics, materials science, industrial design, systems engineering, or project management for the next generation of Fab@Home...."

    Maybe this will motivate me to turn a box of partly-assembled parts into the Fab@Home printer we started building last Spring... want to get it into service before it's already one gen behind!

    25 August 2008

    Free Stuff

    NMC has now posted the loops that were recorded at the Summer Conference as the new "NMC Jampack" - have a look at http://www.nmc.org/jampack, download and remix.

    And my friend Kyle Cassidy is giving away a very nice Nikon Lens. I remember this lens because he was using it to shoot photos of me and my son Adam at Gettysburg Battlefield, back when he was a younger and poorer photographer. (Poorer financially, he was always a great photographer.)

    22 August 2008

    Shapeways - first impressions

    The launch of shapeways.com has garnered a lot of attention, and it's a great concept - a 3D service bureau designed for the relatively non-technical user. Upload your 3D design, click on a couple of buttons, enter a credit card and your model arrives in a few weeks.

    There are many other service bureaus that can do the same thing, for example our friends at solidconcepts.com, but Shapeways stands out for emphasizing ease of use, with a non-intimidating interface and quick automated review of your STL file.

    Shapeways is in private beta, but I got an ID to try out. I figured I'd take a model from our shop, one that we knew would work because we've printed it, and give Shapeways a try. Here's the first one I tried:

    In case it's not obvious, this is a teacher's aid, designed to speed up the grading process.

    After a few minutes, Shapeways delivered the verdict: the model can't be printed because it's "not manifold". What does that mean? Unless you're pretty well versed in basic topology, don't ask. Short answer: shapeways doesn't think it's a good model and it won't print it. However, right in front of me is a copy of that very object, printed on a Dimension FDM printer, the same one I believe that they are using.

    So, I tried another model:

    It's a pretty cool design for a toothbrush handle, created by one of our students at Art Center.

    This time, I got a different message - first, an email warning me that there was something bad about the model, but Shapeways might be able to fix it, but then a few minutes later it gave up. We printed this one here too.

    So Shapeways - great idea, and I totally understand that they need to have software that uses algorithms and heuristics to try to determine whether or not the model can be successfully printed - otherwise, they are going to waste a lot of resources and materials trying to print bad models. I understand too that they are still in beta, and I'm going to send the models to them so they can try to determine what the issues are. Let's hope they can continue to develop their software so that it doesn't reject valid, printable models, because otherwise they are going to have some very unhappy customers or potential customers.

    14 August 2008

    The Lonely Planet Guide to Exploring Your Library

    I was fascinated by the article Getting the Most Out of Your Library which appeared in Digital Web Magazine. (Thanks to Gina in OUR library for pointing me to it, via our Library's blog.) I wish that every library director would read this. Many of them would be shocked by the assumption that the library is a somewhat odd and arcane institution that requires a sort of Lonely Planet guide to navigate, but perhaps encouraged that a young digital native still considers the journey worthwhile.

    I love this: Think of the library system as something akin to the open-source movement before software. Subsidized institutions buy books, subscribe to journals and proprietary databases, and pay people to help you find “stuff”, essentially at no cost to you. Wow! What a cool concept! And they often have coffee and free wifi too! They may be hard to find and difficult to understand, but they're worth the trip. Understanding how this young man perceives and uses the library gives us some clues about how the keep libraries relevant in the future.

    10 August 2008

    Welcome, "Off the Windowpane"

    My colleague Crista Copp has started a new blog, Off the Windowpane. Those of us who know Crista know that she has a lot to say and says it well. I really enjoyed her first entry and can't wait for more.
    An excerpt:
    We need to stop separating “analog” and “digital” (and by the way, a question asked in person is no more analog, then a question asked on a website is digital). We need to stop using language that is exclusive to those who do or don’t use technology. We need to stop creating ways for our students to use technology, and just make our curriculum better.

    06 August 2008

    Is "The Atlantic" Making Us Stupid?

    Nicolas Carr's article in The Atlantic, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" is more thoughtful than the alarmist title would suggest, and well-worth reading. Marshall McLuhan's observation that medium and message cannot be separated seems to have been validated by our understanding of learning and cognition.

    The sad part is that instead of bemoaning the change and becoming nostalgic for the days when books on paper were always the most influential containers for thought, we need to be understanding how to build the systems that will train our minds in the ways that will be most effective for the future, and designing and building the learning institutions that can do it. We are tragically far behind on this last part.

    More interesting than the article are some of the responses on the Encyclopedia Brittanica blog "The Reality Club" (of all places). I especially appreciated Danny Hillis' second comment which includes the insight:

    "For many years books were the primary means by which important ideas were conveyed to us, we came to associate them with thoughtful insight. This association is out of date."

    21 July 2008

    Jamming on the Lennon Bus

    A few weeks ago, while attending the NMC Annual Summer Conference in Princeton, NJ, I got a chance to spend 15 minutes recording on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. If you're not familiar with the Lennon Bus, take a look at the link - it's a fantastic project to support music education. Usually, the people who get to record on the bus are High School students, but as a special treat for those of us at NMC we were able to book slots.

    I was pretty nervous to record something in 15 minutes, but the guys on the bus are cool, brilliant, and supportive, and they helped me get it down without drama. After I got back home, I took the loops I recorded and mixed them in Garage Band. I called it "Summer on the Towpath" - if you want to listen, follow this link and click on the little arrow next to the file name to download.

    Thanks to the Lennon Bus folks, NMC, and Don Henderson at Apple for putting together a really fun experience for us.

    18 July 2008

    Essay - "Great To See You. Just Not Around Here"

    I love reading Jan Chipchase's blog. Sometimes I have no idea what point he's trying to make or indeed if he has one, but it's endlessly stimulating and often thought-provoking. Anyway, he just posted a link to a nice little essay on how geolocative technologies move connectivity and its social challenges to a new level. Worth reading.

    23 June 2008

    The Library in the New Age

    Robert Darnton, writing in the New York Review of Books, makes a good case for the future of the library as... a repository of books. At least, the research library.

    He makes some great points, and professes to be a fan of Google, but why is it that every writer on this topic, while stipulating that it's the content that really matters, finally gets to the smell and feel of books. There's a romanticism that seems inescapable, at least with intellectuals who where educated in a certain age. (I'm making an assumption here, not knowing Mr. Darnton's age or background. After I wrote this initially, I looked him up - he graduated from Harvard in 1960...)

    So nobody I know questions that there's an important role for the Bodelian, and the Library of Congress, and UCLA Library, and other great libraries around the world. For me, the question is what is the role of the other 95% of libraries? This is more difficult to foresee.

    17 May 2008

    Warning: your analog rug will soon be obsolete!

    Yes, the time has come to replace all those old, out-of-date, analog rugs with the newest in High Definition. In fact, in just two years, your analog and even your Standard Definition rugs will stop working, so it's time to either upgrade to HD (you know you want to!) or at least get a converter box. Saw these on sale at Costco today and they were selling like Vizio TV's. God, I love the new Digital Age!

    16 May 2008

    Art Center page on You Tube

    Take a look - http://www.youtube.com/artcenteredu. These are all student projects. Here's one of the best:

    04 May 2008

    Now Is All You Have

    Now Is All You Have
    Originally uploaded by amberman

    Random photos from my iPhone

    Every so often I hit the button on my iPhone and take a photo by accident. I used to throw them away but I realized I liked some of them better than the pictures I was taking on purpose. So for what it's worth, I've put a few of them online in Flickr. If you like this sort of thing, take a look. If you don't, move along, nothing to see here.

    20 April 2008


    Fabidoo, the German website that offers customized products via 3D printing, has launched an international site including a (mostly) English version. I'm going to make an order an item as soon as I get a chance - I'll let you know how it goes. I like what they're doing and wish them success.

    3D Printing Resources

    I've started a little page to keep track of links on the subject, and it's publicly available - at https://amberman.backpackit.com/pub/1418536. Some of you might find it useful!

    NASA Blogs Art Center

    NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale does a nice job reporting on two projects that Art Center completed for NASA this Spring. Take a look. Shana says:
    While the complexity of the designs showed the extensive research and time invested by the Art Center students, the functionality and sleekness made you want to suit up and drive. It was quite exciting to be surrounded by the enthusiasm of the student design teams.

    Yeah, that's why we like it here!

    04 April 2008

    Fabbaloo - excellent resource for fabbing news

    I had looked at this blog before but was recently reminded of it - excellent resource tracking the worlds of fabbing, 3D printing, and rapid manufacturing. I do find it a little hard to remember the spelling... 2 B's, an A, one L....

    23 March 2008

    Ed Fries and I quoted in the same article

    A month or so ago I spoke to a reporter from Computerworld about low-cost 3D printing and the Desktop Factory printer. The article has now shown up in the online version of their New Zealand edition. (Update: it's on their US edition too. Must be a dateline thing that made it hit NZ first.)

    I love the quote from Ed Fries from FigurePrints regarding home 3D printing:

    "When you have children, an amazing amount of plastic crap comes into the house every day, and you might as well download it from the internet," he says.

    Yeah, but how do you print out the Happy Meal?

    I wasn't as thrilled with my quote, which made me sound more negative about the Desktop Factory printer than I am. If I really said "In terms of accuracy they have some work to do" I'm sure I meant "resolution" not "accuracy", and I'm pretty sure it was in the context of how well the Desktop Factory printer stacked up to the other technologies we use at Art Center, i.e., ZCorp and FDM. It is true they have some work to do, and I'm glad to report a lot of work is going on there. The Desktop Factory printer is not going to be competitive in the near term with a $25,000 machine, but for what it's supposed to do it has the potential to be amazing.

    Now if I can figure out a way to wrangle a trip to New Zealand out of this.

    21 March 2008

    Interesting Interview - FigurePrints

    From WoW Insider - an interesting interview with the founder of FigurePrints - the company that uses 3D printers to print World of Warcraft characters. Among the many intriguing comments is their description of the custom software they developed to convert a 3D character in the game into a format that can be successfully printed:

    I worked on this with the help of another guy kind of just doing some of the business stuff with me for a few months, and we pretty quickly realized that we were over our heads just from a 3D art perspective. We were having lots of issues with the printer trying to print the models that I was pulling out. Because models by default-something that’s created for a game just really isn’t printable. We needed to do a lot of stuff to change the models and make it into something that you’d want to have printed. So I came up with a 3D artist I knew, who worked on Flight Simulator and came from kind of a CAD background, Rick Welsh. He started to create this giant script in 3D Studio Max that takes the output out of Model Viewer and massages it. The script now is about 10,000 lines, and it automatically takes characters and does all the changes that need to be made to make them printable. For example it smoothes them, makes them much higher poly, so that they’re much smoother. Something like a cloak in game is infinitely thin, so the script has to extrude it. The models aren’t what’s called “watertight,” so they have to be sealed-if they have holes in them it confuses the printers. Stuff like hair is given transparency and texture. I could get too technical, and generate geometry-

    Even after this automated process, each figure still has to be tweaked by hand. It's a pretty labor intensive process, explaining the $115 per figure charge. At that price, they expect to have more orders than they can fill so they've instituted a lottery process for filling orders.

    13 March 2008

    Fab @ Home @ Work

    The Fab@Home machine is coming along slowly but surely, an hour here and an hour there. I'm soldering wires, and my colleague David is assembling the chassis. The online instructions are fabulous, wonderful detail and illustrations. As we've assembled it, we've been really impressed by the thought that went into the design. Assembly is still tricky - I'm terribly out of practice with a soldering iron, and some of the wires and connections that would have been easy when I was a teenager are so small that they are nearly invisible to me without a magnifying class!

    We've set ourselves a deadline of mid-April to have it up and running, so we'll keep plugging away!

    11 March 2008

    hulu goes live

    Hulu is a joint venture of Fox and NBC Universal. I've been using it for the past couple of months and it's impressive - very good video and audio, limited commercials. According to an article in the New York Times, a quarter of internet users have watched a full-length program on line in the last 3 months. This is reaching a tipping point very fast. It's a wrenching change for the economics of the broadcast industry, but great for the consumer of media.

    10 March 2008

    What do Trent Reznor and I have in common?

    Not a whole heck of a lot, actually. However, Nine Inch Nails' new creation Ghosts I-IV ("album" and "CD" seem quite out of date) is licensed under the same terms as this blog - a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Share Alike license. In other words, you can take his work and remix and mash to your heart's content as long as you don't claim it's your own or try to sell it.

    The marketing for Ghosts is remarkable - you can download part of it free; you can download the whole thing for $5; or you can buy various deluxe packages at price points from $10 to $300 (except the $300 limited edition is already sold out).

    Most people who understand the Internet have known for the last 10 years that a new model for music distribution and sales had to be developed. It's great to see an intelligent and creative attempt to do something really different.

    05 March 2008

    Are you an odd-looking photographer?

    So, the London Metropolitan Police wants people to turn in photographers who "seem odd." In my experience that would apply to a significant percentage...

    (Photo from Thomas Hawk's Flickr site, used under Creative Commons license.)

    01 March 2008

    Desktop Factory's Netxplorateur Award

    Cathy Lewis is back from Paris after receiving the Netxplorateur award on behalf of Desktop Factory. She let me take a photo of the rather cool looking (and very heavy) award shown here. I'm pleased to see that they are making good progress, particularly on producing models with more easily removed supports. I know they are more interested in shipping product than winning awards but the Netxplorateur and the Popular Science award and the continuous press interest all continue to demonstrate interest and demand for a really innovative product.

    26 February 2008

    Latest Update from Desktop Factory

    Our friends at Desktop Factory report that they've moved their ship date for their initial product out to the third quarter of 2008. I think this is a smart move - they are committed to shipping a quality product that will meet customer expectations, and they want to get it right. I think they have a great vision and a team that can build the first low-cost 3D printer, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they have later this year.

    Bruce Sterling: Why the OLPC will probably fail

    Not that he's particularly happy about it. An interesting analysis of OLPC from Bruce Sterling and Jasmina Tesonovic - it's not just about the hardware or the software, it's about the politics.

    (If you'd rather watch it in HD, you can get a copy at http://techvideoblog.com/lift/bruce-sterling-and-jasmina-tesanovic-talk-about-the-olpc/ - the ideas are equally well-defined in either format.)

    25 February 2008

    The Fastest Global Diffusion of Technology in History

    According to an excellent article Our Cells, Ourselves, written by Joel Garreau and published in Sunday's Washington Post, the number of cell phones in service, 3.3 billion, is roughly half the world's population. It took just 26 years to get to this point:

    The human race is crossing a line. There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth.

    From essentially zero, we've passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history -- faster even than the polio vaccine.

    "We knew this was going to happen a few years ago. And we know how it will end," says Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Google. "It will end with 5 billion out of the 6" with cellphones. "A reasonable prediction is 4 billion in the next few years -- the current proposal is 4 billion by 2010. And then the final billion or so within a few years thereafter.

    I recommend the article - and also take a look at an article Calling From Where? from 26 years ago describing the first cell service in Washington. One optimistic pioneer predicted that "We're talking about 50 to 60 million over the next 20 to 30 years." Wrong!

    24 February 2008

    Art Center's Global Dialogues: Disruptive Thinking

    Art Center will launch a new program in a new venue - Barcelona - on March 7, 2008. In a blog created for this event, moderator Richard Addis has started posting an intriguing set of previews. Here's a taste:

    What we are doing in Barcelona is a beginning. We are bringing together 24 men and women of ideas from all over the world to one (magnificent) place to discuss six major themes: Design, Climate Change, Business, Science, Politics and Belief. In each dialogue the conversation will be around the effect of disruptive thinking on established belief. In other words it will be about creativity. And we shall end by trying to peer into the future and detect the shadowy outlines of the next truly disruptive idea looming in each of the six areas that we have chosen.

    Live, unprepared and interactive - the anti-Power Point medium - I aim to make the dialogues disruptive in themselves in that they will take surprising turns and the meeting of disruptive minds on stage will spark disruptive new ideas. They will be disruptively interactive. Our audience will be welcome to join in. Though essentially live and unpredictable, everything will be captured on video to go on the web. So each dialogue will, we hope, roll out into the media-sphere to bubble and steam for some while after.

    I just wish I could go! However, the event will be recorded and I'm looking forward to helping get the video online for as wide distribution as possible. If there's any way you can get to Barcelona on March 7, it looks like it's going to be a fantastic event. In any case, I recommend the blog, which is worth reading even if you can't attend the event.

    22 February 2008

    Watching the Lunar Eclipse from the Center of the Public Astronomy Universe

    I love the Griffith Park Observatory, better-than-ever after a recent renovation. It was a blast to enjoy a "community eclipse" on Wednesday night. Telescope nerds, teenagers, school kids, moms with daughters, and every other kind of Angeleno was there, speaking the usual polyglot of languages. And despite the threat of clouds, the moon came through with a spectacular show. If you missed it, try again in 2010!

    21 February 2008

    Art and technology explained

    "Art challenges technology, and technology inspires art." - John Lasseter, from "The Pixar Shorts: A Short History"

    New Zealand Jewelry Idol

    Ponoko has launched a very cool and fairly lucrative design challenge - see http://blog.ponoko.com/2008/02/19/the-ponoko-10-day-jewelry-design-challenge/.
    By the way, design challenge is a better word than contest. My colleagues at Art Center have explained to me that they are interested in challenges and even competitions, but contests are for pie eating!

    Wavelengths are physics, but color is psychology

    Take a look at http://www.boingboing.net/2008/02/08/color-tile-optical-i.html. You can know to an absolute certainty that two things are the same color, but your mind can never perceive it that way.

    28 January 2008

    Ponoko visits Art Center

    A tired but good-humored Derek Elley (on the right), co-founder of ponoko.com, dropped by briefly at Art Center today in between his 12-hour flight from New Zealand and a meeting in Palm Springs. I asked him if he had a good flight and he looked at me like I was nuts - and I realized that "good" and "12 hour flight" don't belong in the same sentence.

    In the photo, Derek is visiting with David Cawley, manager of our digital fabrication shop. We had fun showing Derek around and letting him see what our students are capable of creating.

    If you haven't had a chance to check out ponoko.com, take a look - it's a very cool concept!