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.