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It's been my experience that a landlord will look at you funny (and maybe ask what you're doing) if you clap your hands together to check out the acoustics of a space that you're considering renting.

I'm (almost) puzzled when someone checking out a room doesn't clap their hands. Listening to a single clap tells you how live the room is, whether there's annoying flutter echo from hard parallel surfaces, and so on.

There are few good choices of how to respond to the landlord's quizzical look and/or question. Not saying anything would seem uncoöperative. Saying that the behavior of a linear, time-invariant system can be characterized by its impulse response would only make matters worse.

"I'm checking out the acoustics" is about all you can say. Cubed Curve by William Crovello 30 years ago, I did some work for a graphic arts company in the Time-Life Building¹ in New York City, and I walked past the sculpture shown² to the right quite a few times.

On one occasion, a stranger chose me to hear his tirade about how horrible a piece of art it was: vapid, soulless, that kind of thing. Art should be inspiring, he said, and how could (impressionable) youths be imbued with any sense of character when we give them art like this to look at. I didn't say anything, because people don't like to be interrupted when they're complaining.

Although I think there's something to be said for a curved form with a square cross-section, I'd agree that this piece is mediocre. As blocky painted metal outdoor sculptures in New York go, I'd rank it below the Astor cube and the big red 9.

¹ named not after the abstract concepts, but rather for the publisher of Time and Life magazines
² excerpt of a photo by David Shankbone, used under license
I'll keep this short.

It is not OK when my country kills several detainees, fabricates a suicide story, and has the nerve to tell the world that the "suicides" were an act of asymmetric warfare against the USA.

It's hard to tell for sure whether that happened at Guantánamo in 2006, but Scott Horton's recent article makes a good case. See also his follow-up.
J-tree, bunny tracks

Joshua tree and rabbit tracks.

this night wounds timeFor 127 years, the New York Times set its type in cast metal. They switched to computerized phototypesetting in 1978, announcing the change in an editorial set partly in cast type and partly electronically (excerpt at right). I don't know the details of the process the Times switched to, but computerized typesetting in the 1970s wasn't what it is today. Back then, it usually meant projecting letters onto film one at a time, from fonts stored on photographic negatives.

In 1984, Adobe Systems introduced PostScript, which brought many new possibilities and became the technology of choice for typesetting and page layout. Publishing was ripe to be thoroughly computerized, and we are fortunate that it happened through the means of as well-designed a technology as PostScript.

In 1993, Adobe introduced PDF, a file format that retained PostScript's imaging model but which handled fonts better and supported indexing (and which had a few other differences).

PostScript is still in wide use for controlling printers and for expressing graphics that can be compiled to PDF for distribution.

PostScript is a full-fledged programming language, with subroutines, loops, and more. If you want to print graph paper, this PostScript program will suffice:
0.5 setgray 0.5 setlinewidth 30 30 translate
0 18 720 { 0 exch moveto 540 0 rlineto stroke } for
0 18 540 { 0      moveto 0 720 rlineto stroke } for
Unlike PostScript, the first versions of PDF did not have all the control structures of a full programming language. An equivalent PDF document for a page of graph paper is 16 times as large as the PostScript program, because it spells out the 41 horizontal lines and 31 vertical lines one-by-one rather than using the shorthand of saying "do this 41 times, then do this 31 times".

Not supporting general programming has an advantage: it avoids trouble. Imagine that the graph paper program drew so many lines that it would take ages to finish. Needless to say, trouble comes in worse flavors than that--much worse.

It took a while for PDF to catch on, but the rise of the WWW and free availability of Acrobat Reader (now Adobe Reader) ultimately led to its wide acceptance. Adobe published specs for PDF and encouraged people to create software that read and wrote PDF documents. Lots of good came from all that.

However, PDF has evolved with time, and I wouldn't say it's all been progress. PDF documents can now include JavaScript programs. PDF documents can request ads from remote servers. Not content with having revolutionized publishing, Adobe has thrown everything into PDF but the kitchen sink. What has this gotten us? The titles of two recent articles tell the story: I have mixed feelings about JavaScript in HTML, but I do use it. I think JavaScript is out of place in PDF, however. If you use Adobe Reader, you can preclude a lot of potential vulnerabilities by disabling JavaScript under Edit>Preferences. You won't be missing much. My shoulders have been feeling somewhat better, and I went climbing today for the first time in about 200 days. I had a great time.

You can be lying down while belaying when the sun is low and you're at the right angle and wearing polarized sunglasses and the sky will be a deep deep blue and you can look at it and look at it and your partner will be concentrating on climbing and no one will be saying anything and you can be taking in the color and feeling that there's no better place to be than where you are right then and yet at the same time be serving an absolutely crucial purpose.
crotchets semiquavers
Powers of two. (it also does bunches of 23, 21, and 20) that is, unlikely to arrive exactly when estimated

Thanks to Sroyon (who knew I was likely to be amused) for this pic.
Three miscellaneous items, all geeky:

Der Spiegel has a slideshow of pics of HVDC equipment, including several of a huge reel of cable for underwater power transmission. You don't have to read German to appreciate the pics, you just have to think high voltage apparatus is cool.

Not content with just having the tallest building, the Burj Dubai people evidently aspire to having the tallest skinny jpeg image on the web: the background for (49×5334 pixels). OK, it might not be the tallest--but it's a repeating geometric pattern, presumably inspired by the building's plan. I find it more tasteful than the building itself, but that's not saying much.

prove me And speaking of nice geometry, a problem essentially the same as described to the right has been posed in a contest; the most elegant proof wins a $100 prize, where "most elegant" is judged at the discretion of the people running the contest.

It's a cute problem, perhaps not as hard to prove as the contest description says but still fun. I've entered the contest but I'd be happy to lose, in that I'd enjoy seeing a more elegant proof than the ones I've found.


Someone in Austria once asked Lalo Schifrin why he wrote the Mission: Impossible theme in 5/4. He said that radiation from US nuclear weapon testing had caused babies to be born with five legs, and as adults they couldn't dance in discotheques for people with two legs--so he wrote music for them. He later found out she was a prominent music critic and had printed his response in a magazine.

I wasn't there, I didn't hear the way the question was phrased--but it strikes me as dopey and totally deserving the kind of answer he gave.

That theme is one of my favorite pieces of music written for television. It's got killer percussion, and towards the end it has a repeated ♩. ♩. ♩ figure in a cool rhythmic counterpoint to the 5/4 ostinato.

I was little when Mission: Impossible was big. It was on Sundays at 10 P.M. My parents made me go to bed at 10, but my older brother could stay up and I'd hear the theme music coming through the walls and I'd be so frustrated that I couldn't be watching it too. If anyone tells you the new decade doesn't start until 2011, they probably haven't read Sean Oberle's article about how our calendar may well have started at year 0 (the sensible choice) rather than 1. I say "may well" because it's hard to tell. To paraphrase (a quote often attributed to) Yogi Berra--it's tough to be absolutely sure, especially about ancient history.

But I can be reasonably sure it's a new year, thus time for new blog decor. Tommyjournal now no longer leaves wide windows unfilled. Blue sky is nice, but clouds give a sky character--or something like that.

Whereas Tommyjournal's 2009 banner pattern was rendered anew at each page request, the filler patterns in 2010 are more CPU-intensive to produce and are only regenerated now 'n' then.

Happy new year, everyone.