On Thursday we had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at our house. In addition to Susan and myself, my brother Randy and a friend of his attended. After eating turkey and dressing, we played a dominoes game called Mexican Train that’s perfect for holidays since it can takes hours to complete. In the evening Susan and I drove to my sister Vicki’s house where we visited other relatives including my parents and my sister Kelly’s family.
Susan and I spent the rest of the weekend on our own. We’ve been playing more games in our spare time lately. We’ve read a lot of articles lately suggesting they’re helpful in keeping our brains going. It also seems to be a good way to de-stress after work. Let’s see, we’re playing Scrabble, Mancala, and a variety of card games. One game I’d really like to start playing is Go.
We ventured out to a few Black Friday sales but tried to avoid any places that looked too busy. We picked up a pre-lit Christmas tree for the office that we set up and decorated Saturday night.
I also squeezed in some time to work on mod_virgule for the first time in nearly a year. I picked up where I left off in early 2008 with the rewrite of the HTML parser. I now have the libxml2-based parser working quite well. It needs a little more work to purge some remaining XSS holes. It already looks a lot safer than mod_virgule’s built-in parser.
This morning, Susan and I went to La Reunion’s first annual tree carving and open house event. La Reunion is a new art collective in Dallas with 35 acres of land south of downtown. The land is near the La Reunion Fourierist utopian community that existed from 1855-1860 (thus the name they chose for their group). They plan to build an off-grid, green facility there at which artists can live and work. As part of the process of preparing the land, they need to remove dying and non-native trees. They chose to do it in a way that would be healthy for the ecosystem. The trees will be carved by artists in a way that causes them to decay slowly, turning into food and homes for a variety of life forms.
Earlier this month, Susan and I drove down to Houston for the annual Orange Show Center for Visionary Art’s 20th annual Art Car Parade. This is one largest and oldest art car events in the world. About the only place you’re likely to see bigger and stranger moving art would Burning Man. There were over 200 art cars and an estimated 200,000 people in town to see them. I shot a lot of photos but only managed to shoot a fraction of what was there. Time to upgrade from a 2GB to 4GB XD card, I think! If you want to get an idea of what went on, check out my 2007 Houston Art Car Parade photos. You can also find pics of most of the cars in the official photo gallery on the Orange Show website. A local Houston friend of mine put together a little art car video of the event.
I had no idea NASA had an art program. Apparently their goal is to create works of art that will inspire future genreations of engineers and scientists. In this case, Terry Riley composed the music around sounds recorded by the plasma wave sensors on Voyager, Cassini, and other NASA space probes. Scientist Don Gurnett who has been working with plasma wave sensors for over 40 years, selected his favorite sounds and provided them to Riley.
The work combined the live music of the string quartet and vocals with a synthetic soundtrack composed by Riley from the the plasma wave sounds. On top of this, each performer had a control stalk with a proximity sensor at the tip attached to their music stand. By waving their hand over it, they could trigger additional plasma wave samples randomly from preselected batches that matched the movement of the piece. This causes each performance to have a unique sound while still retaining a conventional musical structure.
During the performance, there are also background visuals that alternate between color washes and a series of graphics based on the Voyager probe’s golden record operating instructions which explain to aliens how to decode and play the record carried on the probe. The instructions start with a diagram illustrating the states of a hydrogen atom, and proceed from there to the construction of a record player, reproducing the sound, decoding the embedded video waveforms, and reconstructing the video images. (no doubt an achievement that would land some lucky alien a story in their equivalent of Make magazine). The performers are also surrounded by a large number of light tipped rods which vary in color and intensity during the performance, at times giving the impression that the performers are floating in the void of space and at other times are reminiscent of candles.
We both enjoyed the music and found the performance as a whole more than interesting enough to fill the hour and half length. As an added bonus, the member of Kronos hung around for a little Q and A event after the show. Surprisingly only about a dozen members of the audience stayed to ask questions and listen to stories.
Holidays are handy things because they give you a chance to get caught up on everything you’ve fallen behind on. Part of my holiday todo list includes posting an update to my blog, of course!
Books and other piles of words
I’ve been reading Neil Stephenson’sBaroque Cycle (a three volume prequel to Cryptonomicon) aloud to Susan in the evenings. We’re about half way through the second volume and loving it. I finished reading R. A. Lafferty’sPast Master recently as well. My quest to obtain and read the entire series of Neil R. Jones Professor Jameson stories is proceeding slowly. All of the stories are out of print, many since they originally appeared in the pulps in the 1930s. I’ve managed to obtain copies of about 20 of them so far. The sad news that Jack Williamson has died means I’ll probably be tracking down and reading a few of his out of print books soon.
Between the recent burst of mod_virgule work and the DPRG group robot project, I’ve been doing a lot more C programming lately. It’s nice to work on things that are fun for a change. And even fun things result in an occasional patch for something more important. Both projects need to get moved into a Subversion archive. I’ve only been on the user end of Subversion until now, so this will be another interesting learning experience. I’ve completed the basic installation and started playing around with the configuration and web interface.
Jihad Jerry and the Evil Doers
Gerald V. Casale has a new CD out. He’s calling the band Jihad Jerry and the Evil Doers and the CD is titled Mine is not a Holy War. Who else is on the CD? Let’s see, there’s Bob Mothersbaugh, Josh Freese, and, yes, Mark Mothersbaugh. If that seems suspiciously familiar, it should. This is essentially a new Devo CD. Mark Mothersbaugh co-wrote a few tracks but doesn’t provide any vocals. The sound and the subject matter is very Devo-like. They’re not happy about Bush, SUVs, and other forms of stupidity. The lyrics are full of Devo-like mixed metaphors and devolved wisdom like, “remember, you look through your glasses but the rest of the world looks at them.” Recommended.
Susan and I saw Devo perform last night at the Fair Park bandshell in Dallas. It was the first time Devo had played Dallas in 16 years. They only play a few shows a year due to their TV and movie soundtrack work. The Psychadelic Furs (Pretty in Pink and one or two other 80s hits) opened for Devo. An even more obscure, one hit wonder band called When in Rome opened for the Psychadelic Furs. The first band started at 8pm and Devo didn’t actually start until about 10:45pm. But they were worth the wait. We got the pre-show briefing from General Boy on the big video screen and then the band marched out in their classic yellow hazmat suits and red energy domes. Quite a few of the audience members were wearing the cheap plastic knockoff energy domes. I’m proud to say I have a real energy dome from the 1980s. (but you don’t wear a priceless antique like that to a live show!)
Unlike a lot of 80s bands who look tired and old compared to how they looked when they were new, Devo still has it. They play with as much energy as modern punk bands, and they put on a show second to none. The audio clarity was suprisingly good for a live show. A few songs in, about midway through Uncontrollable Urge, Mothersbaugh starting rippping off his own and then the other’s hazmat suits, revealing black T-shirts more appropriate to the 100+ degree Texas weather. He hurled their energy domes into the audience. In fact, they seemed to be hurling Devo debris into the audience throughout most of the show. Energy domes, torn pieces of hazmat suits, guitar picks, Devo action figures, hundreds of little bouncy balls of some sort. They played for about two hours and most of the material was from their first two albums; the late 70s, pre-Whip It, pre-new wave stuff with the raw punk-like sound. They played a few songs from Freedom of Choice including, of course, Whip It, which many people identify with the band. They opened with That’s Good, the only song they played from one of the later synth-heavy albums.
Several of the songs had evolved (devolved?) over the years from the sound on the original recording. Some of the guitar solos were spectacular in that they sounded completely unlike guitar solos one usually hears. True to Devo style, they sounded completely unlike sounds one is accustomed to hearing come from guitars at all. If you’ve never heard Devo, there are still a few live shows left on this year’s tour. Some years they only play one or two live events so if you get the chance, take it.
Susan and I attended a few screenings for the preliminaries of this year’s 24 Hour Video Race. A friend of ours participated and her team, Common Man, was one of the winners in the preliminaries and moved on to the finals (congratulations!). It’s a cool little contest. At midnight on the starting day, the teams are assembled and given a general instructions that include a theme, a prop, a location, and a line of dialog. They have 24 hour to write, shoot, edit, and deliver a 5 minute video containing all the required elements. Everybody’s video is shown at the Angelika theater and judges select the good ones to go on to the finals. The whole event is produced by the Video Association of Dallas, the same folks who put on the annual Dallas Video Festival. I missed the finals but the Comman Man team came in second in their category (congratulations, again!).
There’s a major thunderstorm passing overhead right now. The noise from the rain hitting the roof of our building sounds like loud applause. Ten minutes ago it was warm and dry outside but that’s Texas weather for you. I’m working late again tonight and I’ve been nervously watching the lightning strikes all around the area and hoping one of them doesn’t take out our power. I replaced the batteries in two of our UPS units this month, so we’re probably ready for it if it happens.
Susan is working late too. We took a little break earlier and tried another of the new restaurants that’s opened here in Deep Ellum. There seem to be new ones opening all the time. Tonight we tried Crustaceans, a creole/cajun place. It’s actually the reincarnation of a New Orleans restaurant that was destroyed by hurricane Katrina. The owner, chef, and some of the employees ended up in Dallas and a local organization helped them re-open their restaurant here in Deep Ellum. It’s the real thing. If you’re in the area and like that sort of thing, definitely check it out. In the past week we’ve also tried Tarantino’s (Italian food, a bit expensive but very good) and Kim’s Cafe (breakfast, burgers and sandwiches – so so).
The website design business is booming lately, leaving me not very much time for more fun things like robotics. The latest group robot project at the DPRG is proceeding nicely without me. I’ve been working on my own robot off and on. Just as I finally felt like I’d wrapped my head around PID algorithms and got some working code, I managed to toast the 68332 on my MRM board. I’m guessing it was a static discharge. It’s a surface mounted 132 pin PQFP chip; not exactly something you can replace with common household tools. I ordered a few new chips, though, and a friend with a hot air rework station is going to swap out the bad one for me.