Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Miami Expatriate: google maps "street view"

(image co-opted from Gothamist)

Google maps has unveiled "street view" in a few select cities. It doesn't seem to be that big a piece of news, as I can't even find the story that originally lead me to try it out and it's not even mentioned on Google's official blog (at least not yet).

Whatever story I originally read, I didn't bother to gleam too many details. It seems a simple enough concept: just stick a bunch of cameras on a car, drive it around, and take pictures at set intervals. Stitch them all together and presto: instant virtual metropolis.

I used this as an opportunity to take in some glimpses of home. I read a months worth of posts in Transit Miami earlier today and found myself missing the way the sun beats down in SoFla (and, oddly enough, missing Burdines).

Random observations:
First, most of the pictures look like they were driving the truck too fast. The trees at my beloved Merrie Christmas park look rather blurred. Generally all the photos are undersaturated and have a low-fi, Holga-esque feel about them. (I'm not 100% undersaturated is a photographic term, but it fits the bill)

Looking into Miami International Airport from Le Jeune yields ... nothing but a view of how dismal driving on Le Jeune is now. Fascinating. Bet the Feds are happy about that. [edit: for reasons I can't explain, I can't get this link to work. I believe the link might be too long.]

Apparently the camera truck passed through my neighborhood on a Wednesday, as my dad's house has the landscaper's truck in the driveway (no I am not hotlinking that).

Finally, the pictures go pretty far down into Homestead. The last photo on Dixie is of a Shell station (I guess they stopped for gas and turned back?)

In short: good for a tour or possibly a stalk, but not sure what else.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial day

1. It was very hot
2. It brought 10 million bikers into the DC area
3. It had sales that enabled me to purchase jeans that fit
4. It was so hot that I believe I will spend the last few hours of it playing pinball in my boxers

that is all


Friday, May 25, 2007

memorial day weekend tomfoolery

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This is my Arduino board, set up for the LED Dimming tutorial. The board has 15 digital pins that can be used for input or output and 5 analog pins for input. Those, combined with analog multiplexers, shift registers, and an LED driver to drive additional lights gives me a lot of options.

A week ago I had no idea what the above were. I'm getting a better idea by the day, and even better, by tomorrow should have a decent book. Pretty soon I should have a good idea of how to go approach this.

For right now though, the right flipper on the OXO is stuck. Not stuck physically, but the electromagnet inside is borked and whenever you start a new game it'll seize up and the solenoid that's supposed to kick the ball in front of the plunger chokes. I'm going to go through all the steps at pinrepair and see if I can't get it to fire right. I'm a little nervous about having to replace a coil, not because it'll be difficult, but that I'll need to order something and it'll be a week before I manage to get the part. I'd be frustrated if I had this long three day weekend but no actual parts with which to do any work.

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Friday, May 18, 2007


I have an Arduino microprocessor development board arriving in the mail today, so aside from pinball maintenance, this weekend will be filled with the sounds of programming (which really is just the ticky-tacking of a keyboard and the gurgling of cola leaving a can)

I've really wanted to fool around with an Arduino for a while, but really haven't had any reason to. Now, I'm looking into building my own pinball machine, a plot I will more clearly outline later.

In the meantime though, I'm super excited just about the idea of getting an LED to light up.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pinball: Chapter 2 - Introductions

why yes, that is a homemade poster from the movie Tommy, thanks for asking

This is my pinball machine. There are many others like it, but this one is mine.

I may now add my name to the list of bloggers who have used the training chant of the Marines into a witty phrase. Go me!

Anyway, it's a 1973 Williams OXO. This is a machine that was fun enough to continue being played but not popular enough to be considered worth taking care of. As such, they're exceedingly rare in good condition due to being "out in the wild" longer.

Mine has its fair share of cosmetic flaws but works pretty well. The backglass is in poor shape and there's a long groove that runs out of the plunger lane that makes the first shot kind of a pain.


The groove is worst on the left and right edges, meaning sometimes the pinball will actually get wedged on either side. I tried to fix it with copious amounts of playfield wax, but I think that actually made it worse. I don't mind it normally though, as it actually functions as something of a skill shot. The challenge is to shoot it at the right speed so it loses momentum just at the apex of the playfield arc (where the groove is both shallowest and most susceptible to gravity), thus making it drop towards the center targets.

Aside from the groove, all other flaws are fixable. Some lightbulbs here, some wax there. I'm getting new rubber rings this week and need to clean the contacts on the A/B targets. Its also set up for 5 ball play, which is just dumb as I get at least one replay nearly every time I play. On good days, I can get the scorewheel to turn over (pass 99,999) every time.

Truth is, there's a fair amount of maintenance work I should do, as I doubt its former owner likely ever opened it up and cleaned very much. I haven't yet due to lack of parts, time, and the intimidation factor of all those wires and switches. It's odd to open it up and look at all the things that could possibly go wrong inside of it. Having the manual around is reassuring, but that ease quickly fades when I glance at the schematic and realize I'm in somewhat over my head.

It is in working shape though, and so long as I maintain it, it will likely continue to be. I've found many resources for fixing and maintaining EM machines, so an afternoon spent with the right tools will probably do a world of good. Hopefully that afternoon will occur this weekend.

Recently I sketched out all the functions of each switch in an attempt to figure out how it works on a basic level. This sketch will come in handy both for figuring out the schematic and in a future project, to be announced.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pinball research

Poring through the Internet Pinball Database is very addictive.

More to come.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Random Friday Craigslist rant

Craigslist is evidence both of the downfall of western civilization and those maddening bits of sanity you see in the eye of a storm.

Try to find a reasonably priced used bike on Craigslist. You will find posts containing:
- Incomplete sentences and absolutely no description other than brand and price
- People trying to pawn off bikes they bought 4 years ago from K-Mart for 20$ cheaper (or the same price) as a new one would cost today
- People selling expensive, obtuse parts

In other words, they’re selling to:
- Nobody
- Fools
- Rabid enthusiasts

Where does the normal person fit in? Well, we don’t really. We’re expected to go and spend 500$ on something that will probably live in our garage 90% of the time or else deal with the craziness above.

I need a hybrid of some sort. I don’t see any point in paying 500$ for a bike as I’m not sure I’ll ride it enough to be worth it. In theory, I could buy a used bike and then sell it at a loss later on if I decide I want to upgrade. This is how I approach all my major purchases, basically trying to find a way to treat it as a rental until such time as I can devote myself to it. This is why I tend not to buy things I can’t easily offload on ebay or craigslist (cars and televisions come to mind). My most recent major purchase I bought used online and will likely one day sell online, if and when I ever sell it.

The solution for the insanity of Craigslist is to post a wanted ad and hope sane people find you, and furthermore that you don’t come off as a total jerk via your obtuse demands. I did that today for a bike, and so far I’ve gotten one response for a 15 year old bike with an attachment of a picture of the modern model. So far, this isn’t looking promising.

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Pinball: Chapter 1 - Genesis

A metal ball. A surface to roll it on. Angle the surface down and put some stuff on it to impede the balls downhill progress. Make a way to get the ball to the top and another way to keep it from falling to the bottom. Make the latter challenging. Assign numbers to the impedements and make them bounce the ball unpredictably. Put some glass on the top so the ball doesn't fly out. Keep score, smirk while bending the rules, frown when you get a tilt.

Work with what you have. Early on, just wood and metal. Later, relays and lamps. Later still, PC boards and LEDs. Paint it. Hell, paint everything. Silkscreen images in bold primaries and dayglow, cover bumpers with plastic. Add cleavage. Oh crap, Pac Man. Add more plastic, make ramps. Put in a few displays. Switch from using art that riffs on pop culture to licensing popular franchises.

Watch as the institution you helped create largely disappears. Consolidate, go bankrupt anyway. Resurge and almost die many times. Pull the plug but lie dormant, let the industry fold but never send the bedside mourners away. Realize the fervent love of a few will keep the spirit alive, somehow and somewhere.

A metal ball. A surface to roll it on. Someone crazy enough to fix, supply, rewire, wax, and refinish everything else.

What more do you really need?


Monday, May 07, 2007

Blonde Redhead at 9:30 club May 6th

You can't go home again. You can't step in the same river twice. You can't un-eat a sandwich. Er ... you get the idea.

Rae and I went to see Blonde Redhead last night. BR is a band with a long career arc that has only in the past few years begun to distinguish itself from the continual stream of no-wave noise that NYC produces. Their album Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons was an amazing balance of dissonance and focus that continues to be one of my favorite albums. Their followup, Misery is a Butterfly, didn't so much tweak the formula further as much as it buried it under a tidal wave of synthesizers and production. Carefully calculated dissonance was replaced with swirling keyboards and synthesizer loops all recorded at the same meandering tempo. End result: pretty, but kind of boring.

Full albums, that is albums that don't sound like the artist just quit on 1/3 of the songs before fleshing them out, are exceedingly rare. Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons is an album practically bursting, whereas Misery is a Butterfly (for all its overblown production) left me wanting. They've recently come out with a new album called 23 that I've been wary of exploring, despite critics describing it as their "loveliest and most accessible work to date."

I should probably shut my mouth until I have actually heard the album, but what I caught of last nights show made me unwilling to expend the effort. Midway through the third song I remarked to Rae that they sounded like Billy Corgan's solo music. Learning that the new album was produced by a guy who worked with Depeche Mode, Smashing Pumpkins, and My Bloody Valentine is unsurprising.

Of what I saw, there was no audience interaction and very little actual music being played. The band was content in a lot of circumstances to plink out an introduction but then let the pre-recorded synth tracks play for them. We left at the start of the fifth song, victims of exhaustion and my inability to realize that just because a band released an album I adore years ago doesn't mean I'll at all be interested in them now.

Fields, who opened for Blonde Redhead last night, weren't half bad, and I'm not saying the night was miserable. In fact I can honestly say our first trip out to 9:30(!) was a pretty good time. It just wasn't the stellar night I had vainly hoped for when I bought the tickets. Granted though I was compelled to make myself go out more by the stellar Dismemberment Plan reunion show last Saturday. That show was the complete opposite of last night: fun, boisterous, exciting, and (for better or worse) recycled. While you can't go home again, home might still send you a postcard once in a while. The trick is finding it in all the junk mail.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

pinball, weddings, and springtime

Like an old friend who you just don't want to admit you've drifted away from, such is my listless companion the internet. Not having DSL for a month meant that the only time I spent online was at work, which of course meant very limited surfing and little personal email.

It’s been such an eventful ... well, fill in the blank.
Literally every time I started to write the above sentence I have had to either stop and put it off or got so overwhelmed I quit before I began. Lately more the former stopping than the latter quitting: this morning for an emergency meeting, earlier this morning for mailing rent, last night for sleeping, the day before for wanting a clearer head, the week before for lacking internet and time, the week and a half before for general business and birthdays, two weeks before for wedding number two, three weeks before for moving, four weeks before for wedding number one, two months before for really just not having much to say except for it being cold and me being bored.

(To put this even more into context, I wrote the prior paragraph yesterday intending to upload it last night. I ran out of time both last night and this morning.)

As I said, there's almost too much to recount. This growing up holding down a real job stuff means days seem to blur together a little bit. Unfortunately, the camera hasn’t traveled with me as much as it used to, so I don’t have photos to jog the memory.

Here’s what I do have:

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Wedding #2: Jessica Deller and Justin Davis. I was a bridesman … attendant, whatever. I got Jessica on the Today Show, which I guess is worth something. I don’t even know who hosts the Today Show anymore. In short: a ridiculous, exhausting weekend. I think I’m accidentally wearing the groom’s boutonnière in the above photo.

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Of course, Rachel caught the bouquet.

2.What happens when you have a generous tax refund and a somewhat unexciting birthday?
Wish fulfillment, that’s what!
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It's a 1973 Williams OXO. I cannot put into words how awesome this thing is. For now, the movie at the end of this post will have to suffice.

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Donny seems to like it too, except when it’s turned on and making a racket.
My new hobby will get its own post in the future.

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Rae and I went to our first real show in D.C. on Saturday, the Dismemberment Plan reunion show. All proceeds benefited J. Robbins’ son Callum. The show sold out in under 4 minutes, after which they added another show the night before, which in turn sold out in about the same amount of time. While Friday's show apparently featured wackier antics (i.e. something involving an erotic cake), according to reports the vibe and enthusiasm of the Saturday show was far better. The crowd rushed the stage during The Ice of Boston, as you can see above. Amazing, amazing show.

In other news, I’ve been writing a whole lot. Being busy has actually increased my total output but unfortunately taken away the time that would be necessary to condense and proof. I have a huge glut of writing that spans from my last month in Tallahassee through Christmas and finally to my birthday just a few weeks ago. I'm finally paring it down now and will have it uploaded to the usual channels.

In terms of projects, Rachel and I are currently decorating my new apartment with the following goals in mind:
- Super cheap
- Somewhat modern/funky
- Matches my pinball machine

Due to my likely not staying in the place past the end of the year, painting, buying new furniture, and spending any serious dough are all pretty much out of the question.

Will we succeed? Will John have an apartment worth going into? Will anyone ever bother going to see it? Time will tell!

Bonus! Movie!

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