form factor in their favor
Tuesday, January 23 2007
I've found that even fairly green firewood, the kind with branches coming from it bearing swollen buds, can be dried successfully in a day or two if stacked next to a roaring hot woodstove. It seems that the wood within the trunks and branches of oak and maple (the two woods I've been burning a lot this year) is fairly dry even inside a living tree, with the moist ("green") parts restricted to the living tissue under the bark. This would make sense for the health of the tree; water retained in dead wood contributes to rot and adds unnecessary weight. It would be interesting to know what biological mechanisms contribute to pumping the water out of the wood as the tree grows and the old wood is abandoned to die as yet another ring; it's not like the old wood is ever exposed to the atmosphere (unless the tree is injured).
I've been listening to the self-titled CD from a band called Midnight Movies, whose CD I was forced to buy due to their sub-Gnutella obscurity. The band is from the Silverlake section of Los Angeles (one of my two favorite neighborhoods when I lived there). The singer, Gena Oliver, sounds like either Nico or the singer from Stereolab, though her voice is often so absorbed-into or harmonious-with the instruments that it is difficult to make out what she is saying. Furthermore, the normal pacing of the lyrics as English words often fail to match the rhythm of the melody and must be distorted to fit it, usually with the addition or subtraction of syllables. This is generally a good thing, since (judging from the liner nots) the lyrics are mediocre at best. (At one point Gena rhymes "fire" with "desire" and most definitely does not pull it off.) As for the rest of the band, their arrangements also remind me of Stereolab, featuring layers of buzzing electronics and things that sound like chords sampled from movie mood music. But it's both darker and heavier than Stereolab, full of loud guitars building walls from weird chords. My favorite songs are "Persimmon Tree" (great dynamics and all sorts of unexpected fuzz), "Strange Design" (creepy radio-friendly minimalism), and "Just to Play" (foreboding goth melancholy).
This evening I did some experiments with some old VGA cards in my continuing quest to assemble a tiny graphical interface for a hypothetical living room music device. Some of these cards actually have dual connectors: a 9-pin D-shell for old CGA monitors and a conventional triple-row 15-pin VGA D-shell. Unlike modern dual-output video cards, which can always be used with two independent monitors, the two outputs on old VGA cards show identical content. There are, of course, DIP-switches to be flipped and jumpers to be moved. I hooked the CGA output to an old 15 inch RGBI monitor, which displayed a picture for the first time in many years.
I have conflicted feelings about such old equipment. On the one hand, it's a technological miracle to be able to display dynamic characters on a display at all, and it's also a miracle that the mechanism for doing so could last a quarter of a century without any apparent loss of functionality. On the other hand, the device is big, heavy, and completely obsolete. Its functionality can be completely simulated on a tiny part of just one of the my flat screen displays. So what's it doing taking up room in my laboratory? And what about those two Mac SEs? What can be done with them?
At least the Mac SEs have compact form factor in their favor. A nine inch CRT is still useful for applications today, since it has manageable tube depth and power consumption, and for some reason LCD displays of this size cost more than my 21 inch Samsungs LCDs. I did a little research on hacking the Macintosh CRT to see what people are doing with old equipment and found that at least one music group is using them as on-stage oscilloscopes, driving the CRTs' horizontal deflection directly with the output of their audio amps!
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