Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Virtual World Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

Today at 5PM Pacific Standard Time, the virtual world Dreamscape running on the VZones platform will be officially 10 years old.

Dreamscape circa 1995

From 1995 to 1998, I was one of the community managers and honestly, I didn't expect the place to still be around. Fujitsu had sunk several million dollars into a new version of the Habitat world. The idea was that it could be a platform which could be licensed to others who would build and maintain their own worlds. In order to convince the world that the platform was a place for viable online communities within a virtual environment, a flag-ship product was planned. The profitability of this flag-ship community was always on the mind of Fujitsu and there were times the whole project was almost scuttled before it launched.

Oracle Uni, Oracle Teresias (Me) and Oracle Vaserius welcome Brother Echo (bald man in the back) to being a World Manager (1998)

So, it's really wonderful to see that, 10 years later, much of the central planning over user created content has been decentralized. When we started, there were few objects that did things and little artwork to keep the illusion of variety fresh. 10 years ago, there were 3 Oracles inside the world "managing" the social and physical layout of the world who oversaw about 20 volunteer Acolytes helping settle dispute and handle serious troublemakers. Today, the official staff roster includes Director, World Managers, Senior Oracles, Oracles, Acolytes and Acolyte Painters, or roughly 60 people.

But that's not all, some of these staff are responsible for helping guide Pans, Proprietors, Mages, Muses, Creators, Natives, Welcomers, Security Bears, Jesters, Thespians, Sprites. I don't know how many people are on the rosters of each of these. But that's not the important bit part. These volunteer subgroups fall into two basic categories: content creators and support. Mages, Muses and Natives and the other fantasy named groups create stories of the world, often retelling events that actually happened. The Proprietors, the Welcomers and the Security Bears support the trade of objects, the integration of newcomers and crime prevention education.

While it's not fully decentralized, the inverse pyramid of support where the world director supports, the world managers who support the volunteer groups who support everyone else is much, much bigger and more capable that what we were doing 10 years ago. The key to this little virtual world hanging in there for 10 years is that the people inhabiting the world have many more opportunities to have a lasting effect on the world and others who come after them. The world is much more vibrant than when I was there 7 years ago and it shows.

Dreamscape in 2005

You've come a long way baby. Here's to you!

Monday, November 07, 2005

It is my sad duty to inform you...

That I am home. Yeah, it took a week for me to post. I survived the Prepetually Screaming Child (three cheers to my mp3 CD player and rechargable batteries), jet lag and even my first week at work. For those keeping score:

- I did not check my bag once during my entire trip. It was worth all the fussing over what to pack and handwashing every night just to breeze through the "nothing to declare" gates at every airport.

- My most worrisome moment was not Berlin con-men, but having the German passport control wonder why I didn't have an entry stamp for Germany. Luckily, they make a joke about Italian passport control and let me go.

- According to my passport, I have entered the UK twice, but I have never left. I haven't left Italy, but I definitely left Germany without ever having been there. Way to go security forces of the EU!

- After three weeks of driving in Germany, I am still driving at 130km/h and highly annoyed at people who are simply cruising in the far left lane.

- My cell phone is still dead. I'm trying to swap out the battery. Grrr.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Checking out (of) Berlin

I´m in Berlin for what I am guessing is my last post until I arrive back home in the states. Oddly enough, I am in the only Internet cafe I could find near where I have been exploring -- Postdammer Platz. It´s upstairs as part of a Dunkin Donuts. I´m pretty conflicted about this. On one hand, take a look at the picture from Wikipedia. When I was in Berlin in 1985, we looked out over the barren Potsdamer Platz with the wall, the no-man´s land, barbed wire and lights. That it has been reclaimed is good in my eyes, but wow, what it´s been reclaimed with. I´m hoping I happen to have overlooked some small spot of charm and life and not something that seems to cater to either tourists or trying to convince Germans what the West is like.

The old German Democractic Republic tried to use Stalin Alle (now Karl-Marx-Allee) with it´s combined residential and commercial design and use as a way to introduce visitors to the socialist ideal. While the tune may have changed, someone still wants us to dance the same old steps.

Earlier today, as I was sitting under the giant TV tower near Alexander Platz, I heard an announcement come on repeating in German and English: "Dear Berlin Guests. The Police would like your attention. Do not gamble on or play the "Find the Lady" game. You cannot win." I giggled thinking that the old find the queen card shuffle had made it´s way to Germany. Then I crosses one of the many bridges of the Spree River. They weren´t kidding. On four corners of the bridge were four setups. What suprised me was that they were literally running a shell game. Wha-huh? Isn´t that the third oldest way to turn a trick?

So I watched for a bit because I knew that there was at least on shill who plays and wins, drawing in the victims. I spotted one right away. It seemed pretty obvious to me, but I watched at least two people get fleeced out of 50€ each in the space of a few minutes. When I pulled out my camera to take a picture the crowd closed in. I looked up and one man looked at me and said, "sorry". I smiled back at the second shill but I kept my camera aimed at the crowd. We kinda faced off and I put my camera away. He walked back to his look out position by a street light. A few minutes laters, I successfully snapped some pictures (but man, they just didn´t come out) and I heard "Kein fotografieren!" and I suddenly had two of the shills looking pretty pissed off at me. I then spotted a third shill and figured the odds weren´t looking so good. I backed off under the now very watchful eye of the lookout.

Another half a block and I come across a small crowd gathered around a couple of Berlin Police officers. they are running a shell game to in an effort to show people that it´s a scam and that they can´t win. I´m not sure how effective this is when there are four such scams running and pulling people in a strong stones throw away.

I just spent the rest of the time walking around and remembering that I can´t figure out what day it is. I told someone "no problem" and that I would meet them on Saturday in Berlin. Big problem -- today is Sunday. I´m such a putz.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Loving and Leaving Leipzig

While driving around Leipzig was more than a little bit of a chore, walking around without any real purpose has been a joy. Leipzig was originally recommended to me from one of the Conference Assocates during the last Game Developers Conference. She said it had a very strong youth culture. She was not wrong at all.

Leipzig calls itself the "Little Paris". I haven´t been to Paris so the best comparison I can make is to call it the "Big Berkeley". There is a range of hippies, street punks, hipsters, students and goths (called dark culture here) along with the business folks and blue collar workers when they aren´t building new streets, new streetcar stations and restoring whole buildings. There´s a lot fewer "fashionable" types and so people seem a little more down to earth than what I have had a chance to experince in Germany so far. I think the main reason is that, like Berkeley, it´s University in right in the city center.

Now all Berkeley needs is an Absinthe bar. Last night, I found my way to Sixtina where they have a lot of Absinthe. I didn´t count bottles, but I would guess over 40 varieties lined the top shelf of the bar. They had a handy chart of the top ten with or without anise and I ordered a Mr. Jekyll. After that I settled down with a beer and watched the regulars interact (I was clearly not part of the group so I was largely ignored). I had so much fun that I missed my last street car home and wound up hiking about 2 miles until 2AM. Walking, even drunk, even in the dark, is easier in Leipzig than driving.

Oh and my only picture of Leipzig. In Europe, there are a lot of things called "Mc" something. There are "McPaper" office supplies, "McNet" internet cafes. Let´s hear it for Europe not letting McDonald´s bully them around. The oddest "McSomething" I have seen yet is on the third floor of the Leipzig Main Train Station. The Station also houses a large shopping mall which my guide book called "a joy to shop in". Well, I guess they don´t have many malls in Europe so they don´t carry the same connotation. Plus, we don´t tend to build malls in 150 year old buildings. But back to the picture. Yup, the McClean are clean and safe toilets. Okay, to give them some due, they look very spa-like on the inside and you can nab a shower here for 7€. I´d have killed for something like this in Rome.

I know the city will hate me for representing them this way, but there was so much going one and so many layers of buildings, people and activity that pictures just could not do it any justice. And for that reason I love Leipzig even though I only just explored it (I rode street cars all day to the lake on the west side and the more funky south city). In less than 12 hours, I will be on my way to Berlin and in 36 hours, I will be taking my various flights toward home.

Is the fauxhawk Germany´s answer to the Mullet?

If I never see another grown man with a fauxhawk again, I will be ever so happy. I realize that the guy with the biggest beard in Germany shouldn´t come down on other people´s grooming choices, but please stop with the fauxhawk. It doesn´t look cool, sexy, hip or tough. It looks as though you can´t make an actual commitment to be edgy. It looks like you snuck out of the house with a normal doo and then did it up so mom never finds out. It should be left to five year old boys with a handful of shampoo in the tub.

And women of Germany, are you really finding this appealing?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Superstraße = Superscheiße

So a while back, I picked up a "Super Straße" which for those familiar with Thomas Guide, it´s a big old book of German roads. It´s been really helpful in keeping me fromm becoming utterly lost. However, it´s not really all that accurate, at least in terms fo the actual geography of the streets and as far as Leipzig goes, it´s been pretty much useless.

So, do not try to drive in Leipzig unless you have a eally good map and then it might not be worth it. This picture which I swiped off the interweb shows what is called a "Baustelle". That means "construction zone" and I can´t guess just how many of Leipzig´s streets are torn up for construction, but it´s a lot and definitely the most I have seen thus far. They are a host city for the World Cup in 2006 which explains much. With all the construction going on, the other word we get to learn is "Umleitung". This means "detour".

But the Leipzig tourist office was super helpful and tried really hard to find a cheap pension for me. They found a set of apartments about 7km outside of town. Cheap and it comes with private shower and kitchenette. I hit the Aldi and stocked up on food and coffee. No more 1,80€ a day habit! Still, getting out to the major autobahn is tricky. Luckily, I plan to spend Thursday and Friday using the street cars. There doesn´t seem to be any underground trains in the city so it´s very different with the large number of tracks all over the city.

I spent yesterday in Quedlinburg which is literally a city of half-timbered buildings. They have a museum that explains the building methods and different styles from the1300´s to the 1800´s and the museum itself is in a building built in 1310! (And let me tell you, I stuck my nose all over that building). I just came across Raymond Faure´s impressive photosite with over 570 pictures of Quedlinburg and this nice sheet of examples of half-timbered work from 1310 - 1576. Whew! That´s once less project I have to work on.

Today was Wittenberg which is where the film Luther takes place. No, there´s much more to the town, but I am about to get dinged another 1,50. I visited the Lucas Cranach (the Elder) house (where I learned that he ran a pharmacy and wine shop out of the lower floors) and the Luther House which has a really, really good presentation including many Cranach paintings and woodcuts from his workshop.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Quicky update

Sorry, no pictures today. I just happened to stumble on an internet cafe open on a Sunday in Mühlhausen. Mühlhausen is well know for it´s part in the Reformation and the Peasant´s War of 1524-26. Thomas Müntzer was said to provoke the peasants into fighting and the old East Germany considered him a hero. A docent at the Peasant War Museum revealed that their current exhibit is only two years old and that while the objects are the same, the context is very different than when the communist goverment ruled. So I got to see one of the five Mark notes that the wikipedia article mentions.

Today is Sunday. I spend Saturday driving from Lennep through Kassel to Mühlhausen. In Kassel, I visited the Museum fur Sepulkralkultür which is a museum of death culture -- funeral rites and mourning culture. Sadly, they had no good catalogs and their site doesn´t have good images, but took several including some beautiful rings.

I also spent the day recovering from my last night in Lennep. I stopped in at Bei Josef again and have about a pint. I expected to leave, eat and then return, but first an older man originally from Italy came and we started talking. Then a man originally from Turkey came in and we started talking. Suffice to say, I drank about 2 liters and spent the night drunkenly trying to get any point I might have across. I think I may be hosting some guest in the next year....

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Taking My Ease in Lennep

My goal for Monday was to just relax. I had a late breakfast and went up to my room to write postcards to almost everyone. When I left my room at noon, I expected to check out some shops and then grab a bite to eat. A stroll around town and I found that I was encountering something I hadn´t yet in the larger cities I had been in -- every shop was closed between noon and 3PM. So I made my way to a place on the market place called "Bei Josef".

Instead of finding food, I found a group of men gathered around one table talking it up. I took a seat at this table and they asked who I was. When I asked them to speak a little more slowly, they assumed I was from Holland. I introduced myself and ordered a Schlösser Alt. I haven´t had a Schlösser Alt in 20 years when I was in Hameln and it was as good as I remember.
Pretty soon another older man came in and asked who I was. When I introduced myself as from California, he switched to English and started to tell me about his trip to the US -- Los Angeles, Utah, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas (he saw Sigfried and Roy) and San Francisco. He really, really wanted to practice his English and I figured it would give me a chance to get in some local good graces.

And how. Pretty soon we reintroduced ourselves. Paul then introduced me to his best friend Hans-Conrad and I met Karola, the red-faced, red-haired, stout barmaid and her husband Uwe. It was Hans-Conrad´s birthday and he was buying rounds for everyone. That included me after a bit. Then Josef himself came in and I was introduced again. Luckily, Josef was hip on the idea that I wanted to practice *my* German and was willing to speak only German to me. Another round on Hans-Conrad and a further round on Josef and it was a good way to spend an windy Fall afternoon. This is what I had hoped to find at least a little of while I was here.

As Paul and Hans-Conrad packed up in a taxi, I made my way to some shops. In the bookstore, I found several books on the town of Lennep and the area including one written for young teens (just a little above my readign abiliy in German so it will be good practice). Then I dropped into what I thought was a toy store, but it turned out to be a second hand shop. Better still, they had a pair of jeans in my size.

Cheap jeans have been a small but important goal since I arrived in Germany. I didn´t bring any as I figured they would take too long to dry and weigh to much traveling. However, everyone in Germany is wearing jeans and I have been feelign like a sore thumb. Particularly in my black slacks which seems to draw assumptions that I am orthodox Jewish including at least one sing-song cat-call of "Juden! Juden" by some stupid little boys. Anyway, they are classic overdone European style jeans for a mere 2,50€! So I´ll see how many stares I draw wearing them in Köln.

How could it be better? Discovering the local Aldi for cheap ready to eat meals (did I mention these are like a German Trader Joe´s) and finding a Döner place open on Sunday. I´ll do a whole post about Döner-Kabap sometime.

Finding a place to call home

After my overnight in Schwäbisch Hall, I headed for Heidelberg and the German Museum of Pharmacy. They did not allow photographs and the only definitive pieces I was interested in were three morters and three wooden drug jars. Considering wooden drug jars are extremely rare, this was worth the trip. It clarified a number of Medieval and Renaissance paintings and woodcuts of apothecaries. However, the rest of Heidelberg was overrun with tourists from all over Europe - from overly polite British folks to very demanding Germans from other parts of the country.

After that, I found the A1 Autobahn and headed north as fast as either the Renault or traffic would allow. My goal was to get to a point on the map somewhere near Köln but not too close to the city where prices would be high and the pace of life fast. I took a chance on a road side "Rasthof" which turned out to be a fairly American-style hotel. A bit more than I expected but it was definite shelter for the night. A bonus was that it has a local yellow pages with maps of the area and listings for (hurrah!) hotels. This areal shot of the town of Lennep caught my eye and it turned out that half of the hotels listed were in that town. Actually, the town is a suburb of a larger town called Remscheid, which mostly lays on the west side of the A1 while Lennep lies on the east side.

The next morning (a Sunday morning when *nothing* is open), I parked on the edge of town and walked around the old city. It´s very quaint and was utterly dead. I saw maybe a dozen people and that was only because I walked by the train station and near the newer part of town. The only accomodations I could find were hotels which tend to be a bit pricer than I really wanted, but the town was growing on me. When they started to open up, I picked the "König von Preußen" and it seemed like a good price. I was led up to an upper story room overlooking the market square. I unloaded the car and drove up to Münster where I hoped to find the Leper Museum (open only on Sunday from 3PM to 5PM).

Trying to find it turned out to be a bust and I spent most of my time there sitting in front of a beer cellar enjoying the really fine Fall weather and some equally fine beer. I´ll need to remember to write about the planned community I did find at Kinderhaus. It was so planned and nearly desserted on a Sunday that it felt creepy.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Neuberg and Schwäbisch Hall (or why I went Germany and skipped out on Rothenberg)

When I was in Nürnberg, I picked up a flyer for an exhibition called "At the Kaiser´s Pleasure" (Von Kaisers Gnaden) -- feel free to dispute my transation. So I headed south to Neuburg on der Donau a town that happens to be celebrating it´s 500 anniversery this year. Which got me thinking that the next 10-20 years will be good times to visit Germany for those interested in the early 16thC Germany. There should be more general interest in the period which means more accessible information and relevant events. Book your tickets kids!

Neuberg itself was built during the years 1535-45 so it´s a good example of a Reniassance palacial home. It was added to over the years including some mosaic grottos during the mid-17thC.

However the exhibit was wonderful. I arrived just as it opened and while I had to swim through school group after scool group, I was allowed to take pictures (without flash, of course). So some of them are a bit fuzzy, but being able to zoom in on a painting of Kaiser Karl V´s camp and pick up details of camp life that both the art and military historians tend to overlook. Of course, I picked up the exhibition book for non-fuzzy images. In addition to the works they normally have at Neuberg, they borrowed excellent pieces from all over Germany. I was able to look at examples of books from the Munich State Library Archives and some weapons borrowed from the Germanisches National Museum where I had recently been.

The old city is up on a hill and the rest of the town lies below. This makes the old town very quite and easy paced. I had a picnic lunch in the square surrounded by Baroque facaded buildings. While I ate, I looked at my map. It would take me at least an hour and half to get back up to Rothenberg. What I really wanted to do was find the "bone room" of 4000 monks under the St. Micheals church in Schwäbisch Hall. Taking the back roads, I figured I could make Schwäbisch Hall by 4 in time to catch the church still open.

I made to Schwäbisch Hall easily enough, but finding the Altstadt was a bit tricker until I just started going forward, trusting there would be a sign pointing me there. Wow. What can I say about Schwäbisch Hall? It´s beautiful. If you are interested in the 16thC Germany, put this on your list of places to visit. The church was built in stages during the 1400´s and it contains beautiful sculptures and altars pieces.

When I arrived, some children were practicing for a play - Joeseph and his Brother. Imagine walking up a hundred (or so) steps to a great stone church with one seriously pissed off Archangel over the door and hearing a soprano voice echoing out the door. It simply added to the experience. I entered and bought a guide boom. I asked about a bone room under the church, but my German must still need work since I was told, this is it. I decided to make the best of it and looked around. That´s where I found, behind the altar, an iron railing surrounding a large piece of plexiglass on the floor. I had found my monks and some of them were gracious enough to smile for me.

Stepping out of the church and into the light of the western sun, I decided I would stay and walk around some more and explore what alleyways it had to offer. I found a not-so cheap place near the church and explored. I didn´t take many pictures because at one point, I got tired of carrying the camera. So I put it away and watch some students set up backlit sheets across the ruins of some old part of the city and walked the maze of streets until well after dark. In the morning, as the fog lifted from the surrounding river valley, I watched the Saturday morning market get underway in the plaza under the church steps.

Auf dem Autobahn

Yup! I got me a car and I´ve hit the road. Well, except it´s not much of a car. It´s a Renault and it´s like driveing a delivery truck. The seats are way too high and built like truck seats so I am not comfortable with how it handles curves any higher than 140 km/h (86mph). I´ve been driving on both regular raods and the autobahn and I can´t always say that the autobahn is faster. See, it´s a myth that the Germans are speed demons. If the speed limit is posted at 100, 80, 60, 40 km/h then they pretty much adhere to that limit. As soon as there is no limit or the magic 120 sign comes up, then they go for broke. It´s not hard driving here at all.

I spent my first day in the car driving far south to Mindelheim, the location of Mindelberg and the birth place of Georg von Frundsberg. The castle is closed, but I was able to get a good view of the town and walk off my typical German breakfast of bread, butter, cheese.

The drive home was an education in reading German road signs. My map has tiny numbers indicating the road number (and then there are hundreds of small towns and roads it doesn´t show). On road signs, there are typically 3-8 city names and sometimes an equally small number and color indicating what road takes you there. So if there are 15 towns between you and your destination, read quick! It´s not that bad. I missed only one turn taking the winding roads across Bavaria in the dark. (Oh yeah, no signs are lighted here, that´s one reason they are extra big.) But I made it home in one piece, found a free overnight parkign spot and in the morning, found my way out of Nürnberg and heading south....

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

We have pictures!

Today, I met with Dr. Johannis Willers, the curator in charge of the medical display at the Germanisches National Museum. He explained (very quickly and in German) that there are very few surgical tools left from the 16th C. He recommended that I check two surgical manuals from the period and I explained that I already had both. I was able to ask where the very cool surgical tool case was and he said it was being photographed. I will write to him latr and see if I can obtain detailed photographs.

Yesterday, I went to Ingolstadt. I got off late and so I had to cool my heels while waiting for them to reopen in the afternoon. I stopped in the Das Bayerische Armee-Museum. For my friends who know, this is the Museum that has the Turkish tent and the full Fähnlein of 500 tin soldiers all painted differently. Well, they also have a very nice display of guns and artillery.

Here´s a handmortar ("Kat´s Head) from the late 16thC. There´s appearantly been a discussion of drummers being armed so this one is for you.

The Armee Museum is seemingly endless. Just as I turn another corner, I was asked to follow a docent. I followed him out the door, through a courtyard, into another building and them up three flights of stairs. He gave me a courteous bow and turned on a light to another exhibition. I was in a room of photographs documenting the destruction of Ingolstadt by American bombers early 1945. This has been a sobering aspect of visiting Germany as an adult. To realize just how much we bombed, how much history was destroyed and then to walk the same streets and see how much was rebuilt and even restored.

Suddenly, the "US World Tour, Bombing a Country Near You" tee shirt that I picked up on a lark didn´t seem nearly as smarmy.

But I came here for a purpose. Not to have my concept of the world and my place in it altared (that´s a joke, son). Off to the Medical Museum! I had tried to write to the Museum before I left (and I have recieved an answer from all I contacted by now) so I took my chances on trying to meet someone. No luck. The nice woman behind the counter could not quite understand who I was seeking and since I didn´t have a name, it was a bit futile. So I resolved to look and if I had questions to press for information afterwards.

I asked if I could take pictures without a flash which has been allowed so far (I was allowed to take photos of Dürer and Cranach paintings!). Not this time -- no pictures at all. Crud. Luckily, the 16thC instruments were in a small case, laying flat which made it pretty easy to sketch and measure. Again, it´s less than a dozen instruments, so I sat down and got to work.

Until a woman came by and was photographing every thing in site -- with a flash! So I let her go through and the decided to just screw it. I´ll take as many notes and measurements as I need and then start snapping. If they throw me out, it´s more than I would have gotten. So, to the director and all the staff at the medical museum in Ingolstadt, I apologize. But it was worth it to
be able to get detailed close ups of construction like this.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Im Praxis

I got a taste of the German medical system on Monday. It seems Italy left me a parting gift in the form of a insect bite that became infected. I had a six inch red streak running from the bite down my chest. By coincidence, "Gift" in German means poison.

Here´s how it works here. Pharamcists (Apotheker) have the ability to make diagnoses and prescribe medications without the need for a doctors prescriptions (in some cases). Figuring this was the best triage I could have, I went to "Spital-Apothek" which takes it´s name from the Heilig-Geist-Spital a Mediveal Hospital built on the river that divides Nürnberg. There, they looked at my shoulder and decided to call a doctor upstairs. He was worried that it could be infected and wanted to take a look.

I went upstairs to a private practice (Praxis) and waited in a line. When I reached the desk, they sent for someone with good English skills. I thought I was doing pretty well, but in this case, they probably wanted to be sure. It was explained that this is a cash only system so I should probably cash up at the nearest bank. This got me worried that I might be paying US type of prices for a simple visit.

Back downstairs, I stopped by a cafe for a shot of espresso and was pleased to find it was a little Italian spot. As far as coffee goes, Italy consitently has better coffee than Germany. Then I went back up stairs to wait some more.

I didn´t have to wait long. Dr. Weiler, an energetic, but friendly man with a cherubic face, found me and brought me in for a look. Between his English and my German, he explained how it was likely some kind of wasp that got so hungry it decided I was a good dining spot. That infected the wound which I learned is called "Wundrosen" and then leads to further "Infection" (spelled the same). I was given a prescriptions for some powerful antibiotics and send along with out being charged.

I guess we both got a good story out of it.

Oh, and I spent an hour photographing a dozen medical instruments at the Germanisces National Museumand more time being blown away at the collection of Masterworks where they put the best of the 16th - 18thC in ust a few rooms.

Right now I have to catch my train to Ingolstadt for the Medical Museum there plus the worlds largest fresco.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Me and Rome aren´t on speaking terms

So far, any minute I have spent in Rome has been painful. I left Cortona early in the morning and Amie and Issa dropped me off at the station. By my guess, I would have nearly three hours in Rome to wander just a little, maybe catch one sight and then head out. It was not to be.

It took 45 minutes of waiting to get my bags checked. I still have no clue where the lockers are located. I guess it´s the best theft deterrent when the people with the bags can´t find it. Then I wanted to buy some stamps and mail four postcards. The tourist info desk said to buy them from a Tobacconist. The Tobaconnist I find says no and points me across the street to the Post Office.

Guess what? There´s no machine. The only way to buy stamps is to wait in line. For a week, I´ve been getting used to the "Italian Line" which isn´t so much a line as it is a mob with people constantly jocking to get up front. And all I want are four stamps -- quarto stampe. Instead, the Italian Post Office (at least this Roman one) has you take a number where you will be served by ONE window. This one window also seems to be where government forms, paychecks or anything involving a small stack of papers on the part of the patron and a whole bunch of typing on the part of the clerk.

So I have my number, 78 and I watch as we s-l-o-w-l-y count up. Occasionally, the numbers zip by and I realize that if I am not up and out of my seat within 10 seconds of my number coming up, I lose my spot. I watched the counter like a hawk.

Needless to say, all I have seen of Rome is the main train station, gypsies and police telling me I´m not allowed to sit on the ground and eat lunch. Well, I did get a chance to see the temple of Minerva from the train as I left the station. Maybe another time when I´m in the mood for the bustle of that big city, but until then, Roma, don´t bother calling.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A visit to La Specola

When I arrived in Camucia on Sunday, Amie mentioned that everyone was excited about going to La Specola to see the Wax Anatomical Models. Oh, won't poor Dr. Marta Poggesi be suprised when, instead of two people, there's a whole group. No problem, it should make our visit all the more memorable to her. *g*

The anatomy pieces are actually just a small part of the zoological display they have there. They have many, many preserved animals dating to the 17thC so there was a little of Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe to the museum. There was little or no effort to show the habitat of animals that is a popular form of display in american museums. That made the display all the more impressive with cases and cases of birds, fish, insects, large and small animals.

During our walk through, an older man who worked there asked us, "How did you learn about this? No one comes here!" Then came the real question, "Why?". Indeed, why would six loud Americans come to a part of Florence that most people just pass through. Why would they find their way through the parking garage and up three flights of stairs to visit a museum with 250 year old displays?

We came for the wax collection. Wow. While they allow photographing (sans flash) of the rest of the displays, they do not allow any photographing of the wax models. While I have a copy of the Taschen book of the models, there is nothing quite like being able to see the displays from a variety of angles and truely appreciate the meticulous detail and huge amount of effort that each piece required. The pieces showing the lymphatic system or the circulation were stunning, I found the one piece that showed a fetus in the womb with a translucent layer just as impressive. I have had a chance to see the Body World exhibit and I can honestly tell you that these models looked very, very close to the corpses Dr. Haagen displays.

After our walk through, we meet with Dr. Marta Poggesi who turned out to speak not much English so she called one of her students to come help. We got to hear a few additional stories such as how one of the displays of a torso was the winning entry of a competition seeking out new wax artists. Celmente Susini, who you can read about on the La Specola site, did that whole torso model himself. We also learned that the cases, including some of the glass, in which each set of models is displayed are the original cases. We thanked Dr. Pogessi and her student for their time and left to explore Florence our seprate ways.

Live from Cortona's Community Center

Unortunately, my plans for adding pictures to my blog as I go along isn't panning out. I keep forgetting to pack the memory card => USB dongle. So you will have to bear with my words.

Right now, I am in Cortona's Community Center. It's upstairs through some small doors (I just kept following signs that said "internet"). The first room is a dark bar which in Italy, supplies the hourly coffee, water, wine and occasionally liquor. The next room are for the pool tables. And the third large room is where a group of men are playing parcheesi. Four computers, a bookshelf of used books and a table with checkers is in a small room off that.

Oh, I'd just like to say that every guide book needs to be updated. Hey guys, it's not www.cortona.net. It's www.cortonaweb.net. Thanks.

Oh and a note to all world travelers.... if you can't understand the language of the window that pops up when you enter your username and password, do not, I repeat, do not hit anything that looks like "yes". Firefox fans will know that this is the window asking to save your password information. Firefox fans will also know that there is an option to reveal these saved passwords. Yes, someone decided to connect to their Bank of London account and saved the password. I took a picture which I will granulate later to prove my point.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Quick Catch up

Let's see how fast I can do this. 19 Minutes left on my hour here in Florence. I haven't had a chance to get to a computer or post anything because there's no cell phone access along the hilss where our house is and I have found only one computer in Cortona that is available for connecting to the internet. It's in a travel agent/sweets/soda shop near one fo the main tourist entrances.

So, here's the quick update. I Hope to have more time to fill out the details of these stories:

- My flight into Europe was uneventful, but hitting Italy it all went out the door. My flight came in after the last train from Rome to Cortona came in, but I didn't realize this until I was at the Rome station. I was able to drop my bag off at a baggage claim, but was too tired to try wandering the streets hoping to find a hostel to stay in. So I stayed in the station on platform 1 with the rest of the homeless (some waiting for trains, some permanent residents of the station). I got on hour of sleep and it wasn't deep at all since I had someone scoping out my boots and jacket when I did finally laydown.

- Poor Amie and Issa (friends I am staying with) had their luggage misplaced in a transfer in Madrid so they spent 3 days alternatatly dealing, fuming annd calling the airport in Pisa.

- Sunday Market in Arezzo. It's flipping huge. I really should have taken pictures, but I was still running on one hour of train station sleep so sitting on the steps of the church and soaking up the sun seemed the best way to get back in tune with Italy. It must have worked because so far I have had two sets of old women start speaking to me as if I was Italian.

- Monday in Cortona. This place defines the term Tuscan Hill town. It's a Etruscan walled city with some main touristy thorough fares and lots of side streets. I was shopoed out of the Church of St. Marghareta (I'll deal with spelling later), by the nuns being called to mass. I randomly came across a very meaty lunch (rabbit, duck and chicken for 6€) that appearantly every other American knew about too. It rained off and on all day so between walking up hill and up more hill, I hide in covered alleys and watch umbrella-wielding tourista walk by. Then I walked down the hill to the large Cemetary and took some photos back up at the hill town.

- Tuesday in Florence. We all just got back from La Specola and everyone agreed that it was worth the 7AM train trip. We met with Dr. Marta Poggesi (spelling?) and one of her students who explained more about the collection. I dicovered that there is a museum of pathological anatomy (think Muetter Mueseum in the US). I'm not sure I will make it. I have four hours before we all meet up at the train station and head for home. I'm really thinking that me, lunch and several espressos just before siesta are more of a plan.

Just a few minutes to post. More hopefully tomorrow (if I can get on that one machine in Cortona).

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Done with work!

In less than fifteen minutes, I shut down the old work laptop and hand it over to someone to hang onto for safe keeping. It's safer than leaving it in my house for a month. The only things I will have left to do in the office is tidy up and make a few phone calls. I need to double check that my normal data service for my phone will work automagically while in Europe.

Then I have to play the packing game. I'm trying to make it with only check in luggage, but my airlines are limiting me to 6kg (13lbs). Zoinks! I'll be stuffing the pockets on my jacket like mad trying to squeeze 6 or more extra pounds in.

I'll post pictures of the process later.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Vacation Blog?(!)

I originally wanted to stick on one purpose with this blog -- online community musings. However, there are several people who do a better job at posting regularly than I do. And those who don't post regularly, do so with quality. So it's time to loosen up the restrictions I've put on myself.

For the next month, I hope to blog a trip I have been planning for many months now. There are several reasons for my trip:

  • I haven't taken a "real" vacation in 5 years. Working at the Game Developers Conference or watching every film Toshiro Mifune made with Akira Kurosawa at the Pacific Film Archive while also reading
    The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune

    don't count).

  • As a hobby, I portray a 16thC German surgeon. My interest is in how surgeons (who were trained as a trade, not in universities) started to follow the empirical evidence before them rather than rely on ancient incorrect theories based on belief rather than evidence. At the same time, the printing press allowed them to publish what they read in the common language of their peers and not Latin required by the academics which, in my view, helped advance the medical arts. As part of all this, I'm interested in obtaining reproductions of accurate instruments to perform demonstrations of procedures. To that end, I am going to medical museums through Germany to document the size and construction of instruments.

  • It's been 20 years since I have been to Germany and I do like the place and the people, not to mention the beer.

  • First I need to decompress
    But before I begin my Bildungsreise ("educational vacation"), I'll be unwinding in Cortona, Italy. The only reason for this is that friends of mine have rented a villa there and I just have to show up and cover my share. Of course, there will be a side trip to "La Specola" to see the 250 year old anatomical wax works.

    Three weeks, too many cities?
    Have I bitten off more than I can chew? In this map of Germany, my rough route is highlighted in yellow. I'll be making side trips to the typical tourist places such as Rothenburg, but also some side trips to the family home of Georg von Frundsberg in Mindelheim and a Peasant's War Museum in Mühlhausen (I should find a link to that before I go, huh?). It might be more than I can do, but I'm not going to push it. The medical museums I linked to above are my main goal. They will take me to many cities where I will have an opportunity to get away from the main tourist areas and find a small beer garden to relax. I've been learning German at the Goethe Institute since January and can easily navigate my way through daily life and might be able to hold up a basic conversation.

    I fly on Friday. That leaves 2 days of work and 1 day of packing....

    Friday, September 23, 2005

    Community Indicator - Unconditional Support

    I really wanted to keep going with my Darkside Community Indicators, but this is something that was hard to ignore.

    While discussions with titles like, "I need a hug" aren't uncommon, they tend to have an explanation of why the person is seeking support. Not this time, the entire entire first post of this discussion is, "Can I ask for a hug without posting in details what I'm going through? Thanks....". What follows are 27 messages of unconditional acceptance and support.

    It's moving in it's simplicity.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2005

    The Dark Side of Community Indicators

    For a while Nancy White has been blogging about Community Indicators - "patterns of group member behavior that help us pay attention to the emergence and life of a community".

    In that post she says,
    Indicators are not all strength-based. Like anything, there is the light and dark of community and light and dark of a community’s indicators. This is not the utopian view. Dark indicators might include signs of exclusion, power and control struggles, banning and red-lining.
    In other words, "lynch mobs are emergent behavior too". (And profound apologies to the well spoken sociologist who blogged that about two years ago, I can't seem to find the reference.)

    I'd like to propose a few community indicators that, on the surface, might seem to counter idea of community, but if we back off from the light/dark binary descriptions, we may see people working together to foster community among themselves.

    Community Indicators: Petitions
    Online petitions have a bad reputation as not only futile but dangerously becoming a substitute for action. In a large context, they may best serve as raising awareness of an issue, but in a smaller context, they can help strengthen the ties of individuals and their group identity even when they are unsuccessful.

    Community Indicators: Protest
    Protest is about a group of people coming together with a unified purpose to join their voices and actions to affect change. This one is from my personal archives:
    In February 1996, users on Worlds Away got so riled over delays in getting private spaces ("turfs") that they staged a sit-in. Fed up with many delays from WorldsAway's then owner, Fujitsu, avatars filled the locales where new users first arrive in the world, standing and chanting, "No turfs, no peace . . ." (the words scroll up above the game's window)-while paying per-minute online charges. To Kollock, that protest was a sign of WorldsAway's success as a community. "The simple fact that they had a protest speaks volumes about the space-the commitment and collective action."
    -From Chapter 2 of From Anarchy to Power: The Net Comes of Age by Wendy Grossman,

    Community Indicators: Mass abandonment
    How can leaving a group be an indication that there is a community? When it's done by a group:
    "So many of us don't have a gathering place that feels comfortable and communal," [Sherry Turkle] said. "For those who found that on Flickr.com, its transformation into a 'service' on Yahoo is a loss; they are losing something important to them.

    In this case it's the loss of community feeling that is prompting some to protest against. I think the true test if this really is a community indicator is if those who leave, group together again somewhere else.

    Friday, August 26, 2005

    The Internet's a drunk librarian who won't shut up!

    First read this comic:
    Cat and Girl: Large Mediums

    Now check out the links:
    Candlepin Bowlers Forum

    But don't bother signing their petition to save the Local TV Show, "Candlepin Stars and Strikes", it got canceled anyway:
    A bad split? Channel 50 puts candlepin bowling 'on hiatus'

    You didn't think I would let you get away without meme of the year, tagging:
    candlepin tags on flickr.com

    I guess it's not suprising that a search for "candlepin" on del.icio.us turned up nothing (as of this writing). Within a system of folksonomy, you only get to see what people using the system see.

    (Oh and, of course, there's a Wikipedia page on Candlepin Bowling, but that's like asking a pedant to explain a joke).

    Tuesday, July 19, 2005

    Corpse Cake

    Recently inspired by the Thorax Cake made by the cunningly creative and talented Barbara Jo at theyrecoming.com, a friend of mine insisted she wanted one for her upcoming birthday (themed as a wake for her passing youth). It's weird, disgusting and just too much fun so I agreed to make some kind of corpse cake. Just one problem.

    I've never baked a cake in my life.

    It's not as though I've never baked, but living off of Jiffy Mix Muffins in college doesn't quite cut it as experience. And I have never made frostings, glazes or worked with chocolate.

    First, I gathered my resources for inspiration. I was worried that if I couldn't pull off delicious from-scratch cakes, I could at least work on accuracy and hope people would be either so put off by the organs or so drunk by the time the cake was cut, no one would care.

    Not your usual cookbooks

    About two weeks before the party, I baked a series of cakes. I needed the practice and I needed to make sure my oven would heat properly and evenly. It also gave me an opportunity to experiment with colors. This worked out great even though I used boxed cake mixes. After baking for a day and shaping the organs, I placed them in a tray to get a feel for how it would all come together.

    A heartless display

    I was really happy with the way it looked and now I could think hard about trying to get the tastes right. The list of cake flavors changed as I thought about them, but ultimately, this was the plan.

    Heart - chocolate with seedless raspberry jam filling
    Lungs - dyed white cake with pureed and rinsed blueberries swirled with plain white cake
    Stomach - orange cake with lime custard filling
    Liver - whiskey soaked "pound" cake (dyed a pale post-mortum orange)
    Intestines - red velvet cake with lemon filling for the upper intestine and chocolate pudding for the lower intestine.
    Ribs and Sternum - dark chocolate with white chocolate coating. I have to thank Barbara Jo for pointing out the troubles she had with solid white chocolate ribs/

    Originally, I was going to make additional shoulder, abdominal and hip muscles and place a layer of marzipan skin over the whole thing, but this idea kept getting pushed aside as my energy and patience got sucked up in dealing with the ribs.

    My friend, Holly, helped out with the shaping of the ribs. I bought 25 pounds of modelers clay and she suggested casting the whole front as one piece. At this point, I should point out that other than a horribly misshapen ashtray in 5th grade and an odd looking frog in 9th grade, I have never sculpted before. So, Holly sculpted the sternum and ribs and later I covered it in plastic wrap and cast the ribs in dark chocolate. I failed to take pictures of this process because I was hoping it would turn out perfect and all we needed were photos of the finished ribs.

    Three days before the party, it was time to get the ribs out of the mold. I had all kinds of ideas ranging from flipping the mold over and pulling the clay away to magically lifting the ribs out. In the end, I decided to dig the clay out from under the ribs. This quickly went all wrong. Every time my hand went in to dig into the clay, it push about 25, then 20, then 15 pounds of clay against the ribs. By the end of the process, all but three ribs had snapped from the sternum.

    How am I going to get this back together?

    It was more than I could think about. I stuck it all in the freezer and worried about setting up the kitchen for what was about to happen. At this point, I have thank Tonda who made the Lime and Lemon custards, Jessica who shopped for the food colors and powdered meringue and Amie who lent me her Kitchen Aid and lots of cake pans. I popped up an extra table in the kitchen and started baking the cakes. While the cakes cooled, I went to work on the ribs.

    I'll make this fairly short. Just imagine a some cursing, a little whining and many heavy sighs. I trimmed extra chocolate off each of the ribs using clay sculpting tools and did a quick test to see if the white chocolate would destroy the ribs. It didn't, but I found that once I got the white chocolate melted, it didn't need to stay at 200 degrees to still be workable. This prevented the dark chocolate from melting too much as I applied the white chocolate. To keep the rib cage supported during the rebuilding, I used some soda cans and aluminum foil. I was able to dip the broken ends of the ribs and literally glue them to the sternum. This took several hours of working with the chocolate for 10 minutes then putting it back in the freezer for 10 minutes.

    Great! But can I get them off the foil without losing them?

    In between dealing with the ribs, I succeeded in making a royal icing for the whiskey-soaked liver. The liver was baked with about a 1/2C of whiskey. I didn't realize that would make the cake collapse, but having it be very dense was okay. For the soaking, I wrapped the cake in a clean cloth and dribbled a little whiskey over it. Then the whole thing was wrapped in plastic wrap. I added a little more whiskey each day. When it came time to frost the liver, it had turned into a brick. A whiskey soaked, pale orange brick. It was perfect.

    That's one pickled liver! (Pre-cirrhosis glaze)

    The lungs came out so good, it seemed a shame to cover them in frosting, so attempted to make a simple sugar glaze. Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was doing and made a messy not-so-simple syrup. Despite the problems, it turned out alright. A friend who is a former EMT said, "the lungs are actually disturbing because they are glistening." Yay!

    While I wanted to shape the cakes, Holly has experience at frosting so she came over and made the buttercreme frosting. Holly is an actual Artist so she turned the pink stomach into this horrifically distended organ and rolls of cake into the most amazing intestines. Then she frosted the heart and piped some veins on it. I know if I had attempted it, it would be all crumbled and possibly destroyed.

    For the display, we used a 13" x 17" artists butcher tray. First the stomach went in, then the heart, Then the liver and the lungs. Then Holly worked some magic on the intestines. While I was working on the ribs. By this point, I was obsessing on the ribs, but prepared to just snap them all and shove them into some cake.

    What was the cause of death? Smoker's lung? Cirrhosis of the liver? Enlarged heart?

    Amazingly enough, the ribs didn't break at all as we got them off the mold and onto the cake. They were hanging a bit off the sides, but I had baked an extra red sponge cake for random meaty bits and so I simply stuffed it under and around the bottom layer.

    The cake went back into the refrigerator and we got dressed. On the way over to the party, only one rib crack cracked and I ignored it. I had made up some simple syrup using corn syrup, red food dye and molasses and gave it an extra drizzle once we got to the party.

    Cake delivered. Happy Birthday. Now it's time to soak my liver in whiskey.

    Unfortunately, nobody got ill looking at the cake, but there were a couple of wrinkled noses. The most important part was that the Birthday Girl loved it. At one point she said, "The heart is black--like mine!" The liver, the lungs and the heart turned out the best in my opinion, but someone made off with portions of the ribs so I guess that was popular too.

    It definitely looks more cake-like. I'm not sure if it looks more appetizing.

    That's it. I'm done with this whole cake business. Well, until my birthday. I want a whole leg I can amputate....

    Wednesday, April 06, 2005

    Beyond Threaded Conversation

    I find it disturbing that the BlogPulse Conversation Tracker represents conversations between blogs as threaded conversations. What I find disturbing is that after years of message board formats being the same, the same, the same, visualization tools are trying to cram blogs conversations into a message board visualization.

    Of course, I find it useful because it highlights that the fundamental difference between message boards and blogs is simply one of distributed hosting. The basic structure is still that each post is an object with one of it's properties being connecting data. That connecting data might be of a comment to a parent post or a post on blog B trackbacked to blog A. This, believe it or not, is the same underlying structure of a message board.

    That's not to say that switching an object ID in a database for a URL isn't significant. It's insanely significant. Distributed systems are far more interesting that centralized system. But I think that a system that didn't ultimately wind up as a threaded discussion system would be far more interesting.

    Some much smarter people than me are already thinking about this. Paul Resnick mentions his Beyond Threaded Conversationworkshop held in conjunction with this week's CHI 2005 Conference. They set up a wiki which includes the original submissions by the workshop participants.

    Straight to the point, Marc Smith's Enhanced interfaces for threaded conversations(MSWord file) outlines what data is useful for creating enhanced threaded views and shows an example of a Thread Tree:

    Thread Tree by Marc Smith

    Another view of grouping replies comes from Ka-Ping Yee and Marti Hearst in A Visualization to Facilitate Productive Discussions(pdf):

    Embedded replies by Ka-Ping Yee and Marti Hearst

    Derek Hansen's Health FACTS: From Conversation to Archive and Back Again(MSWord file) caught my interest because it identifies a problem in my current work. I'll be interested to see how people respond to his peer-pressure model of getting people to clean up their posts for archiving, but I like the idea of a nomination system for identifying and archiving the best discussions. It's something I have done by hand, but it was labor intensive and not scalable. The lyrics to the swan-song of many good ideas.

    Yevgeniy Medynskiy mentions ways we can derive Implicit Links in Asynchronous Communication Spaces(pdf). There has already been a number of visualizations of explicit links of social networks. In fact, Conversation Tracker uses explicit trackback links to create a visualization of the blogosphere. However, implicit links can be far more interesting. A comment on a blog mentioning the blogger's birthday implies a relationship beyond the blog. The number of times fark is mentioned on boingboing vs. the times boingboing is mentioned on fark reveals what we already know--that boingboing picks up a lot of content from fark, but not the other way 'round. I see many interesting applications such as revealing who posts more comments than original blog posts (across the blogosphere) or determining the strength of ties between folks. Who are the main posters and trackbackers? Who are the people engaged in dialog? How do these groups interact and bridge?

    Even within the confines of threaded discussions, there is a lot of room for innovation. If you have additional examples beyond threaded conversations, please comment and share them.

    Wednesday, March 30, 2005

    Yes! I am the "worst"!

    Forbes.com's Best of the Web Directory picked SchwabLearning.org as a Forbes Favorite in their Special Needs Resources section. But this part obviously caught my eye:
    WORST: The unwieldy general message board would benefit from splitting into subsections devoted to specific issues.
    I can't deny it. We don't have any subsections on our message board. Right now, it feels that any attempt to explain how this came about will sound like pure defensiveness. Instead, let me simply say that it was a conscious attempt to not succumb to a major pet peeve I have with message boards (as they currently stand). As Lee LeFever has pointed out, message boards are good Flows, but poor Stocks:

    The question is: How can we ensure that flows are being stocked effectively? What makes a good stock?

    Websites that flow will find that the management of stocks becomes very important over time. As the flows create new information, the stocks grow to become a rich, but often unwieldy resource. For this reason, website owners should pay particular attention to how stocks are being archived for reference. Easily accessible stocks compliment engaging flows.

    During the process of parents connecting to support each other, there is a flow of valuable support in both emotional support and informational support. However, getting that valuable flow that back out is the key problem. It gets complicated by the fact that (for me) the information isn't neatly categorizable. School issues blend into home issues. Attention issues blend into reading issues. Even distinct Federal Education laws (Section 504 and IDEA) touch on similar issues (specifically classroom accommodations). Right now, there is a lot of benefit from parents interacting with a diverse range of parents. So how do I keep the discussions flowing, but derive some kind of sense to the stock that is four years worth of parents helping each other?

    At the beginning of March, I knew that some kind of bottom-up categorization was what I needed. "I have all this data, there must be some way to highlight specific topics so people can dive in an swim around in the areas they want while having seamless access to the other parts." It will look like subcategories, but it just be one facet of the large complicated jewel that is the world of learning disabilities. Once I got into the idea of thinking in terms of categories as a property of messages instead of categories as buckets for messages, I thought my solution was meta-tagging or some kind of folksonomy. I did my best to keep up with the debate around folksonomies and I was thinking up complicated ways to address the "people are bad categorizers" and "people are lazy" problems.

    At this time, I attended the NHVA Innovations Conference. Actually I spoke and, good gravy, they have an mp3 of it (I'm not linking that on purpose). There I met Peter Kaminski and he gave me a new perspective. He pointed out that our messages have all the contextual data I needed. What seemed more appropriate was a search tool that would group the data together by similarities much the way Google News is able to group similar news stories based on the text in the story itself. Man, talk about a *phoom* moment. Thanks, Peter!

    What tool would that be? Vector space searching. I'm learning about it and here's where I'm starting:

    Building a keyword vector space engine in ColdFusion: adding an extra dimension to your keyword searches

    Building a Vector Space Search Engine in Perl

    It's not that I think metatagging is right out. I just realize now that with large amounts of text data, more hand-entered text data probably isn't the right direction.

    Sunday, February 06, 2005

    The Corporate Goddesses of 580 California Street

    Corporate Goddesses
    Corporate Goddesses,
    originally uploaded by Scott M.
    I love these statues. They are at the top of 580 California Street and were made by Muriel Castanis. She described them as "corporate goddesses" in a 1999 San Francisco Chronicle piece on window washers. These empty figures seem to be a theme of hers.

    The building itself was designed by the Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie architecture firm. They have a brief description of the project with images of the whole building.

    Update (Oct 2008): Since I first posted this Muriel Castanis died. Her Obituary is in the Nov 2006 New York Times and the LA Times did a story on the statues in Jan 2007.

    Update (May 2009): I was contacted by someone in New York who has a 4 foot hanging ghost sculpture by Muriel Castanis for sale. If you are interested, contact me (my email is at the right) and I will pass your interest on.

    Monday, January 31, 2005

    Under 13 blogging update

    Foe Romeo posted last week about LiveJournal for under-13s and in it, I find two corrections to my little post about bogging services and age checks. First, it looks like Blogger does have some check on age, but it is pretty much as Foe describes--hey kids, please lie to us.

    Second, it looks like Live Journal has updated their Privacy Policy with a section entitled, "
    Information Relating to Children". Considering the other toothless "no one under 13" policies I found, I had to give it a check.

    The result of registering as a 10yo was being stopped, explained the under 13 policy and sent on to an electronic verification. That turns out to be a credit card check and I didn't bother following through. A much more reasonable attempt at preventing the collection of information by people under 13.

    Of course, what I said earlier about who falls under COPPA and for what reasons still applies and Foe's comments about the need and ability to build kid safe online places still holds--and goes largely unanswered.

    Saturday, January 08, 2005

    Late night Flickr Experiment

    originally uploaded by Scott M.
    It's been a long time since I have posted, but I am determined to feel no guilt. Tonight I finally had a chance to get up to the Mormon Temple off Hwy13 in the East Bay. It has been raining off and on for two weeks and I tried twice already.

    Well, the third time, it poured on the way up to the place, but stopped by the time I got there. I'm pretty happy with some of my shots (all on Flickr).