Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vancouver Weekend – In the Rain

Stanley Park Totem Poles
Here’s a quick rundown of what we did and where we ate for a 3 night, rainy, weekend stay in Vancouver B.C.

We stayed at Le Soleil and liked it. The hotel seemed reasonably priced with nice rooms, with friendly staff, and a good downtown location.

Museums / Sites
We spent part of two days at the Vancouver Art Gallery which is Vancouver’s main art museum. The first day we ran out of time and they made a note on our ticket so we could come back and continue the next day. (We are really slow museum visitors.) Make sure you see the Emily Carr and the Jack Shadbolt and the Group of 7 (Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael, Francis Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley) works that make up part of the permanent collection and are the core of B.C. art in the 20th century.

We spent a few hours at the H.R. Macmillan Space Centre. First we did Virtual Voyages motion simulator which simulates a ride to Mars on a mission in the future. After that we did the GroundStation Canada Theatre - Live Science Stage show where we were taught a little bit about rockets and Newton's three laws of motion. Finally, we went to the Nightwatch planetarium show at noon. The Zeiss project system (named "Harold") was pretty amazing. It creates a 360 degree panorama of the sky. The operator of the projector (for this particular show) teaches you how to pick out features in the night sky.

Due to the weather we did not spend any time in Stanley Park but we did drive out to see the totem poles and to get our panorama look back at the city.

We took the AquaBus from the south foot of Hornby Street over to Granville Island (route map) and walked around the island (inside and out). On the island there are places to eat and shop. The public market is the must see on the island.

Since it was raining almost the whole time were there in early November gardens were not the top of the must see list, but we did stop by the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens and the adjoining public garden just a few steps from Robson. It was nice, but for $10 a head for the Yat-Sen garden it may not be your cup of tea. (Hot tea is served for the entry fee, but don’t get any grandiose ideas, it’s just tea in a big coffee device that you pour yourself into a paper cup.) There is a tour that we didn’t take so that probably would have been a good idea. If you want the budget experience, go to the free public garden and peek into the pay-for garden.

If you are into gallery hopping, check out this Web site first to get a sense of galleries in B.C. We spent time in the South Granville neighborhood where there were a number of galleries (gallery row) we were interested in visiting.

All of these dining spots are within walking distance or a very short taxi ride from downtown Vancouver, except Fisherman’s Terrace.

Caffé Artigiano – good coffee, breakfast foods (yogurt, fruit, scones, etc.). We chose to eat breakfast at Caffé Artigiano. The location we liked is the one right across from the Vancouver Art Gallery on Hornby Street. Next time, we’ll try Sciué – an Italian Bakery Caffé that came highly recommended.

The Italian Kitchen – a stylish eatery that’s part of the larger Glowbal Restaurant Group.
Il Gardino di Umberto – as close to old-school Tuscan cuisine that you’ll find in these parts. One word: stracciatella soup (wedding or egg-drop soup).
Vij’s Rangoli – the uber-popular Indian dinner spot (Vij’s) has a younger sibling open for lunch, Rangoli, which is easier to get into.
Fisherman’s Terrace – yes it’s in a shopping center, but this dim sum place was highly recommended. Beware, it’s a 20-30 minutes car ride south of Vancouver.

Bishops – an eating experience that was our most enjoyable dinner in Vancouver. Simple, good preparation. It’s not as hip as many restaurants in Vancouver, but when owner John Bishop slipped us a couple of oysters (even though we didn’t order them) just for a taste, we were hooked.
Le Crocodile – a polished French bistro atmosphere that executed flawlessly from start to finish. Loved the Oven-Roasted Beef Bone Marrow! It was a head turner when it arrived at the table.
Chambar – a stylish Belgian eatery with the requisite choice of interesting beer.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Calculus Made Easy and Organic Growth

Calculus Made Easy
In the latest Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution there is a mention (in a footnote in Chapter 10) of the book Calculus Made Easy by Silvanus P. Thompson and Martin Gardner. The reference came about because Dawkins was talking about how different characteristics of animals might change over one million years, like leg length. He imagines that a characteristic might increase by a factor of e over a million years, where e is the number 2.718281828 or the exponential function to the first power. In Dawkins’s argument the factor e was chosen for mathematical convenience but when reading Chapter XIV in Thompson’s book you can see why Dawkins chose it. From Thompson’s book: “the process of growing proportionately, at every instant, to the magnitude of that instant, some people call an exponential rate of growing. […] It might also be called the organic rate of growing: because it is characteristic of organic growth (in certain circumstances) that the increment of the organism in a given time is proportional to the magnitude of the organism itself.”

In Calculus Made Easy, Chapter 14 is titled On True Compound Interest and the Law of Organic Growth. In this chapter – quoted above- the idea of where e comes from is motivated by considering simple compound interest problems. In a nutshell, the general compound interest formula can be written as FV = PV (1 + 1/n)^n where a future value (FV) of a present value (PV) is related to the number of compounding operations (n). As n goes to infinity, (1 + 1/n)^n goes to the value e. It was the first time I considered how the value of e has a physical interpretation.

Also, while reading the part of Calculus Made Easy about derivatives something clicked and made sense about a bad experience I had with calculus while I was an undergraduate. Back 100 years ago I was taking an advanced calculus course and all we talked about were deltas and epsilons and taking limits. I remember being very lost. That’s the rigorous approach to derivatives developed by Karl Weierstrass (1815-1897) in the mid-nineteenth century. Before that, the approach used was something called infinitesimals – which is the approach taken by Thompson for motivating the concept of a derivative. It makes more sense to me and I wish I knew this all those years ago. (I could have been a very different person by now.) Infinitesimals were resurrected in the 1960s and today are called non-standard analysis.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Windows 7 – Less Anger, More Productivity

I’ve been running Windows 7 for over a week now on my laptop and I’m really happy with it. It is much better than Vista. My gold standard – for better or for worse – is that now my laptop can sleep and wake up properly. Hooray. I feel like I’m more productive with Windows 7 because I’m not fighting the operating system and getting mad about frozen programs or strange behavior.

One of the mantras I’m trying to adopt with Windows 7 is to USE THE KEYBOARD and do less with the mouse. In that spirit here are some keyboard shortcuts:

General Shortcuts (Vista and Windows 7)
WIN = open start menu
SHFT+F10 =right click on selected item
ALT+F4 = close a window
SHFT+CTRL+CLICK = open as admin

Windows 7 Navigation Specific
WIN + # = open program stack in taskbar
WIN + Arrow Key = move current window, e.g. left arrow key snaps window to the left
WIN + Up Arrow = Maximize the active window.
WIN + Down Arrow = Minimize or restore the active window.
WIN + Home Key = close all windows except current
WIN + Space bar = Make all windows transparent, maybe you have a pretty background picture?
WIN + T = open taskbar entry
WIN + G = bring gadgets to front
WIN + = (magnify)
WIN + - (un-magnify)
CTRL + ALT + Arrow Key = rotate screen (up arrow is the "normal" orientation)

Browser (IE 7+)
CTRL+F4 close current tab
CTRL+TAB cycle through tabs
CTRL+E = get focus of search box
CTRL+T = new tab
F4 = highlight URL

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Great Cassette Purge – Lessons on Moving Your Media Forward

Here’s the scenario: 90+ cassettes of music from 1987-2001 that contain music I wrote, both instrumentals and songs with friends singing, 1 failing Nakamichi BX-2 tape deck (reverse doesn’t work), and angst that if I don’t capture what’s on those cassettes now it will get harder and harder. Sound familiar? Old media that you put off doing anything with.

We’ll I buckled down and hooked up the tape deck into the back of the computer and just started recording (using Sound Recorder in Vista). I ended up with 50+ tapes ripped. The rest, I determined where not important. Sometimes I stopped and started the Sound Recorder and captured (to .wma) individual songs and sometimes I just recorded a whole side of the cassette as one digital file leaving it for a later project to extract out individual pieces.

The Sound Recorder tool in Vista and a generic audio card was fine for this project because the quality of the tapes was not really that good to start with.

The conversion took about 3 weeks. Now I’m storing the box of remaining cassettes for 1 month and if I haven’t gone back to it, out it goes. And the tape deck is going to Goodwill.

So what are my ruminations on moving your personal media (assets like images, documents, music, etc.) forward to live to see another day? They include two categories:

Lessons learned for the creation of media now that someday you might need to convert
o Create less to begin with. Note the pain you are experiencing during the conversion and let it guide what you create now that you’ll be wrestling with in the future.
o Label and date as you go along. It’s frustrating to try to make a decision later, perhaps years later, on something as whether to save or toss it if there is no date or context.
o Keep your media organized, you’ll thank yourself later. This includes items already on the computer too. Use well defined folders and names.

Lessons learned during the conversion
o Convert media when the time is right. It’s okay to hang on to some personal media/artifacts for a while until you find the right format to convert it into.
o Consider if you really need what you are converting. Are you really going to miss it? Can you buy it again? Maybe the cost of buying it is less than your time to convert it?
o Sometimes, taking a picture of all the items together as a keepsake is as effective as converting it over and having it sit around in a new format, never to be used. I think that sometimes people just want to remember what it is they had, but they don’t want to use it or play it.
o Consider scanning (with a scanner) objects that may not seem so obvious to scan. In this cassette-conversion project I scanned the cassette inserts (or the whole cassette if it didn’t have an insert) because what I wrote on the inserts or directly on the cassettes is how I visually remember the tapes. The color ofthe cassettes without inserts is important to my memory of them. Fortunately, this translates well to the computer because say in Windows you can name your scanned item “Folder.jpg” and then when viewing your folder, the scanned images becomes the folder’s icon, almost like a virtual cassette.
o Keep notes on how you are doing the conversion. You may stop and pick it up later and the notes will be indispensable.
o Consider keeping notes on what you don’t archive as well which could be just as interesting.
o Don’t, if you can help it, skimp on storage. Storage always gets cheaper so don’t make some decision during conversion time to save a little space if it means a huge compromise in the quality or how you’ll enjoy the media later.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

St. Paul’s Labyrinth

St. Paul's Labyrinth Seattle
We’ve heard about the labyrinth at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (50 Roy St.) for many years. In my mind labyrinth translates to a hedge maze like the Hampton Court Maze. The labyrinth in my mind is a cool, mysterious place with tall walls of foliage and the possibility of getting lost. The definition of labyrinth is a series of passages in which it is difficult to find one’s way. Well, the labyrinth at St Paul’s - as witnessed by the photo above – is not quite somewhere you are going to get easily lost, at least physically. Actually, the St Paul’s labyrinth is a type of labyrinth that has a long and interesting history itself. It is a type of labyrinth that has an unambiguous route to the center; you are not supposed to get lost physically but in your thoughts.

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth was the maze-like structure built by Daedalus for King Minos of Crete to hold the half man, half bull Minotaur creature. The Athenian hero Theseus killed the Minotaur and found his way back out by following thread he laid out.