Monday, February 14 2005
Today Gretchen had arranged to have some of our friends over so we could show them pictures we'd taken on our recent trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos. I'd been going through those pictures for days, doing my best to winnow them down. Now though, as Gretchen toiled in the kitchen making cookies for tonight's gathering, the pressure was on to come up with a series of pictures that was long enough to give a good overview of our trip without being so long as to be a bore. I myself have little tolerance for the slide shows of others even when (as would be a the case for a large fraction of our guests tonight) their work is routinely published in National Geographic.
Usually trip narratives are given with slide shows, but we didn't actually have any slides. What we had were a bunch of digital photographs (the barely-winnowed bulk of which can be found here). We decided we would show them on our television using our DVD player. After looking at the limitations of that player, I decided it would be easiest if I just recorded a DVD. This would make it possible to incorporate the many brief video clips I'd recorded with my camera. The problem is, I know almost nothing about DVD authoring. Is there a markup language that can free me from the WYSIWYG tools? Using them feels like trying to play a piano while wearing boxing gloves. The eye candy and unhelpful metaphors found in all DVD authoring programs are typical of the sorts of things used to unnecessarily complicate what might otherwise be very straightforward controls. This is part of a widespread interface paradigm failure in the world of applications wrong-headedly trying to resemble real world devices. MyDVD, with one of the least junked-up interfaces of its kind, works fairly well in a pinch. I just wish I could take off the gloves now and then and just play the piano.
One of our guests for tonight arrived early because he needed some help putting together a Powerpoint Presentation about all his many kayak adventures. The thing he was having the most difficulty finding was a consistent source of unlabeled relief maps of the world. So I sat down and did a series of a Google searches. I'd looked before for something like this and hadn't had any luck. But today I was a little more dedicated and I eventually found something suitable hosted at the University of Alaska called a Swath Viewer. It's a Java front end for a database of surface images of the earth. The front end itself seems to be infinitely flexible in terms of how it can display the data. Its chief limitation is the amount of surface photography available on the server. It was great for the purpose for which I needed it; there's complete coverage of the earth's surface all the way down to a scale of 2km/pixel.
Eventually all our friends had arrived and it was time to do the presentation. I ended up doing most of the narration with Gretchen chiming in now and then. I don't know to what extent people were entertained; I just assumed everyone was miserable. Perhaps if we'd all been drinking alcoholic beverages our guests would have enjoyed themselves more. But somehow we'd ended up the tea/coffee track. I don't know how that had happened.
Lots of people have been sending me links to a story being reported by the Associated Press about northerners moving to Staunton, Virginia (my hometown) and being appalled to discover their children being led off to religious classes during school time. It was also a big surprise to me when I encountered it as a kid nearly 30 years. I'd accepted it as part of the inherent wackiness of the universe by the time I wrote about it online nearly nine years ago. Now, all these years later, it's just now being uncovered by the sleepy media as yet another fascinating example of how boneheadedly medieval the South still is.
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