Sunday, April 30, 2006



When I was eight
Our father brought home a galaxy
For us to keep and care for

It was a young thing
Full of dust, stars and glory
Big enough to bear us
As it flew across the fields
Outside of our estate

If you leaned in close to it
And closed you eyes and held your breath
You could heard the radio whisper
Of newly born civilizations

At night it would hover near the ceiling
Turning slowly, stately, serenely
Making the night a friendly thing

We were told to feed it
Three ounces of finely ground dirt and hydrogen
Twice a day and once at night
To give it precisely seven clockwise swirls
To wash out any excess nebulae
At least once a week (sometimes more)
And most importantly
To sing soft songs to its societies

And we were good to it
So very good to it
At first, but not at last

As our attentions wandered
It's edges grew thick and uneven
It's stately swirls merged and blurred
And its worlds fell into silence
One by one by one

Father finally took it away
To a place where they put it down
And the night, forever more
Was cold, quiet, and lonely

Photo courtesy of "justasungod"

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Unstructured Fun

Most people have never heard of the Curta although, among those in the know, it's status is legendary. The Curta was the earliest pocket calculator. Unlike modern electronic calculators, however, it was a mechanical device. Although one might suppose that this would imply that it is a primitive device, the Curta had a sophistication of design akin to that of a fine swiss watch. Even though modern technologies are more complex, no electronic calculator can match it for sheer elegance.

I once had the opportunity to, briefly, use a Curta that was owned by a former professor of mine. I would love to own one of my own, but the minimum cost for a unit is around US$500+ with the better models going for closer to US$1,500 and up. Given that they haven't been manufactured since the early 70's, that price is guaranteed to continue to increase over time. Never the less, I'm grateful that I have had the pleasure of actually holding one in my own hands, if only for a moment.

As you can see from the picture to the right, the Curta somewhat resembles a pepper mill, with sliders on the sides and numberical counters arranged along its top. In order to perform a calculation, you would set the numbers using the sliders (which could also be shifted by several orders of magnitude). You could toggle another slider to indicate whether the operation was additive or subtractive. After that you rotated the crank one revolution and the result would be calculated. It also had a ring which could be used to zero out the results.

The description simply doesn't do the device justice. Fortunately, the Curta Calculator Page has a pair of very nice simulations that give you the feel of using the device. What is most striking is how perfectly intuitive and enjoyable it is to use it.

Go ahead and give it a try, and then take a moment to reflect that sometimes progress, although a good thing, can also leave worthwhile things behind.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Unstructured Touching

Touch screen technology has been around for a long time, now. In spite of this, it really hasn't made all that much of a splash outside of the occasional ATM and kiosk device. I think that part of it has simply been the lack of a good interface.

This tech demo from Apple shows some of the potential for the technology. I found it to be rather impressive.

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