The Acoustic Properties of a City

If nothing else this weekend, we are learning a lot about the acoustic properties of our small city. The Huge Stage at the waterfront is certainly capable of pumping out the most amount of sound that has ever been pumped out of our waterfront, and because of its orientation, pointing roughly exactly at our house, we’ve had a chance to experience what this means.

I’m not complaining. Really. Although I would rather they didn’t go quite so late at night and quite so loud, I was reminded by my friend Beth Cullen just now that there’s something neat about it all, despite all the loudness. And the weekend will eventually be over.

But it certainly is weird to ramble around the downtown when a Big Concert is in full swing. Right now, as I sit on my big comfy couch in my living room, roughly 5 blocks from the stage, the level of sound is approximately that I would hear if Oliver was blaring his stereo from his room upstairs (assuming that Oliver had a stereo, of course).

Walking along Victoria Row towards home just 10 minutes ago, I could have sworn that there was a rock concert taking place on the roof of the Coles Building. And then, 25 steps later, lots of sound appeared to becoming out of the document storage room on the second floor of the headquarters of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Most odd were the sounds of rock and roll bouncing off the sandstone of the St. Paul’s Anglican Church office — the sandstone’s acoustical properties are very different from the hard brick of the other buildings around, and produce a very different acoustical footprint.

More later from the sonic frontier.

Bush asleep... and we don't know why!

It says here (under the mysterious headline “Residents chased from mountain town by wildfire allowed to return home”) that “a sedative called propofol was administered to [President] Bush through an intravenous line” during his routine colonoscopy this morning.

And, curiously, it says here that “Propofol is a diisopropylphenol. This intravenous hypnotic agent produces rapid sedation with minimal excitatory activity, however it has no analgesic properties. The actual mechanism of action is unknown, but it is postulated that propofol mediates activity of the GABA receptors.” (emphasis mine).

So in other words, the President was put to sleep for an operation using a drug the actual mechanism of which we don’t understand.

Apparently this isn’t all too unusual, as it says here that “although researchers have tried, no single explanation for general anaesthesia can be agreed upon.”

Good to know that some things remain mysteries.

Le Eekay is Oosay le Orchpay

Warchalk Symbol at 100 Prince St., Charlottetown My paternal grandmother was a wonderful odd duck. One of her eccentricities was a prediliction to use pig latin when she needed to pass private or secure messages — a sort of precursor to PGP, if you will. One day we showed up at her place to find a note affixed to the door: “Le Eekay is Oosay le Orchpay,” it said. We looked under the porch. Sure enough, there was the key. I guess she reasoned that nefarious criminals wouldn’t be sufficiently intelligent to decrypt the message.

Her husband, my grandfather Dan Rukavina, emigrated to Canada from Croatia. Once in Canada he worked in the mines and, said my grandmother inummerable times “beat the freight” across the country — in other words he hitched rides on freight trains going cross-country to look for work.

Somehow the history of “beating the freight” has been lost — search on Google and you find only 2 search results.

But there’s a new digital resurrection of at least part of this history in the new warchalking movement.

Apparently people like my grandfather communicated with each other using chalk symbols like these ones here to signal good locations for food, sleep, etc.

Warchalking duplicates this practice, but for a somewhat less urgent and less life-sustaining purpose: identifying public wireless Internet access points.

Since we installed WiFi here at Reinvented World HQ in Charlottetown a couple of weeks ago, it seems only right to share what we have and pay a sort of techo-homage to my grandfather’s generation. So witness our very own warchalking symbol pictured here. It’s not made of chalk — it rains too much here! — but the message is the same.

If you’re in the area — 100 Prince Street in downtown Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island — and you need some WiFi for your laptop, just pull your car out front, or have a seat on the lawn, and surf away.

The network uses WEP, so you’ll need the WEP key before you start. Le umbernay to allcay orfay le EPway Eekay is on le arwalkchay ignsay.

Have fun!

PQ-17 and the iMac

Just over 10 years ago I found myself on a Cubana flight to Varadero. I was travelling with a woman I’d just met. We were footloose and fancy free, and going to Cuba was an impulsive last-minute thing.

Sitting in front of us on the plane was a long-haired tall guy. He looked weird, and I kept my distance. My consort had no such inhibitions and so she ended up in conversation with him, and we traded travel guidebooks and chatted a little.

As it turns out, we were staying in the same complex in Cuba — the Punta Blanca memorialized in Jane Siberry’s song Miss Punta Blanca, and that night by the bar we ended up joining this lanky guy for drinks.

We learned that his name was Bill Coleman, and he was in Cuba, alone, to help recover from the break-up of a long-term relationship. He had just moved back to Toronto from New York City where he’d worked in a health club to support his real vocation, which was choreography and modern dance.

As things out, my young consort decided to re-consort herself with the saxaphone player from the house band at Punta Blanca (an episode I will someday pay tribute to in song, I’m sure), and Bill and I ended up spending a lot of time together that week in the sun. By the end of the week, we had a tentative agreement that I would do some graphic design for some shows he was organizing in Toronto that summer.

Which I did.

The next summer, with the help of $25,000 from the Canada Council (these were the carefree days of bountiful arts funding), Bill set off on a cross-U.S. driving tour in a cherry red 1967 Chrysler Newport designed to gather the raw materials for a dance show. He staged the grand finale of his tour in Peterborough, Ontario, where I cleaned out the local liquor store of Schlitz Beer and organized a motorcycle escort for him (it was actually a moped). As luck would have it, the Newport conked out about 1 mile from the destination point, and Bill got his picture in the paper with the hood up looking perplexed.

The tour became the dance piece Heartland, and Bill asked me to produce the poster for it, which was tremendous fun largely because it involved secretly using the colour separation machine at the newspaper where I was working between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. for several successive Saturday mornings after putting the paper to bed and waiting for the first copies to roll off the press.

This is all a very large run up to a story about Apple’s iMac: many years after Heartland, Bill was happily married to Laurence Lemiux and they had little Jimmy Coleman underfoot. Bill and Laurence wanted to become more independent from the Big Dance Scene and to this end had decided to organize themselves into a sort of rapid response dance and choreography team. They needed to get online, both to be able to use email and to publicize their work, so they called me for advice. I suggested they buy an iMac.

So they did.

At the time the focus of Apple’s advertising was that you could take your new iMac out of the box and be online in 10 or 15 minutes. And that’s exactly what Bill and Laurence did with their new iMac: took it out of the box, plugged it into the wall, signed up for an Earthlink account and, blammo, they were online.

I dropped by shortly thereafter and taught them how to use web search engines: the first search they did was for the phrase “PQ17”, which was the name of a north Atlantic convoy that Bill’s father was a member of during WWII. The first search result led to a website in St. Petersburg, which led to an email address to which Bill wrote an exploratory email looking for assistance in mounting a dance piece about the PQ17 convoy that was shuffling around in his brain at the time. Flash forward several years (and much hard work) and the piece premiered in St. Petersburg. Ain’t the web grand.

Which makes a very long preamble to the story of my permanent consort Catherine’s new iMac, purchased this week from the friendly folks at little mac shoppe in Charlottetown. We picked up the computer yesterday and Catherine worked to set it up while Oliver and I went off for a kiwi-strawberry-orange juice at Just Juicin’. When we came back 35 minutes later, Catherine had the machine set up, the Airport card installed, and was online.

Which is all to say that above and beyond the aesthetics, the reality distortion field, and all the Apple mythology, Apple computers remain easy to set up and easy to use.

Young Dave and I are off to MacWorld in two weeks to dive into the centre of the Mac-o-verse. I’m sure we’ll be reporting live from the frontier. And I’m almost certain that Dave won’t take up with the saxaphone player from the house band. But you never know.

What is the Guardian for?

Having read the changed online version of the Guardian in its new home for three days now, I’m wondering what the design criteria for the new site were.

Does the Guardian exist to deliver the news, clearly and effectively, or does it exist to deliver eyeballs to advertisers, using the news as a second-level excuse to attract said eyes their way?

When I worked at a daily newspaper, there was a clear and unequivocal separation of the editorial and design processes for the “content” and the ‘advertising” in the paper. The employees of each branch worked on different floors. In the composing room the ad paste-up and the edit paste-up were generally handled by two separate groups of people.

Each recognized the importance of the other, and there was something noble about the edit side — as much as people working for a small town newspaper reporting about the school board and traffic accidents could be, the editors and reporters felt that they were doing more than just helping the publishers making money.

The print equivalent of the design of the new Guardian website would be to run advertising on the front page filling up the entire space above the fold, Why is this okay?