blog.asurroca.com my personal blog

June 19, 2008

Li’l Castro, the Precocious Future Communist Dictator…

Filed under: humor,politics — Tags: , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 1:53 am

Wikipedia has an image of a letter 12-year old Fidel Castro wrote to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, wherein the future Cuban dictator asked the then-US President for $10 and offered him a sweet hook-up on quality steel for use in building ships.

Admittedly, his English was not especially good, as he mentioned in his letter. And that’s where this image comes in. When asking for $10, what he wrote, specifically, was this:

“If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.”

tendollarsbillgreenamerican

June 18, 2008

Four Words: AP Sucks

Filed under: business,humor,news — Tags: , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 12:49 am

Apparently, the Associated Press, in a noble effort to appear as much as an obsolete dinosaur as possible, has rules barring bloggers from citing more than four words out of an AP article without paying fees. See the deets at Boing Boing.

This got me thinking: What would AP headlines look like were everything past the first four words chopped off. I checked out recent AP headlines and here are a few perfectly legal fair use citations from the AP, under their stringent rules:

“Bali bomber warns of”
“Hundreds of same-sex couples”
“Cuban TV shows new”
“Celtics rout Lakers 131-92”
“Clinton asks top donors”
“Mississippi River breaks through”
“Bush to urge Congress”
“Probe: Pentagon lawyers sought”

These spartan headlines are almost more eye-catching than the five-or-more word headlines available at the AP’s site. Perhaps I’m on to something.

June 17, 2008

Transforming In-Dash Navigation

Filed under: business,school,technology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 9:42 am

Adapted from school a project write-up from last semester — When you add several ingredients together, the result will either become nothing more than a hodgepodge of dissimilar ingredients, or something new and equal to much more than the sum of its parts. The latter case is a transformation. It’s the difference between the tacked-on motion-sensor in the PlayStation 3 controller and the motion-sensitive functions of the Nintendo Wii. Or the difference between sites developed from the ground up to foster social networking and sites which added this functionality as another bullet point in their list of features. It might be difficult to tell when a media transformation has occurred, but it’s pretty easy to tell when one has not.

Several months ago, the project team I became a part of set out to create something out of little more than a marketing phrase, a few ideas stemming from it, and a combination of several media. the “product” became called NavShield. We set out to take the head up display (HUD) technology already available in some vehicles—the Corvette has had this feature for nearly a decade—combine it with several current and upcoming vehicle technologies, and refine it into something new. We started out by thinking about how “cool” it would be to project pretty Apple-esque icons onto the HUD on your windshield. I came up with ideas by driving and having “if only I had this feature” moments. The “thinking process” of the system would be something like this:

  • Navigation information is pulled from a GPS receiver (e.g. where you are and where you’re going)
  • This information is augmented with location-relevant information pulled from the internet via Wi-Fi or Wi-Max (e.g. gas stations nearby, weather in the area)
  • The location-based information is refined based on your preferences (e.g. only gas stations nearby that sell diesel fuel, only whether or not it is expected to rain in your destination at the time you are scheduled to arrive based on your current average speed)
  • Finally, the augmented, filtered information gets placed on your HUD

The group’s first tendency was to come up with as many ideas for icons as possible, and clutter the windshield with pretty icons. Just as your first tendency upon first using Mac OS X’s Dashboard or Yahoo! Widgets or Windows Vista’s Sidebar would be to search for and add any widget that perks your fancy until your desktop becomes a mess. While no harm can be done by having too many of these widgets on your computer, having too many on your windshield would be a disaster. That’s why I came up with this process above to connect and filter the data that comes in, and only display the end result.

After showing our project in its current form at the Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence event at UCF, the single most frequent piece of feedback we received was the following question: “What about driver distraction?” I recall that driver distraction was an issue when BMW’s iDrive debuted because many core functions’ hardware buttons were replaced with computer-like menus and sub-menus displayed on-screen. The trend is toward displaying more information on the navigation screen, and I felt that were it backed with psychological research, the NavShield project could solve this issue.

While conducting psychology experiments pertaining to driver distraction, and then usability tests on the interface are well outside scope of this one-semester project, it’s definitely the next step. In the meantime, I decided on some measures to limit driver distraction:

  • Limiting HUD to upper-third: I decided on a rule that, should something like get to working prototype stage, the HUD could only be displayed on the upper-third of the windshield. What I thought was, if the law prohibits tint below that part of the windshield because of visibility issues, then we should prohibit HUDs below that part of the windshield for the same reason.
  • Prioritizing information: Information would be grouped into several types, and prioritized. For example, when at speed, only the most important information (e.g. current speed) would be displayed, but while stopped, second-tier information could also appear. Beyond that, context- or location-relevant information would appear only when needed. For example, an arrow telling you which turn to make would only appear as the turn approaches.

The dashboard screens available in many of today’s automobiles cram as much information as viable, and it seems apparent that this information is added mostly to one-up the competition in terms of feature sets. It’s not uncommon for systems which previously gathered and displayed only navigation information now connect with and display everything from your media player’s music list to your phone’s contact list. At present, the only product on the market putting this information together in a package that feels transformational and not simply tacked-on is Microsoft’s Sync. The Dash navigation system also works similarly to what I have outlined for NavShield; for example, it combines GPS information with traffic data pulled from over the internet. Therefore, I would use these two products are the benchmarks for NavShield were the project taken further.

While I’m not so deluded to say that my project team’s semester project has already reached the level of becoming a piece of transformational media, I do feel that it’s on the right track. The idea of grabbing a lot of information from many sources, intelligently putting them together, filtering them based on user preferences, and displaying only the most relevant information is key, and I feel it means the difference between transforming disparate media into a cohesive whole versus a bullet list of features. Furthermore, even if we were to ignore the application, the idea of collecting, connecting, filtering, and displaying information has applications in any field. It’s something key to the attention data and data portability movements and something that will change the way we behave as much as social networking has.

June 16, 2008

Blip: Between Friends

Filed under: artwork,music,video — Tags: , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 11:50 pm

I shot a few bits of video during the drive from one friend’s home in Coral Gables to another friend’s home in South Miami. Here’s what came of it. Music: “Neuflex” by Two Lone Swordsmen.

June 15, 2008

Bamboo, is it Green?

Filed under: business,design,environment,living — Tags: , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 2:31 pm

image of bamboo flooringWhile I’m satisfied with the cheap wood laminate flooring that I inherited when I bought my home, I’ve been waiting for the time when I’ve got the extra change needed to get some real hardwood floors installed. And being, a tree-hugging liberal, the first thing that came to mind was, of course, bamboo.

Sure, bamboo, unlike trees, can be harvested like any other crop, and grows back remarkably fast, but how “green” is it, really? Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one thinking about this. In short, since bamboo is a renewable resource, it’s definitely better than your average hardwood flooring… but the industry behind it isn’t. Apparently, bamboo is so hot right now that forests are being razed to make room for more bamboo crops.

Much of it comes from China, which kind of sours the deal for Fair Trade fans and folks into locally sourced materials. Oh, and those chemicals used in other materials? They’re used with bamboo as well. Fortunately, as with any product, there are good and bad companies out there. Apparently, Teragen is one of the good companies. And there are no less than thirteen dealers in my area, so I’ll have to get a quote.

June 14, 2008

Apparently, I’m Good At Interior Design

Filed under: design,living — Tags: , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 12:37 pm

Either that, or I’m just on to something here. A year and a half ago, I decided to paint my living room green—not just any green, mind you, but a green color-matched to the green used in all Xbox branding, packaging, logos, etc. Let’s call it Xbox Green.

Living Room

Then, a few months back, I came across this photo tour of a west coast couple’s home, headlined by the following photograph:

From Apartment Therapy

It’s a lot more finished, and a lot more classy, but it’s definitely familiar. Note that the green is very similar because when under similar lighting as in the second photo, my living room’s shade of green looks exactly the same as in the second photo. I’m also sure that the other place has got real wood flooring, where I’ve got cheap laminate.

Suddenly, I’ve got the desire to paint the right side cream and install a mirror above it.

June 12, 2008

Blip: In Sync

Filed under: advertising,music,video — Tags: , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 9:48 am

While driving home one night, I encountered a lot of road construction, and noticed that the various flashing lights were vaguely in sync with the beat of the music. Music: “Beat Connection” by LCD Soundsystem.

June 11, 2008

New Vimeo Channel: Blips

Filed under: artwork — Tags: , , , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 2:38 pm

Blips logo, small

I’m limited in my video capabilities by the fact that I don’t have an actual video camera, so I have to rely on the video function on my still camera. So, I started shooting some short clips of scenery and adding clips of music and ended up with “blips”.

After creating a few of them, I looked around to see if the Vimeo or Flickr communities had already started doing the same thing, but found nothing, so I created a new channel devoted to sub-30 second music/video “blips”.

June 10, 2008

Some Waves

Filed under: artwork — Tags: , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 11:29 pm

Some Waves, originally uploaded by ASurroca.

This one has a simple story. I was working on putting up some new product for my job, and really dug the purple/green color scheme of this bike seat.

This one’s got tons of the screen door effect and pretty much requires viewing at full size to appreciate.

Chevy Nomad (By Way of Germany)

Filed under: business,design,technology — Tags: , , , , — Alfonso Surroca @ 9:59 am

Photo of Chevy Nomad concept car

You might (or not) remember Chevrolet’s concept car from a few years back, the Nomad. It never made it to production, but a similar car might thanks to Murat Günak, former design boss of the Volkswagen Group.

Photograph of the 2009 Mindset Six50

Günak co-founded a new auto company, Mindset and made the Six50, whose purpose is to buck the trend toward larger, heavier cars; its name comes from its weight, 650 kg (1430 lbs). For reference, my VW New Beetle weighs in at just under 3000 lbs, and even the tiny Smart Car weighs about 1600 lbs. Add to the Six50’s light weight the fact that it’s a hybrid, and we should be seeing some serious MPGs.

Rather, Europe should be seeing some serious MPGs. With the target price of €31,000 and the weak dollar, this car’s chances of making it to the States are approximately 0.000%. Check out the details at TreeHugger and scope a few more pics of this sweet-looking hybrid.

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