The New York Museum of Modern Art has an interesting exhibit right now, Talk to Me, showing recent digital art. Stuff like Jason Rohrer's Passage, Aaron Cope's PrettyMaps, Eric Fisher's geovisualizations, Dwarf Fortress, Mike Migurski's Walking Papers, Nicholas Felton's Feltron reports, and Josh On's They Rule. You know, all those cool things you look at when the links go around the Internet. In a real museum, bonafide art.

Only if you're reading this blog post there's not much point in going to the actual exhibit. Because the links above (and the exhibit's site) are way more effective than seeing digital interactive art hanging dead on walls of a museum. I'm really glad that MoMA has this exhibit and Paolo Antonelli curated it very shrewdly. It's great to see this work taken seriously and shown to MoMA's audience. It's just a shame the art carries over so poorly in a museum.

Passage is staged as a screen stuck to the wall with a joystick. You can play it yourself! But Passage requires a few minutes reading to understand and a few more minutes to play and no one was engaging that way in the museum. At best someone would pick up the joystick, fiddle a few seconds, then put it down again and wander on. The Tentacles art looked great, but the interaction required taking your phone out, getting on the MoMA WiFi, installing a custom app, then trying to figure out how to operate it. I actually went through all that trouble only to find the interaction server wasn't working. The WiFi failed soon after. I felt really bad for MyBlockNYC, that exhibit had completely failed displaying an empty browser window with, I kid you not, Evony and Wizard 101 toolbars on it. One enterprising visitor later figured out how to bring up a weather website on the giant screen while other patrons raptly looked on at this exhibit of Art. (I resisted the urge to add 4chan to MoMA's exhibit, although it honestly belongs there.)

Interactive exhibit tech is hard and it's mean to pick on stuff that crashes. But then there's the projects that didn't exhibit well at all. Migurski's brilliant Walking Papers is reduced to some printouts and a paragraph of text, I fear no one looking got the point at all. And the Square exhibit is particularly baffling: a credit card dongle stuck to a wall on top of a crayon drawing of an iPhone. Really?

For a contrasting approach to digital exhibition, IBM did a nice job with the design of the Think exhibit at Lincoln Center. Beautiful giant LED display at human scale, you could walk right up to it. And an interactive video room that while a bit too Hypercardy for me was genuinely beautiful and engaging. The content itself wasn't so interesting, but the presentation was good.

I guess the real challenge here is how to collect and curate digital art with the imprimatur of a Legitimate Musuem. Video art and conceptual art have similar display challenges, it's hard to make them compelling in a gallery. I think it's a mistake to relocate online art to a museum; what works is art designed for the museum space. For the rest we need some other institution to help us curate and critique what's going on in the Internet.

PS: the most effective interactive art display may well have been the ad for donations.

  2011-10-26 15:12 Z
What strikes Ken and I most is how much better and how many more dining options there are in New York than San Francisco. In SF we like to think of ourselves as foodies, but it's pretty provincial compared to NY.

Les Halles (Financial District). Atavistic French brasserie. Very basic menu, great if you want steak frites and not so much otherwise. Reasonable preparation, nice room, surprisingly inexpensive. I wish I had a place like this in San Francisco.

Dos Toros (Village). A taqueria serving SF-style burritos, in New York! Considered the best burrito option among many SF expats. I thought it was good; honestly as good as most of the places in SF. Nice spicy sauce, good carnitas, good cheese. Too salty, and the staff of four rolled sloppy burritos in twice the time a single person in SF can do. But it was good.

reBar (DUMBO). Didn't eat, just drinks, but liked it. Comfortable place to meet after work, nice beer selection, cool art in the building.

Wolfgang's Steakhouse (Tribeca). Ken wanted a New York steakhouse, this was pretty great. Really amazing quality steak, both the filet and the ribeye, although the portions are comically oversized. Better quality of beef than Ruth's Chris, for what it's worth. Good salads, OK service, kind of noisy room.

Bar Boulud (UWS). Part of Daniel Boulud's empire, the Bar is a more casual cafe kind of place. Serious brunch menu, including very well made omelets (a lost skill in most of the US). Also a lovely charcuterie selection, many delicious meats. Great place for a smart lunch.

Chez Josephine (Hell's Kitchen). 11pm dinner after theater, French, with nice live piano music. And a wonderfully welcome very gay staff. The food was, frankly, mixed quality; both our entrees were fairly dull meat+sauce, but the salads were nice. Really enjoyed the room and the service, though, a nice post-theater meal.

Highpoint (Chelsea). We were in the mood for a boozy brunch in Chelsea, Highpoint was perfect. Great breakfast bar, terrific Bloody Marys and an interesting list of other cocktails. The eggs benedict were nice. The food is quite inexpensive, too, good value.

  2011-10-23 23:18 Z
My first few days in NY have had beautiful weather, so I've done a lot of walking through Manhattan's open spaces. Here's some notes and photos.

Roosevelt Island is this wacky bit of Manhattan borough, an island in the East River. There's not much out there, condos and hospitals. The reason to visit is the open space, nice long walks on both sides of the island and great views of the Upper East Side. Also grass, parks, even barbecue grills for anyone's enjoyment. It will be particularly nice to visit in 2013 when the southern park is fully open. It looks like they are preserving the creepy hospital ruins there as part of the park, a nice touch of gothic drama in an otherwise bucolic place. (Roosevelt Island is also a popular video game setting; several GTA4 missions start at that hospital.) The Tramway is strongly recommended; it's a short ride but the view as you go sailing into midtown between the buildings is terrific.

The High Line is New York's most famous new park, a nicely landscaped mile or two of abandoned railroad track. Having a park up above the city streets makes all the difference, a nice quiet remove. They also did a stunning job on the design with many great places to sit and watch other people. There's too damn many people, actually, and the linear park design makes it hard to get any space. So it's more of a people watching place than an open area.

  2011-10-20 22:37 Z
Thanks for all the comments and suggestions in response to my round 1 post. New Yorkers are opinionated about dining! Thanks in particular to Marc for a list of more casual options near my hotel. I'm really enjoying the density and diversity of restaurants in Manhattan. Haven't done much very fancy in the past few days, but we've got a list of ridiculous plans next week: Craft (again), 11 Madison, Del Posto, Daniel, Blue Hill Farm, Bouley, Mas Farmhouse, Le Bernardin. It's too much, honestly, may need to pare that back.

Shake Shack (Flatiron). World famous burgers for a reason. They are very delicious thanks mostly to the large amounts of fat and salt in the burger. Eat them quick; I imagine in 10 minutes they're disgusting. But on a nice day in Madison Park they're awesome.

Sushi Yasuda (Midtown). Very widely recommended. It was good, but nothing particularly exciting or unusual. Much like the nigiri you can get anywhere, just very high quality. I'm told sometimes you get unusual things like toro from 4 different parts of the world. We got some great toro but it was unidentified. Yasuda has moved back to Japan, I wonder if the current staff is simplifying?

Pegu Club (SoHo). A nice bar with serious cocktails. Great drink list, nice room, silly uncomfortable furniture. I'll go again but sit at the bar.

Emporio (Nolita). Italian picked at the last minute because Torrisi was awkward. Nice place, comfortable and quiet at lunch. The pasta was tasty but a bit overcooked.

Bar Pitti (Village). Another casual Italian, but very hectic. We had two courses and a bottle of wine and were out the door in 45 minutes, with crazy brusque service. But the boar pasta was just fantastic and it's a good place, if I lived here it'd be one of my neighborhood joints.

Egg (Williamsburg). Lovely American breakfast / lunch place. Really excellent pork sausage, good duck hash, tasty comfort food prepared well. Sticking with the Williamsburg theme, the hipster service was comically incompetent but charming and friendly.

Spitzer's (Lower East Side). Nice little corner bar with wide open windows on a good weather day. Plenty of beers on tap, also a good grilled cheese sandwich. The fries looked good. NY doesn't have nearly as many pub-type places as we have on the west coast, this one was nice.

  2011-10-20 22:21 Z
Ken and I are in New York for a couple of weeks. We are food tourists. Here's some notes on places we've eaten.

Craft (Flatiron). Our first and, so far, best meal in NY. Perfectly cooked bits of delicious meat. My short ribs were excellent, as was my ballotine of suckling pig, a sort of charcuterie. All very simple, but also very solid. Good service, nice room. I may go back.

Le Gigot (West Village). A solid little French restaurant, of the sort you can find everywhere in Paris and almost nowhere in San Francisco. Nice salad, slightly odd cassoulet. The meats were all cooked perfectly but the broth was a bit weird, too dark and tasting of Kitchen Bouquet. Still, I liked the place.

Thalassa (Tribeca). Somewhat upscale Greek. It was OK, but not great. Very simple and spare cooking, which is appropriate: grilled fish with a bit of olive oil, grilled shrimp with a bit of olive oil. Interesting fish, good quality, but neither were cooked quite right. Execution is everything in this kind of place and it fell just a bit short.

Mercer Kitchen (SoHo). I have a fond spot in my heart for this American classic restaurant, one of the best cocktails I've ever had was a French 75 here some 10 years ago. Sunday brunch was uninteresting. Too crowded, boring menu, indifferent hamburgers (!) and omelettes. Resting on a reputation.

Soho Sushi (SoHo). Delivery sushi at a friend's. Pretty good, really, but with delivery it's hard to be sure what you're really getting. Some of the rolls were ill advised.

Pigalle (Times Square). A solid little French brasserie, of the sort you find everywhere in Paris but almost nowhere in San Francisco. Not quite as solid as Le Gigot. I've been three times now and it's reliable, spacious, and the cooking is adequate. Lunch was uninspired.

John's Pizzeria (West Village). Glad I got the NY pizza out of the way. Entirely adequate, uninteresting, I can get as good a pizza in San Francisco only delivered to my house with my wine and my television. (Or in Zürich, or in Paris, or.. pizza is a commodity.) The best thing about John's is it's near Grom; save room for gelato.

Where I really want to dine are 11 Madison, Le Bernardin, and Per Se. Sadly they are all very hot tables and three weeks was not advanced enough booking.

  2011-10-18 01:15 Z
All of my bash shell scripts start like
set -eu
Why? Safety. -e means bash will exit if any of the commands it runs returns an unhandled error. -u means unset environment variables are errors. It's a little safety net for shell scripting.
  2011-10-11 21:19 Z
The iPad is a very useful gadget in the cockpit. This guide to iPad hardware and software is for pilots who know more about flying than computers and are looking to add an iPad to their general aviation toolkit. Most of these notes apply to the iPhone too. I will update this blog post periodically as things change. You may also find ForeFlight's iPad Proficiency for Pilots useful.

What does the iPad do? The iPad is a computer with a revolutionary new user interface. It's ideally situated for the cockpit: easy to use one handed, even balanced on your knee. There's a variety of excellent aviation software for the iPad. It's also a nice companion for Internet while travelling and for entertaining passengers.

Electronic Flight Bag plus more. The key aviation software I use is ForeFlight. It contains most everything you need for flight planning in the US: VFR and IFR charts, NACO terminal procedures, flight planning, official weather briefings via DUATS, supplementary weather (radar, METARs, etc), flight plan filing, A/FD, even fuel prices at airports. See their demo video for more. ForeFlight is very complete: I planned and flew an 8 day trip from California to Florida and back entirely using ForeFlight. ForeFlight costs $75 / year for full chart updates for the entire US. An extra $75 for a pro subscription gets you georeferenced approach plates so you can see your actual position via GPS. There are alternatives to ForeFlight with some different strengths: WingX is the best known.

Other aviation software. Pilot Wizz and E6BPro are both good calculator/converter apps; Pilot Wizz has a great weight and balance screen. Mr. Sun is a handy little sunset calculator. SkyCharts is a simple alternative for chart display with good enroute display. Jeppesen Mobile TC lets you use Jepp charts, but the app is very limited. OffMaps v1 is a good way to cache street maps for viewing while airborne. MotionX is a nice app for recording GPS tracks to look at your flight later on Google Maps. X-Plane is a fun simulator. I also use a bunch of web pages regularly when planning flights: Fly2Lunch, 100LL, etc.

iPad hardware. You have two choices when buying an iPad: how much storage and whether to get 3G. ForeFlight itself takes 6GB for full charts. Double that for updates and a 16GB model is barely sufficient. I suggest buying at least 32GB, more if you want to bring video and music along. 3G is a toss-up. If you get the WiFi only model then it will have no builtin GPS, but see below about external GPS. I like the 3G because it gives you the chance of having Internet access in the middle of nowhere if there's no WiFi. Verizon vs. AT&T is a push, but the AT&T model will work better in Europe. (The original iPad 1 isn't missing anything essential, although the extra CPU speed on the iPad 2 is nice. If money is tight, consider a used iPad 1).

GPS. The iPad with 3G has an assisted GPS receiver built in. In my experience it's not useful in the air; some pilots say it works for them but it doesn't work reliably for me. For about $100 you can buy an external GPS. I have a Bad Elf GPS (Amazon) and its performance is excellent, even when the antenna is sitting in the back seat. I've also heard good things about the GNS 5870 (Amazon) and XGPS150 (Amazon) as wireless options. Note that GPS is not necessary to get a lot of value out of the iPad. But if you want a backup GPS in the cockpit or you want to display your position on charts for situational awareness, get an external GPS.

Things to avoid. If the iPad overheats it shuts down, a potential crisis if you're flying an approach. Keeping it out of the sun seems to be sufficient although it's worth noting Apple says the iPad only operates to 10,000'. The iPad2 has magnets in the tablet itself and in the case that can swing your magnetic compass from at least 10" away, possibly including when sitting on your glareshield. Do not use the iPad as a substitute for an IFR GPS or for any other required equipment. It is neither accurate nor reliable enough to trust your life to it. That goes double for the apps that emulate an attitude indicator. And of course don't get distracted: if something goes wrong put the toy down and fly the plane.

Accessories. People seem to like this clip for knee mounting, also this aluminum case. The iPad battery is rated for 10 hours, so charging in flight may not be necessary. Cigarette lighter chargers work well. Remember that planes are often 28V and the iPad wants to draw 10W. The iPad fits very nicely inside the best flight bag in the world.

Alternates: iPhones, Android. For most purposes the iPhone works identically to the iPad; ForeFlight is great on the iPhone too. The big difference is screen size: the phone is too small for plates and working with charts takes a lot of squinting. For alternate tablets I'm hopeful that Android will catch on and offer some competition for Apple, but so far the iPad stands alone. Android requires totally different software; ForeFlight does not have an Android version, but WingX does.

Conclusion. The iPad is great for pilots and can replace most of the flight planning you currently do with paper charts and computers. There's a lot of options: my bottom line recommendation is a 32GB + 3G iPad ($730) with ForeFlight ($75/year). If you want a GPS backup, spend $100 on a Bad Elf GPS.

Last update October 11 2011
Feedback and updates welcome: email me at
  2011-10-11 18:26 Z
Ken and I are headed to New York for the second half of October. No particular reason, just to hang out and see friends and eat well and maybe see a show or two. If you're in New York or on your way through, drop me a note and we'll get together! Recommendations for restaurants and things to do are also welcome. We'll be staying down in SoHo.
  2011-10-10 18:39 Z
I was playing around with the FADDS aviation database and came up with a report that shows the top 1000 airports in the US as ordered by number of general aviation operations a day. The FAA source data is not entirely accurate but gives a general idea of activity.

No huge surprises: the biggest GA airports are near LA, Phoenix, Daytona Beach, and Minneapolis. A lot of these ops are probably training related; every single touch-and-go practice landing gets logged. I was surprised my little home airport of San Carlos is #71 at 350 ops / day. I have a hard time believing that number is really correct, that's roughly 30 ops / hour of daylight.

  2011-10-09 18:42 Z
Ken and I ate well on our trip up to Vancouver, BC and back. Some notes on where we went.

In Vancouver, on the fine dining end we were impressed by West which is still excellent despite the changes over the years. The most inventive cooking we had was at L'Abattoir, really precise and interesting food in a trendy, slightly too noisy room. For more old school we enjoyed dinner at Hy's Encore, classic steakhouse with terrific service and very good food. Also enjoyed a more casual lunch at Joe Fortes, seafood in a businessman's bar and grill setting. The awkward middle ground was Le Crocodile, the service and room were not up to the promise (and expense) of the classic French menu. Not that we suffered, mind you, and the wine list is excellent. Regrettably we didn't get to Vij's despite many strong recommendations.

Portland treated us well on two quick overnights. Jake's Famous Crawfish was great; it can be hit or miss but we had a hit that night with fantastic crab claw dish with mushrooms and artichokes. And an interesting evening at the Gilt Club, a sort of hipster late night restaurant / bar. The menu was a bit odd but the cocktail selection was fantastic. I had the BLT, "House Roma tomato vodka, basil & lemon olive oil and fresh lemon - up with bacon salt." It was amazing.

Thanks to Tim and Stewart for suggestions
  2011-10-08 21:06 Z
Ken and I flew ourselves up to Vancouver for his birthday last week. It was our first international flight in at least ten years, with all the new US security stuff, and frankly it seemed so complicated I suggested we just land in Bellingham and drive across the border. But we figured out all the paperwork and it wasn't so hard after all. There's a variety of detailed guides for flying to Canada (I like AOPA's), here's the gist.

Weeks before the flight we got the plane documented for international flight. Proof of insurance, a radio operator permit for the pilot, a radio station license for the plane ($160), a customs decal ($30). Plus the usual plane documents for any flight. Nothing difficult but it requires a couple hours figuring out government web sites, then possibly weeks before the documents are shipped (ours came in a week). No one ever asked to see anything but the customs decal.

The Canadian border is pretty easy. When you arrive, they want a phone call 2 – 48 hours before the flight saying when you're coming. Then on the ground you call again from the customs box. In theory they may come inspect you and your documents, but for us they just gave us an arrival number over the phone. There's no specific border requirement when leaving.

The US border is more complicated. The big requirement is filing a passenger manifest with eAPIS for both your departure and your arrival. The web site is awkward (and broken in Chrome), so expect to spend some time. Fortunately you can file days in advance. The eAPIS filing gives you permission to leave the country via email; I also called the local customs office and they seemed confused that I was asking them. You do need to notify customs at your arrival airport 1 – 24 hours before you come back in, mostly so there's someone there to meet you. We arrived right on time and were done in 10 minutes at the plane: radioactivity check (!), passport check, customs decal check. Pretty easy.

Flights across the border need to be on a flight plan, both for the US and the Canadians. We went IFR so that was natural; if you go VFR you need a flight plan with a specific squawk code. Canada does charge for ATC services, apparently the bill is in the mail.

  2011-10-08 15:35 Z
I went to FOSS4G this year, the primary conference for open source map hackers. I've been playing with geographic software for awhile but have little expertise in the area, so this was a fun and quick way to get up to speed. It was a good conference, well worth my time, here are some notes.

My primary takeaway from the conference is there are a lot of options for open source geo and it's still difficult to know which to use. So many choices. For now I'm keeping my head down and learning GDAL, PostGIS, Mapnik, Tilestache, and Polymaps. PostGIS is the big one, a set of spatial extensions to the Postgres database. The book PostGIS in Action is a big help. Also one small takeaway: a whole lot of people are using Node.js for real stuff, not just the fashionable web kids in the Mission.

I met or heard some very impressive people and companies. Development Seed is building a lot of great mapmaking software, including the TileMill tool I played with recently. Stewart Long of Public Laboratory is doing inspirational work with citizen aerial mapping. Vizzuality got a lot of buzz as a Spanish company doing beautiful map design. Michael Byrne gave an exciting talk about the work he's doing inside FCC to make data available. And Brian Timoney gave a strong talk on how far government agencies have to go in publishing data effectively.

The rest of this post is a link dump of some of the people and things I saw at the conference. I'm no "curator," just a typist, sorry for the lack of organization.

More inside ...

  2011-10-01 00:39 Z