Archive for the 'play' Category

Judging the 2006 Rolex Awards

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

I’ve had the huge privilege over the past two days to be on the panel helping select this year’s Rolex Awards for Enterprise.

It’s inspiring to see the diversity of amazing projects that were shortlisted – on the one hand that made the debate all the more difficult, on the other hand I felt that each project had much to recommend itself. You’ll have to wait till October to find out the winners! Anyhow, for the record, it’s fantastic to see individuals with courage and vision getting the chance to pursue their dreams with the support of an award like that. If you know someone – anyone – doing original and visionary things with whatever time and resources they have to hand in the fields of exploration, heritage, the environment… urge them to apply for the next round.

Perhaps the best bit for me was the panel itself. Most often when I have the pleasure of meeting someone I really admire the meeting is necessarily short – we’ve both got to run to the next meeting, and the next time we’re likely to be able to coordinate a meeting in person is months away. Here we had long, intense discussions about the projects, which become a proxy for the challenges facing the world at large. And so you really get to see what people think are important, and why. A great two days. Tomorrow, I’m off to San Fran for the MySQL user conference, then NYC for the weekend and on home to London to get ready for The Drake.

Riser helmet mods

Friday, January 13th, 2006

For the snowboarder in all of us, I’ve been working on the ultimate ski/snowboard personal voice communications system.

The idea is to get hifi music, handsfree cellphone conversations, and walkie-talkie radio access all neatly integrated. I would like to be able to go boarding, listening to my music, and receive a call without fumbling for the phone (of course, the phone is optional for those days when silence is golden). Then I would like to be able to talk to my buddies on the other side of the valley without reaching into a pocket for the walkie-talkie.

I looked around on the net and found a partial solution: The Giro Fuse helmets with what they call “TuneUps”. This fits my standard Fuse helmet and does allow for music and a walkie-talkie OR cellphone, but won’t handle all three at the same time. Also, it has one of those tiny little microphones-on-the-string that will produce verage sound and be a pain to activate in thick gloves. I need something a little more industrial. Maybe not throat-mic industrial, but something tougher definitely.

A little more research took me into the motorcycle world, I thought perhaps something like this might exist for bikers. And that led me to the StarCom1, a cool little device that does almost exactly what I need. It supports two headsets (one for the driver and one for a passenger) which is a bit of a waste in my case, but everything else is perfect.

Placing the order was a little confusing. Their site could be better laid out in terms of the kits and the options. But the company was really responsive and both sets arrived promptly. We need to do some custom installation magic, fitting this gear to skiing helmets rather than the usual biking kit for which it is designed, and we will need to setup a special box for the comms unit, the battery pack (I still don’t know how I’m going to create a 12V battery).

This evening Marianne and I got the first part of it done. We had to slice open the neck and ear padding on the helmet. The microphone is on a flexible boom, so the tricky part was figuring how to attach that to something that is basically made of sponge. I was going to try to superglue a piece of rigid plastic to the frame of the ear padding, but Marianne suggested just stitching the boom straight to the fabric. That seemed to work fine. The earpieces fit in nicely, and I glued the PTT (“push-to-talk”) button to the outside of the right ear cover. Doh, I glued in the place where the chinstrap comes down from the helmet, but it’s fine and the helmet fits snugly.

So now we have one modded helmet with the microphone and speakers in place and two cables hanging out the back. So far, I’ve tested the cellphone connection and music interface and it works perfectly. The walkie-talkie isn’t, yet, perhaps there’s some incompatibility between the cable and the radio. Will look into that next week.

The big issue right now is power. The device needs a 12V supply. I have the connector cable, I just don’t have anything to connect it to. On a bike, there would be a 12V supply handy, but I guess I will need to make up some sort of battery pack. Anybody know how to do that? Where can I get a battery pack into which I can plug 4 normal 1.5V batteries in series to make up 12V, and get a simple cable out? Any and all suggestions welcome.

Shamans dance

Thursday, August 4th, 2005

Sunrise and the music beckons, thunder in the mist with horns of heaven blaring across a sleepy valley. We arrive at the farm and walk through orange groves to find a cacophony of trance devotees, each disconnected but somehow acting as one frenzied crowd, dancing under a pale blue dawn.

The music reminds me of John Hine’s wife’s description: units of monotony. But there’s something infectious, something vital and energising about the disharmony. We’re swept up in the crowd and find ourselves becoming part of the greater animal. The dust of the dancing makes patters of light stand out as te sun starts to filter through the trees. I can feel other thoughts slipping away as the shaman’s trance sets in, a general unwinding of everything Launchpad in favour of the primal focal points of movement, sex and rhythm.
I don’t know how long we stay in the mix, hours perhaps, but at some stage the spell is broken and I find myself drifting away from the jangle, looking for something different. Exploring the rest of the farm is surreal, with the thump of the music reaching out into farmish places full of farmish animals that seem utterly unmoved by the dancing imperative. Cows chew, donkeys wander. I find a bamboo thicket that seems otherwordly, an ancient copse of thought groaning slightly in the breezy, a grinding bark-on-bark sound that seems timelessly patient, bamboo copses have been groaning forever. There’s a tangerine tree that’s growing accidentally in the midst of it all and I carry the scent of it’s fruit back with me to the crowd.

As we gather forces to move on from the party, we find a clump of sugar cane and take one section with us to the car – it makes a delicious diversion as we head to the waterfall for the afternoon.