Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Sunday, 3 February 2002

# 3:30 PM


Last night's dream was the classic fear-of-falling nightmare, except for the trappings. I was in the elevator for the building I lived in my freshman year at college. I pushed the button for the eleventh floor, which is where my room was, but I missed and pushed the button for the thirty-first floor instead. The building, mind, only had fourteen stories plus an attic. But the elevator didn't care, it kept going up through the roof - stopping exactly sixteen stories above, hanging in mid-air from a giant construction crane and swinging wildly. Oh, and did I mention it turned into one of those old- fashioned one-person cage elevators at this point?

Usually at this point in a fear-of-falling nightmare you do fall, and then you wake up. This time, the phone in the elevator rang; I managed to answer it, and it was the construction crew whose crane it was, telling me that they were going to lower the elevator back down onto the roof. Which they did. They were all standing on the roof eating lunch. They gave me a sandwich and apologized for having left the thirty-first floor button in the elevator. I decided I'd take the stairs back down. Then I woke up.

Can't remember the last time I had a nightmare. I don't get them much. When I do, it usually means I'm sick.

urban density and the environment

The East Bay Express has a feature article this week on Richard Register, who is a controversial environmentalist architect. He's controversial because he advocates very high density cities. The idea is, if you take the same city and squeeze it into a smaller volume you can restore to nature all the area formerly covered by sprawl. Furthermore, high density enables profitable mass transit, which means the people living there don't need cars, which puts another dent in the environmental impact. He is a student of Paolo Soleri, who invented the arcology (bet you thought that was pure science fiction).

As an expat New Yorker I very much like this idea. It rubs a lot of people the wrong way though. I think this is because they haven't had the experience of living in an actual high-density city. They assume that all the unpleasant features of living in a car-centric city would be made worse by higher density (i.e. lack of parking, traffic jams, obnoxious neighbors, obscene rent) but don't realize that a phase transition occurs when floor-to-area ratios get high enough for mass transit to work.

# 5 AM

Yesterday, I shifted the last few items from Sumana's place, including the mattress, which had to be tied to the roof of my car. In the process I at last came to understand the difference between a reef knot and a granny knot. I bet you'll stare at the knots on that page for quite awhile before you see the difference.

Shweta compared my CS project to the Prime Radiant from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. It's a good analogy; the Radiant was a device for exploring a complex database (the Seldon Plan), getting all sorts of different overviews in varying levels of detail, stepping back or forward in time, etc. The only difficulty was, it was controlled by a direct brain ↔ computer interface. We don't have those yet (although people are working on it.)

(↔ is supposed to be a double-headed horizontal arrow. Maybe this one will work better: ↔)