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January 26, 2012 — 0219

That iPod drawing sure gets around

Sure, my work may be based around intellectual property, and technically these people are violating my copyright, but at this point I’m quite happy.





Recognize the technical illustration of an exploded iPod on those pages? I sure did.

Every so often I’ll Google myself and go through the first ten or fifteen pages of results to evaluate my online presence. I really recommend you all do this too, because of course the first thing people will do when they want to find out about you is head to Google. It’s good to know just what a prospective employer or colleague’s first impression of you is going to be.  Having a unique name definitely helps keep a clean online image; of the first fifty results for “Silvan Linn”, forty-eight are actually about me. Most of the stuff is relevant and positive, though I’ve had some success getting inane things I posted in high school under my real name removed. There are still a few dumb comments here and there in the results list, but luckily they’re quite buried. :P

So this time, I reach the seventh page and notice a result mentioning “iPod technical illustration”. The URL wasn’t a site I owned…what was this about? I click on it and find the first result you see up above. Fascinating — it’s still going.

That drawing started out as a project in High School technical illustration class. It was a pretty open-ended class, and I was free to practice illustration by picking stuff out of the parts bin and drawing it. The parts bin was mostly old lawnmower parts and the like, and I wanted something more complicated, so I decided to take apart my then-brand-new iPod and create an exploded view. At some point after finishing the drawing, I was proud enough of it to post it on SpyMac.com, which was an Apple rumor site back in the early 2000s. The user galleries there were mostly full of Photoshop renderings of potential Apple products; it would be great to see their archives again now that we know what Apple’s become. I remember, for instance, an “iPhone” concept that was a fat, oblong iPod with a capacitative rotary dial pad where the touch-wheel would be.

The drawing sat on SpyMac for a while. I’d forgotten that it was ever posted there until I got an email from this guy Leander Kahney, who said he was writing a book about the iPod and the culture surrounding it. He wanted to include the illustration; I said absolutely yes. It was pretty awesome to go into Chapters and see my illustration as a spread right across the middle of the book. A few months after the book was published, I got a call from the producer of a Discovery Channel show about “products that changed the world”; they wanted to use the image in that, too. I said yes again. And now I’m finding that it’s still alive on the Internet, appearing on blogs about the iPod and Steve Jobs’ legacy. That drawing sure has legs…I’m proud to be the author of what I suppose is the definitive iPod exploded view.

The drawing also got me a phone call from Jonathan Ive, which was one of the most awesome experiences imaginable for a nerdy high school Apple nut who wanted to go into industrial design…but I think I’ll leave that story at that.

January 20, 2012 — 1821

New site up!

I’ve decided to officially bring my new site online! Much better than the old one, of course! In addition to the portfolio, I’ve added a better Research page and a new “Experiments” section for stuff that I’m working on but isn’t quite finished yet. I’ve integrated the blog into the main site so that everything is accessible from one place. The underlying content management system is WordPress, but the front-facing HTML and CSS is all hand-coded.

There are a few things that I’m still working on, but they don’t affect the stability of the main site:

1) Build a new photo browser. That section is temporarily out of order until I can work out something that I like well enough, but I think I have an idea; check back soon.
2) Write about the projects I’m working on that I haven’t bothered to document yet, and put them in the Experiments section.
3) Collect some of the posts from my previous site and flesh them out a bit. I wasn’t big on making updates on the previous site, particularly while I was working on my thesis, because it was a real pain to write long documents directly into nano…it’s just not a good page-layout program :P . So I may go back and, uh, retcon some of those two-line updates to be a little more descriptive, then stick them in the archives here where they belong.

So welcome!


[edit] Well, no transition ever goes quite smoothly. I thought I’d accounted for everything but moving the site from the test system to the live server broke all the image links. They should be fixed by now, though.

[edit 2] Aaand I’ve modified the portfolio index page so that it works properly on Internet Explorer. If you’ve got any experience writing HTML, you’ll certainly have come across some of IE’s, ahem, “quirks” — pieces of code that work perfectly in every other browser on the planet but fall apart if you load them in Internet Explorer. Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out this isn’t the result of poor coding on Microsoft’s part; IE actually follows the official HTML standards more accurately than any other browser. But this means that if you make little hacky workarounds in your code that don’t quite follow the best practices, the more easygoing browsers will render it “the way you probably meant”, while IE just falls apart. I admit it keeps you from being lazy, but man is it frustrating to have to go back and rewrite chunks of your code just to appease a browser that you don’t even use :P

January 19, 2012 — 2319

Lead and Gold Soundtrack

For a while I’ve had this video game called “Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West”, a multiplayer third-person shooter set in the Old West. It’s got quite a pretty aesthetic — clean and slightly stylized, effectively conveying the mood of western scenery without being overly specific or photorealistic. I’ve always loved the look of the west, and this is a nice artistic interpretation.

I haven’t played the game in a while, but something that I do keep coming back to is the music. The composer has done a bang-up job of creating a score that I think is getting up there with Ennio Morricone. It’s not particularly bombastic like some of the Hollywood westerns, but it still captures the western appeal perfectly. Sometimes it’s triumphant, sometimes mournful, sometimes jaunty, but always seems to fit with the awesome (in the classical sense) landscapes and the self-reliant attitude of the settlers.

Yeah, I know that a lot of the appealing facets of the Old West have been more recently fabricated out of some sort of romantic nostalgia. The real West is probably closer to what you see in Unforgiven — cold, harsh and brutal. But who cares? Fun is fun, and this particular concept of the West has resulted in fun music.

The game development team is Swedish, so it seems kind of odd that they’d hit the mark of this very American topic so well, but I’m not complaining. I’m just listening to the soundtrack on repeat.

Main Theme
Devil’s Pit
Jacob’s Bridge
Prospector’s Peak
The Fort

Check it out.

November 12, 2011 — 1922

Driving Lights

I recently finished installing some new lights on my car.

Long story short: In order to register a car less than 15 years old in Canada, it needs to have daytime running lights. American cars usually don’t have them, and my Ohio-Arizona car was no exception. I had to officially import my car from the USA in order to keep valid insurance while I’m up here, so I needed to install DRLs.

I tried a couple of different strategies. The legal requirement is that when the car’s ignition is in the RUN position, a set of approved daytime running lights must be on. The statute has some fairly draconian rules about what is acceptable and what isn’t, and the specific details of how much light output you need etc. change according to how you produce the light. You can turn on your low beams at full power, or your high beams at 40% power, or your turn signals all the time, but they must go out when the headlights are on and in that case they have to be specially qualified lenses…and so on and so on.

So I tried a few different techniques.

Attempt #1: the Ford ZX2 is available in Canada with daytime running lights of the “low beams on all the time” variety, and in the fuse box there’s an empty socket labeled (DRL). Could it be as simple as installing a fuse there? Plug one in and no, of course, it couldn’t be that simple. No dice.

Attempt #2: Maybe there’s an additional module needed to control the DRL systems. That makes sense, since legally the running lights are required to turn off when you have the headlights on. They wouldn’t install this extra module in a car that didn’t have DRLs, because it would be a waste of money. So maybe I can find one of those at a junkyard and snap it right in? Internet searches suggested that there might be a module that fit in the passenger wheel well, but I couldn’t find a clear answer either way so off to the library for the Escort (1996-2002) service manual. I spent a while looking at wiring diagrams. Eventually I concluded that it wasn’t just one module — it was a couple of relays that needed to be installed in different locations, and possibly a different wiring harness for the headlights. I’m certainly not going to rip out the whole harness for something that I can do in a much simpler way, namely:

Attempt #3: Splice a relay directly to the headlights and connect it to something that has power when the ignition is on, like the thermostat or the stereo. I bought a good high-current relay and screwed it behind the left strut tower, and started stripping the wires going into the left headlight. Connected the relay to the headlight and to power, touched the relay trigger to the battery terminal, and….

…the left headlight came on. Not the right. Are you kidding, Ford? You made two separate circuits for two lamps that will never, ever need to be operated separately? What could possibly be the reason for this? You made so many good decisions in this car, too…I love my non-interference engine and those unexpectedly comfortable seats. Why would you do this to the headlights?

Oh well. That means that I have two choices: go back and start stripping the wiring harness much further up the chain, where it’s an inch-thick bundle that I REALLY don’t want to mess with; or make a second splice into the right headlight and run some wires across the engine bay to power it. But why would they be on two separate circuits? Are they fused separately, or something? Maybe there IS a reason the two lamps are on different circuits, and I’d be making a big mistake by connecting them together. Probably should avoid blowing up my ECU.

So…what else can I do? Well, there is one other option…

Attempt #4: Put a whole new set of lights on! I went to Canadian Tire and asked them whether a set of driving lights would qualify as DRLs, provided that I installed them within the right parameters (40-130cm above the ground, as far apart as possible, visible from certain specific angles) and aimed them properly. They said “basically, as long as there’s light on the front of the car when the ignition is on, it counts.” Awesome! So I picked up a set of 3″ driving lights.

Finally, something that’s likely to work. I installed the lights behind the grille, peeking out. I powered them up and measured the light throw with a protractor — they fit within the government requirements. From there it was easy to hook them to the relay I’d already installed for the headlights, and aside from a minor headache trying to get the relay trigger through the firewall’s rubber cable boot (pro tip: tape the wire to a barbecue skewer and use it like a giant needle) it was straightforward to get the lamps going. Find something in the fusebox that’s live when in RUN and dead at other times, splice into that, and ta-da, new DRLs! Full compliance with Canadian MVSS regulations, and I hooked it up so that they go off with the low beams but come on again in parallel with the high beams for maximum illumination. Oh, and when they’re off, it makes the car look like it has little fangs. Cute.

Fun fact: I don’t actually know what I connected the relay to. I just measured things with my multimeter until I found one set of contacts that worked the way I wanted them to. I think it might be the positive line to the fuel pump but without going back to get the wiring diagrams I can’t be sure.

So with that, and the other various things I had to do to get the car registered up here…I now have a completely legal Canadian car that also still has its US federal compliance sticker. Hallelujah! I can bring it back and forth across the border and register it in either country with minimal hassle, wherever I end up going. It’s a dual citizen, just like me.