Blogma Week 2


Intro to Physical Computing
Fall, 2003
Jeff Feddersen

Week 2

Meat Resistor

When I was a kid, Mr. Wizard was on Nickelodeon and he cooked a hotdog with some apparatus that basically electrocuted it.

I simplified his design by taking the power cord from an old lamp, and sticking the wire ends into either end of a hot dog.

I plugged in the cord and pretty soon the hot dog started sizzling and spitting and cooked pretty quickly.

In fact, I had to run over and yank the cord from the wall when the plastic insulation started to smoke.

It tasted okay (the hot dog, not the insulation), like a microwaved one.

Hot dogs have a lot of salt and water, and salt water is one type of electrolyte, meaning a liquid conductor, I guess.
But all the animal proteins in there aren’t good conductors, they are resistors of sorts, meaning when electrons pass through them they create heat instead of just coasting through.

Canal Street is the place, the palace, even.

Kat said that at 269 Canal is some guy with a whole lot of stuff in the back.

Just walk up to him and say, “Hey man, how ’bout hookin me up with a little som’n som’n?”

Trust me, he’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

No, seriously, I talked to him and it sounds like he deals with lots of students doing projects, so he should be able to tell you which resistor goes with which capacitor. Just remember not to mix plaid with stripes.

Still to do:

  • Pick up readings
  • Signup for cleanup time
  • Take safety class
  • Complete this week’s project
  • Buy books

(hmm, that’s everything that was on the list last week)

I read The Design of Everyday Things back in college for a class, but I don’t have it on my shelf. I should get it.

Jeff has a thing at the Brooklyn Museum of Art with Clara Williams involving robotic marionettes.

I don’t see anything on the site about it. Maybe I got the name wrong.

There’s a guy from Honeybee Robotics speaking tonight at 6:30 in the Japanese Room.
I almost had a gig at Honeybee last year, but the grant from Nasa didn’t materialize.

I would have just been rebuilding their Web site, not making robots, but it still would have been cool.

Check out their facility if you can. It’s weird to see such an industrial-looking shop floor in the Lower East Side.

Their current projects include the rock-core sampler on the current Mars mission, and some other Mars stuff, and some kind of robot that would build communications satellites in orbit instead of having to deliver them via rocket. Pretty freaking cool.

I took some photos on the cheapest piece of crap digital camera I’ve ever seen.

But for $40 it’s amazing that it does anything.

My answering machine was in bad shape; the messages were almost unintelligible.
I cleaned the tape head, but that didn’t help, so I bought a new digital answering machine and sacrificed the old tape one for Science and Truth.

When I opened it I found lots of dust embedded in the switches and especially the ‘lateral potentiometer’ used for the volume control.
Maybe that was the problem.

It has quite a lot of good bits on it that I might be able to salvage: switches, speaker, microphone, motor, lots of diodes and triodes and I think I saw few quadrodes – not really.

The bread board fits quite well in the answering machine case, so I guess I’ll use that for my housing. The case already has holes for switches and cables to go through.

I had been keeping my keyboard from 1989 for mostly sentimental reasons, since it doesn’t play well now and fixing it would cost more than buying a new one that’s ten times more sophiticated.

So it too is being sacrificed for Science and Truth.
It has some mondo speakers.
I had been keeping it behind my computer monitor, which kept showing weird colors whenever I moved the keyboard.
I guess the monitor uses magnets to align the display of the cathode ray tube, and the speaker magnets messed them up.

Onward and upward. And sideways.

I read a joke on Slashdot:

If it doesn’t move, but it should, use WD-40.

If it moves but shouldn’t, use duct tape.

I soldered the power connecter thing. But discovered my housing didn’t have the right-sized hole to stick the connector through.

Fortunately, soldering irons are good at making holes in plastic. (The blurry area in the center). Watch those fumes, though, phew!

Anyone else notice that fingernail clippers make decent wire strippers? Just don’t clip too hard. You have to feel the difference in resistance between the insulation and the metal.

Actually, plain old fingernails seem to work okay too.


It looks like everything is working. The LED is illuminated and none of the parts are smoldering or even warm.

“Indescribable joy”? Well, I guess that describes it pretty well.

You can even see the LED when the cover is back on. (I swear this picture isn’t from before I took the answering machine apart.)

Next, the
switch. Stay tuned.

Napalm Adhesive

The problem now is how to affix the switch in the case so that it doesn’t move when the switch is flipped. Even a little give could mean broken solder points.

I want to attach metal to plastic. Glue doesn’t work, solder doesn’t work. Melting the plastic a little doesn’t work. And there isn’t room to use screws.

My solution: get some nail polish remover (acetone, or kersosene or gasoline will do) put a little in a glass bowl or jar.

Get a styrofoam (polystyrene) egg carton, or coffe cup, break it into little pieces and watch it dissolve.

Mix it all up and you’ll have a napalm-like substance. Add more acetone or polystyrene until you have a jelly-like texture.
This is extremely flamable, but also is good for molding plastic, since once the acetone evaporates, you’re left with a hard, brittle plastic.
It’s still styrofoam, just without the foam, since the air is gone.

I used this to mold a shell around the switch, binding it to the case. We’ll see if it works. I’ll leave it for a few hours to dry.

Ugh. In the future, I’ll make sure to use a toggle switch, one that flips. My switch slides back and forth, and it requires a much stronger adhesion to the case.

Step 2 of this week’s assignment is to wire some LEDs in series to see the effects.
The picture doesn’t really show it, but they all get dimmer every time another one is added (a metephor for bureaucracy?)

While placing them all in parallel leaves them all shining bright. In fact one was getting kind of hot, maybe too much of a load.
I notice some LEDs shine in different colors, depending on how much juice there is. That’s cool.

Step three is to add a variable resistor. Okay. Step four is to build a ‘combination lock, a puzzle, a trip switch’.
What?!?! I think I’ll need some more hand-holding before I attempt that.

So put in a second potentiometer (the former volume control of my answering machine) – it’s nice because the leads go right into the breadboard.

The first pot is an audio taper so the dimming from one LED to the other isn’t linear, and the first one never goes completely off.

I guess this now qualifies as an absolute minimum combination lock – imagine a lock with two dials, each of which has only two numbers: zero and one.

pot a position |pot b position |circuit

It works, although I wouldn’t use it to lock up my bike.

From talking to the other students, it sounds like most are still working on getting their first LED to light (and it’s Thursday evening already).
So I guess I’m ahead of the game.

Oh, and you can use a candle to melt off insulation instead of using strippers. The plastic burns off and leaves the metal behind.

Matt Slaybaugh

ms171 at


Blogma Week 1

Intro to Physical Computing
Fall, 2003
Jeff Feddersen

Week 1

Why did I add these images on the right?

Was it just to collect the Amazon affiliate fees?


Monkey vs. Robot is THE metaphor for ITP.

The Monkey represents all that is animal about us – our emotions, intuitions, desires.

The Robot represents all that is intellectual about us – our ability to be analytical, calculating, clinical.

And now they’re fighting!

Solarbotics is a good site from where to order parts.

One 0.47uF Monolithic Capacitor is just 25¢

No way?

Yes way.

Do you know BEAM? It is an idea and an organization started by Mark Tilden, advocating the idea of autonomous robots.

BEAM stands for:

Biology Electronics Aesthetics Mechanics

Building Evolution Anarchy Modularity

Biotechnology Ethnology Analogy Morphology

Why, here is their site to visit.

Apparently, a “Henry” is a unit of inductance.

I bet he didn’t know that.

Make sure to tell him when you see him next.

I have been called various things, but never, “a unit of inductance.”


Where to put this page?
NYU servers are slow.
I’ll use my own site.
Which domain to use?
Matchstick? Skeptictank?
Not all are worthy.
From Radio Shack:
Text, “Basic Electronics”
Tandy wins again.
I checked the parts list.
Regulators are missing.
Capacitors, too
Zaftig? What is that?
No links? Text in Japanese?
Mistake? Or true art?
Feddersen seems cool.
(Not like some I could mention)
– No, that’s just a joke.

Here is my new 5-minute site.

Is it not beautiful?

Do you not feel ugly just to be near it?

Matt Slaybaugh

ms171 at

Making Projects

Blogma Week7


Intro to Physical Computing
Fall, 2003
Jeff Feddersen

Week 7

Common Ground!

My home phone number is, apparently, one digit different from the front desk of Screw magazine.

I get some bizzare wrong numbers.

I was temporarily without my bread board, so I did some soldering and hooked up the servo directly to a 5V DC power supply, with red to + and black to -.

The yellow control/signal end was free, and I noticed that every time it came into contact with my skin, the motor rotated counter-clockwise.
Touching the control wire to power or ground had no effect.

Another general electronics-y site: with guides on how DC power works, etc.

And here’s one all about building analog music synthesizer components.

This one’s even better.

And this one has great, thorough explanations and tutorials of things such as ‘Darlington Pair Speed Control‘: Electronics in Meccano.

And here’s another good site in the same vein.

Tested servo with sample script online – works just as promised.

It makes a funny sound.

I love the little guy.

In college I took a midi class with David Borden, who had worked with Bob Moog (pronounced ‘mohg’) in Trumansburg, NY, just a few miles north of my home town.
He would tell stories about Wendy Carlos (back when she was Walter Carlos).
Borden was kind of a jerk, and his music wasn’t even very interesting.
When he couldn’t think of a melody, he would just take some random piece of sheet music (say, “Jingle Bells”), turn it upside-down, and play it that way, at Carnegie freaking Hall, no less.
I suppose that is an avant-garde technique of sorts, but it sounded terrible.
Still, the class was a lot of fun.

I try the second online script, but the servo just cycles between ‘start’ and ‘minimum’.
I add call putPin(26,0) and see the on-board led switch on and off with each cycle, which tells me the chip is shutting off every time the servo turns on.
It must be drawing too much power away from the chip.
This happened before. I forgot that I need a separate power supply.

I resoldered the connections on my power supply jack, which were kind of threadbare.
Making them nice and solid again seems to have improved my serial connectivity.

The popcorn song was a hit with everyone this week.
I realized that I’d heard that songs lots of times, but never really thought about where it was from.
In my mind, I always associated it with the Axel-F theme from ‘Beverly Hills Cop’.

Paraphrased from an interview with Kingsley:

The Popcorn song was composed by Gershon Kingsley in 1969, who, in addition to surviving the holocaust at age 15 and serving with the British military in Palestine, joined Moogby, the first Moog synthesizer quartet.
‘Popcorn’ was composed “in about two minutes” for the group, and has since become kind of an anthem for electronics musicians.
Kingsley said he uses Macs, and said he prefers Performer and Overture software.

Maybe I should switch back to macs.

The vanBasco’s Karaoke Player is the best midi player I’ve seen.
It’s free, and good for when you don’t have access to your midi keyboard.

I remove the wires connecting the right and left power bays, like Jeff showed in class, and put a 9V battery on the right side.
So now the chip doesn’t shut off, and the servo acts like it’s having a seizure.
The instructions say the minimum pulsewidth of 0.001 and maximum of 0.002, but the code uses 0.0003 and 0.0022.
I change the values to 0.001 and 0.002, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference, although the seizure looks slightly more erratic.

There’s a mnemonic device for resistor colors:

blackbrownredorangeyellowgreenbluepurple (violet)graywhite

(if engineers had invented the English language, we wouldn’t have three basic color names that begin with the letter ‘B’)

So some common resistors in the cabinet are:

  • red-red-brown (221) which = 22×101 or 220 ohms
  • red-red-red (222) which = 22×102 or 2200 (2.2K) ohms
  • red-red-orange (223) which = 22×103 or 22000 (22K) ohms

Now, if I manage to memorize these, would that make me a nerd? Practical knowledge like that somehow seems cooler than your typical nerd behavior.

So now I try 0.0001 and 0.003, but that doesn’t seem to matter either.
I change the sleep from 2.0 to 5.0 – no significant difference.
Change the ‘refreshperiod’ to 0.05, and the only difference is intermittent pauses.
And the servo is getting kind of warm.

How to read a capacitor (it sort of makes sense)
This one takes a stab, too, and one more

Basically, it works like the resistors: the first two of three digits are the number, the third digit is the multiplier, and the letter that follows is the tolerance.
Additional letter codes refer to operating temperature range, which, who knows, we may have some opportunities to test.

Lentils (Ceramic Disc)
18J | NPO (tan)= 18 x 100= 18pF= 0.018nF= 0.000018µF
56J | CO (brown)= 56 x 100= 56pF= 0.056µF= 0.000056µF
681J | KCK (orange)= 68 x 101= 680pF= 0.56µF= 0.00068µF
x | 473.k (green)= 47 x 103= 47000pF= 47nF= 0.047µF
473Z | Z5V (tan)= 47 x 103= 47000pF= 47nF= 0.047µF
10% 3KV | D 180 | N 1500 (yellow)I have no idea. It’s much larger than all the others, but neither 1500 pF or 1500 nF seem right.
Maybe 180nF? (0.18µF?)
Cylinders (info written right on side)

I put back the original script – no difference.
I notice that if I manually twist the motor all the way clockwise, the first thing that happens when I run the script is that the motor turns all the way back ccw, then vibrates.
Good thing I bought two servos.
I try the 2nd one, and it jitters as well, but in a different way.
Try all the things I did with the 1st one, and they both act the same – even the part about spinning ccw before jittering.
Maybe the example code is bad. The first script worked fine.
Oh, but I try the first script again and it doesn’t work.
Oh, that was before I put in the 9V – that must have too much power – ah yes, the servo doesn’t want more than 6.

I have one little blue thing, that looks like this:

(I used a flatbed scanner to get this image, pretty good – better than my camera)

I don’t know what the symbol on the left is, and Googling for “480BK” didn’t yield much fruit.

I think it might be a timer.

This diagram from Kyocera may be a clue, but I don’t know what that symbol is above the KBR-480K.

So I need a different power supply, or a voltage regulator.
Here’s one, no wait, that’s not a 7805, that’s a NL|CE LM|317T|NLAS947 – an adjustable voltage regulator.
Where the hell did that come from?

Instead of the pins relating to in, ground, and out, this one uses in, out, and adjustment.
So I put it in the board, and… without an adjustment, the output is around 19V so apparently this thing wants 28V in, and can deliver anything from 1.2 to 37V out. So I’ve got it right in the middle now.

This Word doc has a thorough listing of circuit symbols, and leads me to believe that the blue component is a ‘piezo transducer’, although it doesn’t look like the photos of piezo transducers I see on the Web.
But it looks like it makes sound.

To regulate the new VR, I need a 240Ω resistor and a 5KΩ variable one.
I’ve got a 220 (red, red, brown) resistor, close enough, and a 10K pot.
Let’s see how it goes…

I’ve learned that, just as the US has different spelling (color vs. colour), sports (football vs. football), and measurements (imperial vs. metric) when compared with the rest of the world – the US also uses different circuit diagram notation.
The differences are more for logic gates than for component symbols, but geez, why do we always have to be different?
All the same, ours are easier to read.

Now, with the pot turned all the way one way, I get about 14V, and turned all the other way gives me 0V, success!
I guess the difference in resistances in my components is why the max isn’t 37, but I’m not going to do the calculations now.
So I turn the pot and watch with the multimeter until I have about 5V.
Now, to try the servo script again… and… nothing.

Here is a diagram for a Variable Frequency Quadrature Sinewave Oscillator.
I want to try it. I think I might print out the diagram, paste it to some cardboard, and then just lay out all the components on top of the diagram and solder them together.
It requires:

  • 1 100K pot
  • 1 10K pot
  • 2 330pF capacitors
  • 6 1K resistors
  • 4 15K resistors
  • 3 22K resistors
  • 2 100K resistors
  • 4 1N4148 transistors
  • 3 TL072 transistors
  • 2 1/2 LM13700 transistors
  • 1 1N4735A transistor

It uses some odd symbols, such as a simple rectangle to represent a potentiometer, and has triangles here and there with no evident purpose.
Also, some of the connections between components have numbers next to them. I can’t tell what they’re for.

I was testing voltage at the wrong points, across the pot, instead of where the motor will get it.
The instructions also suggest some optional capacitors. Let’s try those as well.
It asks for 0.1µn;F and 1.0µn;F, I have 0.047 and 10. Oh, but one is directional and the other isn’t(?).
I try a few configurations, but no dice.

This British electronics componments site: Maplin seems to have everything. Too bad the shipping charge is so high to the US.
They even have loads of fireworks. Japan sells loads of fireworks, for like, $5/pound. I tried smuggling $20 worth from my last trip, but ever since 9/11, the airport personnel are a little twitchy about piles of explosives being brought aboard. Oh well.

Let’s make it simple, just stick the pot between the battery and the regulator.
Well, I now have a min of 2V and a max of 3 – that’s no good.
Okay, start over. Putting batteries in series should have an additive effect on the voltage, right?
So put two AAs at 1.5V each and, yes: 3V.
So I just need one or two more.

This site has a diagram to make something that is essentially the same as a 7805 (but better input voltage range) for $0.46 in parts.
Too bad the shipping would be more than the cost of just anew 7805.

I’m getting into the whole idea of actually understanding all this stuff. I still have trouble reading a circuit, whether as a diagram or as implemented, but I’m getting better.

Nikolai Tesla was awesome. This page has some good circuit diagrams and projects on it.
I think I’ll try the tesla coil and plasma globe. That would be fun for Halloween.

Shortly before Bloomberg ran for the mayor’s office, his people were hanging out on NYU’s campus, handing out little radios that could only be tuned to one station, the AM broadcast of Bloomberg radio.
I still have mine, ripped apart, but alas, it only has a battery bay with room for two.
No problem, there’s one with room for four in the bottom of junk box #4.
Multimeter says: 6V – finally!

An automated plant-watering system

But dammit, still jittering! I try with three batteries (4.5V) – same, 2 batteries – same.
I try the first script with the same 5V power that’s running the chip – and it’s fine.

Phaedra was talking about bioinformatics.

But what I want is some kind of helmet, full of low-frequency sensors, that detect delta (0-4Hz), theta (4-8Hz), alpha (8-12Hz), low-beta (smr: 12-15Hz), (midrange) beta (15-18Hz), and (high) beta to gamma (18-40) waves.
(Looks like Advanced Brain Monitoring, Inc. is ahead of the game. They have a device called the ‘Cerebrum Profiler’)
You could calibrate it for thinking about left, right, up, down, and ‘enter’, then configure it to play Super Breakout.
That would be cool. I just need to figure out how to do low-emf frequency detection.
This site has a useful diagram.
Man, that would be awesome.

And this site seems to be the mother lode of circuit diagrams.
(Where would we be without Google?)

Another EEG circuit. Looks like we’ll need a 10,000x amplification of the signal.

I now have the 4 AAs powering the servo, which is still jittering.
Futzing with the numbers helps somewhat. The fact that both motors have a left-bias, concerns me.
This guy did a thorough test of pulsewidths for the CS-60.

I need to eat more Chinese food, just so I can get more of those clear plastic tubs. I’ve got resistors in one, LEDs in another…

Oh man, I fucking got it.
I remember overhearing someone say in the lab something about ‘common ground’ so I link the ground between the batteries and the 7805, and voila.
So now I can see that a 0.001 sec pw only gives me 45°, and 0.002 only gives me about 135.
Tom’s numbers are much closer to the right ones, though still a little off on mine.

When I left the lab yesterday, I tossed my random wires, leds, and stuff into a paper bag that was on the floor.
When I got home and was rummaging through it, I found some napkins, which seemed very odd.
Then I found a large slice of chocolate cake in saran wrap.
So, to whoever lost a piece of cake in the lab: it was very tasty.

About two years ago I built a perpetual motion machine, of sorts. It would only make about two revolutions before it was overcome by the friction on the axles. With some better lubricant and more precise gears, I might be able to get it to work. People say perpetual motion is impossible, but if you notice, the Earth has been moving around the Sun for quite a long time. The trick is to have a balance of non-collinear forces. The Earth is always falling toward the Sun, while at the same time hurtling away along a tangent of its orbital path. These forces are at right angles of each other, so the method here on the ground is to use magnets at right angles to gravity.
Several magnets repel each other while fixed to two interlocked gears, both of which are on ratcheted axles, so they can only turn in one direction (1 cw, the other ccw).
It’s not ‘free’ energy, which is impossible, because over time, the magnets gradually lose their field.
It’s very similar to a water wheel – the potential energy in a magnet is converted to kinetic energy.

Looking at that LM317T VR, I see that I may have had pins 1 and 3 reversed. Oh well.

I don’t think I’ll do anything interesting this week for IPC. But I have a plan for how to use the servo for my Halloween project.

I got a sort of robot arm powered by servo working, based on a sketch at

Tried building a tesla coil, but I didn’t have any of the right parts. I substituted in a regular transformer for the flyback one, 220Ω resistors for the 240 and 27, and I don’t even know what transistor I used.
I powered it up, and the transformer was working because the steel loop became magnetized, but I didn’t get any sparks.
Then smoke started coming out of it, so I pulled the plug.
The lesson is that electronics is not like making a stew, you can’t just substitute ingredients if you run out.
(I guess I knew this already, but I was hopeful that I might get at least something interesting)

Animation Kids

Cartoons for Kids

Paul and Mark try to pick a video to watch

Mark searches for his lost wallet

Paul and Robert talk about clothes

Mark meets a new robot friend

Heart of Gold
Man’s best friend

Interactive Storytelling for Children
Diane the Mouse – unfinished

One Week Later

I still get whiffs of ozone every now and then through the window. People speak of feeling numb, but the most numbing thing is to hear people on TV speak so mournfully, then break to commercials for shampoo and contact lens cleaner.

Things are really not so different than they were 2 weeks ago. There are fewer cars on the downtown streets, and village bars that normally sell beer for $5 per glass have $1 and $2 drafts and $0.15 chicken wings because fewer people have been going out. But people don’t instinctively look up now when they hear airplanes overhead.

The incident (which doesn’t have a real name; it wasn’t a ‘bombing’, but more than just some ‘plane crashes’, and ‘attack’ doesn’t completely describe the event) is still the main topic of conversation – what to rebuild on the site, what the consequences of military action will be. However, I now hear people arguing over trivial things. In the first few days, I spent nearly every waking minute with the circumstances in my awareness somehow – but now I only think about it about a third of the time.
People have more distance now, and now status is based on how close one has been able to get to “ground zero”. My boss’ son attended Stuyvesant High School which is just across the street from the WTC, but the school will be closed for the next few months. They went to the school one day to clean out the locker, and he got to be within a couple blocks. So of course we all stood around in a circle grasping for every word. I for one, am eager to hear anything other than the televised melodrama of flag-waving and weepers.

On one news show was a reporter looking at some rubble saying “A simple rag doll. All that remains. Of the people who once worked. And lived. Here.” I couldn’t stand it.

The truth is that most New Yorkers, let alone Americans, were never in any danger during the entire event, and most were not even inconvenienced. 10 times more people die each year from drunk driving, yet terrorism is treated like a bigger threat. I guess because it’s preferable to kill thousands of foreigners than to try to change behavior. It’s preferable to invade than to just pull troops out of Saudi Arabia and apologize for damaging the image of Mecca and Medina. America has been a bully for a long time, and I think everyone who has ever been bullied sympathizes to some degree with the Afghans, while those who have been bullies are the ones arguing for war.

The Columbine shootings, and similar episodes which now seem part of an epidemic, are more of a threat to American school kids than terrorism is, yet in response to which nothing was done or is done. But those shootings were motivated by the same feelings as last Tuesday’s attack: a small group resented being marginalized by an arrogant, affluent, aggressive group – and couldn’t take it any more. The name of the U.S. military retaliation, “Operation Infinite Justice”, shows that America is still incredibly arrogant, not realizing that the plan, “To rid the world of evil” is the objective of both sides of the conflict.

I feel like a curmudgeon when I see all the patriotic images, but I think all the fear and sadness is self-indulgent: focusing on one’s own emotions rather than the real issues. I find myself humming tunes such as “God bless America”. But that’s because I hear them all the time these days.

$5 is the universal price for souvenirs now. In addition to so much else, I also don’t like the crassness downtown; postcards that have the image of the towers go for $5, and tourists take pictures of everything, even of the funeral processions around town. I guess they want every image they can get of every attack-themed scene. Last week, some theaters had free movies, since no one was going and they were losing money, but the popcorn was still $5 for a large. Last Wednesday, the Times ran out of issues quickly. A few entrepreneurs bought thousands of copies, in order to sell them as souvenirs. Most people aren’t sad or afraid, they just see an opportunity to make a few dollars.

A lot of rats were displaced by the building collapses, and have moved north. Some of these are 5 or 6 pounds, and I’ve seen many more than usual downtown, both live and dead. They may have been attracted to the stench of fruit and fish stores and groceries that hurriedly abandoned stores a week ago, and left perishables locked up unrefrigerated for several days.

It is a little freaky working at the UN. They still have lots of extra security, and still have salt-spreaders full of sand blocking off the streets around the Secretariat. The easiest job is that of the dudes sitting in the trucks, backing up to let occasional police cars through. I learned that there was a plan in 1993 to bomb both the WTC and the UN, but the UN attack was thwarted. There was a suspected attack at the UN last Wednesday, and the terribly inadequate evacuation measures scared many people more than the actual threat of an attack. Fortunately I work across the street from the Secretariat.

I remember sitting next to a cricket player a few weeks ago on the plane from London to Bahrain in the UAE. We discussed my job at the UN, and it was clear that he felt that the UN was just a tool of the US, and that Arab countries could not trust the actions of either organization. It was interesting to visit the airports in Nepal, the UAE, England, and the US during my trip. JFK airport was the only one that had totally incompetent people working in every capacity, who didn’t even try to look at my bag, who let the restrooms fester, and got angry with me whenever I had a question. The airport in Abu Dhabi had the most courteous and helpful staff, as well as the most armed guards – but also most obnoxious kids running circles around their oblivious parents.

A Perverted Carnival

I went to a perverted carnival today, walked down 6th Avenue to gawk with the rest. From 2 blocks from my street to as far south as I could see was a single column of parked Komatsu backhoes. An orange and white cat was trying to climb the front right tire of one, but it was too high for it to get a foothold.

At any moment along Canal Street now are more spectators than died during the entire ordeal: people wearing American flag hats and t-shirts, eating $3.50 hot dogs, taking snapshots, and griping about the poor view. A few middle eastern men were doing brisk business selling overpriced refreshments, and I overheard one guy comment, “You burn down our buildings and you want our money too?”.

Many of the people looked like the type of people seldom seen in Manhattan, a family where every member is so fat that they have to lean backward when they walk in order to stay upright. The kids carry balloons, and play game-boys while their parents crane their necks to see beyond the bored and tired-looking policemen and women. I hated these people for their ogling, but realized I was there for the same reason.
There is still a lot of smoke, but yesterday’s rain cleared out the lingering dust. I still can’t actually believe what happened, and it’s very strange to see a southern horizon without the twin towers.

I struggled to head toward Pier 40, which is a relatively quiet place where I sometimes go to get away from the noise of the middle of the city, but it was also full of spectators. Walking north I passed a few fire stations, one around the corner from my building. Each had hundreds of flowers and ribbons, and the gatherers seemed more respectful of the situation. I heard that 4% of all fire fighters who have ever died in the line of duty in the history of New York City died this past week. I felt some shame that I make a living sitting in front of a computer.

The most solemn vigil is at Union Square, where there is nothing to stare at. More people there have lost a friend or relative, and the hundreds of pictures taped to the walls are quite touching. Now that traffic is allowed below 14th street, however, the singing and prayers are disturbed by car horns and the rumblings of garbage trucks.

There was true unity here on Tuesday and Wednesday, but that has faded each day. Now we hear of lootings near the site, or of kids pulling out knives on a public bus and pretending to hijack it, threatening to drive it into the Empire State Building. At work also, on the first day back we all commiserated and shared stories, but on Friday we argued about what we should do, as part of the UN. The art director had grown up an air force brat and was unwavering in his ideas of encouraging American patriotic images. The editor felt that we still all needed to heal and reflect before doing anything. I was the only one who was critical of the rabble-rousing and encouraged greater education about the backgrounds of the suspected terrorists.

I’ve become a news junkie, listening to hour after hour of updates, then getting so sick that I can’t stand another second, only to turn it on again after a few hours. Fox news seems to have the most irresponsible journalism, fanning the flames of anxiety that then lead to anti-Arab feelings and the search for quick solutions. But I listen anyway.

We have mail and garbage service now, and the local bodegas and laundromats are open now. It’s convenient to have services back, but I actually liked the temporary peace. As old routines are fallen into again, the usual brusqueness of New Yorkers is back. As we go back to work, it’s hard to sustain the initial outrage and desire for action, and I’m afraid that the only people that are able to are the jingoists whose zealotry matches that of the hijackers.

Day Three

I haven’t been watching the news, I’ve gotten frustrated with all the rumor-mongering and lack of facts. There also seems to be a disjoint between what the media portrays and what the streets of Manhattan are actually like.

There are all sorts of reactions to the current situation: the punks are relishing the access to empty streets where they can skateboard freely; some people just hold candles, staring at the dozens of pictures on the walls of Ray’s Pizza, which has become a shrine to the missing as well as an information center; the salvation army is full of volunteers moving crates of bottled water and masks, full of optimism; and a lot of people are just trying to get back to work and trying to resume their normal lives. Everyone seems slightly more respectful of others now, not knowing if the person sitting next to them on the subway has a harrowing tale or a missing relative. I haven’t seen any of the racism or hostility to Arabs that I’ve seen on TV, I think New Yorkers are used to living around people of all backgrounds, and have an innate understanding that most people are peaceful and law-abiding.

There is a gradation of seriousness moving north to south in Manhattan. I had dinner near Columbia University Thursday night, in a neighborhood too far north to even see the World Trade Center. There, the grocery stores were as crowded as always, with people pushing in the usual evening rush. The Columbia students sat around enthusiastically debating the events. In mid-town, rush hour traffic was about a third what it normally was. There were about 2 dozen people waiting in line to get tickets to The Producers, normally there might be 100 or more. Around the UN were dump trucks filled with sand blocking off selected streets: heavy mobile barriers to car bombs or other problems. Armed federal police stood guard every 100 feet or so. Normally in front of the UN are flying the flags of all member states in alphabetical order starting with Afghanistan. Today the flagpoles were empty except a single UN flag at half-mast. A coworker of mine had a panic attack when she entered our building at work, feeling very vulnerable and frightened of what’s next. But we were soon able to cheer her up and soon she was able to complain about the lack of fresh bagels anywhere. It was hard to be productive, as all of our little projects seemed so insignificant compared to the continuing drama downtown.

Things really change at 14th street, where people need photo ID just to walk home, and no one is allowed near the big hospitals. Today we still have no mail or deliveries, and most businesses are still closed.

Last night I saw a bright flash outside the window, followed by a muffled thud, then sirens. Expecting the worst. I watched to see what would follow, and there were more flashes. It turned out to just be the beginning of a heavy thunderstorm, but there were about 90 bomb threats throughout the city on Thursday, and any one could have been real.

We had a bomb scare Tuesday afternoon right outside my building at the corner of King and 6th. Two men were driving a yellow Rider truck north, then suddenly stopped the truck and ran. A woman walking her dog called 911 and within minutes several police had set up barricades, evacuated the lower floor of adjacent apartment buildings, and had their shotguns aimed at the truck. It turns out that the drivers were simply double-parking while getting coffee. The efficiency of response was comforting, though. I feel safer now than I normally do. I actually hear fewer sirens these days than I do on normal days.

I’ve been impressed and awed by the efforts of all the emergency crews, acting professionally and without pride. I’m proud of New York City and know that an even greater tragedy could have occurred, and the city would still have been able to react.

The weather was spectacularly beautiful Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and it matched the optimism most people had about finding more victims in the rubble and the joy of making it through so far. Today is rainy and in the 50s, and that seems to match people’s attitude that the reality of daily life is changed permanently.

Watching the TV, I see that most stations still have round-the-clock coverage with no commercial breaks, but the home shopping channels have resumed normal programming. This seems at the same time very crass but also a refreshing return to normalcy.


From the Front

Thanks to everyone who called to see if I was okay.

Nearly everyone I talk to saw most or all of the entire event, from the initial plane crash to the second tower collapsing. And everyone seems to know at least one person who worked in the World Trade Center, but doesn’t know where they are now.

The UN was evacuated yesterday, and only essential people are to report today (now I know where I stand in the hierarchy).

Yesterday the dust and debris blew east into Brooklyn, and this morning it blew west into New Jersey. But it’s blowing north now and it’s unpleasant to breathe outside, even outside my building, which is a mile north of the impact site. The smell is odd, very clean-smelling, like chemical cleansers or fire extinguisher spray – not like the burnt wood/electrical fire smell of yesterday.
Many people outside hold cloths in front of their face to breathe, and there is a fine layer of dust on the front windows of the apartment now. I had to close the windows. My nose and throat have been irritated since yesterday morning, but that will pass.

I tried giving blood, but many of the hospitals are turning people away; there are more people willing to give blood than there are people qualified to draw blood. Most medical professionals and volunteers are busy with the people (fewer and fewer as the days pass) who were brought from the wreckage. For now, people with o+ blood are asked to give now, and others are asked to come back in the next few days.

I went outside to explore, but only residents are allowed south of Canal Street, which is a few blocks south of where I am. No cars are allowed south of 14th Street, so pedestrians have plenty of room to wander. The only cars seen are convoys of dump trucks laden with debris, heading north slowly; clusters of 2 or 3 police cars with flashers and sirens on, speeding after some suspicion; or random army trucks chugging down an empty Broadway.

It’s very quiet, and the only sounds are the occasional siren, news helicopters overhead, and the church bells which ring on the hour and which would normally be drowned out by the roar of garbage trucks and taxi cab horns.

I wandered through Little Italy, where they had been setting up for the annual feast of San Gennaro, but the stalls and kiosks had only been halfway constructed before being abandoned.

Chinatown, however, was bustling the same as ever. You would never know anything had happened. The lower east side was similar. I picked up some bialys and bagels at Kossar’s which was open like always.

Some restaurants were open also: Barolo, Il Corallo, Pescadou, but most businesses are closed today. The few that are open are closing. There are no deliveries to stores south of 14th, so many people have to walk a mile or more to get newspapers or fresh milk. Most subway trains are running now, but I and others are a little nervous to ride them.

A lot of people are standing in groups near the police barricades on Canal Street, listening to news updates on car radios. The attitude outside is very mellow. Most people who are out are not in a hurry to get anywhere, and without the traffic no one has to rush to cross the street. The bums still beg and the brats in SoHo still whine, but everyone else seems very calm and sober, still reflecting on what we saw yesterday.

Animation Art Stories Videos

The Rabbit in the Moon

The Rabbit in the Moon from Matt Slaybaugh on Vimeo.

A “Direct-to-film” animation (I drew and painted the individual cels directly onto the film) – 1,440 postage stamp-sized images with a very fine-tipped Rapidograph pen.

This was for a class “Myth on to Film” in 1992. The assignment was to retell a fable from any culture in one minute without using words. There are a few versions of the story, but this comes from a Japanese “origin myth” about why the craters of the Moon look like a rabbit.

It was shown at the end of the year at the student film show. Sharing video and other things online is fun, but there is nothing like having your work shown in a theater – hearing hundreds of people applaud afterward.