Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Three things to marvel: About technology in education, telly and compositions.

First, with term having started again, once more people have been victims of our university’s insanely clever resource management. As far as I can tell, there are at least two different electronic catalogues of lectures and seminars. Naturally (and I am a bit sad to say this, but that’s just what it looks like in these days of electronic wonders) those don’t synchronise automatically. One of them is turned into a printed catalogue of university events each term, while the other offers more interactivity. The bottom line is that both of them are crap by themselves and possibly contradict each other.

To make things even worse I like keeping the schedules for our own seminars on my own web pages as that greatly simplifies their creation for me, simplifies access to them for everyone else as you don’t need to log into that system and click through their broken UI and even makes sure things are indexed by search engines. When times or locations of events are changed, it’s quite a good idea to update the information in the other systems as well, just in case someone looks there. Which means that you have to deal with bugs in the unfinished software, find a person with sufficient access privileges to the system and – most importantly, as this is the only thing that actually matters for room bookings in our department – go to the secretary and ask her for a room.

Let’s just say these systems are, erm, less than ideal. And the very systems that are supposed to make things easier just create more unnecessary work and confusion. To top things off, I heard that a big number of freshers missed their first ever lecture this week because the lecture theatre for that lecture had been changed for a larger one all the way across town since the printed guide was done. The perfect way to kick of their studies.

Second, Der Untergang, aka Downfall was on telly this week. A film about the end of Hitler and his Reich that had only been in cinemas last year. And that was both criticised and lauded a lot. It even made it abroad, but at the time I think I read some unimpressed reviews. While I wasn’t inclined to watch the film in cinema as I’m not into ‘historical’ films and didn’t want to sit through the film’s whopping length of more than two and a half hours, I thought I’ll have a look at it on telly. Particularly as they conveniently split the film up into two parts.

I didn’t watch the film entirely and that’s mostly because I thought it’s incredibly boring. In part that’s probably because you know how the story is going to end… the war is lost, the Russians conquer Berlin and Hitler and his friends bravely shoot themselves. In addition we’ve seen so much Hitler in historical sources, documentaries, cinema and Fawlty Towers that there just aren’t many new aspects to be uncovered. I also find it hard to feel sorry for a run-down dictator who killed millions and sulks because he has to start considering some of his cronies as traitors.

Of course there are many elements that document the depressing situation. The generals who know that the war is lost but give in to Hitlers commands, the children fighting in the streets, believing in their Führer, the Nazi élite completely indifferent to people dieing, the women who have the opportunity to leave but choose to stay, and so on… But those aren’t exactly new or surprising facts either.

What I really don’t like about the film, though, is its focus on the end of the war and the Third Reich. In a way those last days were the best of that era simply because they made it end. Whatever Hitler did back then is fairly irrelevant and we shouldn’t care.

Third, I played around with Quartz Composer a little. It’s a neat tool. And I understand that it’s mainly aimed at Developers. But, just as with Automator I couldn’t help but get the impression that it works fairly well for the demos made up by Apple, but fails to work as well once you try doing your own thing.

My idea was the following: I usually don’t use a screensaver on my computer because the screen is just turned off. But I’d quite like to use the feature where you lock the screen with a screensaver. The only thing making me not want to do that, in turn, is that when returning to my office, say, I like glancing at the screen to see whether there’s new e-mail or I simply like to check the current time. So my idea was to make a screensaver which displays exactly the information I’m interested in. And that uses some of the nice and pretty Quartz Composer features.

Unfortunately I discovered that when the screen is turned off by energy saver while the screensaver is running and you move the mouse that will cause the screen to go black and display the dialogue box to enter your password. Which kind of spoils my whole plan to begin with. But I was still interested to get my little Quartz Composer experiment working.

Being in a playful mood, I thought I go for some fancy colourful background. Instead of just using a random colour I thought it’d be nice to just choose a random hue and set the luminosity according to the time of day. And I failed at that simple task. Sure, Quartz Composer gives you the System Time patch (please tell me how they came to use that word) and you have Date Formatter patches which might be able to give you the information you need for this and you have Math patches to do some computations. But I just couldn’t find a way to convert the String that the Number Formatter gives me to the Number that the Math patch requires. Google didn’t help either.

Part of Quartz Composer composition with the failing connections.

The connections I mention just remain red and thus – as far as I understand – invalid, at least there’s no usable output at the end. But I couldn’t find a string to number convertor anywhere to make things work. Any hints towards solving this are welcome…

October 21, 2005, 0:34

Tagged as Mac OS X, uni.


Comment by d.w.: User icon

I believe Quartz Composer calls them “patches” in the same sense that sounds in programmable synthesizers are “patches”, referring back to the earliest modular synthesizers which used physical patch cords to route signals between discrete components in series.

October 21, 2005, 16:03

Comment by ssp: User icon

Thanks Dave. It’s funny how a little background knowledge can change things from sounding silly to sounding quite cool :)

October 21, 2005, 18:29

Comment by simon: User icon

You should only use the Date Formatter to create the string to use to display in a Billboard. Directly use the output from the System Time patch as the Initial Value input to a Math patch to calculate a value for luminosity e.g. to calculate minutes past midnight, set Operation #1 to Modulo and Operand #1 to 86400 and then Operation #2 to Divide and Operand #2 to 60.

October 21, 2005, 23:03

Comment by ssp: User icon

Great idea simon. Thanks.

October 22, 2005, 14:49

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