Nat Friedman

Archive for October 2005

I smoked over 50,000 cigarettes in my life

No joke. But now I’ve quit. And, as of a few days ago, more than a year has passed since I’ve smoked a cigarette.

It’s still hard, but I think I’m done for real this time.

18 October 2005

The RetroScope


This is something I have been doing for more than five years but I have never heard anyone else ever mention it and so I thought I’d write it up here for the rest of the world to enjoy.

The RetroScope is a device that shows you what was happening in the past. Think of a security camera on a time delay. Except, voluntary.

Attach a video camera to your TiVo, put it on a tripod, and point it at the room. Pause your tivo for the desired time delay, and then hit play to watch what used to be.

The effect can be positively hypnotic. It’s great at parties, when people walk in, say hi to their friends, get a drink, and then return to the living room only to see themselves walking in the door….

I usually mute the audio or you get this weird, slow, phantasmagoric echo.

My friend Tom Benson and I once sat on the couch smoking cigarettes and watching the retroscope for four straight hours. The conversation went like this:

Tom: Okay, I remember this part. In a second I’m going to lift my head slightly.
> a few seconds pass <
Tom: There it goes!
Nat: Cool.
Tom: In five minutes we have to remember to look for this moment when we saw me moving my head slightly.
Nat: That is going to be awesome.

Lately I’ve been having these fantasies about a 3×3 grid of televisions all retroscoping the same video source at different time delays. So you walk up to it and see yourself walk up.. and then see yourself walk up.. and then see yourself walk up… etc. They could be time delayed at powers of four or something like that.

Talking about this at brunch this weekend, Rony had some even more elaborate ideas. You could do a 10×10 grid of screens and set the delays up so that the images flash in patterns across the grid; a smiley face, then a star, then an exclamation point across the grid. A separate video feed could autocalibrate the timings.

At a party, a fun thing to do would be to have screens all over the place showing various pieces of the past… and of the future. How to show the future? Stage it. Have a few prominent people show up the weekend before wearing the same clothes they will wear at the party, and act out the bitter ends of the evening…

18 October 2005

Those ghastly necks of old men

Two months of near-constant travel and I skipped the end of summer and early beginnings of fall (rain) in Boston this year. Places I’ve been in the last two months: Utah, California, New York, Texas, Nevada, Barcelona, Beijing. I have heard that regular supersonic travel mysteriously favors the production of XX-chromosomal spermatazoa in men; so if you want to have girls, learn to fly an F-15. Or just convince your wife to take human menopausal gonadotropin or FSH and selectively excise the budding baby boys. But if you want to castrate your social life, snap the rubber band of constant (subsonic) travel around its scrotum and watch the little boys rot and fall to the dirt.

Seriously, dating is impossible and your friends just stop calling you when you’re never in town. Not that I want to “date,” the most awkward and stupid of many awkward and stupid American social rituals, but the point is that follow-up is impossible. Your friends learn to stop counting on you. Every situation must be closed on the spot, because you just don’t know what the future holds. Geographically speaking.

I didn’t expect the jetlag from the China trip to wipe me out as badly as it did but for four or five days after returning I dragged my useless carcass to work and did my best to stay awake in my office. We managed to launch Better Desktop and Tango to great interest and acclaim, but I mainly just tried to stay out the way.

After the fatigue and sleeplessness wore off, I had a dinner party and met a grip for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition which, he explained, is a popular TV show whose premise is that the home of some down-and-out American family — the victims of heart-wrenching tragedy such as a death in the family, bankruptcy or a badly retarded in-law — is summarily razed by the producers and a new McMansion is built in its place in five days by local contractors working for free advertising while the family is sequestered in a Hilton Hotel in some sunny locale (having been conveyed there by the good people at SouthWest Airlines) until REVEAL DAY when, returning to find a brand-new home filled with Sears/Kenmore appliances in place of their old hovel, they burst into spontaneous tears of joy.

“Everybody cries,” he explained.

This is a so-called reality TV show that won an emmy for writing last year.

You’ve got to love it.

Last weekend halfway through what was clearly the best GNOME Summit ever I took the high-speed train to New York to hang out with my cousin Fiona. I’d last seen Fiona in 2003 in Dublin where she was playing expat for two years, during yet another GNOME conference when we stayed on the grounds of Trinity College. Before that Fiona and I hadn’t been in the same room for twelve years, and I caused a minor stir in a Dublin pub repeatedly quizzing female strangers, “are you my cousin?” It seems Americans frequently come to Ireland in search of distant branches of their ancestral families, and I seemed to the locals to be implementing some kind of shotgun method of genealogical archaeology…

New York with Fiona was uplifting. Fiona is an actress at the beginning of what is sure to be a pyrotechnically brilliant and celestially enduring career. In personality my cousin and I are similar people, so much so that I began to worry that many elements of my character were preprogrammed at conception and aren’t my own creations at all. We both love Nabokov and we are both prone to black out when we drink too much and we spent an afternoon terrorizing the new MoMA together. That night we had separate dinner engagements, and we met up after for drinks. “How’d it go?” she asked when we were sitting together at a bar. “Fine. I tried too hard,” I said. “Same. Me too.” The next morning in the $250/month rent-controlled apartment in the village where we were crashing we helped each other piece together the night’s alcohol-fueled rampage across the lower east side. It was sweet and tender. Family is forever.


I’d had hardly any alcohol or refined sugar or anything for weeks before the weekend with Fiona because I’d been training for another bicycling stunt, this time from Boston to New York in a single day. But apparently running along the great wall of China was a bad idea, and I’ve damaged some ligaments in my left knee and ligaments are white because they get almost no blood and so they heal very slowly. So I figured extremely cold weather will be upon us before my body is sufficiently conditioned to make the 240-mile ride in less than 24 hours without doing permanent damage to something and gave up training. In fact, my bike was still packed in its carrying case until today when Toshok and I went for a nice ride to Walden Pond and back. He was a champ to do the whole 40-mile course, considering he hasn’t been on a bike in about 9 months.

Training in China

Sunday I imported all 40,000 of my photos into F-Spot, and the last four years of my life are now in chronological order in a single scrolled window. Truly awesome.

18 October 2005


Three unusual things I regularly consume which taste delicious:

17 October 2005

Free Culture

I’m always surprised to discover that there are people who still haven’t seen Larry Lessig’s free culture presentation.

If you are one of those people, go watch it now.

This is without question the most brilliant and important presentation I have ever seen. The message is fundamental, but even the style of the presentation is interesting and worthy of emulation, now called the Lessig Method.

15 October 2005


The demos of the new Mono/Gstreamer-based Diva video editor are extremely impressive. Go watch now.

13 October 2005
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