Friday, November 09, 2007

Fix that sucker yourself

Fix That Sucker Yourself
No, nothing's wrong with my trusty old iPod -- and I hope nothing's wrong with yours, either. But they do go down sometimes. And when that happens, you want to know where to go. The New York Times this morning had a handy roundup of websites devoted to do-it-yourself repair of household objects, including iPods. They titled it "Don't Throw Out Your Broken iPod; Fix It via the Web."
A few months ago, Stephen Ironside, a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, confronted a minor but modern tragedy: the iPod that filled his life with song stopped working.

The device was out of warranty, and Apple would not fix it free. So he left it in a drawer until he happened to read a blog posting on CrunchGear.com that described how he might fix it — with a small, folded piece of paper. Mr. Ironside celebrated by posting thanks on the blog: “I’ve been on CDs for months. You saved my life (and my iPod).”

The author of the blog post, Matt Hickey of Seattle, says that using paper as a shim to put pressure on the hard drive has worked on about 70 percent of the failed iPods he has encountered — even though he is not sure why it works.
Very nice, as far as it goes, but in typical infuriating fashion, the Times just gives a link to the home page of CrunchGear, but not the permalink to the post itself. Here it is, complete with instructions and comments from readers about their experiences.

Needless to say, you should not open up an iPod that is still under warranty and start mucking about with it. But after the warranty expires, after it has turned into a mini-doorstop? Anything goes. Does a paper shim putting pressure on the hard drive really work? I don't know -- but I know it's the first thing I'll try when the time comes. (And if it doesn't work, the post also explains how, now that you've got the thing open, you can replace the hard drive for a lot less than the cost of a new iPod.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My shadow is the one with the camera. The other one is the suspicious security guard.






















Our shadows are engaged in something that starts out slightly tense and edgy -- a bit more than a conversation, a little less than a confrontation. We're in the parking lot of the Kastenmeier Federal Courthouse, the striking and colorful Kenton Peters building that was completed in 1984. It's one of Madison's most interesting buildings, one that is always a photographic temptation.

That's how it started. When T and I passed by on the way to the Farmers' Market last Saturday, I walked into the parking lot to take a few shots. I had the Sigma 10-20mm ultrawide zoom on the camera and began with a vague idea of getting some sort of up-close, off-kilter angle on the building, the red pillar, and the scattered yellow autumn leaves in the parking lot.

To do that I need to get pretty close to the building, closer than it seems in this photo, because the 10mm lens is exaggerating the distance. Just as I'm framing the scene I notice the door open and a tiny figure come out. I think maybe he is a judge working on the weekend, which seems odd. The figure comes closer, and in the viewfinder, grows larger. That's when I see the badge.

"What are you doing?" asks the security guard. He looks like he could be a retired cop -- trim but a bit heavyset, with thinning gray hair and glasses. He looks very suspicious, and he's not smiling.

"I'm taking a picture," I reply. "I really like this building. It's fun to photograph."

"Taking a picture? Then why are you so close? You can't even get the whole building in the picture from here. People usually shoot from back there on the sidewalk.

"Why do you have to be so close?" he asks again, fixing me with a skeptical look. "This is a federal building, and we have to be careful."

"I have a wide angle lens, so I have to get close" I say. "Here. Take a look through the viewfinder. It's really cool."

"No, I can't see through that with my glasses. Do you have any ID?"

My moment of truth. I have a funny feeling that he won't consider "Madison Guy" an appropriate response. I'm an American citizen and a taxpayer. This is public property. I helped pay for it, and I have a right to be here. I have not committed a crime. Why should I have to identify myself? I consider refusing.

But like a motorist pulled over in a traffic stop, I have already reflexively started to reach for my wallet. Meanwhile, he's asking why I want to take pictures of the building.

"I'm a photographer and a blogger," I say, hoping that would explain my unseemly interest in photographing nearly empty federal buildings. I hand over my driver's license.

"A blogger, huh? Do you have a job?"

I say I work as an editor but that the job had nothing to do with my blog. The pictures are for me.

"So are you going to put them in your blog?"

I say I might. "Anything wrong with that?"

"No, but we have to be careful. You know, all kinds of people come through here." He wrote something in a tattered little drugstore spiral notebook. My name and license number, I figure. Something to ID the guy with the camera they captured on their security cam.

I say something noncommittal. And I take the photo shown here.

"I like to take pictures, too," he says, looking at my camera. "The other day I was at the Olbrich Park beach on Lake Monona, looking across the lake toward the Capitol, with the sun setting behind it. Just then, the sun shone through the windows at the top of the dome. It was beautiful. But I didn't have my camera with me."

"Too bad, I know what you mean -- that's a beautiful view of the Capitol from there."

"So you like this building? I think it's a great building. Beautiful," he saya with obvious pride. "But it has one little hidden design flaw. Do you want to see it?"

"Sure."

We walk around the building to the Henry Street entrance as he explains that skateboarders bump and crash into the building all the time. Mostly they just scuff it up. The blue metallic siding is pretty tough, and the building is solid. With one exception.

He leads me to one of the large blue pillars that seemingly hold up the weight of the building above the entryway. "Here. Give it a shove."

The seemingly solid surface gives way and bends inward. It's even less solid than the sheet metal on a car.

"And look at this," he says, leading me to the other side of the pillar. "This is where a skateboarder crashed into it."

There is a big, crumpled dent in the sheet metal. It looks as if it needs to visit an auto body shop. We talk a bit more as he explains that he wished they would open up the pillars and put something solid behind the metal siding. I thank him for the tour, we shake hands, and I hurry off to the Square to join T at the Farmers' market.

Looking back on the experience now, I'm still surprised by how quickly and automatically I handed over my license on request. Am I a man or a mouse? Maybe I'm neither -- just a typically cowed citizen of the post-Timothy McVeigh, post-9/11 United States.

The other thing I found out doesn't surprise me at all: The pillars that hold up our temple of justice aren't as solid as they seem.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

High rise pied-à-terres for rich Badger fans?

Metropolitan Place Phase II
It seems to be a trend. Or at least that's what the Wall Street Journal article posted in the Newsroom of the Metropolitan Place Phase II website seems to suggest. The story is available for download under the title "Alumni Buy Condos for Game Day Near Campuses" and is prefaced by this enthusiastic sales copy:
This is a trend popping up in markets around the nation, and it rings true for residents of Metropolitan Place – Phase II condominiums! We are located within a four block walk to the Kohl Center – home to the University of Wisconsin Badger men’s and women’s basketball teams, the 2006 National Badger men’s and women’s hockey teams, the Badger band spring concert and numerous other concerts and events. We are also a short 10 minute walk to Camp Randall Stadium for Big 10 Badger football – so why pay for parking and wait in lines to get to the game when you can take a short walk on a glorious Badger game day? Don’t spend big bucks on hotel rooms and food when you can live within minutes of the stadium, and stay for a weekend of partying with other college alumni. Contact Metropolitan Place — Phase II today!
Unlike Phase I, its apartment building cousin on West Washington Avenue, Phase II cuts off the sunlight and throws the better part of a city block into shade. Good to know it's for a good cause. Go Badgers!

Monday, November 05, 2007

US Bank's money tree

US Bank's Money Tree
Window of their office on the Capitol Square here in Madison. Apparently money does grow on trees. Maybe it has something to do with home equity lending, which the bank was continuing to promote with this cheery little banner over the weekend. Market reports, however, suggest it's autumn in the home equity loan market. Will the money tree shed its leaves?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Branding Bascom Hall with a big red Dubya

BascomBanners-sm-pan
It seems everything has to have a logo these days. For the University of Wisconsin, it's the big W on those red banners on and around 150-year-old Bascom Hall. Is it just me, or are they really as tacky as I think they are? Whether the apparent political reference is intended, or more likely, inadvertent, the banners certainly create a kind of visual pollution on Bascom Hill. Which is odd, since the University says it is "interested in maintaining an environment free of visual and environmental pollution." Here's what the banner guidelines in the University Facility Use Policies and Guidelines G-7 say:
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is interested in maintaining an environment free of visual and environmental pollution. This effort is supported by a University of Wisconsin-System policy that restricts the use of signs on the campus:

[...]

Institutional banners on poles or buildings on Bascom Hill are restricted to themes that represent the institution as a whole. The Chancellor's office will approve the use of institutional banners on Bascom Hill, as well as the time periods during which they may be displayed. University Communications will work with Campus Services regarding the set-up, take-down, repair and replacement of banners.
Do as we say, not as we do -- in other words, no visual pollution unless we do it ourselves. Apparently the University's own exercises in branding take precedence over aesthetics, a sense of history and the fight against visual pollution.