Friday, April 24, 2009


My school is old. Very old. Through its long existence, it has built upon its past, which remains strangely visible generations later.

I am walking out of my last class of the day, Latin class, when something strikes my eye in the next room over. I look inside and discover a humongous old wooden cart. On the front of the wooden cart are two mounted cassette players a dashboard with lots of little buttons, and an old headset with microphone. I look on the back, and discover a cabinet filled with two dozen other numbered wireless headsets with knobs and switches on their sides. Intrigued, I look to see that no one is coming, plug in the cart, and turn it on. The little red and green lights on the dashboard flicker to life. I put on the main headset, and hear faint static. "Hello?" I say, when a voice answers me: my own. I look on the side of the cart, and see built-in speakers. Neat.

I decide to read the knobs and buttons in closer detail. I have a number pad, and a main knob labeled with settings such as "teacher all-call" and "student response." I turn a few of the knobs, and hear some changes in the static. I then decide to check on one of the numbered headsets. Do they communicate? I slide on a pair numbered "12" and speak out loud. My voice doesn't come out of the cart speakers. Hmm.

I go back to the dashboard and look at the keypad. Does it have to do with the headsets? Curious, I input "12". Headset 12 springs to life! Plus the main headset and my headset can now talk two-way. Interesting.

I read the patent number off of the dashboard and pull up the patent info, patent #4048729: "Electrical teaching system". Apparently, the numbered headsets were to be given to students and the teacher would speak to all of the students one-way. When she wanted a student to answer a question, she could activate his microphone. The cassette players allowed the students to listen to different lessons wirelessly. The whole system was pretty cool and extremely ridiculous. The best part: the patent was filed in 1976. My school has has one of these things for 30 years. I go and find a few teachers who have been at my school since the 70s. I learn that the machine is still in use: it is used to record the oral section of AP language tests.

So there you have it. My school, not willing to learn how to record the oral tests digitally onto computer still records them onto cassettes using this machine.


Sunday, April 19, 2009


I referred to in an earlier post half a dozen sites which allow you to download YouTube videos. Now I've found the best one yet: KeepHD.

You can now download high quality or even HD videos from YouTube, just by changing the URL of the YouTube video from "" to "". You can even download them as mp4 files, and it doesn't require any site registration (like does).

KeepHD page


Monday, April 6, 2009


Sometimes I feel like I'm missing something, like I'm just clueless about anything and everything social.


scikidus._alpha = 0;

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Upright Position

I look out the window. The yellow "13R" sign outside has remained in the same position since I last checked. I sigh. It was supposed to be a 6:30 flight. I check my watch. The later 8:30 flight my father and I declined to take left the gate five minutes ago. Oh well. I check my watch again and run a quick mental calculation. It has been 31 hours since my grandfather passed away, two months shy of his ninetieth birthday. The funeral is in Los Angeles in 17 hours, assuming the plane takes off by then. We were on line for taking off when a passenger became seriously ill. Since the evening is a particularly busy time for an international airport, we spent 45 minutes finding and parking at a gate, while the ill passenger was unloaded and the lavatory was disinfected. It's also the week before Passover, so the plane is packed with Orthodox families trying to get to their holiday destinations ahead of the Orthodox families trying to get to their holiday destinations. Normally, the large numbers of young children clamoring for attention would be soothed by the draw of a seat-by-seat personal entertainment system, naturally assuming that the entertainment system was not experiencing technical difficulties. As I sit in my chair, the stewardess is trying for the fifth time to hard reboot the system, leading me to the pleasant discovery that Delta runs Linux. How about that?

Finally, we accelerate down the runway. As the jet engines under the wings increase the relative air speed over the wings, physics kicks in, and the force of the lift from teh wings negates and finally overcomes the weight of the aircraft. We're airborn. As we lift off, I'm treated to a view of a cross-section of the air and weather systems around JFK International Airport. We climb through 1000 feet of low-lying clouds. Outside my window, I watch how the fog distorts as it flows over the streamlined wings and how it forms a compact tail leading off the light on the edge of the wing. The time is now 8:55, and I'm staring out the window into the surprising brightness of the evening shy. Below us is the cloud cover we just passed through, and above us are the great rain clouds, which are only surpassed vertically by wispy cirrus clouds dusting the sky. The fog beneath us has an otherworldly glow to it, brought to you by the light pollution of tens of millions of light bulbs illuminating the Big Apple. Far off on the horizon, a distinctly warmer light is reflecting off of distant clouds basking in the light from their local sunset. Dozens of stars appear above the horizon as crisp points. Among them, another set of dots move, blink, rise, and fall: airplanes. In the daytime, the global network of air traffic remains invisible to those not in a cockpit or a control tower. By night, however, the airplanes' flashing lights reveal an intricate, three-dimensional network. Oh, and after the umpteenth or so hard reboot of the Penguin, the entertainment system is back online.