The West Falls Church Metro station provides an unusual aural experience to D.C.-area commuters. As I entered the station last week, I thought I heard, in the following order:
A pre-novice saxophonist assaulting commuters’ ears with noise
A highly skilled saxophonist assaulting commuters’ ears with extended techniques
None of these guesses was correct, as it turns out. As I pulled out my phone to record the scene, it occurred to me that what sounded like the pained vocalizations of a large animal or aspiring musician might be neither.
It was the greasing-song of the downward escalator. Put another way: the escalator was groaning in need of maintenance.
After my train arrived, I inspected the recording to see if it followed any pattern. As the following image shows, it was distinctly periodic—and I had been able to catch almost three full cycles before my train arrived:
What’s more, the cycles are almost exactly 88.5 seconds long. D.C. locals will recognize this as the broadcast frequency of WAMU, American University’s radio station. Which leaves open the question: does the greasing-song represent a breakdown in maintenance, or is it a planned student art installation?
While studying in Oxford seven years ago—most likely in a fit of procrastination—I determined that the word billion can be spelled on a telephone keypad with the number 245-5466. As it turns out, 2455466 was also the Julian date of a certain September day in [the then-distant future year] 2010. I put a reminder in my Palm V and forgot about it. Thanks to an electronic calendar that doesn’t forget, I was just reminded…
That day is today.
Happy Billion Day, everyone!
(One could discount this event by pointing out it’s only the coincidence of a) Julius Caesar’s arbitrary selection of the calendar’s start date, as well as b) the arbitrary—though now standardized—mapping of Latin letters to the 10-digit keypad. I suppose we could also cite the rise of the decimal numeral system in this celebration as well; who knows what billion would map to on a hexadecimal phone keypad, or if we’d even care since 1,000,000,000 is much less elegant as 3B9ACA00 in hex. Then again, many of our declared holidays aren’t much less arbitrary.)
It is becoming well known that social media hashtags form a de facto backchannel wherever a critical mass of tech-savvy people congregate. At InfoCamp Berkeley, we wanted to encourage the Twitter/Flickr backchannel and bring it to the fore as much as made sense. Our hope was that this would encourage attendees to tweet and post photos during the event.
There were no tagged Flickr photos at the beginning of the event, so we displayed tweets as they came in using an AIR-based app called TwitterCamp. (As it happens, Twittercamp was developed for a BarCamp, so it made an appropriate home with us at InfoCamp.) TwitterCamp is not being developed or supported, but it works fine and is open source. When customized with our logos, it looked like this:
By mid-afternoon, Flickr had a amassed a good selection of event-tagged photos. We switched to Twitterfountain, which can display tweets against a Flickr slideshow. Here’s a still shot with Twitterfountain in the background:
Twitterfountain looked great, and at a slow speed it wasn’t too distracting. Unfortunately, though, it tended to loop over a small selection of photos instead of iterating through the entire tagset.
To see our Twitterfountain instance in action, click* here:
And that’s about it. We kept the backchannel onscreen during announcements and between sessions—not during, to avoid undue distractions. Although there is, of course, no way to judge the “success” of these tools, we felt they added some good buzz to the room.
*Disabled by default because it’s a bit of a CPU hog.