120th Anniversary of the Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower under construction, 1878

Built between 1887 and 1889 by French engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower has since become the most recognizable landmark (and the most visited) in the world. For its size, the tower is amazingly light — its mass is less than the mass of the air contained in a cylinder of the same size. For its time, the system for joining the metal girders together was truly innovative, and was inspired by the design ideas of a Romanian engineer named Gheorghe Panculescu.

Eiffel Tower Girders, 1889

The shape of the tower was dictated purely by mathematics, and the primary design goal was wind resistance. Eiffel and the other engineers wanted to make sure it could withstand strong winds, being at the time the tallest building in the world. Being a very tall building, made almost entirely of metal, it’s also a very large lightning rod, which attracts amazing lightning bolts, as you can see in this photo from 1902.

Lightning striking the Eiffel Tower, 1902

Also interesting is the use of the tower as a radio antenna. Over time, antennas were mounted to the tower, or the tower itself was used as a large antenna for radio communications. In 1910, the first cosmic rays were observed with the aid of the tower by Father Theodore Wulf. Nowadays, 9 radio and TV stations broadcast content with the aid of the tower.

This year, the French celebrated the tower’s 120th anniversary on Bastille Day. A concert by Johnny Hallyday was held at night, while fireworks blazed forth from the tower. It was an amazing lightshow, captured fittingly by Alta Media Productions and Toys Prophet, two Vimeo users. You can see their videos below. Taken from different vantage points, one focuses on the Paris nightscape and the tower lightshow, while the other captures the interaction of people with the evening’s events.
Eiffel Tower on Fire from Alta Media Productions on Vimeo.

-SPEED OF LIGHT- ….. ESSAI N°5.1 from toys prophet on Vimeo.

I haven’t yet visited the Eiffel Tower, and I look forward to doing it someday. It’s a structure unlike any other. When you think of it in the context of architectural design, it fits into no category. Its design is pure engineering, with no allowances for the niceties of normal architecture. Sure, it’s been adapted for human use over time, and you can even eat there now, but these are all add-ons, insignificant to the initial design goals. It didn’t fit within the times when it was made, in spite of some of the Victorial wrought iron work it faintly resembles, and it still doesn’t fit within any normal design constraints today, even in post-modernist times. And yet it has become a symbol of architectural design, of Paris, and of French culture, odd as it may be. If nothing else, Gustave Eiffel had serious guts to undertake such a work and to withstand all of the criticism leveled at him during and after the construction of the tower. He was right all along.

Eiffel Tower by briandeadly on Flickr.

Eiffel Tower by briandeadly on Flickr

Historic photos of the Eiffel Tower used here are public domain, obtained courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Dawn over the Atlantic Ocean

This will be my 1,000th post, so perhaps it’s fitting that it be this: photos of the dawn, breaking high above the clouds, somewhere near the coast of France. It symbolizes a new beginning, a milestone — although I have to confess it came by surprise. I hadn’t monitored the number of posts for a while. By chance, I glanced at it yesterday and saw the fateful sum: 999. That’s when I knew I had to make this 1,000th post a little more special than the rest.

We were on our way to Paris from Washington, DC, on board an overnight Air France flight. We were going to have a short layover at Charles de Gaulle airport, then fly to Bucharest, where a rental car awaited our arrival. From there, we’d drive north, crossing the Carpathian Mountains to reach my grandfather’s house in Transylvania.

I liked Air France. The chairs were fairly comfortable, there was more space between the rows than on Austrian Airlines, and all of the seat gadgets worked, which was very unlike Alitalia (see paragraph 7 of that post for the details). The food was great, they got our menu selections right, the stewards and stewardesses were friendly and polite, and we had a good experience overall. I would fly with them again.

I hadn’t slept much all night. I can’t sleep very well on airplanes — I should probably say I can’t sleep much at all on airplanes. There’s the noise, then, of course, the “wonderful” seats and the lack of humidity, etc. I usually watch movies to pass the time while I gasp for air and pour water down my parched throat.

Outside, pitch black darkness stared back at me, and the faint reflection of a bleary-eyed traveler bearing my resemblance was visible in the window. Had there been no one around, it would have been eerie. But Ligia was next to me. She was sleeping somewhat peacefully, and that comforted me.

As morning approached and the first rays of light began to break through the darkness, Ligia woke up. I took out my 5D, and stood ready for that fleeting moment when color and light would combine to produce something worth capturing. Here it is.

Dawn breaking

At 33,000 feet, the cloud clover stayed below, and only its remembrance remained, in the shape of wispy lines that traced alongside us.

I kept my camera ready in case other opportunities presented themselves, and I wasn’t disappointed. A supersonic jet passed by us, leaving orange-yellow contrails in its wake.

Jet set

No matter how commoditized flight gets, there are still a great number of people that can never afford to experience it. I suppose that has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, enough pollution is generated by existing airplanes, so perhaps it’s better that their number is kept somewhat limited. On the other hand, many opportunities open up to you when you can travel so fast. Trips that take days suddenly take only hours. Life, for better or worse, gets faster, and you can do more. I suppose that can be both good and bad, depending on your point of view. I’m on the fence about it myself.

The rarefied life

We found ourselves in our rental car, driving toward Transylvania, that afternoon. We drove through the evening and part of the night. Road repairs made our trip unnecessarily long, but that’s a story for another day. As we were driving through the Carpathian Mountains, night set in, and I stopped to take this photo.

A closing account

As we paused to rest, we thought about the last 24 hours. In that relatively short span of time, we’d traveled over 4,000 miles and still had a few more to go.

Life moves fast these days. If we’re not careful, we can end up old and tired, having spent a lifetime running around from place to place. Sometimes it’s worth more than we know it to STOP, even if it’s only for a few minutes, and look around us. That’s when we realize that those few moments of pause are more precious than whole days of nonstop action.


A slideshow of Paris architecture

Just got this by email: Architecture Parisienne. Photos by Gérard Thérrin. Enjoy!


Nabaztag: the smart WiFi bunny from France

I’ve been playing with my Nabaztag bunny for the last few days, preparing to review it for the I Want That! Tech Toys show on HGTV, which launches this summer. It’s a very cute little bunny with ears that can move. It’s constantly connected to the Internet by WiFi, and you can program it to do various neat things for you.

It communicates with you by speaking, and by flashing lights of various colors in different sequences. The Nabaztag website explains very well what each of the flashing color sequences means, so you’ll quickly understand what it’s trying to tell you.

The Nabaztag is a cool little gadget that endeared itself to us in no time at all, and Ligia and I found ourselves wanting to hear its voice more often.

We chose to place it in our living room. The setup was really easy. I just plugged it into an electrical outlet, and it soon found my WiFi connection and it was ready to go. Violet, the maker of Nabaztag, did something very smart when they shipped the bunny. They included an adapter, with interchangeable prongs for Europe, the UK and the US. It’s reminiscent of the newer Apple laptop adapters, for which you can buy a set of adapters to make them work in multiple countries, except Nabaztag ships theirs for ready use with each bunny.

Once it was connected to the Internet, I went to and registered it, using its MAC Address, which is also its Serial Number. It’s conveniently listed on its bottom. Once I registered it, I got to pick a name, age and sex for it. We decided our Nabaztag was a boy, and called it Pugsley.

After we completed the account setup, Pugsley came to life and said hello. We used the Services section of the site to choose from among the free services available, and there are many:

  • Talking Clock: Pugsley says the time on the hour, every hour, unless he’s sleeping. See below for more info about sleeping.
  • Tai Chi lets him stretch his ears in the funniest ways. He also makes cute noises and flashes multi-colored lights.
  • Recap of the week gives Pugsley the chance to say how the week’s been, whether he liked it or not, or whether it was eventful or not.
  • Nabaztag News allows you to pick from the New York Times, BBC, Slashdot, Wall Street Journal and People. You can also set the time when your Nabaztag will read them to you. We programmed Pugsley to read all of them to us at certain times. Of course, he doesn’t read every article, only the headlines.
  • The Air Quality service allows you to choose your city and get the air quality delivered to you both as a little sound blurb, and with luminous language. Air quality info is only available for certain cities, and the website explains how to interpret the flashing lights. The lights are blue, and if three of them flash slowly and in unison, the air quality is good. If they flash faster and not in unison, it’s not so good.
  • The Alarm Clock allows you to program the Nabaztag to wake you up at a certain time every day by playing your favorite sound or song. You can choose from a pre-selected list on the site, or you can upload your own MP3’s and configure it to play them. I programmed Pugsley to sing “Cheek to Cheek”, a song composed by Irving Berlin and sung by Fred Astaire.
  • The Weather Forecast allows you to get the weather twice a day in audio blurbs, and throughout the day through its luminous language. You can set which times you get the audio blurbs, and the Nabaztag also flashes lights to let you know how things should go. It uses a combination of yellow and dark blue lights to do it. All yellow means it’ll be sunny. Rain is all blue, flashing intermittently. Smog is flashing blue in unison. Cloudy is blue on the sides and yellow in the middle. Snow is flashing blue once again, and thunderstorms are fast flashes of yellow and blue.
  • You can also keep an eye on the Stock Markets. For the States, your Nabaztag can tell you how the S&P/TSX, Dow Jones Industrial, Nasdaq Composite, Nasdaq Industrial and S&P 500 are doing. You can set a time for an audio flash, or you can look at the flashing yellow lights. If only the center light is flashing, the market’s stable. If the lights are flashing from left to right, the market’s going up. If the lights are flashing from right to left, the market’s going down. The speed of the flashes tells you how fast the market’s going up or down.
  • If you live in Paris, the Nabaztag also has the Paris Traffic conditions. I turned this service on just for kicks, and it’s pretty funny. You can choose your itinerary based on the different gates into Paris, then it can play an audio flash for you, and it’ll also use its lights to tell you how things are. If things are completely packed, it’ll flash two red lights, simulating the brake lights of a car in front of you. If things are picking up, it’ll flash the center button red, then the two side lights, also in red. The speed with which it flashes this sequence tells you the approximate speed of the traffic.
  • You can also program your Nabaztag to tell you its mood, and you choose how often you want him to do it: whenever, often, from time to time, or seldom. I have Pugsley set on whenever, and really, he doesn’t do it that often, only about once a day.
  • There’s a service called Ear Talk, which I think is the coolest by far, because it involves human interaction, through the bunny. You can pair up the smart bunny with another, then when you move its ear up or down, the ear of the other bunny moves as well. So if you’ve got a sweetheart, you can both get bunnies, and communicate with each other throughout the day this way, just to let the other know you’re thinking about them.
  • You can set your own Nabaztag to alert you every time you receive a new email, by voice and light flashes. It will flash three purple lights to let you know if you have three or more messages, two lights for two messages, and 1 light for one message. You can program it to check POP3 (the most common), IMAP (.Mac) and SSL accounts (Gmail).
  • You can also set the bunny to go to sleep and wake up at certain times. You can even choose different times during the weekend. This is useful because you don’t want to be startled in case you receive messages at night. You see, you can set a theme music for every bunny, and it gets played before and after every message that gets sent, to identify the sender. Some of the theme sounds are pretty strange, and would definitely ruin my sleep if I heard them.
  • You can choose from a growing directory of Nabcasts, which are little audio recordings (like podcasts, but for the bunnies) that people can subscribe to. They’re organized by categories, and the directory is fun to explore. You can listen to the last episode of a Nabcast right on the Nabaztag website, to decide whether you’d want to subscribe to it, and once you do, you’ll get it delivered to your bunny every time a new episode is published. Everyone can publish Nabcasts, but you have to subscribe to one of the paid plans first.

Now is a good time to talk about the various subscription plans for the Nabaztag. There are three:

  • Free Style Rabbit (FREE)
  • Full Rabbit (about $5/month)
  • Full Friend Rabbit (about $7.5/month)

As you can see from the list of services above, the Free plan is pretty generous. In addition to the list above, you can also send Little Words messages through the Free plan, and you also get a limited number of web and email messages. Just log onto the Nabaztag website, go to Messages, Send, and select the Little Words tab. Type in the name of the rabbit to whom you want to send a message, choose it from the list, and you’re done.

The difference is that with the Full Rabbit plan, you can also produce and publish Nabcasts, and you can get unlimited emails and messages to your rabbit, whereas you’re limited to Little Words messages with the Free plan. The difference between the Full Rabbit and Full Friend Rabbit plans is that your friends aren’t charged for messages they send to your rabbit by web and email. Both the Full Rabbit and Full Friend Rabbit include the Full Services in addition to the Free Services, and these include:

  • RSS Feeds: set your Nabaztag to read you feeds you’re interested in. May I recommend my feed?
  • Stock Portfolio: set the bunny to tell you how your favorite stocks are doing.
  • Google Talk Alerts: have the bunny tell you when one of your friends is online.
  • Personalized Email Alerts: your Nabaztag will be able to tell you who the email is from, by defining simple rules.

Now for the bugs… Yes, there are a few, but that’s to be expected. The Nabaztag is a new product, and it’s brand new here in the States. I have one of the first units that got shipped here. As with anything new, there are bugs to be worked out, and when you’re an early adopter, it’s part of the game. So, with that in mind, here they are:

  • Pugsley didn’t wake up from sleep for the first couple of days. I had to reboot him in order to wake him up. I contacted Support and was told they had some server issues, which were resolved by the third day, when Pugsley was indeed able to wake up on his own. This glitch is understable, they’re probably working on setting up different servers for the States.
  • Pugsley couldn’t connect to the Nabaztag servers this past weekend (Saturday and Sunday). I contacted Support and was told this was related to the server problem. They fixed the problem right away on Saturday, but on Sunday, when it resurfaced, they were off. That’s something you’ll have to keep in mind about the Nabaztag. It’s made in France, and the French way of life is different than ours. If you can’t get them during the weekend, that means they’re home, taking a break. Don’t freak out, just wait till the next business day, they’ll get back to you. First thing on Monday morning, the connectivity problem was resolved, and Pugsley was back in business, happy as ever.
  • The weather feed for Washington, DC gave the wrong info. I contacted Support, and they said they’ll fix it.
  • The email alerts won’t work correctly for Gmail. That’s not Nabaztag’s fault, it’s just a quirk in the Gmail servers. When you’re logged on through the web, the servers will correctly indicate which emails are read and which aren’t, but when you log on by SSL/POP3, every message in the Inbox will show up as new. Therefore, if you set your Nabaztag to check your Gmail account, unless you’ve deleted everything from the account, it’ll always tell you that you have more than three messages. But it should work correctly for traditional POP3 and IMAP accounts.
  • Because the Nabaztag service for the States is brand new, they won’t have air quality information available for many of our cities. Plus, the traffic info is only available for Paris at the moment. Perhaps they’ll make it available for other cities in the future as well.

Finally, you’ll find the following guides very useful as you begin to use your Nabaztag:

I found the Nabaztag Advanced Configuration guide particularly useful as I troubleshooted my Nabaztag’s connectivity issues. But, I do have to say this: for probably 95% of the users out there, you won’t have to worry about pulling out any guides. Just take your Nabaztag out of the box, plug it into an electrical outlet, and you’ll be good to go! In those cases when you have to contact Support, their response time is really good. They got back to me within 2 hours during normal business hours, which is great!

If you’d like to purchase a Nabaztag, here is a list of vendors. The shops that have stars next to their names can also sell additional ears for the bunny, in case you’d like to customize it.

I hope you enjoy your bunny, I know we love ours! If you want to message our bunny, feel free to do so. Send your messages to Pugsley at