Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Auld Lang Syne: Thank You, Robert Burns

"Auld lang syne"
Courtenay Bartholomew
Trinidad and Tobago Express (December 31, 2008)

"Exactly one week after the celebration of a special birth, tonight we will be celebrating the demise of one year and the birth of a new year. In days of yore, for many the venue was the same - a church or cathedral, but the Midnight Mass of Christmas was not ushered in with thunderous applause and revelry. It was a solemn affair of thanksgiving and the entrance hymn was "Gloria in excelsis Deo'', giving glory to the newborn King on high...."

This is a somewhat cerebral discourse on the history and meaning of Robert Burn's poem "Auld Lang Syne:" and, I think, worth the reading.

"Auld Lang Syne"
Scotland of TV
Video (2:28)

Gerry McGregor's rendition of the Robbie Burns poem - as a sing-along.

Murphy's Laws of Technology - Another Take on the Information Age

"Technology Laws...
According to Murphy
"
From the Webster University website

"Murphy's Technology Law #1: You can never tell which way the train went by looking at the track.

"Murphy's Technology Law #2: Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.

"Murphy's Technology Law #3: Technology is dominated by those who manage what they do not understand...."

There are 17 listed. I think most of us have heard #14: "To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer."

This page is part of a PC humor section of Webster University's website: "Sometimes we need to step back and look at the world of technology from a different perspective. That's the purpose of these Web pages that I've added to the site."

Times Change: Laws That Didn't

"Wacky Laws Still on the Books in America "
FOXNews (December 30, 2008)

" From changing the color of baby chicks to shooting effigies to properly honoring the glory of the log cabin, Americans have spent valuable legislative hours throughout the years making sure we're on the straight and narrow...."

I remember the business about baby chicks: there was quite a hue and cry at one point over the cruelty of coloring them for Easter - and some quite reasonable concerns about salmonella if memory serves.

A prohibition on equine dental work made much better sense when horses were a primary means of transportation. These days, I understand that it's illegal to set back odometers.

Alabama's law against exploiting bears is probably more reasonable than it sounds, too.

Still, laws do seem to last longer than their reasons for existence. And some seem to be simply silly.

While I'm on the subject:

"Odd Alcohol Laws Keep the Party Spirit, Within Limits Of Course"
FOXNews (December 31, 2008)

"Before you pop the cork on that champagne bottle to ring in the New Year, it's best to be aware of the laws that regulate alcohol consumption in your state...."

Interesting: In my home state, Minnesota, it's legal to be drunk in public. But you can't use being boozed up as an excuse for breaking the law.

Makes sense to me.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mabinogi: Another Online Game, and a Wonderful Time-Waster

Mabinogi
a Nexon online game

My daughters introduced this game to me. It's another of those 'massive multi-player' online games. Mabinogi lets players operate characters in a fantasy world that's rather like late-medieval Europe, except with magic and seriously over-sized spiders. Other monsters too, I understand.

It isn't a simple hack-and-slash: characters can fish, go to school, and (I understand) develop a moderately rich set of skills. Just to see what it's like, I loaded it (all 800 megabytes!) on my computer today, and got a character started.

In the process, I learned that I'll have to be careful about playing it: It's entirely too much fun - and has the potential for taking up huge tracts of time.

I play Runescape, another MMP game, from time to time. The big difference I see at this point is that Mabinogi has much more detailed graphics.

And a larger footprint on your hard drive.

Still, it's fun.

One more thing: there's a free version (that's what I played with today), and a not-so-free version. Also quite a few opportunities to spend (real) money.

Finally, I'm told that the dialogs and descriptions were originally written in Korean. The translations are quite understandable - but I suspect that some Korean idioms were translated word-for-word into English. An example: one character has a helmet that covers his face "up to his nose." The illustration shows a chap with a helmet that lets you see his mouth and chin, but not his nose, eyes, forehead, or hair.

The linguistic oddities haven't gotten in the way of playing the game, though.

Finally, my son is looking forward to being thirteen. One of the many reasons is that players of this game must be 13 or older.

Text Messages at 20 Cents a Pop: Prodigious Profit, and/or Rip-off

"Text Rip-Off? Pricey Messages 'Cost Virtually Nothing' to Carriers"
FOXNews (December 30, 2008)

" In the past few years, people seem to have forgone the conventional phone conversation in favor of punching in short text messages on tiny keypads, all while mobile phone carriers have cashed in lucratively.
Text Messages at 20 Cents a Pop: Prodigious Profit
"In 2008, 2.5 trillion messages were sent from cell phones worldwide, up 32 percent from the year before, according to...."

The price of each text message has gone up, too, from 10 to 20 cents per message.

Considering that the text messages are tiny files that can - and do - travel in control channels, or in space reserved for operation of a wireless network.

The channel takes up space, whether there's a text message in it or not.

Not all carriers charge that much: and one of the ones that does is "eager to clear up any misunderstanding." That, I believe.

Oops! 15-Ton Payloader Poor Choice for Ice House Trail Maintenance

"TRACTOR DRIVEN INTO RIVER BY CENTRAL PARK THIS MORNING"
KROX (December 29, 2008)


(from KROX, used without permission)

"The Crookston Fire Department was called to Crookston Central Park at 2:13 this morning to rescue the operator of a pay loader [!] which had gone through the ice on the Red Lake River. Mike Raymond, a 27 year employee by the Polk County Highway Department was removed without injury. The pay loader continued to sink through the morning as divers and equipment was called to come and remove the machine...."

"Polk County Employee On Thin Ice With Boss"
KEYC (December 29, 2008)
With video (0:38)


(from KEYC, used without permission)

"Back in Minnesota...a Polk county employee is on thin ice with his boss... after he put a 200-thousand dollar implement into the river at Crookston. Polk County engineer Rich Sanders says county employee Mike Raymond was supposed to be clearing snow out of parking lots. Instead, it appears he may have been clearing a path to his ice house when he dropped a 200-thousand dollar, county payloader through the ice of the Red Lake River...."


(from KEYC, used without permission)

What impressed me was that this was not some addled late-adolescent whose brain was still being rewired. Mr. Raymond must be at least 40.

And, although northwestern Minnesota does tend to be chilly, river ice is not the sort of thing that one generally wants to put big, heavy, moving equipment on.

The KROX report said that the payloader driver was "in a bit of trouble." Considering that it took a backhoe, another payloader, and a dive team from Fargo to drag his ride out of the river, I'd say that was an understatement. Which we get a lot of in this heavily-Scandinavian part of the country.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Better Ideas From Japan: Outlets With Antelers

"Outlet Plate Uses Antlers to Hold Charging Phones"
Unplugged (December 16, 2008)

"Now, we're not usually fans of bringing attention to your wall sockets, but since we love antlers and anything to help keep our cords organized we can get behind Nendo's socket-deer...."

I'm not making this up.

The socket-deer is a product of Nendo, a company with offices in Tokyo that's dedicated to "Giving people a small " ! " moment."

I like the idea of little antlers growing out of wall outlets. My wife might have an alternative view, though.

More ideas - good, dubious, and strange - at "Better Ideas From ... "

Apollo 8, 40 Years Later

"Leaving Home: The Legacy of Apollo 8"
Space.com (December 24, 2008)

"Orbiting the moon 40 years ago on Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders snapped a picture that would become an icon of the 20th century: Earth, rising beyond the Moon's barren and bleached horizon into the blackness of space. To Anders and his crewmates, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, the loveliness of their home world was magnified by its smallness; from almost a quarter-million miles away, they could hide it behind an outstretched thumb.

"And yet, as Anders later said, in going to the Moon they had barely left home.

"Forty years later that famous Earthrise photo...."

This four-decade retrospective was a trip down memory lane for me. For others, it's a pretty good background the story to date, of humanity's first steps outward. The article ends with a look at the robotic explorers on Mars: "...they've given us a message that, if we heed it, will take us farther than we can imagine.

"It's the unspoken message in every transmission from our robotic surrogates: Follow me."

Everything You Wanted to Know About Cockroaches: But Were Too Disgusted to Ask

"The Cockroach FAQ."
Joe Kunkel's UMass Home Page
U. Massachusetts Amherst (2008)

What can I say? It's the answers to 76 (so far) questions about cockroaches.

I thought it was fascinating, but my interests aren't exactly on the 50th percentile for my demographic. Or any other, I suspect.

So: if you wanted to know what color cockroach blood is (it comes in two colors, by the way), how you can tell if a cockroach is breathing, wondered about the social life of cockroaches, or had other questions: this would be a good place to start looking for an answer.

Cockroaches don't have much of a social life, by the way. Maybe that's why Roach Motel® works as well as it does. ;)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Specialized Google Search Engines

"7 Almost Unknown Google Search Engines You Should Use"
makeuseof.com (December 22, 2008)

"Last week we covered some fun Google Easter Eggs, that you can find while browsing the site. This week, to take a more academic approach, we are going to cover 7 almost unknown specialized Google search engines that can be used for specialized consumer and academic research.

"Also included in this realm, but not within this post are Google Video, Pictures, News and Blogs which most users will already be familiar with...."

The features include Google Patent Search, Google Scholar, and US Government Search. I agree with the author: Google is probably working on similar services for other countries.

They're specialized, so they're not for everyone - but that's the whole point. If you need to do a focused search, one of these search engines might save you a lot of time.

Really Hot Fusion: Lawrence Livermore and Star Power

"Scientists plan to ignite tiny man-made star"
Telegraph.co.uk (December 27, 2008)

"It is science’s star experiment: an attempt to create an artificial sun on earth — and provide an answer to the world’s impending energy shortage.

"While it has seemed an impossible goal for nearly 100 years, scientists now believe that they are on brink of cracking one of the biggest problems in physics by harnessing the power of nuclear fusion, the reaction that burns at the heart of the sun.

"In the spring, a team will begin attempts to ignite a tiny man-made star inside a laboratory and trigger a thermonuclear reaction...."

This work is being done at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in California, and sounds like the best shot we've had so far at developing a working fusion reactor. This approach to fusion power involves zapping a fuel pellet with a laser.

What's really impressive about the Lawrence Livermore device is that it should produce ten times the energy it takes to start the fusion reaction.

Fusion power plants dotting the landscape won't be coming soon though. A working fusion power plant would need a laser that fires 10 times a second. The current model fires once every five hours.

Still, it's a start.

Dutch Engineers Reducing 1 in 10,000 Chance of Flooding to 1 in 100,000

"Before the Levees Break: A Plan to Save the Netherlands"
Wired (December 22, 2008)

"On a late fall afternoon on the western edge of the Netherlands, coastal engineer Marcel Stive stands atop a 40-foot dune. He stares out beyond the posse of wet-suit-clad surfers wading into the breakers of the North Sea. Where the surfers see inviting waves, Stive sees dry land—and a distant storm. He points south toward Rotterdam, Europe's busiest port. Arm outstretched, Stive rotates 180 degrees to face the shoreline running north. 'As far as you can see, in both directions, we're going to push the coast out 3, maybe 4, kilometers,' he says. 'We have to—to keep the water out.'...."

Engineers in the Netherlands are quite interested in making sure that the dry land in the country they made stays that way: dry. Particularly the part where Rotterdam is. That city, and the rest of the country that's below sea level, produces about 65% of Holland's GDP.

"...Yet the chance of a breach at Ter Heijde is actually quite low, about 1 in 10,000 in any given year. (In the lingo of storm protection, that's known as a 10,000-year flood.) The coastline and river deltas of the Netherlands are arguably the best-protected lowlands in the world, and the Dutch are a little miffed at Al Gore for suggesting in An Inconvenient Truth that their homeland is as vulnerable to rising seas as far less protected places like Bangladesh and Florida.

"To Stive and other sea-rise hawks, however, 1 in 10,000 has become too risky. They want to crank up defenses in some critical areas to the level of 1 in 100,000. 'To understand risk, you must consider the value of what would be lost,' says Stive...."

The article includes photos, a video, and maps: a fairly detailed look at a huge engineering project.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Year's in Time's Square - Via Webcams

"New Year's 2008"
Panasonic

"EarthCam's archived webcast of the 2008 New Year's celebration in Times Square for the 12th consecutive year with streaming video and audio from multiple webcams."

Looks like fun: this might beat watching it on television.

Countdown To New Year's

"Countdown to New Year - Time until Thursday, January 1, 2009 (UTC time)"
Time and Date (right now)

As I write this, it's

4: days
98: hours
5,915: minutes
354,939: seconds
Until the new year - Universal time.

Of course, by now, that's changed.

Happy New Year!

It's About Time - Atomic Clocks and a Wobbly World

"2009 to Arrive Not a Second Too Soon"
Space.com (December 26, 2008)

"Wait a second. The start of next year will be delayed by circumstances beyond everyone's control. Time will stand still for one second on New Year's Eve, as we ring in the New Year on that Wednesday night. As a result, you'll have an extra second to celebrate because a 'Leap Second' will be added to 2008 to let a lagging Earth catch up to super-accurate clocks...."

Aside from its effect on the Times Square countdown, most people won't notice this at all. Come to think of it, the Times Square revelers probably won't be checking their watches all that closely, either.

Still: for me, it's one more fascinating detail about this world.

Very Cool Astronomy-Related Photos

"Best 50 Astronomy Pictures of 2008"
Itv News (December 26, 2008)

"Astronomy is arguably the most beautiful of the sciences. I’m biased, of course, but it’s nearly impossible to gaze upon a picture of a galaxy, a moon, a nebula, and not see in it something compellingly artistic. Sometimes it’s the color, sometimes the shape, and sometimes it’s the knowledge that we can understand the subject of the picture itself...."

"Best 50 Astronomy Pictures of 2008?" They may be right. The photos are certainly very cool.

According to this article, Flagstaff, Arizona, is "the first International Dark Sky City, and maintains a lighting code that limits lights from polluting this majestic nighttime view...." Itv's illustration is this NASA photo:



NASA has a much larger (4,153 x 3,492 pixel) version at http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/image/0804/flagstaffsky_usno_big.jpg.

Innovative Baths and Showers: Some of Them Might Really Work

"18 Innovative and Sexy Shower and Bath Designs"
WebUrbanist (December 23, 2008)

"'Tis the season to truly appreciate a ready supply of steaming hot water you can stand in after coming in from the wind, rain and snow. For the innovation-minded, there are a host of creative, stylish new ways to bath or shower in that blessed warmth…as these 18 examples illustrate. Soak them up, and have a blast!..."

This is a fun post, with over a dozen sets of photos showing technically interesting and aesthetically appealing showers.



It also shows one unit which - I'm sorry - looks like an overgrown version of something I see every time I go into a men's lavatory:

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Is College Worth It?" - Good Question

"Is College Worth It?"
Clio and Me (December 26, 2008)

"In 'America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree,' Marty Nemko argues, 'College is a wise choice for far fewer people than are currently encouraged to consider it.' Looking at my plagiarism rate from last semester and considering the number of students at George Mason University who fail the mandatory History 100 survey simply because they do not show up or turn in their work, I have to admit that he has a point. He argues that high school students in the bottom half of their class should think twice before entering a four-year college. A two-year college or non-degree program might be more appropriate...."

I'll admit to a bias here: I really don't think college is for everyone. I don't think trade school is for everyone, either, and I know that everyone's not cut out for a career in the Marines.

I don't have anything against people who go to college, trade school, or join the Marines: I just don't think that any of these options - or others - is The Only Way To Go.

Particularly after I learned what I could have been making, if I'd had the sense to become a good auto mechanic.

"Is College Worth It?" won't be the easiest-reading, or most entertaining, post you're likely to read, but I think it discusses a very important topic.

There's a discussion thread on the same topic, with a link to the post and some rather diverse opinions. Including my own:

"Is the Bachelor's Degree Overrated?"
BlogCatalog discussion thread, started December 26, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Männerspielplatz: 17-Acre Sandbox for Grownup Guys

"Disneyland for Dudes: Playing With Backhoes, ATVs, Weapons"
Wired (December 22, 2008)

"Think of it as a testosterone-soaked sandbox: a German amusement park where, instead of standing in line to ride on roller coasters, you get to play with big, loud machines. For 219 euros (about $280), patrons can spend the day operating 29-ton Liebherr backhoes and 32-ton Komatsu front-end loaders, off-roading through the woods in a Mercedes-built Unimog, peeling out in a Suzuki SUV, and slinging some mud on quad bikes.

"The brainchild of Alexander Bammer, a former IT honcho, Männerspielplatz (literally 'men's playground') began seven years ago as a one-off corporate promotion with a handful of rented earthmovers at a construction site near Kassel in central Germany. The event struck a chord with pasty execs who loved getting...."

The Männerspielplatz sounds like a lot of fun: 17 acres of 'guy stuff.'

Women are buying tickets to the place, too. Apparently as gifts for their guys. That makes sense: it would keep them out from underfoot for an entire day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Good News from Bethlehem: Drumming Scouts and SRO in the Church of the Nativity

"Hundreds pack Bethlehem Midnight Mass"
CNN (December 24, 2008)

"BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNN) -- Hundreds of Christians packed the Church of the Nativity Thursday for a midnight mass in what is thought to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

"The standing-room-only service was marked with singing and organ playing.

"There were also large crowds outside the church that is one of the most sacred places in Christianity..."

"...Before the midnight mass, Palestinian scout groups representing Christians throughout the West Bank did as they always do on this day -- they marched, banging their drums loudly...."

Good news from Bethlehem. I was glad to read that. And now, at the risk of offending someone, Merry Christmas!

NORAD Tracks Santa 2008 - The Link's Fixed, Finally

I dropped the ball this year, and didn't check the link to the "NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center." That page on NORAD Tracks Santa had been moved, so the old link didn't work.

I apologize to everyone who visited "Santa Claus Position Update: NORAD Tracks Santa 2007" and found a dud link.

The 2007 post's link has been updated, and I'll try to be more alert next year.

Favorite Christmas Light Displays

"Our Favorite Christmas Light Displays - Sent In By You!"
FOXNews (Wednesday, December 24, 2008)

" You obviously have the Christmas spirit.

"Two weeks ago we asked Foxnews.com readers to send in photos of their Christmas light displays.

"We got the idea when we found a fun Christmas light display website called TackyLightTour.com and interviewed the founder Matt...."

I (micro-) reviewed Tacky Light Tour in "Over-the-Top Christmas Light Shows " (December 14, 2008).

FOXNews readers sent in photos of some spectacular yard displays. One of my favorites is "25,000 lights, 500 blow molds, 35 Airblown inflatables, giant toy soldiers, candy canes and more." It's crowded as a Victorian parlor, and glowing like a building supply store's lighting aisles. If you're snowed in, this might be a substitute for going out and seeing the lights.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Forgotten, But Not Lost: The Story of F-4023, the F-1 Engine that Never Flew

"Engine That Almost Launched Apollo 8 Moonshot Found 40 Years Later"
Space.com (December 22, 2008)

"Five seconds before the first men left Earth for the Moon on Dec. 21, 1968, the rocket they were riding ignited its first stage's five engines. They were the first astronauts to launch atop the Saturn V, and that day 40 years ago at 7:51 a.m. EST was the first time those particular five F-1 engines had fired together...."

One of the five F-1 engines shipped to the Cape for Apollo 8 had a leaky pump, and had to be replaced. This article tells how the F-1 with serial number F-4023 got sent back for repairs, and forgotten for 40 years.

More, at "Rocket engine that almost launched Apollo 8 to the Moon found at NASA 40 years later" (CollectSpace (December 22, 2008)).

Ecofont: Saving the Planet, Sensibly

"Ecofont"
SPRANQ (undated)

"The prints we make for our 'daily use' not only use paper, but also ink. According to SPRANQ creative communications (Utrecht, The Netherlands) your ink cartridges (or ink toner) could last longer.

"SPRANQ has therefore developed a new font: the Ecofont...."



Ecofont isn't likely to win any beauty contests, but it's readable, and seems like a practical way to use less resources without doing less. Pretty good idea, actually.

One thing I appreciate about Ecofont is that the designers remembered that the purpose of a font is, mostly, to be legible enough to read.

An Associated Press story says that the company tried using very thin letters, and zebra-striped letters, but: " 'It turns out that it's necessary to preserve the size and outline of letters to keep them readable,' company co-founder Gerjon Zomer says."

More, at:

"Dutch company punches holes in font to save ink"
Associated Press (December 22, 2008)

Top 10 Games of 2008, in Wired Magazine's Opinion

"Top 10 Games of 2008"
Wired (December 22, 2008)

"2008 was an amazing year for videogames.

"With the next generation of gaming hardware hitting its stride, the hits came fast and furious: Nintendo shipped its long-awaited Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Wii, Rockstar Games finally gave us Grand Theft Auto IV and Sony got its make-your-own platform game LittleBigPlanet out the door.

"Perhaps just as important, independent games shifted from quirky distraction to viable business model...."

I enjoyed the description of #10, No More Heroes: "This Wii game squeaks into 10th place largely on the strength of its well-directed and very funny story about an otaku doofus pro wrestler who gets duped into being a lightsaber assassin...."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wired's Top 10 Gadgets for 2008

"The Top Gadgets of 2008"
Wired (December 22, 2008)

"What a year it's been for gadgets. We saw the second coming of the Jesus phone, the toppling of Canon as the premier DSLR maker and the first short wobbly steps of the Android OS. We also saw the fall of the economy, which may or may not have jump-started the rise of the netbook. Hey, we're gadgetheads here, not economists...."

The list goes from their #10, the Herman Miller Embody Chair - a beautifully engineered office chair); through #6 ,Mitsubishi's LaserVue - a pricey television with a cool name; to #1, Netbook: MSI Wind - which is not one of those "underpowered, mediocre plastic boxes."

What impresses me about these gadgets is that I can imagine a reasonable person actually using them: they're far from being geek toys.

What's a Nickname of What, and Where'd They Come From?

I found two lists of nicknames this morning:

  • "Nicknames"
    Genealogy World (September 7, 1997)
    • It's a simple table of nicknames for names from Aaron to Zepaniah, and including Penelope, Pocahontas, and Waldo.
    • There's no discussion or explanation of any of the pairings, and I'm a little dubious about the table's accuracy.
    • For example, Oswald is listed as a nickname of Waldo. Sure, they're both Germanic names, and have "wald" in them - but "Oswald" is a name in its own right, from way back.
    • Still, I had fun reading the list. Maybe you will, too.
  • "Nickname Names for Baby"
    Think Baby Names (© 2004-2008)
    • "103 Nickname names for boys. Listing Nickname baby names 1-10. Archie, Art and Bert are popular Nickname baby names. Aad, Abbott, Ace, Algernon, Amerigo, Aspen and Bern are uncommon Nickname baby names. Click on each Nickname name for details and [variants],...."
    • Whoever put this resource together researched the topic. Click on a nickname, and you'll find more information. For example:
      • "The boy's name Lapo \l(a)-po\ is of Italian origin. Nickname of Giacomo.
      • "Baby names that sound like Lapo are Lippo and Loeb. Other similar baby names are Lalo, Lary, Capp, Cap, Pipo, La-, Laroy, Lacy, Ladd, Lad, Lacko, Lake, Lallo, Lale, Lane, Laud, Leo, Lino, Luano, Ludo and Nap.
      • "Lapo is a very rare male first name and a very rare surname (source: 1990 U.S. Census). Displayed below is the baby name popularity trend for the boy's name Lapo. Compare Lapo with related baby names.
    • This is, I think, a pretty good resource: at least as a starting point for researching a nickname.

Doing Something for a Much Larger Reason

"SpaceShipTwo Carrier Craft Makes Successful First Flight"
Space.com (December 21, 2008)

"A carrier aircraft designed to be the first stage of a commercial spaceline system made its maiden test flight today at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

"Designed by Scaled Composites, the huge and unique WhiteKnightTwo mothership rolled down the runway and muscled itself into the air using four Pratt and Whitney PW308A turbofan engines. The WhiteKnightTwo flew for about an hour, departing the runway at roughly 8:17 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, safely touching down at the Mojave Air and Space Port at approximately 9:17 a.m. PST.

" 'It's a big day,' said Stuart Witt, general manager of Mojave Air and Space Port. 'I think it's a real reflective time. When everybody's looking for a bailout, there are still people that are doing something for a much larger reason,' he told SPACE.com." [emphasis mine]

"...doing something for a much larger reason...." That's something to think about.


Update (March 13, 2009)
  • Mojave Air & Space Port
    " 'We look at this place as the best-kept secret in the business. We can see the future from here.' Marie Walker, East Kern Airport District Director"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Evolution of Dance: Six Minutes, Lots of Dance

"Evolution of Dance"
YouTube (April 6, 2006)
video (6:00)

"The funniest 6 minutes you will ever see! Remember how many of these you have done! Judson Laipply is dancing -...."

I'm not sure about that "...you will ever see!...." I've seen some pretty funny things, and hope to live for a couple more decades, at least.

Hats off Judson Laipply, though, for the smorgasbord of dance: from steps made famous by Elvis the Pelvis through the Village People's contributions to global culture, to quite a few moves I don't recognize.

The Awkward Song: A Touching Tale of Young Love and Removable Teeth

"The Awkward Song"
YouTube video (May 11, 2007)
video (3:52)

A touching song, about a young man and a young woman, both students, falling in love. I don't think there are many people, guys anyway, who haven't heard themselves saying something like this: "...Your teeth are like stars: They come out at night...."

Christmas Cookies that Work Out for You

Fox Trot, December 21, 2008


Jason says, "Cookies that burn off their calories for you. I'm gonna be rich!"

What a brilliant idea! Somehow, though, I don't think it would work.

(That's a thumbnail image: Free users can view the full-size strip for another 30 days.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

That's - Odd: Crabby Lights

Good heavens:



Looks a little like a drawing in lights of a crab, doesn't it?

Click on that thumbnail to see the original, posted elsewhere.

I've no idea where this comes from - but thought it was worth sharing.

At Last! an Answer to the Question: How Far Should My Elbow Bend?

"Normal Range of Motion Reference Values"
E-Hand.com: the Electronic Textbook of Hand Surgery (undated)

"Typical Range of Motion
"Elbow Extension/Flexion 0/145...."

The data is in a table, and tells how far the elbow, Forearm, Wrist, Thumb basal joint, Thumb Interphalangeal and Metacarpophalangeal joints, and finger DIP,PIP and MCP joints should bend.

Think of it as part of a spec sheet for the lower part of the human arm. Sure, it's not the sort of thing you'll bring up in conversation all that often: but I think it's interesting.

Of course, I think that quite a few things are interesting, that other people don't.

Yet Another Bit of Writing Advice, Again

" Writing Tools: WEbook Writing Secrets"
WEbook (undated)

"Improve your writing skills! WEbook Writing Secrets are writing tips and tools brought to you by experts in the craft. Whether you're looking for tips on fiction writing, poetry writing, essay writing, or just general writing tips, WEbook Writing Secrets has you covered. New writing tips are added...."

At best, I'm a little dubious about self-description that uses an exclamation mark in the first sentence. Maybe it's the Norwegian in me.

There's even an exclamation mark in one of the section titles:

  • "New! Recently Added Writing Secrets
  • "Nuts 'n Bolts: In-depth Writing Techniques
  • "General Writing Advice: Improve Your Writing
  • "Fiction Secrets: Short Story and Novel Writing
  • "Poetry Secrets: How to Write Poetry
  • "Non-Fiction Secrets: Writing Essays and Other Truths
  • "Writing Resources: Best Sites for Writers"
I don't think you'll find an idea here that isn't somewhere else, but it looks like a reasonably good resource, anyway: and seems to be well-organized.

The Invisible Web: Dark Data of Cyberspace

"Invisible or Deep Web: What it is, How to find it, and Its inherent ambiguity"
UC Berkeley - Teaching Library Internet Workshops (December 4, 2008)

"What is the 'Invisible Web', a.k.a. the 'Deep Web'?

"The 'visible web' is what you can find using general web search engines. It's also what you see in almost all subject directories. The "invisible web" is what you cannot find using these types of tools...."

This is a pretty good discussion of the "Deep Web," and has some practical advice for how to find and use it. If you are serious about research, this may not be a 'must read,' but it couldn't hurt to look the page over.

Funny Signs: The Title Says it All

"Funny Signs"
able2know (September 5, 2008)

"There are a lot of funny signs out there so share the ones you come across here.

"I'll get us started with some Zoo signs:..."

The first photo shows a sign that reads:

"PLEASE BE SAFE.

"Do not stand, sit, climb or lean on fences.
"If you fall, animals could eat you and that might make them sick.
"Thank you."


The next sign involves crocodiles.

Funny? Yes.

I like to think that zoo keepers are a bit concerned about the welfare of their visitors, too: and were using humor to get a point across.

Some of the signs, including the "PLEASE BE SAFE" one, have such perfect surfaces that I think they might be digital artwork. They're still funny, though.

A caution: some of the signs are not 'family oriented.'

Hansel and Gretel, the Silly Symphony and Before

"Babes in the Woods"
IMDB

"Two Dutch children stumble on a clearing in the woods where gnomes are going about their business. The gnomes are friendly to the children...."

I found this, after one of my kids asked about a cartoon we'd seen. She remembered it as a Hansel and Gretel adaptation, where the witch gets covered by something like chocolate and hardens. She thought it was a Disney cartoon, but I wasn't convinced.

I remembered the cartoon, too, and started a search: which led me to "Babes in the Woods." Wouldn't you know it, it's a Disney Silly Symphony. To make sure we were really looking at what we both remembered, we viewed "Babes in the Woods" on YouTube.

"Babes in the Woods (1932)"
Walt Disney Silly Symphony (1932)

YouTube video (July 7, 2008)
video (7:42)

No question about it: this was the 'hardened witch' cartoon.

I'd forgotten about the gnomish air corps: with geese and pumpkins.

Fun? I think so. But some people find stories like this scary.

I can see the point: thrown out of their home, lost in the woods, threatened by a cannibalistic nut, and forced to commit a particularly messy sort of murder in self-defense. Quite a kiddie story.

Project Gutenberg has an e-book copy of "Grimm's Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm" (in English, thankfully), and TVTropes.com has a pretty good writeup about Hansel and Gretel.

I may have some very interesting dreams tonight.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hands: How to Draw Them, With Illustrations

"Drawing Hands"
Tom's MAD Blog (December 18th, 2008)

"Easily the most asked question I get is 'how do you draw caricatures?'. However a close runner up is 'how do you draw hands?'. I'm not exactly the king of drawing hands, but I have made a special study of them as they are very important when doing comic book type work… hands and their gestures are a big part of 'acting' and therefore of storytelling.

"Next to faces, hands are probably the most expressive and intricate part of the human form. In fact,..."

Quite a few illustrations, some in color, and detailed how-2 text, make this a good resource for someone who wants to draw hands that aren't just recognizable - but expressive, too.

The style is more what you see in caricatures, than 'realistic' - but the same principles could be carried over into strictly representational art.

There's nothing particularly new here, but the author does a good job of bringing together techniques that work, explaining how they work, and how to use them.

Hybrid Technologies' MINI-E: an Electric Car that You Might Want to Drive!

"MINI Builds a Little 'Lectric"
FOXNews (December 18, 2008)

'Everybody knows' what an electric car is, right? - a golf cart with extra batteries and a vehicle license.


(from "Elton Baum and His 'Green' Golf Cart
(Loonfoot Falls Chronicle-Gazette (June 20, 2008))


This electric car is no souped-up golf cart.

" If you're doing some last minute Christmas shopping and looking for an unusual gift, might I suggest a battery-powered MINI?

"OK, given the preponderance of toy versions of the toy-like subcompact, that probably doesn’t sound like a very original idea, but I’m talking about one that you can actually drive, and not with a remote control. Not yet, at least.

"The MINI-E is the first all-electric version of the cheeky little runabout that’s been filling in those hard to fit parking spots in American...."


(from FOXNews, used without permission)

Sounds good: the MINI's

  1. Electric, so it's green - very important these days
  2. Really small and/or maneuverable, so it can fit into tight parking spots
  3. Probably does 0-25 in about ten minutes, and won't go any faster
Numbers one and two are spot-on. Number three is just plain wrong.

"...Unlike those odd-looking neighborhood electric vehicles that struggle to do 25 mph, the MINI-E has a governed top speed of 95 miles per hour courtesy of a 204 horsepower electric motor supplied by California-based electric car conversion company, AC Propulsion. With a 35 kilowatt hour (kWh) battery pack taking up the space where the rear seat usually is, it also accelerates as quickly as a gasoline powered MINI Cooper despite weighing nearly 600 pounds more...."

"MINI" - Ain't That Wun O Them Furrin Vee-Hicles?

Yes and no. The MINI is one of BMW's car lines, and (as of last year) the MINI-E chassis comes from a BMW assembly line in Oxford, England. And, MINIs are sold all over the world: The MINI international website helps people find a dealership in their area, and has a a rather fun interactive graphic on another page.

On the other hand, an American MINI-E is built by Nevada's Hybrid Technologies, using Hybrid Technologies' "advanced lithium management and battery-balancing system". There's more at "All-lithium electric Mini Cooper enters production." (MotorAuthority (July 11 2007))

So: this electric car has a British rolling chassis and a Nevada power plant. The two are brought together in by the Nevada company at it's Mooresville plant in North Carolina.

The last I heard, Nevada and North Carolina were part of America, so I'd say this is a mostly-American car. The parts that make it go, and what you see is assembled in America, anyway.

Which brings up an interesting point: Why hadn't Ford, GMC, or Chrysler started making something like the MINI-E several years ago? The technology has been here, and the Nevada-designed power plant can be shipped to Detroit as easily as Mooresville, North Carolina.

As I said in another blog, "maybe it's time for GMC, Ford, and Chrysler executives to get their golden parachutes, consign some of the existing products to automotive museums, and make room for people who have plans that will work in the 21st century...." (Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind (December 12, 2008))

The MINI-E: Cool, Fast, Green, and Just the Start

The MINI-E could be the start of a new, and functional, American auto industry: The MINI-E's 0-60 in six seconds isn't all that bad, it'll go a manageable distance between charges, and it looks like a practical city car.

There's no reason that I read about, why Hybrid Technologies couldn't make electric SUVs, mini-vans, tow trucks, or any other sort of road - or off-road - vehicle that's on the market. The way I see it, the old, established, Big Three automakers can start making vehicles with today's technology, or get out of the way and let someone else get the job done.

Okay, I'm off my soapbox. For now.

Related posts:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Minnesota isn't a Cool State: It's Downright Cold

"No respite as wintry storms spread over nation"
Associated Press (December 16, 2008)

"Freezing air blanketed much of the nation Tuesday, making roads hazardous in Texas and slowing recovery from ice storm blackouts in New England, in the second day of a bitter cold wave.

Temperatures were 20 below zero and lower across the northern Plains, and a band of snow, freezing rain and sleet stretched from Kansas along the Ohio Valley to Maine....
"

"...Some of the sharpest cold Tuesday was in northern Minnesota, where Hibbing bottomed out at 32 below zero and International Falls dropped to 28 below. In the middle of the state, St. Cloud fell to 24 below, breaking its old record of 21 below set in 1963...."

Those temperatures are all Fahrenheit.

There's more to the story:

"Weather: St. Cloud State University - Local Forecast"
St. Cloud State University (December 17, 2008)

"...Even though temperatures began rising about this time yesterday and have continued to increase all day and all night, St. Cloud managed to tie yet one more cold weather record. After our record low of -24°F early yesterday, temperatures did rise above zero by last evening. However, the average temperature for the day was still only -10°F, tying the record coldest average for December 16, set in 1897. That makes 4 record low temperatures broken or tied during the past two days. Still, days like the last two days happen during a normal winter. St. Cloud averages 5 or 6 days with a low of at least -20°F and 4 days with a high of zero or colder...." [emphasis mine]

This reminds me of a newspaper headline my father told me about. He'd recently moved to Minnesota, when he read: 'Cold Wave Broken! Mercury Rises to Four Below.'

There's something between a joke and a saying that goes, "Minnesota doesn't have a climate: it has weather." And, of course, "if you don't like the weather, stick around: it'll change."

Just the same, as the St. Cloud University post said, we've been having some record low temperatures lately.

Related post:

'So That's Why I Bought it' - Advertising and Your Subconscious Calculator

"New Theory: How Advertisers Get Inside Your Head"
LiveScience (December 17, 2008)

"Even with the recession, people are doing their holiday shopping and ads are playing a big role in steering them toward one product versus another.

"A new theory suggests how the ads can work on our unconscious mind to spur purchases.

"Scientists have long known that when we see a product repeatedly, our initial response is to want that object, and then after lots of visual exposure to the object, through advertisements or other means, our preference for it dwindles.

"Now cognitive scientist...."

Sounds reasonable, fits pretty well with the 'appeal to feelings, not facts' marketing principle, and explains why product placement in movies works so well.

Interestingly, the idea this article describes is that our subconscious mind isn't being emotional at all: it's calculating the value/cost ratio of items.

Death Map: If the Cold Doesn't Get You, the Heat Will

"U.S. Death Map: Where and How Nature Kills Most"
LiveScience (December 16, 2008)

"A new map plotting deaths resulting from forces of nature reveals where Mother Nature is most likely to kill you.

"People living in the South along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts have a higher likelihood of dying from a natural hazard compared to residents of the Great Lakes area and urbanized Northeast.

"And while intense hurricanes and tornadoes steal...."


(From Borden and Cutter/BioMed Central Ltd., via FOXNews, used without permission)

I was surprised to see that much of northern Minnesota had an average or below-average death rate from natural causes.

My guess is that not many people willingly move to northern Minnesota, and the ones born there are descended from those who had what it takes to survive fuel-freezing cold, tar-melting heat, droughts, floods, blizzards, mosquitoes, and marshes that look like meadows.

Across America, almost six out of ten natural-disaster deaths happen because of heat/drought, severe summer weather, or winter weather. And northern Minnesota has all three, if you wait long enough. The fishing and hunting is pretty good, though.

More, at

Silly Science: Hourglass Figure Not Good for Women

"Best Female Figure Not an Hourglass"
LiveScience (December 3, 2008)

"An imperfect body might be just what the doctor ordered for women and key to their economic success, an anthropologist now says.

"While pop culture seems to worship the hourglass figure for females, with a tiny waist, big boobs and curvy hips à la Marilyn Monroe, this may not be optimal, says Elizabeth Cashdan of the University of Utah.

"That's because the hormones that make women physically stronger, more competitive and better able to deal with stress also tend to redistribute fat from the hips to the waist...."

The scientist who thought that up has at least one oar in the water. The next paragraph says: "So in societies and situations where women are under pressure to procure resources and otherwise bring home the bacon, they may be less likely to have the classic hourglass figure, Cashdan hypothesizes in the December issue of the journal Current Anthropology...."

Elizabeth C. may be right, but this sounds a lot like the 'women are men, or should be' feminism of the sixties and seventies.

There's More to Life Than Hunting and Gathering

I don't question the facts: a woman who had to rely on her own resources for running down antelope and digging up roots might be better off with a mannish physique.

On the other hand, I have trouble imagining a woman who looked like Marilyn Monroe or Dolly Parton needing to rely strictly on her own food-gathering abilities, as long as there was a marginally healthy man in the general area.

Besides, it doesn't matter if Ms. He-Man is an incredibly capable hunter, if she doesn't have children. Evolutionary scientists seem to recognize that "survival of the fittest" "...deals with the reproductive success of the organisms, not solely their relative strength or speed." And, for Homo sapiens sapiens, it does look like a woman's ratio of body fat is a fertility factor.

Blue-Colored Streetlights Reduce Crime, Suicide?!

"Can Blue-Colored Light Prevent Suicide?"
By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
PsychCentral (December 13, 2008)

"An intriguing, anecdotal finding was recently reported by some news outlets that the implementation of blue-colored streetlights has reduced both crime and suicides:

"Glasgow, Scotland, introduced blue street lighting to improve the city’s landscape in 2000. Afterward, the number of crimes in areas illuminated in blue noticeably decreased.

"The Nara, Japan, prefectural police set up blue street lights in the prefecture in 2005, and found the number of crimes decreased by about 9 percent in blue-illuminated...."

The answer to the titles question is, basically, 'maybe, and then again maybe not.' There simply isn't enough data yet. Still, this is something that should be worth studying. Particularly a few years from now, when there's more information to work with.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Lights Aren't Just for the Tree

"Inspiration: Alternative Uses For Christmas Lights"
Apartment Therapy Los Angeles

"As part of our family tradition growing up, we'd always string lights around the Christmas tree the first weekend after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, we don't have the space to put up a real tree in our apartment but we still like the warm glow of a simple strand of white lights. We rounded up a handful of AT reader ideas and previous posts to make your apartment sparkle (even if you don't have the traditional Christmas tree)...."

There are photos, showing what the projects look like when finished: and somewhat sketchy descriptions of how to get there.

I think it's worth looking at, though, for people who like to decorate but are short on space. And, what really impressed me about this how-2 page was that some of the ideas for using Christmas lights could be done by someone who wasn't Martha Stewart and/or Bob Vila.

zzz-mailing: Using The Intenet - Asleep

"Sleep-walker emails friends"
News.com.au (December 15, 2008)

"A WOMAN in a deep sleep sent emails to friends asking them over for wine and caviar in what doctors believe is the first reported case of 'zzz-mailing' - using the internet while asleep.

"The case of the 44-year-old woman is reported by researchers from the University of Toledo in the latest edition of the medical journal Sleep Medicine.

"They said the woman went to bed about 10pm but got up two hours later and walked to her computer in the next room, Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reports.

"She turned it on, connected to the internet, and logged on before composing and sending three emails.

"Each was in a random mix of upper and lower cases, not well formatted and written in strange language, the researchers said.

"One read: 'Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4pm,. Bring wine and caviar only.'..."

The sleeping pills may have had something to do with it. She'd been taking Zolpidem: the commercial name in America is Ambien.

This is a step or two up from sleepwalking. She had to remember her password, and the procedure for starting her computer and getting on the Internet.

More, at

Monday, December 15, 2008

Scientific American's Change and Stasis in 2008: Obama, Large Hadron Collider, AIDS, and Probably More

"2008 in Photos--10 Biggest Science Stories"
Scientific American (December 15, 2008)

"A slide show looking back at the people, places and discoveries that shaped the world of science over the past year"

"2008 was a year of sweeping change, as China reinvented itself for its Olympic close-up and relative newcomer Barack Obama fought his way to victory in an election that carried hefty implications for the future of science policy in the U.S. But it was also a time of frustrating stasis: The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) ground to a halt shortly after its heralded start-up and sits dormant as the year draws to a close, and the 25th anniversary of the identification of the virus that causes AIDS passed without a cure in sight...."

It's that time of year: I figure we'll be seeing a lot more lists about what happened in 2008 over the next two weeks.

Beware Sandwich-Throwing Boyfriends

There is a funny side to this "Odd News" item about two sandwich-throwing boyfriends, and their girlfriends and mothers.

I mean to say: assault with a sandwich?

It's serious, too. One of the twits broke his girlfriend's glasses. That's serious enough: but she was giving him and their infant a ride at the time. From his mother's place.

From the news:

"Port St. Lucie man accused of hurling sandwich in girlfriend's face"
TCPalm.com Odd News (December 15, 2008)

"PORT ST. LUCIE — A 20-year-old welder accused of throwing a sandwich at his girlfriend and hitting the top of her head with his fist is facing a battery charge, according to a police report released Monday...

"...The recent incident reportedly happened Friday morning when Matthew J. Rubin, 20, allegedly hurled a sandwich at his 19-year-old girlfriend during an argument.

"The girlfriend told police that Rubin argued with his mother about renewing his car insurance, and he reportedly denied that she told him to do so. Rubin allegedly "snapped" when his girlfriend told him his mother did tell him about the insurance...."

There's been at least one other assault-with-a-sandwich incident in Port St. Lucie recently:

"...That alleged melee began after the victim picked up Emmanuelle Rodriguez — her boyfriend and child's father — from his mother's house in Port St. Lucie. They headed north on Interstate 95 to their new apartment in Fort Pierce as their infant son slept in the back.

"The victim told police Rodriguez got angry while she drove and 'started to hit her in the arm and striking her in the face with a sandwich, knocking her glasses off her face,' the report states.

"The victim almost lost control of the vehicle because she couldn't see the road. Rodriguez then ripped off the rear view mirror and used it to beat and shatter the windshield. She exited I-95 at St. Lucie West and told Rodriguez to get out and get his mother to pick him up...."

Petulant Boys, Sandwiches, and Common Sense

I wouldn't wish over-age-in-grade preteens like these two on any woman: mother or girlfriend. And, I'm not blaming the girlfriends involved: I understand what it's like to have emotion override higher brain functions.

Just the same: there's something to be said for taking time to observe that dreamy hunk before letting him move in.

I'm embarrassed for the two sandwich-throwers: particularly the one who was told to have his mother pick him up.

Blood Pudding, Steak and Kidney Pie, and Haggis

"Meaty Girl: Steak & Kidney Pie"
Meaty Girl (December 12, 2008)

"Blood, or "black" pudding -- that crusty, congealed animal blood dish so popular in England -- used to be on the menu at the George & Dragon, the Valley's celebrated British pub. The term 'blood sausage' is British, referring to a sausage made by cooking blood with a filler (usually meat, fat, bread, or potatoes) until the blood becomes thick and coagulates as it cools. It's a typical part of a traditional breakfast in the U.K. and the basis for a variety of sausages throughout Europe.

"But alas, the...."

My mouth waters, just reading about blood pudding and blood sausage: but then, my ancestors developed - and willingly ate - haggis.

Speaking of Haggis -

If you life in America, you may find it difficult to find haggis. For some reason, there's little demand for the delectable combination of sheep's lung and other organs, suet, oatmeal, and other ingredients: all stuffed into a sheep's stomach and simmered.

On top of that, the USDA doesn't allow haggis to be imported. They think it's unfit for human consumption. It's probably because of the lungs. Since 1971, lungs have been banned in America. Someone found "stomach contents, lesions and bacteria" in lungs, it seems. (USA Today (January 28, 2008))

Following that logic, pork, beef, chicken, lettuce, and practically everything else human beings eat should be banned, too: but that's a whole different topic.

So, for those people out there who might consider eating something besides McBurgers or tofu, here's a page with a little bit about haggis, and two recipes:


One of the recipes is for real haggis.

The other is a pale imitation, quite legal to make here in America, and which may give a person some vague glimmer of what haggis actually tastes like.

As a law-abiding American citizen, I certainly do not advocate violating this country's regulations. So, if you live in America: be a nice citizen, and eat what the USDA tells you to.

Or, if you're blessed to live in, or visit, Scotland, have some real haggis.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Over-the-Top Christmas Light Shows

Tacky Light Tour
"Now Featuring 21,761,422 Christmas Lights!
and 1,614 inflatable Christmas displays and 239,499 animated Christmas scenes.
"

"...What is a Tacky Light Tour?

"A Tacky Light Tour is a trip made with family and friends from one home or business insanely decorated for Christmas to another usually made in a passenger car, but sometimes taken in limousines, vans and tour buses. Traditionally, displays with more than 10,000 Christmas lights qualify to be included among the very best Christmas displays found on the Tacky Light Tour...."

"Tacky" is their word. I might prefer exuberant, lavish, enthusiastic, or maybe alternatively-tasteful. "Tacky" is a pretty good way of describing some of the season's over-the-top displays, though.

On the other hand, I rather like "tacky" displays. I see them as a sort of American folk art: one that's evolving as new technologies arrive.

Now, a video featured on Tacky Light Tour's home page:

"These Xmas Lights Dance - literally"

YouTube (December 08, 2006)
video (2:08)

Video Games, the Great Depression, and Monopoly: Yes, There is a Connection

"Recession's On, Game Sales Up: Let the Bad Times Roll!"
Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind (December 14, 2008)

"There's a lesson to be learned here: "November video game sales near $3 billion" (Associated Press (December 12, 2008)). That's up about 10% from last year at this time.

"Not bad for an economy in crisis...."

I'm reviewing one of my own blog posts again: but this one might actually be worth reading.

The point is that, although there really is a global economic crisis going on, and the American automotive industry isn't what it was in the fifties, there are some bright spots.

What I find personally frustrating is that I don't have much background in designing video games, and nothing in the works. Still, there's got to be some way to help people deal with a less-than-perky economy.

So, You Think You Know About Monopoly?

"Monopoly History" tells more about the history of Monopoly than you probably knew: including what the game was, before it got called "Monopoly."

Hardcore's Reactor: That's One Cool Computer

"Soak It to Me: Inside Liquid-Suspended Gaming PC"
Wired (December 13, 2008)

"Looking for a beefy gaming rig, and don't mind getting your hands a little wet? Hardcore Computer's Reactor might just be the 100-pound computational monolith for you.

"Crafted from 2.5mm-thick aircraft aluminum and packed with powerful hardware, the Reactor is already a fairly striking and competitive machine. But there's a secret weapon sloshing around in that unassuming tank: four and a half gallons of cooling oil...."

This isn't a gimmick. Computers used for gaming tend to be overclocked, and generate heat. Lots of it. Air cooling isn't all that efficient, and liquid coolant delivered through a manifold of tubes gets complicated.

So, Hardcore Computer's Reactor has its components submerged in a bath of cooling oil.

It works, and in my opinion looks cool. But then, I'm impressed with just about anything that has clear plastic, visible circuit boards, and glowing blue lights.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Very Contemporary Japanese House in a Forest

"Shell House in the Japanese Forests"
freshome (December 9, 2008)

"The Shell House designed by Artechnic, something that you would expect to see on the shore of the ocean, is one of the most amazing architectural designs I’ve seen. Deep in the woods of Karuizawa...."

A half-dozen photos that come with the article show a residence filled with beautiful, sweeping lines.

The text says that the shape of the holiday retreat was inspired by the conch shell, but that wasn't my first impression. I'm sorry, but what's in the lead photo of this article still looks like two titanic, almost-empty, squashed toilet paper rolls.

A Heirarchy of the Beards

"Heirarchy of the Beards"

It's an 18 inch by 24" poster, available on wondermark.com, which is also an online comic. Or, as the site puts it, an "illustrated jocularity."

The classification of beards goes from "flapwings," "claus-esque" and "chin-muffler" at the top to a half-dozen at the bottom that include "brillo brush," "bunny-down," and "patchy McGee." Between, there's a wide range, including "wilted cigar" and "soup-saver."

I found the poster, in the website's store, under (what else?) Posters.

His Tube: YouTube, Catholic Style

His Tube

This is a Catholic version of YouTube. It isn't as large, and doesn't have the tacky, badly-edited ripoffs of copyright-protected video that YouTube has been known to remove, but what's on His Tube might be worth viewing.

It looks pretty easy to use, too. Here's part of what they say about uploading videos:

"Post a Video to His Tube
"Great! You've got something to share.

"If it's already been posted to the web somewhere, just tell us where you found it.

"Or upload your original content to our free service."

One thing: you won't see your video right away. They aren't displayed until a human being checks it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Just What is Google's Page Rank?

"What is PageRank?"
WebWorkshop (undated)

"PageRank is a numeric value that represents how important a page is on the web. Google figures that when one page links to another page, it is effectively casting a vote for the other page. The more votes that are cast for a page, the more important the page must be. Also, the importance of the page that is casting the vote determines how important the vote itself is. Google calculates...."

This is a pretty good resource for webmasters and bloggers. There's more detail than most discussions of Page Rand, and some sensible advice (like 'don't link to link farms').

Thanks to a fellow-BlogCataloger, Sway, for mentioning this in a BlogCatalog discussion thread about Page Rank.

The Schmidt Sting Pain Index: Quantifying Insect-Induced Agony

"Bzzzzzzz"
Futility Closet (December 17, 2005)

"After he'd been stung by almost everything, entomologist Justin O. Schmidt created the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, a four-point scale comparing the overall pain of insect stings:

"* 1.0 - Sweat bee: 'Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.'..."

Nine data points are listed, running a gamut through "...2.0 - Yellowjacket: 'Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.'..." to "...4.0+ - Bullet ant: 'Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.' "

Three-Cent HIV Test: I've Seen Worse Ideas

"Diagnostic Lab Made of Paper and Tape Could Lead to a 3-Cent HIV Test"
Discover (December 10, 2008)

"A new device smaller and cheaper than a postage stamp could be used to diagnose diseases in developing countries, Harvard researchers report. The sophisticated microfluidic diagnostic devices, called microPADS, are made out of little more than paper and sticky tape and cost about three cents each. '“The starting point with us was asking, "What's the simplest, cheapest [material] we could think of?" … And that was paper,' [The Scientist] said co-author George Whitesides...."

If these microPADs are as reliable as the developers say they are, this is a really good idea.

As the article points out (quoting Wired Science): "...In the developing world, cost, durability and ease-of-use are stumbling blocks for many medical technologies. But a cheap, simple device like a paper microfluidics chip could be used in health care diagnostics, and for monitoring environmental factors, quality of water and the health of plants and animals...."

Hats off to Discover and Wired Science for the detailed reporting: and seeing that 'developing countries' have health issues other than AIDS.


BTW, there seems to be a difference of opinion about how the paper microfluidics chip's name is spelled: both microPADS and microPADs show up in the article.

Also, the article's URL indicates that the original headline had the chip's cost at two cents each.

Black Cat Art

"Black Cat"Artist: Kain White
redbubble.com (undated)

Oil on canvas
(from redbubble.com, used without permission
It looks bigger - and better - on the page.

Big Three Automakers Going Bankrupt: Is it Really a Problem?

"So Big Three Collapse: Is That a Problem?"
Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind (December 12, 2008)

"There may be Americans who don't know that the Big Three automakers in this country are ready to fold. But my guess is that they don't watch the news, or get out much.

"The conventional wisdom seems to be that, if General Motors Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler go bankrupt, unemployed auto workers will be thrown out of their homes, Big Three executives will have to cut back on their trips to Starbucks, and the American economy will collapse...."

This is an alternative view of what could happen if the Big Three automakers in America collapse. The idea is that maybe it's a good idea to let people who haven't run their companies into the ground start trying new ideas - not giving more bananas to three 800-pound gorillas.

Starting a Small Business Without Losing My Mind is another one of my blogs, so naturally I think this idea is worth considering. Your own experience may vary.

And, since this post seems anything but apathetic, an explanation may be in order. The Lemming wrote a post about this blog's odd name a while ago.

Emoticon Trademarked?! Russian Wants Bucks for :-)

"OMG: Russia entrepreneur looks for $$$ from ;-)"
Associated Press (December 11, 2008)

"MOSCOW (AP) — How much would you pay for a ;-)? A Russian businessman has trademarked the emoticon — or combination of punctuation marks — used to convey a wink in text messages and e-mail.

"Oleg Teterin, president of the mobile ad company Superfone, said Thursday he doesn't plan on tracking down individual users following the decision by the federal patent agency.

" 'I want to highlight that this is only directed at corporations, companies that are trying to make a profit without the permission of the trademark holder," he said in comments to NTV...."

I am Not Making This Up

The idea of trademarking a series of punctuation marks that's been in common global use for years is - in my opinion - crazy. But, not without precedent.
  • Four years ago, the W Hotel chain went after companies that made T-shirts, baseball caps, whatever, with a big "W" on them. There was a presidential election on, and George W. Bush's nickname, sort of, was "W." W Hotels almost had a point: Their attorneys said that using a W like that was " 'eroding the unique brand identity developed in the W logo.' "
  • And, there's the case of the original Smiley Face. It looks like Harvey Ball made the first one, back in 1963. The Worcester Mutual Insurance Company paid him $45 for it. Neither of them applied for copyright, and WMIC wouldn't have tried to trademark it: they wanted Smiley for internal morale-boosting. (Wikipedia has a pretty good, and apparently accurate, page about Smiley and smileys.)
So, if a letter of an alphabet can be trademarked, why not a punctuation mark? Or, even more reasonably, a series of punctuation marks?

I said "more reasonably," not "reasonably." I still think the idea of making :-) or :) a trademark is nuts. If Teterin makes his claim stick, it'll be wonderfully profitable, or stifle corporate imaginations, or both. But I still think it's nuts.

Maybe I'm Missing Something Here

If the president of Russia's mobile ad company Superfone can cash in on emoticons that have been in common use around the world for years: maybe I can, too.

I looked it up: the three most commonly used letters in the English language are E, A, and R. (Not the whole English language, actually. Just the words in the "Concise Oxford Dictionary.")

Maybe I should follow Mr. Teterin's example, and trademark those letters. Then, I could demand, say, $10,000 from every business that uses those letters. I'd make a fortune from eye, ear, nose, and throat specialists alone.

Will Mr. Teterin's Gambit Work?

I have no idea whether this bit of loco entrepreneurialism will make it through the courts. Russian courts, I take it.

This could be interesting. Turns out, there's a bit of a line forming, of people who really invented :-) . According to the AP article, one of them's an unnamed Russian man, who also said he had the trademark to :-), and an American - Scott Fahlman - says he created :-) .

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lots of Photos of a Very Fancy, Quite Modern, House

"The Berkshire Residence by Morrison Seifert Murphy"
The Contemporist (December 9, 2008)

"Morrison Seifert Murphy Architects have sent us photos of their work on the Berkshire Residence located in Dallas, Texas...."

Between that and "This site is in a traditional single-family neighborhood with large mature trees in front and a busy thoroughfare in the rear. These opportunities and limitations became the genesis of the design of the house...." are lots of very attractive photos of a quite upscale house. Plus, a rare item in this sort of thing: a floor plan. On top of that (under it, actually) is a roof and site plan.

Spot Amateurish Writing Glitches: Before Your Readers Do

"The Ten Mistakes"
"Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)"
Hold Uncensored (undated)

"Like many editorial consultants, I’ve been concerned about the amount of time I’ve been spending on easy fixes that the author shouldn’t have to pay for.

"Sometimes the question of where to put a comma,..."

It's written for fiction writers, but anyone who wants - or needs - to put words together and make sense can use this resource.

The author says, "...The list also could be called, '10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,'.... " I'm inclined to agree.

Blue Origin: Into Space in a Flying Gumdrop

"Secretive Space Vehicle Tested at Private Texas Site "
Space.com (December 8, 2008)

That secretive rocket work being bankrolled by billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com fame has shed some new light on its activities.

"Blue Origin is developing New Shepard, a rocket-propelled vehicle that takes off and lands vertically and is designed to routinely fly multiple astronauts into suborbital space at competitive prices....

"...Blue Origin is now noting that, in addition to providing the public with opportunities to experience spaceflight, New Shepard will also provide...."

If Blue Origin looks familiar, you may be remembering the McDonnell Douglas Delta Clipper. NASA's X-33 program went with Lockheed Martin's entry in the single-stage-to-orbit competition: one using an ambitious linear aerospike engine.

It's good to see the McDonnel Douglas 'Delta Clipper' approach being used again. As I recall, McDonnel Douglas' idea was to design a workhorse single stage vehicle that could take off, enter orbit, return, land, and then do it again. Sort of like the Shuttle, but without the external tank and boosters.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New York City's Empire State Building, Fay Wray, Willie Sutton, and a Whacking Great Loophole

"Political Science: What Being Neat or Messy Says about Political Leanings"
New York Daily News (December 2, 2008)

"In one of the biggest heists in American history, the Daily News "stole" the $2 billion Empire State Building.

"And it wasn't that hard.

"The News swiped the 102-story Art Deco skyscraper by drawing up a batch of bogus documents, making a fake notary stamp and filing paperwork with the city to transfer the deed to the property...."

Good news: The Daily News didn't publish all details of how it got past New York City's remarkably trusting property-transfer system.

Bad news: Some unscrupulous people have scammed the city and some of its citizens already.

What impressed me was how the city clerk didn't pick up some of the huge clues the paper's agent gave:

  • Nelots Properties LLC received the property
  • William Sutton was the Notary Public involved
  • Fay Wray signed as a witness
    (Granted,the 'signature' is a trifle hard to read)
What's so odd about "Nelots"? Try spelling it backwards.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bloggers Unite is Against AIDS

Bloggers UniteHere's the deal. December 1 is "World AIDS Day" - and the banner says "spread the word."

Let's be very clear about that: it's "spread the word," not "spread AIDS." Bloggers Unite is against AIDS.

You'll find what more serious bloggers had to say in a BlogCatalog discussion thread:

"Blogger Unite for World AIDS Day on December 1st"
(BlogCatalog discussion thread, started about November 19, 2008)

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