Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Computer Nerd's Birthday Cake

"Computer Nerd Birthday Cake"
frostfire (May 9, 2008)

Nothing but a photo of a cake, decorated with a truly nerdy birthday greeting.


Better ideas from England: Concept Car With Built-in Gym

"GYM Concept Car Powered By Your Exercises"
DeviceDaily (August 29, 2008)

"The future is coming and in the future, the cars powered by fossil fuels will be forgotten therefore designers will have to come up with new ideas for new types of fuel. While hybrid and solar-powered cars seem to have an advantage, the GYM concept car comes with a new and revolutionary idea: a car which harnesses the energy from your workout...."

The post cites this as its source:

"GYM Concept Car"
100 Percent Car (August 25, 2008)

"The GYM Concept comprises of a single-seat cockpit surrounded by a lightweight injection molded magnesium alloy chassis and built in exercise machines. Covering the chassis is a minimal amount of carbon-fibre bodywork, giving the car a purposeful appearance which was in part inspired by WW2 fighter aircraft

"Inside the GYM Concept Car is where things get interesting. Powering the car is an electric motor and battery pack. The batteries are charged either through a handy plug-in socket, or by harnessing the energy created by the driver when parked up and working out using the built in array of exercise equipment, which includes a stepping machine, rowing machine, bench press, pull up simulator and arm weights! This is not just some dated peddle kart...."

This second post says that this not-a-peddle-kart was designed by a competition held by P4 Cad Cam Services, a British Company.

Both posts include quite a few photos.

What's particularly interesting to me is that the second post in particular seems to take the idea of a combination car/gym quite seriously. "...While the idea of a car incorporating a gym might seem completely crazy to many people, this is exactly what a concept car should do, challenge the conventional ideas of transportation and offer alternative solutions to various scenarios...."

True enough: but I think bicycles and pogo sticks offer a more efficient combination of transportation, exercise, and fun: and at lower cost.

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

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Toddler and a Dog: Cute, Funny Video; Daft Comments

"Dog and baby play in the kitchen"
BoreMe (undated: probably around June, 2008)

"Four legged child minder"

Video (0:46)

Personally, I liked this video. And the toddler seemed to be thoroughly enjoying playing with a kitchen door. He (or maybe she) didn't stop laughing.

I trust that you'll enjoy this video.

Some people didn't, however.

One of the comments, signed "A sensible parent:" "Oh yeh, very funny, especially when the dog bites the childs face off - poor little Johnny, he was such a sweet boy, the dog loved him, wail wail. These idiots don't deserve a child."

Since I do not wish to unduly shock or offend viewers, I offer these cautions:
  • The toddler is standing on an uncarpeted floor
    • Which may be slippery if wet
    • Without
      • Safety helmet
      • Elbow padding
      • Other protective gear
  • There is a dog in close proximity which could
    • Have rabies
    • Suddenly turn on the toddler
    • Be related to the Hound of the Baskervilles
If you are so hardened and callous as to be undismayed by a toddler recklessly exposed to such dangers, I think you'll enjoy the video.

Godzilla-Sized Storm Drain

"TAMING TYPHOONS: Incredible Storm Water System in Japan"
Inhabitat (July 17, 2008)

"If you think that’s a computer rendering, guess again. The incredible engineering masterpiece pictured above is a massive stormwater management solution for the metropolitan area of the city of Saitama, Japan. While it looks like the set of the next action blockbuster or music video, the structure is real and will leave you washed away if you overstay your welcome when a typhoon hits. Coming in at 25.4 meters tall (83 feet) and 78 meters (255 feet) wide and running 177 meters long (580 feet), the massive underground system started construction in 1992, and is open for tourists interested in exploring a vast concrete landscape...."

(From Inhabitat, used without permission.)

More at "Impressive Storm Sewer System / Saitama, Japan"
Arch Daily (July 7, 2008)

The system is designed to handle water from typhoons, or a similar overload, and hasn't been used yet. But, given the history of Saitama, Japan, they'll find out how it works soon enough.

An Utterly Useless Toy Robot: I Like It


"It looks like a destruction-dealing machine of doom from a science fiction movie, but the Climbatron's purpose in life is much more peaceful.

"This bipedal robot has a suction pad on the bottom of each of its two big feet. Stick it to a window, and off it'll go, stomping slowly upwards.

"Provided the window and the suction cups are clean, it'll keep going till it reaches the top. Unfortunately, with the single mindedness typical of robots, ...."

Offhand, I can think of few things as utterly useless as Climbatron. And I wouldn't mind having one.

This window-climbing, ten centimeter tall, robot from England (Herefordshire, more precisely) looks like a lot of fun. And, at £7.95, it's not crazily expensive. (I thought that was about $14.46 USD, but it turned out I was wrong.)

ShinyShack's Climbatron page includes a video of the little robot in action.

Fun! Useless, but fun.

For people who don't live in the United Kingdom, ShinyShack does business through their international site, Go to that website's Climbatron page, and you'll learn that the price is about €9.91, or US$15.66.

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming, About the Lemming

For an "Apathetic" Lemming, I've got pretty definite opinions.

Like the last post, about the FAA managing air traffic control with a couple of vintage computer system.

I don't let having opinions get in the way of having fun with the Web and the rest of the world, though. And, now that I've posted my take on the FAA's use of antique technology, I'm off to see what's interesting, offbeat, and/or worth writing about, out there.

Two other self-indulgent, mildly narcissistic, posts:

A Software Glitch, Vintage Computers, and FAA Air Traffic Control

About 60,000 people got the opportunity to practice patience last Tuesday, when the FAA had over 600 flights" in the air, and no computer system to keep track of them.

Redundancy Has Its Place

For some jobs, redundancy isn't a good idea. When you're doing something like raking leaves or delivering pizza, having twice as much equipment as you need doesn't make sense.

On the other hand, when you're keeping several hundred airplanes from running into each other, a little redundancy is nice.

The Federal Aviation Administration, to its credit, does employ redundancy. It's got two computer systems to keep track of air traffic control over the fifty contiguous states, Alaska, Hawaii, and the surrounding region.

One of them's in Atlanta, Georgia. The other's in Salt Lake City, Utah. The FAA's even thinking of maybe setting up a third system, someday.

Actually, the FAA doesn't have as much redundancy as it seems. the Salt Lake City computer handles western flights, and Atlanta's National Airspace Data Interchange Network handles eastern flights: as a rule.

The Atlanta center's computer was developed by a Dutch company that went out of business. The FAA has been maintaining NADIN since the 1980s.

Not to worry. NADIN's being upgraded. And, sooner or later, the FAA's ground-based radar system, designed in the 1940s and 50s, will be replaced by one that uses satellites.

Power plants and credit card companies are expected to have multiply-redundant systems. Maybe air traffic control should, too.

I'm not faulting the FAA all that much. It's a government bureaucracy, and outfits like that seem to have a hard time dealing with new technologies. Besides, I haven't run into a seriously fact-based assertion that the FAA still uses vacuum tubes since 1995.

Still, I'd say it's time for the FAA to upgrade from 1980s information technologies. And take a very serious look at getting a system with real redundancy. Soon.

Soon, Yes: All At Once, No

On the other hand, I'm not sure that I'm on the same page with Wired magazine. Their article says "...that piecemeal upgrades of the air traffic network - which the FAA says has at least 40,000 pieces of equipment - are not good enough...."

I agree that, after twenty-some years, it's time for a new system. But, having survived a situation where the boss got all-new computers and software, all at once, I'd just as soon see the FAA take a "piecemeal" approach.

On the other hand, I hope it's not another twenty years, before the FAA decides that GPS is a good idea, and warms up to the Web and compact disks.
In the news:

Friday, August 29, 2008

Make Your Own Disneyland Sign - Virtually, of Course

"Disneyland Sign Generator"
Add Letters

This is a simple, and fun, bit of online software: You can put your own message, complete with a Disney image, on a Disneyland sign. Virtually, of course.

They've got a Newspaper Headline Generator too.

Nokia Makes a Wiggly Phone

"The New Nokia 888 Can Change Shapes On The Fly"
The Hottest Gadgets (August 26, 2008)

"Nokia is planning to change the way we think of mobile phones. Their new phone will come in the form of a device that will roll up and mimic a bracelet, bend over and clip to your pocket, wake you up in the morning, form to fit your face when you use it as a phone and more. So far Nokia's calling this cell phone a personal mobile communication device. To me it looks like a revolution in the way you look at a gadget...."

Okay. This is cool. And, I think, practical. One of the illustrations shows the phone worn as a bracelet - and having a screen display that could hold more than a sentence or two.


The Louvre: Lots of Art, Some of it Old, and Lots of it Online

"Thirty-Five Thousand Works of Art"
The Louvre

"The Musée du Louvre houses 35,000 works of art drawn from eight departments, displayed in over 60,000 square meters of exhibition space dedicated to the permanent collections. Explore the works on display, taking a thematic or cross-departmental approach...."

The Curatorial Departments:
  • Near Eastern Antiquities
  • Islamic Art
  • Paintings
  • Egyptian Antiquities
  • Sculptures
  • Prints and Drawings
  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
  • Decorative Arts
I don't know if all 35,000 works of art have their own page with a photo and fairly extensive description, but I went through quite a few Near Eastern Antiquities - and was impressed.

This isn't a substitute for a visit to the Louvre, but it'll do for someone like me, who isn't likely to get east of Chicago again.

A Little Matter of a Software Glitch in American Air Traffic Control, and 600+ Flights

"Airports Return to Normal After More Than 600 Flights Delayed by Apparent Computer Crash"
FOXNews (August 27, 2008)

" Air traffic returned to normal after a problem believed to be a software glitch was fixed, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

"The FAA grounded hundreds of planes Tuesday after an apparent breakdown in the program the agency uses to log flight plans, but the matter was resolved by late evening.

" 'Everything's back to normal,' FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere told Wednesday. '[The problem] was cleared up late last night.'..."

The bad news: Lots of people were left up in the air, literally, last Tuesday.

More bad news: As of Wednesday, the FAA techs hadn't figured out exactly what went wrong.

Good news: Whatever it was, it looks like we're looking at a software glitch, and not hackers.

Two Really Big Bridges That Aren't Built Yet

"Dubai Wows Again with Biggest Arch Bridge Ever"
InventorSpot (February 11, 2008)

"They've got amazing hotels, artificial islands, even an indoor ski mountain. And now, to add to the list, Dubai will become home to largest arch bridge in world when the constructions of this monster is finished in 2012. Seriously, what can't they do over there?..."

(From Fxfowle, via InvetorSpot, used without permission)

The author seems to be hyperventilating a bit: but this Dubai project is pretty impressive.

"Dubai to build world's longest arch bridge" (January 29, 2008)

"Dubai plans to build the world's longest arch bridge at a cost of 3 billion dirhams ($816.9 million), the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) said on Tuesday.

"The RTA said it would take four years to construct the mega-bridge, which will measure 1,600 metres with an arch 205 metres high and 667 metres long.

"Once complete the bridge will overtake the Lupu Bridge in Shanghai as the longest in the world...."

This news article is quite a bit longer, and much more detailed, than the InventorSpot post.

But Wait! There's More!

"A bridge too far?" ((August 3, 2008)

"Already labelled the 'Bridge of the Century' by its supporters, developers plan to make engineering history by building a $25bn causeway between Africa and the Arabian peninsula. But is a project of such unprecedented scale viable?

"It's nothing if not ambitious. According to its backers, the $25bn 'Bridge of the Century' will be the world's longest suspension bridge, crossing the Red Sea at an 29-km wide strait known as the Bab al-Mandep, or 'Gate of Tears', and connecting the southern tip of Yemen with the Horn of Africa in Djibouti.

"The entire scheme, which also entails the creation of special economic cities at each end of the crossing, will demand a total investment of over $200bn in the two impoverished nations...."

I don't know what to think of this uber-mega-super-scale project. I don't doubt that eventually people will be building structures on this scale, but this Africa-Arabia bridge seems to be a bit of a big jump from existing megastructures, like the Lupu bridge and Dubai's artificial islands. does a pretty good job of discussing what's happening, and speculating on how probable, or improbable, success of the transcontinental bridge and city-building project is.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lego™ Miniman: Cultural Icon Turned 30

This morning, my son asked me if I knew that the Lego man was 30 years old. I'd run into that fact earlier, but I didn't know that the Lego minifigure had its own website: Go Miniman Go.

And, more to the point for this blog, I'd completely missed my opportunity to do an anniversary post. So, on the 'better late than ever' principle, here goes.
  • Go Miniman Go
    The minifigure's own website
  • "The Lego Minifig Turns 30"
    geekdad, Wired Blog Network (August 26, 2008)
    • "On August 25, 1978, the Lego minifigure was born. This was a hugely important transition for Lego. For many years they sold sets allowing builders to create cars or buildings, but something was missing -- a human element. The minifig gave them that humanity, and very quickly it became an iconic symbol of the company second only to the brick itself...."
  • "Let's Party! Iconic LEGO Man Toy Turns 30"
    FOXNews (August 25, 2008)
    • "NEW YORK — Happy birthday, LEGO man!
    • "On Monday, one of America's favorite yellow toy figures turns 30 years old. He's having a birthday party, and yes, you're invited.
    • "If you lost touch with him long ago, it's time to catch up with your old childhood friend. Here's what he's been up to: He's held a variety of jobs over the years, from secret agent to superhero, traveled the world, made loads of friends and has been to his share of glitzy parties...."
  • "LEGO® Minifigure Turns 30"
    Bionicle™ - BZPower (August 25, 2008)
    • "ENFIELD, Conn. (August 25, 2008) � A global pop culture icon turned 30 today and is celebrating a list of accomplishments and adventures that would overwhelm and astonish any self-described overachiever...."
    • "...Online video, contests, downloads, news, games and more encourage fans to rekindle the joy and adventure the minifigure represented when they were young. The online celebration is happening now at"
    • "A Legend is Born
      • "In 1973, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, son of the company founder, challenged designers to add a new dimension of play to the LEGO building experience...."
      • ""...The very first minifigure was a police officer, followed by a fireman, a nurse, astronauts, medieval knights, a gas station attendant and a construction worker...."
Videos from the Go Miniman Go! Website:
"Go Miniman Go"

YouTube video (1:00)

It's a sort of short music video, showing Miniman: in Star Wars settings, a disco, a street and a subway; playing hockey in the Olympics; inspecting a satellite; skateboarding; and finally at a rock concert.
"Living in Meatspace"

Living in Meatspace — Gizmodo and Lego Go Miniman Go Contest from Jesus Diaz on Vimeo.

Video (4:41)

This stop-action animation is a short comedy - or maybe a drama - about two young men. Minimen, actually.

One of them is sane, the other has what might charitably be called an active imagination.

Fun. I've watched a few times, so far.

Want to be Paranoid, but Just Can't Find the Time?

Create Your Own Conspiracy Theory

Just fill in the blanks and push the button: this could be a great time-saver for people who want to be paranoid, but just don't have the time.

Here's what I came up with, after filling in the blanks:

"What They Don't Want You to Know

"In order to understand gravitation you need to realize that everything is controlled by a group of Shriners made up of Lithuanians with help from auto mechanics.

"The conspiracy first started during Battle of Thermopylae in Davenport, Iowa. They have been responsible for many events throughout history, including signing of the Magna Carta.

"Today, members of the conspiracy are everywhere. They can be identified by their slurping coffee.

"They want to strike OSHA and imprison resisters in Point Barrow, Alaska using unicycles.

"In order to prepare for this, we all must vote. Since the media is controlled by radical environmentalists we should get our information from "deficit hawks" of the Democratic Party."

For those of us who don't take conspiracy theories all that seriously, this bit of online software could yield a few minutes of fun.

Large Hadron Collider - Tests Still Going Well

CERN's Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, passed one milestone last Friday, and seems ready for another on September 10, 2008.
  • "Large Hadron Collider: Final Synchronization Test A Success" (August 26, 2008)
    • "ScienceDaily (Aug. 26, 2008) — CERN has announced the success of the second and final test of the Large Hadron Collider’s beam synchronization systems. The test will allow the LHC operations team to inject the first beam into the LHC.
    • "Friday evening (August 22, 2008), a single bunch of a few particles travelled down the transfer line from the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) accelerator to the LHC. After a period of optimization, one bunch was kicked up from the transfer line into the LHC beam pipe and steered counter-clockwise about 3 kilometres around the LHC...."
    • "...10 September: The first attempt to circulate a beam in the LHC will be made on 10 September at the injection energy of 450 GeV (0.45 TeV). This historical event will be webcast through, and distributed through the Eurovision network. See for further details...."
  • "CERN announces start-up date for LHC"
    CERN press release (August 7, 2008)
    • "Geneva, 7 August 2008. CERN1 has today announced that the first attempt to circulate a beam in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be made on 10 September. This news comes as the cool down phase of commissioning CERN’s new particle accelerator reaches a successful conclusion. Television coverage of the start-up will be made available through Eurovision...."
That "cool down phase" is a bit of an understatement, I think. The operating temperature of parts of the Large Hadron Collider is 1.9 degrees above absolute zero (-271°C).

This sort of installation was the stuff of science fiction stories when I was growing up. It's exciting, living in a world where robot spaceships explore the planets, while physicists study the structure of matter with a vast device built under two nations.

I've been following CERN's LHC for a while now: More:

Newton's Color Wheel: It's All Over the Web

"Newton's Color Wheel"

About a half-dozen photos, and a discussion of why the disks look different when they're spinning.

There's a more detailed (and authoritative) posting at Kenyon College's website:

"Newton's Color Wheel"

-which is part of

"Instruments for Natural Philosophy"
Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr.
Professor Emeritus of Physics
Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio

If you're still hungry for web pages about this sort of thing, go to Google, and use these three words as your search terms: newton color wheel.

Have fun.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This is One Seriously Cute Drawing

" Sleeping Rabbit" (April 2008)

"April - a self-initiated illustration for a promotional calendar."

I think you'll agree that this illustration is cute: providing that you like rabbits and/or kids.

GOCE: That's One Cool-Looking Spacecraft

"GOCE Will be the Coolest Satellite to Orbit Earth, Ever"
astroENGINE (August 24, 2008)

"The European Space Agency is set to launch the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) ... satellite on September 10th. This advanced mission will be the most sophisticated piece of kit ever to orbit the Earth, investigating the Earth’s gravitational field. It will perform a highly accurate mapping campaign, producing a high resolution reference shape of the geoid (i.e. the shape of our planet). The mission will be unprecedented, but that’s not the reason why I’m drawing attention to it...."

I'm inclined to agree with the author on this: GOCE is a very cool looking spacecraft.

This is a rare discussion of the aesthetics of spacecraft design.

Maps of Military Encounters from Ancient to Post-Roman times

"Atlas for Ancient Warfare"
West Point Academics

A good collection of maps, including "The Persian Empire, 490 B.C.," "The Battle of Thermopylae and Movements to Salamis," "Routes of the Barbarian Invaders, 4th and 5th Century."

There's not much in the way of bells and whistles, but it's a good information resource.

Think You Can Outpaint Picasso? Here's Your Chance!

Mr. Picassohead

Ever look at modern art and think, "I can do better than that?"

Here's your chance. Mr. Picassohead is a simple bit of online software that lets you drag and drop Picasso-like elements of a face - plus blotches and squiggles - on to a canvas. There are tools to change each element, too.

It's made by Ruder - Finn Interactive.

Here's a look at the 'painting' I made:

Pensive Quandry

(I used a nom-de-pixel for this work.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ultra-Fancy RVs, and Some that are Strange

"Sell Your House, Move into a Larger Bus"
Dark Roasted Blend (August 28, 2007)

"Most recreational vehicles are supposed to provide just enough living space to be adequate, however many recent motorhomes appear so sophisticated, extravagant and expensive that they can only be considered a "moving indulgences" for Robert De Niro retired CIA types (seriously, who else can afford the thing?)...."

This post gives a long, profusely illustrated, look at recreational vehicles for people for whom money is no object. And, RVs that stand out in other ways.

(From Dark Roasted Blend, used without permission)
This sure beats towing a VW bug.

(From Dark Roasted Blend, used without permission)
For people whose disposable income is not greater than the Mauritanian GNP.

Dolly Parton Dead? Another Reason I'm Not a Journalist

Here's the story:

"Dolly Parton Dead, is it True? Dies of Congestive Heart Failure"
The Post Chronicle - Tittle-Tattle Too™ (August 25, 2008)
  • "Reports and rumors are swirling that Hollywood star Dolly Parton has died of Congestive Heart Failure.
  • "According to reports, Fox News announced today that Dolly Parton has died of Congestive Heart Failure at the age of 60.
  • "Reports are still unconfirmed...."
I ran into that item while scanning online news this morning. The phrase that caught my eye was "...According to reports, Fox News announced today...." That's journalistese for "some guy said he saw on Fox News."

I did a little checking. There was nothing on the Fox News website about Dolly Parton's death. On the other hand, I found these nuggets:
  • "2 eagles named by Miley, Billy Ray to be set free"
    FOXNews (July 23, 2008)
    • "PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Two 14-week-old American bald eagles named by Disney star Miley Cyrus and her country singer father, Billy Ray Cyrus, will be released into the wild Thursday at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains...."
  • "Dolly Parton Threatens to Sue 'Howard Stern' Over Fake Sound Bites"
    FOXNews (May 15, 2008)
    • " Dolly Parton is threatening to sue "The Howard Stern Show" for manipulating recordings from one of her audio books last week into seemingly racist and sexually graphic sound bites...."
I watched Fox News from 11:00 to 11:40 a.m., Central time (That's noon to 12:40 Eastern, 9:00 to 9:40 a.m. Pacific).

Nothing about Dolly Parton's demise. Not in the main coverage, not on the crawl.

Which made me think that Dolly Parton, American cultural icon and part-owner of the Dollywood amusement park, was still alive.

Apart from keeping an eye of the television: that research, and writing this post, took 28 minutes.

I understand that journalists have deadlines, and that thorough research isn't always possible. That's one reason I'm glad I'm my own boss, and not exactly a journalist. I don't have to publish a story with a paraphrase of 'some guy said he saw on Fox News' as my source.

In fairness, some journalists are careful about facts, research their stories, and think: "Dolly Parton Dead? Internet Rumors Run Wild" (Associated Content (August 28, 2008)).
More about Dolly Parton and Dollywood:
Update (August 25, 2008)

Knoxville, Tennessee, television station WBIR is another place where journalists and editors check facts before publishing - or airing.

"Dolly Parton rep says singer alive and well" (August 25, 2008)
  • "...[Dollywood spokesperson Pete] Owens believes the rumor that Parton died from congestive heart failure may have started Friday night. Apparently, a local high school announced Parton's death during its football game. Owens does not know which high school made the unfortunate mistake...."
Another unknown is why the high school decided to announce Parton's death during a football game.

This isn't the first time this summer that a high school announced something that wasn't true, and got caught.

In May, a California high school told its students that several of their classmates had been killed ("Death Hoax Puts El Camino High School in International News " (June 12, 2008)). The California high school had a perfectly good reason for lying: it wanted to teach the kids a lesson.

Maybe it's okay for educators to lie. But 'your friends are dead' at the beginning of summer, and 'Dolly Parton is dead' at the end of the season, raises an interesting point.

High school students aren't particularly stupid. I could easily understand why some would start wondering whether American high schools are reliable sources of information.

Sure: it's just two instances. Where the school got caught. And made national news.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beijing Olympics Closes With Style: Next Stop, London

The 2008 Olympics in Beijing is over. The closing ceremony was spectacular, with fireworks, drums, and Jackie Chan.

There was even a red double-decker London bus, part of the short 'meet us in London' show put on to whet people's appetites for the 2012 London Olympics.

Quite a bit of what happened in Beijing was good news. Liu Xiang almost made it to the first hurdle in the 110-meter men's hurdles: which, considering the condition he was in, was doing very well indeed.

Google Made a great many logos for themselves, with Olympics themes (Thirteen in all, now displayed at "2008 Summer Games Doodle.")

Abhinav Bindra won India's first individual gold medal.

Chinese athletes won 100 medals, 51 of them gold.

American athletes didn't do too badly, with 110 medals. 36 of those were gold.

There's a pretty good chart of which countries won how many of what sort of medal at the official Olympics website's "Overall Medal Standings" page.

Not everybody's happy, of course. Human rights groups were disappointed that world leaders didn't bawl out China for human rights abuses. Reporters were annoyed because China blocked websites with improper content: like criticism of China's policies. And protesters didn't like China's restrictions on demonstratons. The last I heard, eight American protesters are still being held. I'm not so worried about them, as I am about Ji Sizun, a Chinese protester who disappeared when the Olympics began. I haven't been able to find news about him, apart from his disappearance.

But aside from that, the 2008 Olympics went very well.

More, in the news:

Lego Olympics: Three Videos

"Lego Olympic Games 2008 Swimming Freestyle"
YouTube video (August 13, 2008)

video 0:37

This Lego stop-action animation of an Olympic swimming event is quite short - and includes a replay of the animation. Just the same, it's well-done, and fun to watch.
"Lego Olympic Games
YouTube video (August 05, 2008)

video 0:31

"Cute" is a pretty good one-word review of this video. Unlike others, it's mechanical puppetry, not stop-action animation.
"Lego Olympic Games 2008 Gymnastics
YouTube video (August 12, 2008)

video 0:39

Twenty-four seconds of really good stop-action animation with Legos. The rest is a simple set of credits.

Lego Olympics: About a Third of This Video is Amusing

"Lego Olympics Beijing 2008 Yang Wei Gymnastics"
YouTube video (Lego Olympics Beijing 2008 Yang Wei Gymnastics)

Video 3:16

I almost didn't post this, but the first third of the video is quite good.

The first 1 minute, 20 seconds, is a well-done stop-action animation of a Lego figure doing gymnastics. The rest is "Lego News" that highlights the last-minute switch of opening ceremonies singers and the CGI fireworks. Then comes what I think is meant to represent a large-scale bombing of the Beijing Olympic venues. Tasteless? I think so, but your experience may vary.

I can't say that I recommend more than the first 1:20 of this video: but that part's well done.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

CERN's Large Hadron Collider: the Proton Beam Failsafe

"CERN to Start Up the Large Hadron Collider. Now Here's How It Plans to Stop It"
IEEE Spectrum (August 13, 2008)

I suspect that the author may be one of these people who almost feared the world to end when CERN's Large Hadron Collider was powered up, but I could be wrong.

The article is a quite good description of one of the fail-safes built into the research tool:

"...Even the slightest malfunction could lead to a catastrophic accident, so CERN has spent nearly two decades devising an interlocking system of fail-safes. One of these is a method of safely purging a proton beam, which has a higher chance of becoming unstable the longer it is whipped around the circular accelerator. Every 10 hours the accelerator gets fresh beams. But first the old ones are dumped into specially designed absorbers called beam dump blocks...."

It's a good read, with photos and illustrations.

I've posted about the Large Hadron Collector (LHC) before: More:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Big Houses on Tiny Islands: Five Examples

"5 Insanely Small And Inhabited Private Islands"
Premier Holidays

"Most people dream of owning their own island, a piece of tranquil heaven to truly call their own. For the majority of people however, this will always remain just that: a dream. On the flipside, there is a definite island-buying trend growing amongst those lucky enough to be able to afford such a residence, from movie stars through to politicians, which will one day result in all such people living offshore… or maybe not.

"We've decided to show you some of the smallest island-based houses and villas currently inhabited around the world...."

There are photos and descriptions of
  • Dunbar Rock, Honduras
  • Unknown Property, Les Cheneaux Islands
    (I know: but that's how it's identified)
  • Clingstone, Rhode Island
  • Just Room Enough, 1000 Islands
    (That's what it's called: and the name's accurate)
  • Las Isletas, Nicaragua
These micro-estates are far out of my budget, but it's fun to dream about owning a private island. And not all that impossible a dream for quite a few people, apparently.


The 2008 Olympics "Water Cube:" Looks Cool, Retains Heat, and Keeps Itself Clean

"How Bubble Wrap Could Power the Future"
LiveScience (August 22, 2008)

This isn't as crazy as it sounds:

"Swim suits that mimic shark skin are not the only high-tech pool materials to be found at the Beijing Olympics. The National Aquatics Center, or 'Water Cube,' is surrounded by a light-weight polymer foil that significantly reduces the energy that goes into construction.

"The thin transparent material, called ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene), is segmented into 3,000 air-filled cushions that let in light but hold in heat.

" 'It is like very sophisticated bubble wrap,' said Annette LeCuyer, an architecture professor at the University at Buffalo. ..."

Besides looking cool and saving energy, the high-tech wall material helps keep the building clean. Since the polymer wall is also very slick, rain will wash dirt and dust off the outside of the building.

I think one of the benefits of events like the Olympics is that they give global attention to new technologies like the walls of the "Water Cube."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

An Online Interactive Artwork, I Think

"Color Is Relative"
by Art Gabriel Mott

It looks simple: a five-by-eight matrix of colored squares, on a colored background.

Run the mouse over a square, and the background color changes.

Links at the bottom connect to a blog and a comment section. You'll find a discussion of this interactive artwork there.

At least, I think it's art.

Seven Architecture Award Winners in Australia

"NSW Architecture Awards Announced: Gorgeous Oz-chitecture"
Inhabitat (August 21, 2008)

"The winners of the New South Wales Architecture Awards were recently announced in Sydney. Of the 42 awards and commendations for outstanding design presented by the Australian Institute of Architects New South Wales Chapter, half were awarded to smart and savvy adaptive re-use projects demonstrating the current trend towards smarter, more intelligent ways of reusing the state’s massive supply of existing building stock. There were also several great examples of new sustainable constructions. From recycled to brand-new, here’s a look at some of the exceptional architectural projects from Oz...."

What struck me about the seven projects was that no two of them had quite the same style.

Each of the five award-winners, the project given a Commendation, and the one with the Special Jury Prize, is displayed in a photo, with a short description.

Georgia Bigfoot Hoax: Rube Duped by Sophisticated Humor?

I'd probably be a little cautious about giving someone $50,000 for a Bigfoot carcass. Or for anything else.

But Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi and his Searching For Bigfoot, Inc., without first seeing what they were getting, paid that sum for a Sasquatch suit.

In a way, it's nice to know that there are still such naive, trusting people in the world. Searching For Bigfoot, Inc., willingly gave a couple of total strangers enough money to buy a house. Even though these strangers advertised that they'd go looking for leprechauns, dinosaurs, or Elvis for about $500 a pop.

One of the Georgia hoaxers said that anyone should have realized that they weren't serious: "Well, we told 10 different stories," he said. "Everyone knew we were lying." (CNN)

Except, apparently, Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi.

Cultural Differences and Bigfoot Seekers

Perhaps I shouldn't judge Tom Biscardi and the people at Searching for Bigfoot, Inc., too harshly. The organization is located in Menlo Park, California: near Palo Alto, at the south end of San Francisco Bay.

View Larger Map

Menlo Park is part of a built-up area stretching from San Francisco to San Jose.

In contrast, Clayton County, Georgia, is in the southern portion of Atlanta's metropolitan area.

View Larger Map

The suburbs of Atlanta are hardly 'the boonies,' at least by my standards. However, Clayton County says that it "...has a relaxed and neighborly feel like a small town, but with all the amenities of a major metropolitan area...."

Based on this description, and the demeanor of the two hoaxers, I suspect that I'd find the same level of intellectual rigor there, as I have become accustomed to here in central Minnesota.

It's possible that the staff of Searching For Bigfoot, Inc., are not sensitive to nuances in the sort of humor that seems to flourish in semi-rural areas. Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi and his associates may have been out of their depth, culturally speaking.

If I encountered people who offered to look for Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Leprechauns, or Elvis, for a price, I believe that I would be amused: recognizing their enterprise as one that dealt with creatures of the mind: like Jackalope; or the Jackalope section of Wall Drug, in Wall, South Dakota.

But I wouldn't take them very seriously. And I can't see myself giving someone enough money to buy a house, for a 'Bigfoot carcass' that I'd never seen.

Seriously, Now

One of the Bigfoot hoaxers said, "...what's so bad about Bigfoot? Nobody got hurt...." I suppose it depends on what you mean by "hurt." Mr. Biscardi didn't get cut or bruised, so if "hurt" means strictly physical damage, nobody got hurt.

On the other hand, $50,000 is a lot of money, at least for someone like me. losing a wad like that would hurt a great deal, financially.

And then, there's the self-inflicted hurt that Mr. Biscardi suffered, by telling the nation that the rubber Bigfoot was the real thing - and that he had a photo to prove it. His reputation, at least outside the Bigfoot believer community, is not all that good right now.

As for the legal action that Bigfoot hunter Biscardi and his Searching For Bigfoot, Inc., are considering: In their position, I wouldn't want to keep reminding people that I bought a $50,000 Halloween costume. While under the impression that it was Bigfoot.

I'm not at all sure that I believe the 'it was a joke' explanation.

On the other hand, I think that Mr. Biscardi and company might consider chalking that fifty grand up to 'educational expenses.' Let's hope they learned something about Bigfoot, leprechauns, unicorns, and gullibility.

Finally, a Word About Gravitational Anomalies

Since there may be someone out there who is interested in physics, and has Mr. Biscardi's iron grip on plausibility, this may be useful.

The following places, and others like them, are a whole lot of fun. But, despite the side-show-style hype that's part of the entertainment, they're not 'real:' There's a pretty good explanation of the science and psychology behind 'mystery houses' at "Mystery Spots Explained" (

(Finally, although it gets lumped in with "mystery houses," the "Winchester Mystery House" on the other hand, is what can happen when someone with a great deal of money, and time on their hands, gets quirky ideas about remodeling a house.)

Previous post about the Georgia Bigfoot Hoax: "Bigfoot in Georgia: Hoax, or Scientific Breakthrough? " (August 20, 2008)

Bigfoot Hoaxers in the news:
  • "Bigfoot hoaxers say it was just 'a big joke' "
    CNN (August 21, 2008)
    • "ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The two men who claimed to have found the carcass of Bigfoot have surfaced to say: Hey, it was just a joke.
    • "Not everyone is laughing.
    • "In an exclusive interview with CNN affiliate WSB, the two hoaxers -- car salesman Rick Dyer and now-fired police officer Matt Whitton -- said the whole situation began as a joke and then got out of hand.
    • " 'It's just a big hoax, a big joke,' Dyer told WSB.
    • " 'It's Bigfoot,' Dyer explained. 'Bigfoot doesn't exist.'
    • "Whitton chimed in: 'All this was a big joke. It got into something way bigger than it was supposed to be.' "
  • "Bigfoot Hoaxers Resurface, Blame California Promoter"
    FOXNews (August 21, 2008)
    • "Bigfoot hoaxers Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton are back in the limelight — and they're blaming Tom Biscardi, the California promoter who trotted them out for a nationally televised press conference last Friday.
    • "Back home in Georgia after their brief moment in the big time, Dyer and Whitton told two Atlanta TV stations Wednesday that the entire affair was a 'joke' that got out of hand.
    • " 'I just wanted to put out some good news,' Dyer told Joanna Massee of WGCL-TV. 'People are upset with the war and stuff — what's so bad about Bigfoot? Nobody got hurt.'

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why "Hello," and Mark Twain About Telephone Conversations

Why do Americans and other English-speakers say "hello" when they answer the telephone?

We apparently don't know why, but we're pretty sure about who started the custom.

  • "Re: Hello
    The Phrase Finder (October 3, 2002)
    • "...Surprisingly enough, 'hello' didn't become a truly common greeting until the mid 1860s...."
  • "Mark Twain Satirizes 'A Telephonic Conversation' "
    History Matters
    • "...Alexander Graham Bell first exhibited his telephone at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, but many people were initially dubious about the utility of Bell's invention. Nevertheless, by the mid-1890s, about 300,000 phones were in use and by World War I, the number reached 10.5 million. Learning to use this new device, Americans wondered what to say to start a telephone conversation. Bell's choice for an initial greeting was 'Ahoy.' Others argued for more formal greetings like 'What is wanted?' or 'Are you there?' In 1877, Thomas Alva Edison, the famous inventor who developed the first practical telephone transmitter, solved the problem by introducing 'Hello!' as the standard English telephone greeting...."
    • A bit after that, History Matters does get around to Mark Twain's essay.

A Monkey in Tokyo: Shibuya Station Shut Down During Rush Hour

"monkey rides the subway in japan"
Spectacular Blog (August 20, 2008)

"A monkey got loose in a subway station in Tokyo, and the police couldn't catch it! You can read all about it here! Since I've got tags for japan and monkeys, of course, I'm posting about it.

"Oh, and there's video, too!"

Normally, I don't quote an entire post: but I don't think this blogger will mind. You'll have to visit his post to see the photo and the video, from CBS News.

Spectacular Blog's author is, I think, smart: people seem drawn to animals. Particularly photogenic ones like cats: and monkeys.

Monkeys, Tokyo Subways, and Customer Satisfaction

The unnamed monkey was spotted in central Tokyo's Shibuya Station. If this is how monkeys are treated when they try to use the subway, no wonder they don't try very often.

More seriously, Tokyo authorities are on the look out for the monkey. Or maybe monkeys. None of the city's registered pet monkeys is missing, so this is a wild animal. And, although it looks cute, it could be dangerous.

Don't get me wrong: I think that monkey looks cute, and sympathize with the little critter. On the other hand, anything that's as scared as that monkey looks might take a bite out of someone, 'in self-defense.'

YouTube video (August 20, 2008) (originally from

video, 1:27

Tokyo monkey in the news: (I tried getting the embedded video on this post through more news-service-approved means, but this YouTube video is the only option I found that actually works, and contains English commentary. I hope to see, someday, a world in which network executives do not make it nearly impossible for their capable employees to make intelligent use of information technology.)

Bigfoot in Georgia: Hoax, or Scientific Breakthrough?

The Bigfoot body in a Georgia freezer is made of rubber.

Either Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi and Searching For Bigfoot, Inc., bought a rubber Bigfoot suit, or they've discovered something truly amazing: a living organism that's hollow, made of flexible polymers, and has no DNA!

Either way, they're famous.

Tom Biscardi showed the world a close-up photo of what he insisted was Bigfoot's teeth and tongue in a news conference last Friday. He was in Palo Alto, California, at the time. The frozen Bigfoot, in an ice-filled freezer, seems to have been in Georgia at the time.

Matthew Whitton, a Clayton County police officer, and car salesman Rick Dyer, disappeared after they got paid for the frozen gorilla suit. Which I think shows a great deal of good sense on their part.

On the other hand, Mr. Whitton is out of a job. The 28-year-old Georgia cop had been on medical leave, after being shot in the wrist.

Con Man or Stoned? Either Way, He's Fired

Police Chief Jeffrey Turner said, "He's disgraced himself, he's an embarrassment to the Clayton County Police Department, his credibility and integrity as an officer is gone, and I have no use for him," which is not the sort of thing you want to hear your boss say.

The police chief seems puzzled, too: "This turn of events from hero to someone who defrauds a nation is just baffling. I don’t know how he got from one point to the other," (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) but I can offer a possible explanation. Wrist injuries can be painful: maybe Mr. Whitton took a few too many pain-killers, and really thought that he had seen three Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) in the north Georgia woods, and had a Bigfoot body in the freezer.

Now that the nation - and the world - knows that they bought a rubber Bigfoot, Searching For Bigfoot, Inc., is doing a good job of - clarifying? - their position.

From 'It's Bigfoot!' to 'We'll Sue' in Under a Week

After buying a block of ice with a rubber gorilla suit inside, Tom Biscardi and his Searching For Bigfoot, Inc., organization aren't happy with their purchase. As CNN put it, "...Biscardi's organization, Searching for Bigfoot Inc., 'is seeking justice for themselves and for all the people who were deceived by this deception.'... "

In their position, I might not be so eager to keep reminding people that I told the world Bigfoot was real, and bought a rubber costume to prove it. But then, I'm not a Bigfoot hunter.

Even before the "Bigfoot" hair sample failed a DNA test, there were (subtle?!) indications that something might be less than right with the Georgia duo. For one thing, they were advertising $499 USD Bigfoot expeditions, and were also looking for
  • Sasquatch
  • Leprechauns
  • Dinosaurs
  • Unicorns
  • The Loch Ness Monster
  • Jimmy Hoffa
  • Elvis
The deceptive duo's voice mail has been updated. They're diversifying, and are now seeking "big cats and dinosaurs. If you see any of those, give us a call." (Atlanta Journal Constitution, Associated Press)

American Law Protects the Innocent: Not the Stupid

That's the opinion of a talking head on one of those 'what do you think about this' panel discussions. I feel a little sorry for Tom Biscardi Searching For Bigfoot, Inc., but not all that much.

Didn't they see anything a little dicey about a couple of Georgia good 'ol boys who would go on Bigfoot expeditions for $499 a pop, and were on the lookout for leprechauns and Elvis, too?

Apparently, not.

I think the biggest clue that Biscardi and company missed was that the two fellows wanted their money before the buyer had a chance to examine the carcass.

I Could be Wrong

On the other hand, the two Georgia men could be honest. Maybe
  • They disappeared from their hotel room because Bigfeet (Bigfoots?) kidnapped them
  • Biscardi got a rubber gorilla suit because Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) recovered the body of their fallen comrade, putting a Halloween costume it its place
  • Bigfoot leaders don't want their presence known because
    • They are gentle children of nature, wanting nothing more than to live in peace and harmony with Mother Earth
    • The Bigfoot Emperor's plans to enslave humanity aren't quite ready
But, I don't think so.
Georgia Bigfoot in the news:
Update (August 21, 2008):

"Georgia Bigfoot Hoax: Rube Duped by Sophisticated Humor? " (August 21, 2008)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Electricity: This is Why We Have Warning Signs

"Jacob's Ladder: 500kV Switch Opening"
YouTube video (September 26, 2006)

Video 0:09

"A high-voltage arc caused by a 500kV Switch opening up in the Nevada Desert. An enormous Jacob's Ladder

"Large Electrical Explosion Live on News"
YouTube video (February 25, 2007)

Video 0:45

"In the comment section, member "tomh1138" claims to have been witness to this. His comments are found below.


"An ice-covered tree limb falling onto a power line. Captured live by WHO TV Channel 13 out of Des Moines, Iowa, on February 25, 2007. The limb fell directly onto the line, causing a series of explosions of the transformers of the grid.

"tomh1138's comments -----
"This happened in Urbandale, IA. I'm a member of the Urbandale Fire Dept. and was...."

Both videos are impressive reminders of how much power people control these days.

Very Modern Wraparound House in Japan

"House in Minami Boso by Kiyonobu Nakagame Architects"
Contemporist (August 16, 2008)

"Kiyonobu Nakagame Architects designed this house in Japan...

"...This is the villa for the clients who live in Tokyo. The site is located in Boso Peninsula east of Tokyo, Although it takes only about less than 2 hrs drive from Downtown Tokyo...."

This very Modern house looks like it was set on the lawn, and was designed to let occupants enjoy the beautiful scenery. I'd say that it meets that design goal. The architects say that they had a "design concept to provide the one continuous wall folded in different directions setting up the various views."

Four-Eared Cat: Cute Quirk of Feline Genes

"Yoda the Cat Astounds With Four Ears"
FOXNews (August 19, 2008)

"They say cats have nine lives, but this one has four ears.

"A genetic abnormality gave Yoda, of Downers Grove, Ill., four ear flaps instead of two.

"Ted and Valerie Rock first spied the little guy in 2006 at neighborhood bar on the South Side of Chicago before a Bears game. He was the last of a litter of eight put up for adoption by the bar's owner...."

The article doesn't say anything about whether Yoda likes to be scratched behind the ears.

Cats with extra toes are fairly common: this is the first time I've heard of one with extra external ears.

Back to the Rabbits: Bunny Envelope Openers

"The real life bunny envelope opener" (July 9, 2008)

Video (0:26)

I can't seem to get away from rabbits now.

And, an earlier rabbity letter nibbler:

"Bunny Letter Opener" (January 15, 2007)

Video (0:32)

This little fellow took a little more encouragement to get started, but got the job done.

A Strange (but Attractive) Contemporary House

"Lens House by Kauffmann Theilig & Partner Free Architects BDA"
CoolBoom (April 5, 2007)

Photos, floor plans for two levels, but almost no description.

An impressive house, though.

The post does have a link to the (German?) architectural firm: Kauffmann Theilig & Partner.

Some of the "Lens House" photos seem to share a common source with the KTP firm's pages, "Einfamilienhaus / Friedhofstrasse Rohrdorf/Schwarzwald" and "Rohrdorf 2004 / Wohnhaus über der Nagold."

My guess is that the firm of Kauffmann Theilig & Partner has moved beyond residence design, and wants people to concentrate on their larger-scale work.

Save the Planet: Make Milk Jugs Into Lamps

"Milkit With DIY Milk Carton Lamps"
greenUPGRADER (August 18, 2008)

"Milkit is a creative way to turn milk bottles into kickin’ table lamps. The kit is sold by Play Design and was developed by Alexandru Adam and Steven Koch. The nature inspired graphics come with the kit along with the hardware (cords, sockets, fittings, etc). It’s up to you to provide the milk bottles, of most any size, and the elbow grease to stylize the light fixtures...."

The idea isn't as crazy as it sounds, and the lamps look pretty good.

This may not save the planet, but it'll give some people lighting fixtures that are off the 50th percentile.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Once Again: Advice on Becoming a Better Writer

"10 Ways to Become a Better Writer"

"Becoming a good writer takes time and practice, but that doesn't mean you can't speed up the process. Here are 10 ways that you can become a better writer today...."

Yet another how-to-write-better collection of good advice: pretty much the same good advice you'll find elsewhere.

One thing that sets this list apart is that each of the 10 points has at least two links to other online resources.

Another is that the last one appealed to me: "#10 Forget Spell Check--Proofread". As a recovering English teacher, and a professional writer, I applaud the sentiment.

Although I'm one of those people who proofreads to catch the errors - and use spellcheckers to check for anything I might have missed.

Cassiopeia A: Supernova Remnant Picture Available as Download

"Cassiopeia A: Death Becomes Her"
Spitzer Space Telescope / Images

"This stunning false-color picture shows off the many sides of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. It is made up of images taken by three of NASA's Great Observatories, using three different wavebands of light. Infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope are colored red; visible data from the Hubble Space Telescope are yellow; and X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory are green and blue...."

Downloads are available in 450x360, 900x720, and 3000x2400 pixel resolution.

The descriptions give the distance to this explosion remnant as 10,000 and 11,000 light years. As I recall, the exact distance is still a bit iffy.

The picture is quite impressive. Although a human eye would never see Cassiopeia A that way, it's a good way to 'see' the structure of the nebula.

One reason that I'm interested in astronomy is that it helps me get a sense of perspective. Cassiopeia A is a good example of this.
  • A massive star collapsed and exploded, a bit before people worked out how to make a living by putting seeds in the ground and waiting for a harvest.
  • Light from that explosion was about half-way here when city-states were growing, and writing was on the cutting edge of information technology.
  • Photons from the Cassiopeia A supernova reached Earth as England was working its way through the Restoration, the Whigs were an up-and-coming party, and the first university museum was opening in Oxford: the Ashmolean.
Looking at events on that scale, controversies like whether a sidewalk should have been put on the west side of Ash Street in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, or whether it's fair that London get to host the Olympics three times, don't seem quite so important.

Liu Xiang Starts 110-Meter Hurdles: a Class Act

Liu Xiang made it a few strides into the 110-meter men's hurdles at the Olympics.

Then he stopped. Under the circumstances, making it that far was quite an accomplishment.

When Liu Xiang stopped, so did everyone else. Watching the event on television, here in Minnesota, I thought that I might be watching a remarkable case of sportsmanship, goodwill, or something like that.

Turns out, someone had made a false start, and the racers had to start over. Except for Liu Xiang. He tore the number off his leg, and limped off the field.

The family and I were watching the 110-meter this morning, here in Minnesota, on KARE, a Twin Cities NBC affiliate. (On cable: In the 'good old days,' this town only got one broadcast channel. I like the Information Age.)

We had a better view, in a way, than people in the stands. One of the cameras was in a warm-up area, where Liu Xiang was getting ready. I'm no expert, but the way China's star athlete lurched toward the first hurdle didn't look quite "Olympic."

Liu Xiang seemed to think so, too. Stopping, he looked up, then walked over to an exercise mat hanging on the wall. Both hands on the wall, and his head nearly so, he aimed a precise volley of short kicks at the mat.

Considering the situation, I'd say that was a very controlled, restrained, action.

And, with the hopes of about 1,300,000,000 people on him, along with a global television audience, China's Liu Xiang walked to the starting line.

And started the race.

He didn't win. He had to stop before reaching the first hurdle. But he started.

Hats off, Liu Xiang. That was a class act.

In the news:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Yesterday's Inventions

"The 1920s satnav ... and other weird and wonderful gadgets that never quite took off"
Daily Mail (August 15, 2008)

"It was the invention of the future - a tiny machine complete with its own map that would tell motorists which way to go.

"But this was no satnav - after all, the communications satellites that help modern cars locate themselves were still decades away.

"Instead, the route-finder for the well-equipped 1920s driver was a wristwatch-style device equipped with minuscule maps...."

Other items include a clockwork burglar alarm, double-barrel cigarette holder, and eye massager.

That's right: eye massager.

There's a photo of each strange gadget.

The title, "...that never quite took off," may not be entirely accurate. One of the gadgets, the mustache cup version of the moustache protector may have been fairly common about a hundred years back: in America, at any rate.

I've seen a number of the things in museums and family clutter: some of my aunts and uncles were pack rats of a sort.

There's more about mustache cups at "MOUSTACHE CUP - MUSTACHE CUP" (A Small Collection of Antique Silver and Objects of vertu).

Merchant Ship Arrives on Mediterranean Shore: About 25 Centuries Late

"2,500-Year-Old Greek Ship Raised off Sicilian Coast"
National Geographic (August 11, 2008)

"An ancient Greek ship recently raised off the coast of southern Sicily, Italy, is the biggest and best maintained vessel of its kind ever found, archaeologists say.

"At a length of nearly 70 feet (21 meters) and a width of 21 feet (6.5 meters), the 2,500-year-old craft is the largest recovered ship built in a manner first depicted in Homer's Iliad, which is believed to date back several centuries earlier...."

After 25 centuries under the sea, the merchant ship is not in particularly good shape, but archaeologists will be studying it, to learn about shipbuilding technology in those times, and details of shipboard life.

The Answer You've Been Waiting For: How Many Arms Does an Octopus Have?

"How many arms does an octopus have?"
"The answer is six: the other two are legs"
TimesOnline (August 13, 2008)

"A giant Pacific octopus called Mavis has helped researchers to prove that the one thing everyone knows about the creatures is wrong...."

"...Octopuses are among the most intelligent of marine creatures and can learn to open jam jars and manipulate small objects such as the Rubik’s Cube – although, so far as is known, none has yet succeeded in solving the puzzle...."

I wonder: has anyone checked, to see if octopuses see colors the same way we do?

Squirrel Attacks: Peanuts?

"Squirrel Attack"
YouTube video (March 14, 2007)

video 3:18

What puzzles me about this cute, charming, video is that the squirrel doesn't attack anyone: although it does consume several peanuts.

That's One Crazy Ground Squirrel

"Cat and Ninja Chipmunk"
YouTube (February 21, 2006)

"Ninja Chipmunk takes on the cat. Oreo in an inside/outside cat. She is well fed. I'm sorry I did not mow the grass, but I think it saved the chipmunk. Oreo also wears a bell to warn critters in advance. Somebody has corrected me and noted the "chipmunk" here is really a "ground squirrel" as chipmunks have a very short tail - but they are very similar otherwise. More from our area of the country at . is now"

As one of my daughters said, "you really gotta wonder, what that chipmunk was thinking...."

Perhaps the rodent had seen too many Bruce Lee films.

Attack of the Killer Rabbits: Attention, Writers!

Writers have a deep bag of tricks to use, creating stories and characters. One of these is the Killer Rabbit.

"Killer Rabbit"
Television Tropes & Idioms

"...It's small. It's fluffy. It's adorable. And if you get on its bad side, your death will be painful, but swift.

Related to but distinct from Fluffy The Terrible, the Killer Rabbit is any monster that's far more dangerous than it looks....

The Killer Rabbit is (almost) part of the real world, as a former American president learned:

"President Carter and the Killer Rabbit"
The Presidents Blog (January 17, 2008)

"Jimmy Carter faced many problems when he was President of the United States of America. Problems such as a poor economy, hostages in Iran, and Billy Carter kept him busy. However, one that he (and the Secret Service) failed to anticipate was a vicious Georgia swamp rabbit...."

But, be careful when using the Killer Rabbit. You probably don't want to have something like this on your record:

"Night of the Lepus" (1972)

Or, "Giant mutant rabbits terrorize the southwest!!"

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming Emerges

The Lemming is doing some serious catchup today. For one reason or another, I've got two days of posts to do, plus today's. Actually, only one day: I got "Thursday's" posted earlier this afternoon.

About the rabbit theme: One of my daughters brought a number of rabbit-related pages to my attention, and I thought they were worth sharing.

One more rabbity post, and I'll be off to other subjects.

Extremely Cute Bunny: and ECB - The Return

"Extremely cute Bunny at our work!"
YouTube video (April 16, 2007)

Video 0:47

"My co-worker found this extremely cute bunny outside (possible abandoned) and now he takes care of it. As you can see the bunny was visiting our office :)"

"Extremely cute Bunny at our work! 2 - The Return
YouTube video (April 27, 2007)

video 2:20

This sequel to the first video has music - and is as cute as the original.

High-Octane Rabbit: The Video

"My Spastic Bunny Rabbit"
YouTube (January 2, 2008)
Video 4:23

The star of this video isn't spastic: but there's a whole lot of binking going on.

The music has some mildly regrettable lyrics, but this is a fun video.

Rules for Dating a Daughter: Again

"Ten Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter"
The Funny Farm (Geocities) (undated)

If this looks familiar, you've got a good memory. I did a micro-review on this piece earlier this year ("Rules for Dating a Daughter " (May 8, 2008)).

What's different about this copy of "Ten Simple Rules...." is that whoever posted it noted that it was copyright, and identified the creator.

This hilarious list of rules is the work of W. Bruce Cameron, a writer who's also written a book, "8 Simple Rules for Marrying My Daughter."

Kudos to the Funny Farm, for acknowledging the author.

I hope that FF also got permission to reproduce the entire work.

On a lighter note, one of my favorite rules is #9:

"Do not lie to me. I may appear to be a potbellied, balding, middle-aged, dimwitted has-been. But on issues relating to my daughter, I am the all-knowing, merciless god of your universe...."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Robot With a Rat's Brain

Sounds like a particularly bad B movie, but this is real:

"A 'Frankenrobot' with a biological brain"

AFP (August 13, 2008)

"PARIS (AFP) — Meet Gordon, probably the world's first robot controlled exclusively by living brain tissue.

"Stitched together from cultured rat neurons, Gordon's primitive grey matter was designed at the University of Reading by scientists who unveiled the neuron-powered machine on Wednesday.

"Their groundbreaking experiments explore the vanishing boundary between natural and artificial intelligence, and could shed light on the fundamental building blocks of memory and learning, one of the lead researchers told AFP...."

The "brain" is grown from nerve cells removed from rat foetuses, and encouraged to grow over a set of electrodes.

Gordon isn't very smart, even by rat standards, but the technology is remarkable.

I'll admit that Gordon is a very seriously spooky bit of technology, but I see potential in this. If the neuron-to-electronics interface that Gordon uses can be used with human beings, we could have much more useful artificial limbs: and maybe be able to deal more effectively with some problems in the nervous system.

Weird Video of Riverdancing Chimps

"River dance as you've never seen it"

video (0:32)

Actually, I have seen it: as part of a television commercial.

The Inspiration Room Daily identifies the video as part of an Arby's commercial, and describes some of what went into making the "chimps" dance ("Arbys Sandwich or Dancing Chimps?" Inspiration Room Daily (May 19, 2007)).

Update (September 7, 2008)
Thanks to Duncan, of Duncan's TV Ad Land, for giving me an updated URL for "Arby's Sandwich or Dancing Chimps."

Tame T-Rex at the Museum - Sort of

"Real Live Dinosaur"
MySpaceTV Videos (August 8, 2008)

"They finally found a way to clone real Dinosaurs. Simply Amazing!

" *Thanks for the hundreds of emails sent in question of location. It's at the Natural History Museum, visit www . nhm . org"

A cloned dinosaur? Not really. But the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County put on quite a show, just the same.

Faster-Than-Light Travel: Maybe

"Spaceship Could Fly Faster Than Light" (August 13, 2008)

"Travel by bubble might seem more appropriate for witches in Oz, but two physicists suggest that a future spaceship could fold a space-time bubble around itself to travel faster than the speed of light.

"We're talking about the very distant future, of course.

"The idea involves manipulating dark energy – the mysterious force behind the universe's ongoing expansion – to propel a spaceship forward without breaking the laws of physics."

I know: it sounds like Star Trek.

But this is real - if very theoretical - physics. A physicist named Alcubierre started the ball rolling quite a few years ago. (More at "Serious Discussions of Warp Drive" (May 24, 2008).)

Exciting times.

Another article:

"Research Warps into Hyperdrive" (March 8, 2006)
Related posts, at

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's Modern, It's Scandinavian, It's Furniture

"Modernity - 20th Century Scandinavian Design - Furniture"

" All sorts of Modern furniture: stools; tables; chairs; things. Like that photo. The store claims it's a folding screen, but I think it looks like a place mat on steroids.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Wilkinson Residence: A Blog Post and the Architect's Website

"The house that flows"
Busyboo Design Blog (July 30, 2008)

"Forget what you thought you knew about architecture, because this house will blow your mind; the layout of the house, the views and the sheer architectural artistry and imagination which made it come to life...."

Maybe it's hype, but the photos are rather spectacular.

As is The Wilkinson Residence, by architect Robert Harvey Oshatz, in Portland, Oregon.

Unhappily, there are no floorplans or elevations in this blog post.

There are more photos and description on the archtictect's website." Me, I prefer going to the source: for one thing, the architect provides higher-resolution photos of the house.

A Glass Studio's Website: Beautiful

Mark Ditzler Glass Studio, LLC

"Artisan glass created by Mark Ditzler incorporates beautiful irridized or dichroic coatings, which cause the glittering, shimmering reflections of light. Many special steps combine to make his glass work unique and provide special interest and lasting value to the collector."

Beautiful photos display the glass art.

Ditzler creates sinks, lighting, walls, Countertops. And something that's new to me: glass house numbers.

Riding With Robots on the High Frontier: A Blog Worth Return Visits

Riding with Robots on the High Frontier

I can't do better, than to quote from the blog's FAQ: "There are more than a dozen active robotic space missions from several countries—each with its own web site.

"Use Riding with Robots to easily get the latest and most interesting pictures and news from all of them."

The photos are remarkable, and varied, and the descriptions are well-informed.

Strange Sculptures on a Remarkable Tower

"ever seen a creepier tower?"
deputydog (July 17, 2008)

A post about a television tower in Prague. With photos.

The tower is interesting, as a piece of architecture. The weird crawling (babies?) that some (creative?) people put on it are also interesting: from an artistic and/or psychiatric perspective.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"The Dark Knight:" the Force is Strong in This One

I knew that the latest Batman movie was doing well, but I didn't realize it was this hot:
  • " 'Batman' No. 1 for fourth straight weekend"
    CNN (August 10, 2008)
    • "LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Batman was higher than Hollywood's newest pot heads.
    • " 'The Dark Knight' took in $26 million to finish as the No. 1 movie for the fourth straight weekend, beating the stoner comedy 'Pineapple Express,' which opened in second place with $22.4 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
    • "The weekend haul lifted the Warner Bros. Batman sequel to No. 3 on the all-time domestic box-office charts with $441.5 million, behind only 'Titanic' ($600.8 million) and the original 'Star Wars' ($461 million)...."
  • "The Force Is With Dark Knight"
    E! Online (August 10, 2008)
    • "Beware, Lord Vader.
    • "The Dark Knight brought its overall domestic gross to $441.5 million today, per Exhibitor Relations estimates, moving the film to third among the all-time box office champs, and leaving it perhaps only a week away from trumping Star Wars for second place.
    • "The Batman movie's Friday-Sunday take of $26 million gave the blockbuster its fourth-straight weekend box office win—a feat not accomplished since Lord of the Rings: Return of the King ruled in 2003-04..."
I haven't seen "The Dark Knight" yet, but I've got until August 14 to see it in the local theater. If it's like the first Christian Bale Batman movie, I can see why it's drawing in so many people.

A Very Google Olympics

The 2008 Summer Olympics in China have been Googled. Google has:
  • Special logos for its home page during the Olympics - a new one each day, so far
  • A 2008 Summer Games page with
    • An iGoogle gadget for your Google homepage
    • A link to a special YouTube Summer Olympics page
    • Google Maps information about
      • Medals
      • Events
      • Stadiums
    • Links to the latest stories from Beijing on - what else? - Google News
  • A calendar of events
  • About a gazillion1 directories of pages about Olympics and Olympic events, past and present
Google and the 2008 Olympics are in the news, too: I'm hoping that I'll find a video that does a thorough job of showing those opening ceremonies.
1 Several thousand, apparently. "Gazillion" sounded cooler, though.
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