Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Memristor: Cool New Technology from HP Labs

  • "Demystifying the memristor: Proof of fourth basic circuit element could transform computing"
    HP Labs (April, 2008)
    "Researchers at HP Labs have solved a decades-old mystery by proving the existence of a fourth basic element in integrated circuits that could make it possible to develop computers that turn on and off like an electric light.
    "The memristor — short for memory resistor - could make it possible to develop far more energy-efficient computing systems with memories that retain information even after the power is off, so there's no wait for the system to boot up after turning the computer on. It may even be possible to create systems with some of the pattern-matching abilities of the human brain."
  • "Scientists develop new type of memory circuit"
    Reuters (April 30, 2008)
    "It took about 40 years to find it, but scientists at Hewlett-Packard (HPQ.N: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Wednesday they discovered a fourth basic type of electrical circuit that could lead to a computer you never have to boot up.
    "The finding proves what until now had only been theory -- but could save millions from the tedium of waiting for a computer to find its 'place,' the researchers said.
    "Basic electronics theory teaches that there are three fundamental elements of a passive circuit -- resistors, capacitors and inductors.
    "But in the 1970s, Leon Chua of the University of California at Berkeley, theorized there should be a fourth called a memory resistor, or memristor, for short, and he worked out the mathematical equations to prove it."
  • "HP Researchers Build Intelligent Memory"
    PC World (April 30, 2008)
    "Researchers at Hewlett-Packard have developed a working unit of a memory circuit that has existed in theory for 37 years, which could ultimately replace RAM and make computers more intelligent by tracking data it has retained.
    "The technology, called memristor, could allow computers to make decisions by understanding past patterns of data it has collected, similar to human brains collecting and understanding a series of events."
  • "HP Engineers Claim Memristor Breakthrough" (April 30, 2008)
    "HP Labs engineers claim they have discovered a long-sought circuit element that could lead to new ways of creating memory.
    "HP Labs engineers are claiming a breakthrough in the field of electrical engineering that could lead to an entirely new class of chip memory that might one day replace traditional DRAM technology."
The Memristor, a sort of circuit element that apparently 'remembers' its state without power, was unveiled at HP Labs.

From what I read, the memristor was described in mathematical terms about thirty years ago. Now, it's an emerging technology. I'm sure that it will make for faster, more efficient, and easier-to-use computers.

One bit of speculation that kept showing up, I'm a little skeptical about: "The technology ... could allow computers to make decisions by understanding past patterns of data it has collected, similar to human brains collecting and understanding a series of events."

It seems to me that, although the memristor should revolutionize computer design, and end that seemingly-interminable wait while your computer boots, there isn't really a link between the memristor's properties and allowing "computers to make decisions by understanding past patterns of data it has collected..."

As far as I can tell, the memristor is a revolutionary advance in digital memory technology. But, it's still a memory technology. We've had computers that can "remember" "past patterns of data" for decades. The memristor should speed up data storage and retrieval cycles enormously, and have other benefits - but the descriptions I read didn't seem to indicate that sort of C3P0-ish potential.

Maybe I missed something.
Update May 1, 2008.

I missed something. Specifically, I missed a Wired article that explains why the memristor is so revolutionary, when it comes to emulating brain functions.

The articles I cited made the assertion that memristors would "allow computers to make decisions by understanding past patterns" but didn't (my opinion) adequately back up the claim. After following developments, real and imagined, in AI for the last forty years or so, I'm sorry to say that it sounded like marketing hype.

Thank you, Anonymous, for pointing the Wired article out. The key point is that memristors can be made to simulate the analog functions of our brains. The things can be, functionally, much more similar to our neural circuits than a digital computer.

"Scientists Create First Memristor: Missing Fourth Electronic Circuit Element"
Wired (April 30, 2008)

"Indeed, Leon himself noted the similarity between his own predictions of the properties for a memristor and what was then known about synapses in the brain. One of his suggestions was that you could perhaps do some type of neuronal computing using memristors. HP Labs thinks that's actually a very good idea.

" 'Building an analog computer in which you don't use 1s and 0s and instead use essentially all shades of gray in between is one of the things we're already working on,' says Williams. These computers could do the types of things that digital computers aren't very good at –- like making decisions, determining that one thing is larger than another, or even learning.

"While a lot of researchers are currently trying to write a computer code that simulates brain function on a standard machine, they have to use a huge machines with enormous processing power to simulate only tiny portions of the brain.

"Williams and his team say they can now take a different approach: 'Instead of writing a computer program to simulate a brain or simulate some brain function, we're actually looking to build some hardware based upon memristors that emulates brain-like functions,' says Williams." [emphasis mine]

Interstellar Travel: Difficult, yes; Impossible; No - NASA

"Warp Drive, When?"

(moved, also at "

"Have you ever wondered . . .
When can we build something like the futuristic spacecraft shown above?

"Have you ever wondered when we will be able to travel to distant stars as easily as in science fiction stories? NASA Glenn's Marc Millis (pictured above), who has taken a break from Project Management for NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics (BPP) Project to return to conducting research, offers this assessment of the prospects for achieving the propulsion breakthroughs that would enable such far-future visions of interstellar travel."

An imaginative and realistic look at what sort of interstellar travel is - and might be - possible.

This could be a good resource for a serious science fiction writer.

R2D2 Projector, With a Millennium Falcon Remotey: Quite a Toy

"R2D2 Projector"

With a Millennium Falcon remote. R2D2 handles CDs or DVDs - looks cool.

I didn't notice a price tag: but these things can't be cheap. For someone with the money, who is a Star Wars fan, this would be a fun gadget.

Download Free Printable Paper?!

"Free Printable Paper"

"Hundreds of papers you can download and print for free. We've got graph paper, lined paper, financial paper, music paper, and more."

When I saw the title, I thought it was a gag: like Dilbert's manager telling Dilbert to send a fax on green paper.

But, this looks like a pretty good idea: commonly used patterns to print on paper, provided free: with advertising to cover the costs.

Cell Phone Technology of the Future: Never Mind, it's Here

"Real Trekkie tricorder detects ailments"
msnbc (April 30, 2008)

"New handheld medical scanners could aid health care in developing nations"

"New handheld medical scanners coupled with regular cell phones resemble 'Star Trek" tricorders and could see what ails you with a push of a button.

"The invention, using off-the-shelf cell phone technology, would allow medical scanners to boldly go where none have gone before — to the aid of the roughly three-quarters of the world's population currently without access to ultrasounds, X-rays and other imagers used for everything from detecting tumors to monitoring fetuses."

Istanbul: City of History, Intrigue, and - Shopping Malls?!

Istanbul, Turkey's gateway to the west, is an ancient city. It's been called Byzantium, Constantinople, and, lately, Istanbul.

It's got ruins from antiquity, architectural gems from the past, and shopping malls. Lots of shopping malls. I hadn't realized how many. Let's Go Istanbul shows photos of a half-dozen or so, and descriptions of more.

And, there's a new one coming. "Trump, Dogan sign Istanbul real estate project deal" (Reuters (April 16, 2008)) and "Trump Towers for Istanbul" (The New Anatolian (April 20, 2008)) will put a complex with two towers and a giant shopping mall in Istanbul by 2010.

A picture of the project: "Trump Towers 1" (Emporis).

Hollywood Fire: Hollywood and Vine Location Does Make a Difference

The fire at Hollywood and Vine is a very serious matter for everyone who worked in the businesses that aren't there now. But, I doubt that it would have gotten this much attention if it had happened somewhere else. Hollywood and Vine was really hot this morning. Sorry: that was too good a line to ignore.

The good news is that nobody seems to have been hurt: the bad news is that quite a few business were burned out, including Basque nightclub.

The building is important for cultural reasons:
  • Scenes for "Ocean's Eleven" were shot at the Basque
  • Over the decades, the location has seen a :
    • Howard Johnson's
    • Nightclub called Deep
    • music studio
  • Nearby landmarks:
those places are important it today's America, so: yes, a fire at Hollywood and Vine is more important than one at most other intersections.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miley Cyrus Photo in Vanity Fair: A Small Town Dad's Opinion

The Miley Cyrus photo in Vanity Fair, the article that goes with it, and reactions to the picture, seem to like a Rorschach test - Different people see it as something different.

I've seen the photo, on Vanity Fair's website ("Miley Knows Best" page 2 Vanity Fair (June, 2008)) . It is beautiful. No surprise, since Annie Leibovitz had a very attractive model: one who, if my memories of anthropology classes are correct, is at a prime age for marriage in some cultures: 15.

After seeing the photo, and reading part of the article, my wife observed that Miley Cyrus is "hot," and that "her daddy needs a reality check." She's right. On both counts.

I appreciate the fact that Miley Cyrus is a very hot, sexy, young woman. I also understand that women in their early teens can be quite attractive to men. And, that this can lead to consequences, when good sense isn't followed. Examples of what can happen are in the news today: "Under guard, polygamist teen has a baby boy" (CNN (April 29, 2008))

Miley Cyrus isn't experiencing the sort of misuse that was "allegedly" inflicted on girls from around age 13 up by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a renegade Mormon sect) down in Texas.

However, I think that displaying her sexuality, no matter how 'tastefully' it was done, this way is inappropriate.

I also think that the photographer may have no clue as to what's going on. A 'Eureka moment' came when I learned that the photographer is a woman.

Although I acknowledge that the idea is not universally accepted, women are not men.

Men, in general, are very visually oriented when it comes to the other half of humanity. We can get very excited, very fast, looking at patterns of ink on wood pulp. I've been told that, again in general, women don't work quite the same way.

To the best of my knowledge, the gifted professional photographer who took this photo has not experienced what a man feels, when he sees a semi-naked woman - or a picture of one. For that reason, I think it's likely that she really doesn't understand why so many people have taken exception to her 'classic' photo.

Miley Cyrus' father, however, almost certainly has. And so have I.

My wife and I have three surviving daughters. One of them is around Miley Cyrus' age, the others are older. None of us are celebrities, and don't have to deal with the sort of decisions that the Cyrus family have to. However, I doubt that I would authorize a photo shoot like this, or having done so, leave one of my children in the hands of a proxy.

I'm not sophisticated enough to ignore human sexuality, or its power for wonder or terror.
Miley Cirus photo flap in the news:
  • "Photographer defends Miley Cyrus photo"
    CNN (April 28, 2008)
    " 'I'm sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted,' the celebrity photographer said in a written statement. 'Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it. The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup, and I think it is very beautiful.' "
  • "Leibovitz apologizes for Cyrus' 'Vanity Fair' spread"
    USA Today (April 28, 2008)
    " 'I'm sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted,' the celebrity photographer said in a statement Monday. 'Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it. The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup, and I think it is very beautiful.' "
  • "THE NUDIE BLUES / DAD 'MORTIFIED' BY MILEY PHOTO" New York Post (April 29, 2008)
    "Billy Ray Cyrus suffered an achy breaky heart when he saw the seminude shots of his superstar daughter, Miley - a k a "Hannah Montana" - that were taken after he left the Vanity Fair shoot."
    "Cyrus had been present for most of famed photographer Annie Leibovitz's session, but ducked out before the final, racier pictures of his 15-year-old daughter, partially naked and covered by a sheet, were taken.
    " 'Miley's parents did leave the shoot and were not present for the final shot, nor did they see any digital images of the shot in question,' a Miley spokeswoman told The Post yesterday.
    "Her grandmother and her teacher were left to supervise, according to People magazine. "
Finally, a sort of slide show of the photo shoot: probably a better indication of what was going on than most commentary.

Easter Egg for Google Earth

"Artist Creates 'Where’s Waldo?' Easter Egg for Google Earth"
Vagabondish (April 15, 2008)

"A young artist and web designer has created a game that she hopes will take off. Melanie Coles has hidden an enormous 55 ft painting of Waldo – the nerdy, lanky spectacled character clad in a red and white striped top and cane, from the Waldo books - on a rooftop of an undisclosed location in Vancouver, in the hope that it will be picked up by Google Earth satellites."

Now, why didn't I think of that?

The article has an areal photo of the big Waldo.

Pigeon vs. Kitten: Not Your Everyday Video

"A pidgeon fighting with a kitten"
ROFL Videos (April 23, 2008)

A pigeon and a kitten. Neither seems to have come out much the worse for wear, although the kitten found some grooming necessary.

(A mild warning: the follow-up recommended videos may be a bit over-the-top.)

COFEE (Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor): Donuts Next?

"Microsoft hosts its own police academy"
CNET (April 28, 2008)

"Hundreds of officials from agencies around the world including the FBI, Interpol, state attorneys general, city and county police, and the Air Force are attending a three-day technology training session at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus beginning on Monday."

"Officials also will be trained on a relatively new computer online forensic evidence extractor, with the acronym of COFEE, that was developed by a former Hong Kong cop who now works for Microsoft. COFEE (Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor), designed for use during police raids, is a USB thumb drive that captures evidence on a computer that could be lost when the computer is shut off, according to Kornblum."

Looks like law enforcement is getting tools to investigate cybercrime. Between phishing attacks, identity theft, botnets, and all the rest of Information Age crime, that's good news.

One thing came to mind, though. When will we see DONUT: (Digital Online Network Utilization Tracker)?

I've done my part, coming up with a cool name. Now it's up to someone else, to invent a working system to fit it. ;)

Digitek Brand Digoxin Heart Tablets: Double the Thickness Isn't Double the Fun

I know: This is no joking matter.

"Digitek-brand digoxin tablets are recalled"
United Press International (April 28, 2008)

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the recall of Digitek-brand digoxin heart tablets because of a potential safety risk.

"The FDA said Actavis Totowa LLC, formerly known as Amide Pharmaceutical Inc. of Totowa, N.J., reported some tablets may be double the appropriate thickness and contain twice the approved level of active ingredient.

"The products are distributed by Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc. under a "Bertek" label and by UDL Laboratories Inc. under a "UDL" label. ... Customers with questions can call 888-276-6166."

Being one of those people who plugs himself into a CPAP nightly, and whose body needs help controlling several chemical balances, this is unsettling news. I hope the megadose tablets were caught in time.

"Smiley Face Killer" - Individuals do Make a Difference

This is one of those serious posts I do, now and then.

When my home state gets in the news, I prefer it to be for something happier than the "Smiley Face" killings.

When Chris Jenkins' body "was found floating on his back with his arms crossed on his chest - an unusual pose for a drowned person." Since he'd last been seen at a bar, or for some other reason, his death was ruled 'accidental.'

I'm not blaming local police. Minneapolis law enforcement may have had perfectly good reasons for assuming that someone whose body turned floating in the Mississippi, face up, laid out like a corpse for a funeral, had died accidentally. And, Chris Jenkins' official cause of death has been changed from 'undetermined' or 'drowning' to 'homicide.'

And all 40 cases that a couple of retired New York detectives linked probably didn't seem more than accidental drownings. Besides, I get the impression that law enforcement agencies don't share data to any great extent.

I also get the impression that the investigative practices of law enforcement focus on where a body is found, not where it was dumped in the water.

The "Smiley Face" linked to these 'alleged' killings

I found a few news articles on the subject: Individuals count: These 'alleged' killings might never have been noticed, if two men from New York hadn't made it their business to dig up facts.

Now, for a blatant plug: BlogCatalog is urging individual bloggers to "Unite for Human Rights" on May 15. I posted about this before, in "Bloggers Unite for Human Rights" (April 17, 2008).

"Saturday morning Twain" ?! Quotes by Twain

"Saturday morning Twain"
The Capitol Tribune (April 26, 2008)

"I have a small book of Mark Twain qoutes. I was thumbing through it this morning and thought I'd share some with my readers. ..."

My favorite, at the moment, is:

"For business reasons, I must preserve the outward sign of sanity."

This post is a sort of refreshing snack for the mind.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Next-Generation Tabletop

"Microsoft Surface Demo @ CES 2008"
YouTube (January 08, 2008)

This ten-minute video (9:57, to be precise) is a very impressive marketing demonstration of a new Microsoft product: a tabletop. An interactive tabletop. A home version is probably a few years away, but things like this will probably soon be in places I can't afford.

In a way, it's not much more than an oversize touch screen. One that you can put tableware on.

This is not (quite) a toy. The narrator demonstrates a number of functions, from making ripples in water, to sorting out what that fancy wine is and customizing a skateboard.

With my background in graphic design, I can see this as a next-generation light table. Or kitchen table. Some of the wine-list functions could be transferred to food preparation.

What struck me as the demonstration went along was how this soon-to-be-released gadget is like something out of the science fiction shows I watched, a decade or three back.

Very cool interface.

Temple of Dreams and Other Digital Art

"Temple of Dreams"
Mark Huelsman (1999)

This is a beautiful piece of digital art.

Sadly, the link on that page is broken.

However, more of Mark Huelsman's work is available at . Enjoy.

"Sustainable Furniture" - No Kidding

MoCo Loco / The Modern & Contemporary Design Blog (April 28, 2008)

"Students from the University of Belgrade’s Furniture and Interior Design department sent us some of their sustainable furniture prototypes. Above, three of 18 multi functional furniture prototypes that were on display in Milan ...."

Photos show a
  • Chest of drawers, with drawers that come out at alternating angles
  • A circular table with a center that collapses for no discernible reason
  • A square box that unfolds into a three-compartment storage bench - sort of
We're left guessing why this lot is "sustainable," but my guess is that the things are made out of recycled stuff. Wood chips or cardboard, from the looks of them.

As far as practicality is concerned, well, I think they're excellent examples of "sustainable furniture prototypes" - and look rather nice.

Physics (and Most Everything Else) Quotes

"Physics Quotes"
Steve Carabello, at Penn State, Harrisburg (February 7, 2008)

This extensive collection of quotes goes beyond physics, as this sample shows:
  • Exercise is the beste intrument in learnyng.
    -- Robert Recorde (The Whetstone of Witte (1557))
  • The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" ("I found it!") but rather "hmm....that's funny..."
    -- Isaac Asimov
  • History will remember the inhabitants of this century as the people who went from Kitty Hawk to the moon in 66 years, only to languish for the next 30 in low Earth orbit. At the core of the risk-free society is a self-indulgent failure of nerve.
    -- Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 astronaut
  • Here Men from The Planet Earth
    First Set Foot upon The Moon
    July, 1969 AD
    We Came in Peace for All Mankind.
    -- Plaque left behind on the moon's surface by the crew of Apollo 11.
  • To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
    -- Thomas Edison.
  • Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.
    -- Albert Einstein
  • He who has imagination without learning has wings but no feet.
    -- Chinese proverb
  • A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.
    -- Benjamin Franklin
  • If any form of government is capable of making a nation happy, ours I think bids fair now for producing that effect. But after all much depends upon the people who are governed.
    -- Benjamin Franklin

Leonardo da Vinci Parachute Design Passes Proof-of-Concept Test

"Leonardo da Vinci parachute from 1485 finally has successful landing"
Telegraph (UK) (April 28, 2008)

"A parachute designed by Leonardo da Vinci more than 500 years ago has been used successfully for the first time by a Swiss.

"Olivier Vietti-Teppa said the Renaissance genius's design, which consisted of four equilateral triangles forming a pyramid and featured in a text dating from 1485, helped him make 'the perfect jump'.' "

That "for the first time" needs some clarification. A British chap, down in South Africa, used the da Vinci design for a jump, back in 2000. He jumped from a hot air balloon at 10,000 feet: his descent went quite well for the first 7,000 feet or so.

Like, Wow! Medicinal Marijuana in Minnesota

I took a phone call from an advocacy group a few minutes ago. It was the usual survey approach, asking something like 'do you approve of the medicinal use of marijuana in Minnesota?'

Medicinal marijuana is already legal in Minnesota.1

I could be wrong, but my guess is that the existing Minnesota law isn't good enough. At least, for some people.

Having experienced the sixties first-hand, I can understand why.

People around Los Angeles, for example, were suffering because the pot vending machine at San Fernando Valley's Timothy Leary Medical Dispensary2, was only available during business hours.

When you need a fix, you need a fix, man!

Los Angeles addressed the plight of potless people by allowing "medical cannabis dispensaries" to be scattered around the city, in places like Herbal Nutrition Center. These buzz-o-matics are available 24-7.

I don't know of other prescription drugs that have to be available 24-7, from vending machines. But, Los Angeles is an innovative city. I understand that fast-food drive-throughs went big time there: maybe fast-fix vending machines are the next 'in' thing.

Previous post on this topic:
1 Minnesota statute 152.125.2 allows the prescription of specific classes of controlled substances in cases on "intractable pain." Minnesota's law allows people in pain to get relief, "provided the physician keeps accurate records of the purpose, use, prescription, and disposal of controlled substances, writes accurate prescriptions, and prescribes medications in conformance with chapter 147." Makes sense to me.

2 I didn't make up that name.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

How to Fold a Shirt in 22 Seconds: A Japanese Video

"how to fold a shirt in japan"
Beta 1.3 Infectious Videos (November 24, 2006)

I don't know more than a handful of words of Japanese, but I think I could follow the instructions of this 22-second video, anyway.

A very elegant topographic exercise.

I've been told (but haven't confirmed) that Japanese households often fold their dirty laundry. Amazing!

Cool Shirt: Literally, a Cool Shirt

"Who Needs Air Conditioning When You’ve Got Ice-Cold Water Running Through Your Shirt?"
ecomodder (April 27, 2008)

Seems that this fellow "thought something along the lines of 'wouldn’t that be a sweet thing to wear in the car on the way to school instead of blasting my (non-working) A/C!' "

This thing looks like it might actually be practical. The tubes seem rather far apart, though.

Your House: One Building, Many Perceptions.

"Your House As Seen By..."
  • You
  • Your Buyer
  • Your Lender
  • You Appraiser
  • Your Tax Assessor
I'm giving nothing away here: The fun's in the photos.

Plus, a video that's a moderately fun commercial for Publisher's Clearing House. (Just remember: your odds of winning are only a little better than those of being hit by a meteor while riding a unicycle.)

Cat Playing a Theremin: and, What's a Theremin?!

"cat playing a theramin"
b3ta links (April 14, 2008)

36 seconds of feline curiosity, recorded on video.

Although I appreciate the investigative cat, my favorite individual in the video is the cameo appearance of the cat on the floor.

Theremin: Leon Theremin's 1920 invention was a sort of great-grandfather to the synthesizer. It was also very hard to play, and dropped out of sight. More at "Musical Dictionary: T".

After seeing this video, perhaps the Theremin failed to gain popularity because non-human musicians were not considered in the 20s.

Blogging and Business: an Article That Could Be Worse

Remember, I'm a Minnesotan. "It could be worse" is quite a compliment up here. You betcha, it is.

"Blogging Your Way Into a Business"
The New York Times (August 12, 2007)

Part of the article is a series of success stories, including one about a lawyer to turned a blog into a book, and was, a year ago, talking television right with someone.

I recommend due diligence, but there are idea-starters there.

Submit My Blog? NEVAH!

"Where do you submit your blogs to?"
Discussion thread on BlogCatalog (Started April 26, 2008)

"When you are done writing an article where do you submit them to? I know that Digg, Sumble and technorati are great ones for traffic. Any other?"

This is a pretty good place to get informed, and opinionated, advice about where to submit your blog posts - and whether it's worthwhile.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The LeaveMeAloneBox

"Ultimate Machine - the LeaveMeAloneBox"

michaelagh1, YouTube (April 21, 2008)
video, 0:28

This thing is a visual joke: take a look at the video, and see if you haven't felt this way, sometimes.

Thanks to "Ridiculous Contraption"
BlogCatalog discussion thread (started April 26, 2008)

Magic T-Shirt: Just Add Water!

"Compressed Magic T-Shirt"
Styleo / "not Just another Design Blog" (April 23, 2008)

"This is the magic T-shirt which is compressed into the size of a hand with special technique. All you have to do is to put it into cold water for a short while and it will get back into normal size."

I am not making this up.

A series of photos shows how it works.

It's a Motorcycle! It's a Unicycle! No, it's Uno!

"Uno: a Unicycle-Motorbike-Segway Hybrid"
Gizmodo (April 25, 2008)

Take a motorcycle.

Remove both wheels, and but them side-by-side, under the rider.

Give it gyroscopes and limited AI.

Add snappy styling and a bright paint job.

That's the Uno. It's a sort of motorized unicycle. You make it go, turn, or (I assume) stop by leaning one way or another.

It does have one control: a power switch.

Very, very impressive.

Another Wonder of the Universe: Photo of the M51 Galaxy

"M51 Wide LRGB"
Gallery of Astro Photography

A stunning photo of the M51 galaxy.

Paper Chandelier - Probably Not for Use With Candles

"Paper Chandelier, 2006"

" Paper, cardboard and papier-mâché are familiar to all of us. They bring back memories of kinder-garden and our first experiences of making things."

Not a bad idea, actually.

Very Cool Astronomy-Themed Computer Wallpaper

"Computer Desktop Wallpaper"
Western Washington University Planetarium

Starts with photos of Weather from Space, the Crab and Orion Nebulae, and Aurora from Space (each at 1280x800, 1024x768, and 800x600).

Ends with "Starry Night Over the Rhone" - I may be back later, to pick up one or two for myself.

'Let Them Shop Walmart' - Good Point, Stupid Message

The Apathetic Lemming doesn't do 'issue' posts very often, but I'm going to make an exception for this matter.

"E-mail fires up Florida parents"
Unoffical E-mail message from Jay Wheeler, Osceola County School Board
MyFox Orlando (April 25, 2008)

School Uniforms Required

Here's the deal. The Osceola County School District decided that they'd insist on school uniforms. Nothing particularly fancy:

"--Navy blue or khaki pants, walking shorts, slacks, skirts, skorts, jumpers, or similar clothing made of twill, corduroy, or denim fabric. (A small logo is acceptable)

"--White or navy blue shirts with collars such as a polo, oxford, or dress shirt (A small logo is acceptable)"

School Board Member Knows About Parents

An Osceola county school board member, Jay Wheeler, says that parents complained, saying they can't afford the uniforms.

Jay Wheeler knows better. He sent an email to parents, saying:

"Everyone can afford Wal-Mart and if they cant they need to think about turning of their cable TV or stop buying alcohol or cigarettes and spend their money on their children." [emphasis mine]

Reality Check, Please!

Two points.
  1. Spool bored minters shad chick they're spilling:
    • The contraction of can not is "can't" - not "cant"
    • One turns off cable TV, one does not turn of much of anything
    (I'll concede that we could be looking at transcription errors at the Orlando station, but two? When it would be easier to copy and paste?)
  2. The assumption that "Everyone can afford Wal-Mart" - if only they'd lay off booze and smokes - may not be completely accurate

Here's a Look one Underclass Household

This family buys at Walmart, when we have to go upscale, but most of our clothing budget is spent at rummage sales (garage sales, or yard sales, in some parts of America) - and at second-hand clothing shops.

I will admit that we have cable TV (this part of central Minnesota isn't exactly inundated with broadcast channels). We also fritter our money away on telephone service, and (obviously) an Internet connection.

Booze and smokes? We can't give those up, since this household is dry and smoke-free.

Given what seems to be the attitude toward people like us, I'm glad we don't live in Osceola County.

We could cobble together a school uniform or two, as defined. The correct colors could be hard to get, since there'd be a run on appropriate clothing, but we might be able to bleach and dye our way into compliance.

It would take work, though.

Your Attention, Please! Not All Poor People are Shiftless

What irked me about the email is the apparent assumption that there were two sorts of parents:
  • Those who simply go to a retail store and purchase the required clothing (several sets for each child, unless the household does overnight laundry)
  • Shiftless ne'erdowell spendthrifts who waste their money on liquor and fast living
The possibility that there might be people who don't make as much money as he does - and are not wastrels - apparently never occurred to him. And still doesn't.

Mr. Wheeler "says its time for parents to focus on their kids. Saying it's time to stop being politically correct and start being serious about education.

"Finally adding, "I just told the truth and parents need to take responsibility and put their children first!' "

Urging parents to be responsible, and put their children's education before their own pleasures: Good idea.

Assuming that parents who can't afford multiple sets of school uniforms don't care about their children: Mind-numbingly, world-class-stupid idea.

A Writing Blog Post With a List of Writing Blogs

"40 Inspiring Writing Blogs that you Don’t Already Read"
Real Words from a real writer (April 14, 2008)

"Everyone who writes for the web knows that they should be reading the major blogs. People who love blogging have ProBlogger bookmarked...."

How the author knows that you don't already read the blogs on this list, I have no idea.

Looks like a good resource, though.

Anagram Dictionary

"the anagram dictionary"

"G'day all...

"A long time ago I decided to make use of an electronic scrabble dictionary by using it to build an anagram dictionary. Many years later, I happened to mention that in the course of a discussion in the newsgroup, alt.anagrams and put it online. Checking the logs, next to no one looked at it. A few weeks later I found a fair amount of people ...."

Cutting to the chase, this is an alphabetically ordered list of anagrams, from "abbe babe" to "zoned dozen."


Three Year Old and Chemistry Professor: a Dialog

The Science Creative Quarterly (September 07 - April 08)

This dialog, related by Stephen McNeil, is a very believable conversation between an intelligent three-year-old, and a professor of chemistry. The subject is soap and taking a shower.

I think parents who have dealt with kids this age will particularly appreciate the professor's situation.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Beer Robot: the Video

"Beer Robot"
shizzville (July 6, 2007)

A 17-second video, demonstrating the operation of an automated device for chucking a can of beer about ten feet.

Hats off to the inventor, and I think that the gadget is cool.

Still, the thought crossed my mind; For tens of thousands of years, our ancestors toiled, sacrificed, bled and died: for this?!

How to Make Your Own Book: a Book Binding Tutorial

"The Basic Binding of Books: A Tutorial"

It starts with a list of materials.

Continues with clear photos and text.

Ends with:

"When completed, place the entire book under weights overnight. A good, long dry under pressure is necessary so that your book doesn't warp. Afterward you can attach decorative end papers if you wish, using the same method."

This looks like a pretty good tutorial on how to make your own book. Not write it: make it.

Unlike many, this tutorial actually seems to acknowledge that the reader doesn't already know the skill - and may need an illustration to show what's supposed to be done.

Ivanukite: Promising New Mineral

"Safe nuclear dump discovered"
Russia Today (April 12, 2008)

Ivanukite sounds almost too good to be true.

"Russian geologists have discovered a new mineral which absorbs radiation from liquid nuclear waste. They are now striving to chemically clone it, in the hope it may help solve the problem of radioactive waste disposal."

"...'The discovery of this mineral is a great thing, but how it will be used? How exactly will it absorb all nuclear waste - and where will it be stored after that? asks Sergey Zhavoronkin, nuclear expert."

All good questions.

This substance sounds very promising, but I hope that 'due diligence' is exercised. I'm old enough to remember when asbestos was a wonder-substance that provided affordable, effective insulation.

Placentero Chair: I am Not Making This Up

"Placentero chair"
Velvet Cushion

"The 'Placentero' chair is designed by the young Argentinean designer Batti. It's made from eco leather (white, red, or black), the outer sphere plastic surface is a slick cool-grey fibreglass shell. The Placentero aims to mimic the experiences of the human beings have before birth. Placentero chair is only found at PID.Se."

  • Looks cool
  • Costs 30,000 Swedish Krona (a little upward of $5,000 USD), so it's 'foreign' and expensive (unless you live in Sweden)
  • It uses "eco leather" so it's actually green, although it looks red, white, or black
  • Seems to be exclusively for use by the young and flexible
This is actually rather good design, although I have this mental picture of me, under an overturned "Placentero" chair, with my arms and legs sticking out.

With photos

More at

Never Fall Asleep at a Stadium: A Case in Point

"Never Fall Asleep at a Stadium, Funny Video"
YouTube (April 20, 2008)

"I know nothing about this video. This kid falls asleep at a stadium and everyone watches as he nods off. It is not a basketball game. It is most likely ...."

For those of you trying to stay awake until quitting time today, this vid's for you.

Betamax to HD-DVD Converter - Not a Bad Idea

"Betamax to HD-DVD Converter"

"Behold the Colossus Of Analog/Digital Convergence!

"Here at ThinkGeek, we fully grok that digital convergence is all the rage. We've been stocking cassette and vinyl and other analog to digital media converters for years now. And for some reason you keep buying. But we felt like we were leaving out some folks. Specifically, many folks that recorded home movies between the year 1975 and about 1984."

Not the worst product I've seen, by far.

That Was Close! Human Race Down to 2,000 Population

"Study: Humans Almost Became Extinct 70,000 Years Ago"
FoxNEWS (April 25, 2008)

Very interesting stuff: this is about one of the genetics studies that are polishing another facet of the human experience.

Even more interesting, when you look at an interactive timeline I reviewed last year (" 'Journey of Mankind:' 60,000 Years of Ups and Downs" (November 1, 2007)).

The "70,000 years ago" catastrophe may correspond with the Mt. Toba eruption in Sumatra that left up to five meters of ash on India and Pakistan, and produced an "instant 1,000-year ice age" - those were not the Good Old Days.

Pierre the Penguin Wears Custom-Tailored Wet Suit

"Penguin trades tuxedo for wet suit" (April 25, 2008)

Pierre the penguin, was going bald: hardly unexpected, since he's 25, a very respectable age for an African penguin.

All that exposed pink skin didn't improve his appearance, but that wasn't the problem. Without waterproof feathers, Pierre wouldn't swim. That left him the odd penguin out, until someone at the California Academy of Sciences got together with a dive gear supplier, and had a custom-made wet suit made for Pierre.

Sunspots? What Sunspots?

"Sorry to ruin the fun, but an ice age cometh"
The Australian (April 23, 2008)

"THE scariest photo I have seen on the internet is, where you will find a real-time image of the sun from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, located in deep space at the equilibrium point between solar and terrestrial gravity.

"What is scary about the picture is that there is only one tiny sunspot."

Today's hot issue is Global Warming.

A few decades back, kids got chilling warnings about the coming ice age. I was Born in 1951, and remember those textbooks and magazines that said another ice age was coming. I remember thinking, 'cool!'

Now, the hot issue is Global Warming.

Phil Chapman, the fellow who wrote that article, is a geophysicist, astronautical engineer, and astronaut, took a look at sunspot activity. He's aware of how much the sun affects us, and has some very interesting points.

Maybe it's time to rewrite the textbooks again?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

And Now, for Something Completely Different:
Celebrities Who Look Like Me

Sort of.

It's a face recognition freebie from MyHeritage: A lot of fun.

Vivian Hsu?!

A BlogCatalog (what else?) discussion thread led me to this collage maker: "Which Celebrity do you Look Like??."

Two Toddlers Fall From Minnesota Windows on Same Day

There's something to be learned from this.

Two children, about 2 years old, one in fell from windows in Minnesota yesterday afternoon. One of them is dead, the other is in serious condition.

The falls happened in Andover and Vadnais Heights, north Twin Cities suburbs about 20 miles from each other.

In the news: Yesterday was a very warm day. I suppose that quite a few people had their windows open, to let in the fresh air.

One more thing: It's National Window Safety Week.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"13 Awesome Screensavers"
Slave to the Internet (April 16, 2008)

I don't know about "awesome," but definitely "cool."

It's a matter of personal taste, I suppose.

Social Wallpaper? No Kidding

"Social Wallpapering"

" Welcome to Social Wallpapering, a community effort to classify, rank, and distribute high resolution images for use as computer wallpaper."

What I saw look pretty cool. Particularly HAL 9000 and the relaxed dog.

Crazy Job Interview Stories

"Interview Insanity. . ."
Not Hired (March 26, 2008)

"According to several sites on the net (i.e., possibly apocryphal) personnel executives of 100 major American corporations were asked for stories of unusual behavior by job applicants:

"Said he was so well qualified [that] if he didn’t get the job, it would prove that the company’s management was incompetent."

And quite a few more.

First, kudos for the "i.e., possibly apocryphal" disclaimer. Good stories don't need to be true - and I appreciate this sort of candor.

Second, these are funny - and crazy enough to actually be true.

Pre-fab Eco-House For Desert Class

"iT House - an Off-Grid, High Desert Prefab"
Jetson Green (April 8, 2008)

"So I stumbled upon the iT House construction blog and was completely blown away by the documentation they're posting. It's an incredible little home ...."

You get the idea. It's a review of a prefab enviro-friendly house that someone might want to live in. Attractive, too.


Outdoor Living Room - Classy Idea

"Your Second Living Room- Outdoors"
Eva Designs (April 21, 2008)

"The best way to add a second living room to your home is constructing it without the construction crew, without tear-out of plaster and walls, and without the hassle that could otherwise cloud this lovely season. I am talking about adding living space to your outdoors! ..."

Pretty good idea: particularly for people with a longer 'outdoor' season than my home state, Minnesota.


Double-Helix Staircase

"Spring IT: Built So Never The Twain Shall Meet"
Fevered Mutterings (April 20,2008)

A post about a double-helix staircase in Leeds, England. There's a bit of poetry here, if you look for it.


The Days are Longer, and Shorter, then Longer Again...

"Bad Weather Makes for a Long Day"
Scientific American (April 22, 2008)

"Do you ever feel like some days drag on longer than others? That feeling may be psychological, but actual day length really does fluctuate--by a fraction of a millisecond. ..."

A fun read, for the science fan.

Secrets (Sort of) the Invisible Web

"The Invisible Web"

"How To Find and Search the Invisible Web

"What is the Invisible Web? Is it some kind of Area 52-ish, X-Files deal that only those with stamped numbers on their foreheads can access? Well, not exactly. The term "invisible web" mainly refers to the vast repository of information that search engines and directories don't have direct access to, like databases. ..."

Pretty good place to get started, learning how to do serious research.

Remarkable Astrophotography

"Saturn and Moon"

A remarkable photograph.

Before and After DIY Coffee Table

"Before and After"
Design*Sponge (April 17, 2008)

Shows "this great diy makeover on her coffee table this week" - pretty good results, if you like bright colors and geometric shapes (which I do).

A Blog About YouTube Videos: Why Didn't I Think of That?

"Youtube Daily"

A blog with a hand-selected YouTube video posted each day.

My favorite, so far, is a moment in "What could possibly go wrong?" (April 19, 2008), when a martial artist loses a fight with his nun chucks.

You could go to YouTube yourself: but this blog provides a sort of 'best-of,' from one person's point of view.

Momentum Direct: Sounds Too Good to be True

The offer sounds too good to be true: log into a website, fill in a form that collects information that would be on a personal check, agree to pay shipping and handling, and get a 'FREE trial product.'

Your checking account has an amount equal to the shipping and handling charge taken out, and you wait.

Eventually, nothing has arrived, but more money gets taken out of your checking account.

Later, more money is removed.

I talked to someone who had a run-in with Momentum Direct, a company which is developing a reputation for operating like this. As a rule, I identify my sources, but this time I didn't get permission.

The person I know lost about $300.00 before noticing the loss. Happily, this person tracked records and talked with an officer of the bank within 60 days of the start of this mess. There will be a $20.00 charge, but that seems to be the extent of the damage.

This isn't an isolated case. A few minutes on Google turned up:
  • "Unauthorized charges to bank account"
    Complaint Wire
    "By Jasmine, 27 Jul 2007 | Country: United States
    "I tried a free trial of Perma Slim from Momentum Direct. I paid about $9 dollars in shipping and 2 weeks later I received the pills."
  • "Report: Momentum Direct"
    Ripoff Report
    "Momentum Direct Attn: Contact Your Bank's Fraud Unit Immediately Concerning Momentum Direct Magnolia Texas *EDitor's Suggestions on how to get your money back into your bank account!
    Burlington, New Jersey

    "On 11/27/07 I ordered a free trial product from Momentum Direct and paid by electronic check, the only method of payment they said they accepted. Terms and Conditions of the Free Trial Program states that if you feel the product is not for you, simply send the bottle back within the 2-week trial period and you will not be charged. If you liked it, then do nothing and you would be charged the member's price of $49.95 for the bottle."
  • "Momentum Direct"
    Complaints Board
    "Posted: 2006-12-21 by K. E.
    "Momentum Direct is a scam!
    "Ordered a FREE trial product from momentum direct where it says you only have to pay for shipping. The only method of payment they accept is an electronic check. After I had not received anything for a few weeks I tried to contact the company at (281) 356-1400. The phone would ring twice then disconnect. I tried to call several times but still the same thing. Then today I had another electronic check posted to my bank account with the same check number as the one that I had used to pay for the shipping. It was from momentum direct for 49.95. I did not authorize any such payment and was very upset, especially since I never received anything from them.
Bottom line here is that quite a few people have been very disappointed in their dealings with Momentum Direct.

Since the company has been playing this game for around two years, at least, I'm guessing that either it's one of those unethical-but-legal things: or that nobody's gotten around to bringing charges.

I won't advocate any course of action, but will observe that I don't intend to have dealings with Momentum Direct.

To make sure that I don't harm the image of an unrelated company, here's the contact information for Momentum Direct. No link: that didn't seem like the right thing to do.

Momentum Direct
1010 South Magnolia Boulevard
Magnolia, TX 77355

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Coming Attractions: Hypersonic Aircraft

"NASA X-43 (Hyper-X) Hypersonic Aircraft, USA"

This page is an overview of NASA's HX-43 aircraft series. What's exciting to me about this research is the very real possibility that it could lead to efficient and effective transport to and from low Earth orbit.

Now, we throw away considerable parts of the spacecraft with each launch.

A generation or so beyond the HX-43 series, and we could have shuttles that take off and land at (large) airports, use oxygen from the atmosphere for most of their flight, and throw nothing away in the process.

Exciting. Particularly since one possible fuel is hydrogen - which, combined with oxygen, produces water as exhaust. Think 'low environmental impact.'

Programmers vs. Management: The Joke

"Programmers vs. Management"
cshel (April 17, 2008)

This joke sound familiar, but it is a good-natured and (I'm afraid) accurate of one of the distinctions between programmers and management.

Death to Commas!

"Curse, of, the, Common, Comma"
"David W. Boles' Urban Semiotic / Where Blood and Bone Render Meaning in the City Core" (June 13, 2006)

Here's writing advice from a writer who deplores commas. That's because, he explains, "I was taught -- by the great poet, editor, friend and Pulitzer Prize winner Karl Shapiro -- to only use minimal punctuation and only when it was urgently required for clarification."

Here's a sample of this sort of comma-free writing: "Karl's writing was about brevity and clarity and condensation of belief all while churning up deep and complicated emotional and intellectual reactions in his readers."

He also said "Karl would also tell me. 'Commas are bonnets and if your sentence is wearing more than one you risk looking silly.' " I have to admit: That's funny.

I present this op ed piece not so much as useful advice but as an example of how people who are very talented can come up with rules that don't necessarily apply to the sort or writing that you and I do on a routine basis.

Still with me?

Notice that there wasn't a single c-word in that whole paragraph that starts with "I present" and ends with "routine basis." Although the sentence does have a capitol letter and a period at the end.

i know that there are very talented people just ask them who don't use capitol letters or periods or other punctuation but I am not so talented and so I dont as a rule

Seriously? This is an engagingly-written piece. But I wouldn't take the man's advice. Unless you're an excessively creative person, who wants to write a novel without the letter "p," or sans comma, or something of that sort.

Interestingly, the writer cites the genius of James Joyce: whose "Ulysses" put stream-of-consciousness writing on the map, and whose works will be read as long as there are English teachers to assign them.

A Cautionary Tale of an Angry Customer and a Guy in a UFC Jacket

"We Need One Of These In Every Store"
[The Customer is] Not Always Right (Funny & Stupid Customer Quotes)

Here's how it starts:

"Employee *making out a rain check* 'Okay, so I’m just going to look on the computer and check if any other locations have this item.'

"Customer: 'Okay, thanks.'

"Another customer in line: 'Stop f***ing socializing and do your goddamn job!'"

Things went downhill quickly after that. You'll have to read the post to see what happened.

Two observations:
  1. I'm culturally deprived, so I didn't realize that "UFC" probably refers to "Ultimate Fighting Championship®
  2. Anyone who has worked as a retail clerk for more than a few weeks has probably had an experience something like this - except not with such a satisfactory ending

Finn Juhl Home in Denmark: Modern Furniture

"Finn Juhl Home in Denmark"
The Mid-Century Modernist (August 23, 2007)

Nine photos, and some description, of Finn Juhl furniture.

Despite the online slideshow of photos by Roger Valentin Mandt featured on the FJ website today, the line of furniture does not seem to include possibly-dead bodies sprawled on the floor.

In fact, the Mid-Century Modernist post displays a quite attractive set of modern-style furniture.

Injured Wild Birds

"Injured Wild Birds"

It's green! It's Purple! It's full of animated hummingbirds!

It's also a pretty good resource for someone trying to figure how to do more good than harm to a wild bird that's injured - or a baby bird that seems to be lost.

About those animated hummingbirds: If you want an eyeful, go to the site's FAQ ("Frequently Asked Questions & Things You May Not Know!"). There's a big one in the upper left corner, and nine smaller ones jittering across the top.

Meet Giol, the Rabbit

"Meet My Fuzzy Buddy - Giol" - [The Blog] (April 22, 2008)

Meet Giol: a flop-eared rabbit with the colors of a wild rabbit. This blog post is an account of a new pet owner, learning how to deal with a rabbit - and why it's a good idea to keep calculators out of reach.

Five photos.

In the spirit of full disclosure: the author of this post is my daughter, and I took the photos. It's a good post, though.

The Life of an Oregano Addict: An Unexpected Blog

"The Life of an Oregano Addict"
Piebuko, the Philippines

She says "I am living a life of a great adventure." Reading the blog, I'm inclined to agree. Her definition of "adventure," though, seems to be more similar to mine.

The first few posts I read deal mainly with death, birth, and the misadventures of a new priest.

It's not scaling the Mountains of the Moon, or canoing in the Boundary Waters, but life is an adventure: when you engage it.

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming Slept

I was feeling a little off this morning, and thought it might be a good idea to lie down for a few minutes.

My wife woke me up just before supper.

I'll try to get caught up tomorrow. From what a thermometer told me, getting that four-plus hours of sleep in was probably a good idea.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Crafter's Blog: Experiencs and Resouces

"My @Ventures..."

"This is where I put my craft accomplishments: felt and crochets, and everything else.

"Disinilah kutempatkan kreasiku dari kain Flanel, dan semua yang lain-lain." (Indonesian: repeats the English "This is where" statement. Thanks to Melisa Sriwulandari, the blog's author, for letting me know.)

Here are some excerpts:
  • "Here it is, my first attempt at crocheting with plastic bag yarn. Turns out my yarn was too short though, so it's a three-quarter coaster. Why? Because I don't have the same kind of plastic bag anymore."
  • "This is such a wonderful thing to found out that I have to share it with you. I found this link from hooksandneedles who found gooseflesh from crochetme."
  • "This is another question mark. Did I do it right? How am I supposed to single crochet around for the border? It looks like a rotten heart."
  • "They paved paradise and put up a parkin' lot
    With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin' hot spot
    Don't it always seem to go
    That you don't know what you got till it's gone
    They paved paradise and put up a parkin' lot
    (I haven't heard these lyrics for a long time - that was a pleasant trip down memory lane)
  • "What We Can Do To Save Our Earth
    "I've been thinking about the Story of Stuff these few days, and this is what I came up with: "
    1. Buy basic necessities only
    2. Buy natural stuff (not manufactured with toxins)
    3. Buy things only when your old ones are totally unusable already, like your shoes, bags, other wearables.
    4. ....
Looks like a pretty good blog: a journal of someone who is working with crafts.

Posts frequently include photos.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

And Now, for Something Completely Different: The Medieval Climatic Optimum, The Little Ice Age, and Other Changes

"Detailed Chronology of Late Holocene Climatic Change"
James S. Aber (2007)
Emporia State University, Kansas

This isn't exactly light reading, but it's a fascinating overview of weather and climate over the last few thousand years: and the effects that these changes had on civilizations.

15 Things Google Can Do

"15 Handy Google Search Tricks"
BizzNtech (April 14, 2008)

A better name for this post would be "15 Handy Google Functions," or "15 Handy Things Google Does For You."

That said, you'll learn that one can use Google as a calculator (why, I don't know), a dictionary, a metric-English-metric converter, and a way to look up particular article titles.

Anyone doing online research could do worse than glancing over this list.

Character Trait Chart - Getting Your Fictional Character Started

"Character Trait Chart
and Personality Components

Another resource from Wow! Women on Writing: I posted about another a little over a week ago (" 'WOW! Women on Writing Blog:' Women Writing About Women Writing About ..." (April 12, 2008)).

This one's description starts: "It can sometimes be helpful to make a Trait Chart for each character. This is especially helpful during the early stages of character development, before the character becomes as real to you as your mother. There are several charts of this sort available, some extremely detailed and some containing only facts and figures. I've tried to make one that includes the most important traits to help you visualize your character, both physically and emotionally."

"There are several ... available" may be something of an understatement. There was a time when a significant part of the RPG (Role Playing Game) industry seemed to be enganged in producing character charts like this. I've used several, and created one or two myself.

This Trait Chart looks like a pretty good one, particularly from a writer's point of view.

A few observations about this chart, and resources like it:
  • Heed the writer's advice, and use this in the early stages of character development - emphasis on early
  • Don't get overwhelmed, or buried in trivia about the character - pick a small cluster of traits that are the core of your character
I'm impressed by the 'how-2' advice in some of the explanations.

All in all, a pretty good resource.

Fancy House in San Juan

"Haro Strait House"
Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects

"Situated at the edge of a bluff on San Juan Island, the house is composed of two primary elements: a temple-like structure oriented perpendicular to...."

Four photos, including an interior, of a contemporary upscale house. Quite attractive, too.

Passwords: Be Sure Yours Isn't on These Lists

"Top 10 passwords 2008"
David Naylor Search Marketing (April 10, 2008)

Actually, it's four lists of top-ten, in various areas and years. Here's the first:
  1. (username)
  2. (username)123
  3. 123456
  4. password
  5. 1234
  6. 12345
  7. passwd
  8. 123
  9. test
  10. 1
The use of "password" as a password is in all four lists.

I'm not sure whether to say that this is a funny post, or an appalling one.

Maybe a little of both.

A Man, a Boy, and a Powered Shopping Cart

"From Age 38 to 8 in Thirty Seconds" (April 20, 2008)

The best part of this post, IMHO, starts three paragraphs in: "My wife belongs to a mom's group and this particular evening I had just got home from work and a few from her group had come over to the house to scrapbook. I was told I didn't have to participate and could go get a Starbucks if I wanted ... "

The writer and his son wound up in a grocery, on a motorized cart, having a high old time.

Funny, and a very good lesson: for those who need a moral to go with their stories.

Hi, I'm One of Those Maghas!
Nigerian Cyber Scammers and Wonderful Words

"Nigerian Cyber Scammers"
Los Angeles Times (October 20, 2005)

I love language. That's why I was annoyed at losing a rather fine word, a few years ago. I heard it, in a discussion of the Nigerian Scam (you know: you get a message from someone who wants you to help him/her move millions of dollars - all you have to do is send your bank access numbers).

The word meant 'stupid white person,' more or less. And, for quite a while I couldn't find it. That changed today.

A news article from 2005 said that most people, sensibly, ignore those daft come-ons, but that "the few who actually reply make this a tempting and lucrative business for the boys of Festac, a neighborhood of Lagos at the center of the cyber-scam universe. The targets are called maghas — scammer slang from a Yoruba word meaning fool, and refers to gullible white people.

"The e-mail scammers here prefer hitting Americans, whom they see as rich and easy to fool. They rationalize the crime by telling themselves there are no real victims: Maghas are avaricious and complicit."

Aside from satisfying my desire to re-discover "maghas," that article is a good look at one scammer sub-culture. Although it is, admittedly from a maghas point of view.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


"Curdled milk paint recipe"
From Appropedia - the sustainability wiki

Curdled milk paint. I have no idea how useful, or safe, this stuff is: but it sounds fascinating.

Start with Bottles, End with Raft

"A raft made of bottles!!"

Mostly photos, of a remarkably successful project, by a group of college-age people.

Mostly photos, and a few words.
"Web Users Join Forces to Track and Find Stolen Car"
Switched by engadget (April 14 2008)

"A Canadian group of car enthusiasts joined forces to conduct what was essentially an "open source" search for a Nissan Skyline GT-R stolen from a specialty dealer in Calgary.

"The dealer-owner posted word of the stolen car on a blog ...."

This shows that online communities can do more than just generalized advocacy campaigns.

These are exciting times.

Puddle Stomper


This animated GIF reminds me of a visual gag from the old silent movies.

That's a very, very, deep puddle.
"Green Vertical Farms In The New York City"
EcoFuss (April 19, 2008)

"The New York magazine has had an interesting initiative with the purpose to improve the cleanliness of the New York City. They assigned four architects to came up with green structures that will be placed on the Canal Street and the most interesting idea came from Work AC. ..."

The illustration looks a little like a really big slice out of a wedding cake.

I'm not writing this off as a crackpot idea, despite the aerial golf course (I think that's what it is). The idea of stacking functions has been done already, in downtown Chicago for example: where they've got a golf course over several other zones, and finally a railway facility at 'ground' level.

Black and White Photography: Color Isn't the Only Option

"Alley Photography
Mothic Future (January 25, 2008)

A half-dozen very presentable black and white photographs.

Lesson: color isn't necessarily better.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"Stormy Seas" - and More Art by Andy Simmons

"ANS Graphics"
The website of Andy Simmons, artist.

I found this site, tracking down a beautiful waterscape, "Stormy Seas." I'd link to the page displaying this work, but Mr. Simmons seems to have taken steps to prevent deep linking in his website. I don't blame him a bit. I suspect that the copy of his work that I encountered may have been pirated.

You'll find "Stormy Seas" by going to the home page's sidebar, clicking "Land and Sea" under "Digital Art," and looking for an icon that looks like this:

Learning to Write English: It Can be Done

" Ten Practical Tips for Writing in English" (February, 2008)

These ten points are written with someone who doesn't speak English as a cradle language in mind. But I'm a native American-English speaker - and benefited from reading these. A good review, at the very least.

Here are the headings for those ten points:
  1. Read in English
  2. Listen to native speakers
  3. When writing in English, think in English
  4. Write
  5. Trust your gut
  6. Proofread
  7. Have English-speaking friends who are not afraid to correct your mistakes
  8. Study spelling and grammar
  9. Commas and hyphenation - the tricky buggers
  10. Relax
There's a great deal of good advice under each heading - also links to other resources, and a look at how Finnish works.

Recycled Wall Decoration - and it Isn't Ugly

"" (April 18, 2008)

"This super eclectic wall art is a 10' x 2' x 1/8" cork sheet that is made from reclaimed corks from bottle-stopper industry...."

But it isn't ugly. The description and photo shows that furnishings can be "green" and still be something that a reasonable person might want to (1) pay for and (2) look at.

Futurism - Cool Style, Dubious Uses


"Futurism was an international art movement founded in Italy in 1909. It was (and is) a refreshing contrast to the weepy sentimentalism of Romanticism. ... Fearing and attacking technology has become almost second nature to many people today; the Futurist manifestos show us an alternative philosophy.

"Too bad they were all Fascists.... "

This is a pretty good look at a remarkable art style.

A Mess of Blogs

"Do you have an interesting blog? I want to read..."
BlogCatalog discussion thread (started April 17-18, 2008 - depending on what time zone you're in)

Someone asked "Do you have an interesting blog?"

Not surprisingly, quite a few bloggers in the BlogCatalog community thought so.

There's no theme, or pattern, that I can see in the blogs. They range from blogs that I write, to blogs that I'd never write.

Interesting place, the blogosphere.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Blue Frog: I Know, but That's What It's Called

"Blue Frog"

This is a rather strange interior. Probably a restaurant or night club.

It's actually quite attractive.

Le Beanock: a Beanbag with Class

"Le Beanock"
Contemporary Furniture Design

It's a beanbag? A hammock? A really fat pillow holder??

Whatever it is, with a French name, it must be really classy.

This Fellow Needs Help


The cartoon's caption is, "I love my computer because my friends live in it."

I'd say that this fellow needs help.

Coastal Fog Tower

"Coastal Fog Tower"

I can't read the fine print on this fairly cool image, but it looks impressive. It looks like someone has figured out how do something scientific, or creative, or artistic, or something, at a shoreline.

Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Into the Laundry Room

LiveJournal thread by theweaselking (started February 7, 2008)

"Dear Former Homeowner:

"I can understand not replacing the furnace filter. After all, until our home inspector came through, I wasn't aware that furnaces HAD filters. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it simply had never occured to me before.

"However, there are other things that I feel you perhaps SHOULD have known about. ..."

With photos.

This is funny, particularly for people who have moved into a house. I think we all have our tales of shock and horror.

Bathtubs for the Rich and Famous

"Six Eye-Catching Bathtubs"
Contemporist (April 3, 2008)

Photos, and a name for each. The first of the lot reminds me of something I've seen before. In a lab or print shop, I think.

These look classy, and, in some cases, quite attractive.

Bloggers Unite for Human Rights

"Bloggers Unite May 15th for Human Rights"
BlogCatalog discussion thread (started April 16, 2008)

"It’s that time again and we really hope everyone is ready!

"On May 15, we’re launching an awareness campaign chosen by BlogCatalog members — Bloggers Unite For Human Rights!"

I'm getting on board with this. I was a college student in the late sixties and seventies, and old habits die hard.

BlogCatalog, an online community, has opened a group for this campaign, "Bloggers Unite."

Stop Thinking, and Do It!

"Getting Writing Done: How to Stop Thinking About It and Write"
Copyblogger (March 2008)

I can't believe I'm posting this. As a rule, I'm a 'think first, then act' sort of man.

For writing, though, the advice here is pretty good: Seven points, starting with "Remember why you’re writing, and write this down first."

"Yukon Ho!"


"Homework Must Go! Yukon Ho!"

Moderately eye-stopping digital photography slice & splice - and even funnier for fans of "Calvin and Hobbs."

10 Habits of Effective Writers - One Writer's Opinion

"10 Habits of Effective Writers"
Writinghood (April 5, 2008)

Point one: "You should always proofread your work over and over again" - this struck me as a bit obsessive-compulsive, but the writer's got a point.

Point two: "Reading for pleasure is nice and it subconsciously helps writers create better sentences" - yes!

Point five: "Use a pen and paper to write for a first draft if you can" - happily, this is qualified with "...there's less of a brain to hand thought transfer going on with a computer unless you're really fast."

Not everyone is like this writer. For example, I took a business school class to learn typing, back in my late teens. One of the smarter things I've done. I type (or key in, now) considerably faster than I write, and much more effortlessly. My kids are the same way - they'll sit down at a keyboard, there's a rattling sound, and words happen.

I applaud the writer of this post, for recognizing the range of human experience and ability. (I learned to type, because I'm one of the few people on Earth who can read my own handwriting.)

Pretty good resource.

To Forward, or Not to Forward, That is the Question

Should You Forward that Email graphic.

Another humorous flowchart. Habitual forwarders may (or may not) recognize themselves.
Update (February 24, 2011)

The graphic is embedded in:

"Amazing Geological Oddities"

"Amazing Geological Oddities" (April 13, 2008)

Moving Rocks at the Racetrack Playa, Death Valley California, to Stone Forest, Southwest China.

Photos, descriptions. I recommend this page: natural wonders, a little education and cool photos.

Cautionary Tale Involving Cattle and a Fence

"Greener grass....."
A Slower Pace (April 3, 2008)

A sort of cautionary tale, with photos - and rather rude barnyard humor.

It's well done, but I'd recommend that a parent screen this, before showing to the kids.

"It's important in life to reach out, to strive for greater achievements, to go for that greener grass that is on the other side of the fence....." But!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Best Keyword Research Tool" - Maybe

"Winner Best Keyword Research Tool"
Online Marketing Blog (June 25th, 2007)

A list of 15 tools, and from the percentages: I'd ignore the bottom 10.

Of course, this is just one poll, with 154 votes.

Statistically speaking, that's a pretty small sample.

Still: Interesting.

People Who Made a Difference on the Internet

"10 Young People Who Changed the Internet" (March 3, 2008)
"Internet Marketing and Internet Business Blog"

"Some Internet marketers might be telling you how much they make and how hard they work to achieve such status. But do you realize there a bunch of people out there who make more money than these Internet marketers. These people are considered to invent parts of the Internet. I even believed that Internet wouldn’t be as popular as today without these guys.

So here goes the 10 persons that I wish I wanted to be in one day. :-p

With 10 very short biographies, with photos: from Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) to Gottfrid Svartholm (The Pirate Bay).

WashUP No Washup - Great Concept, Execution Needs Work

"WashUP Combines Washer And Toilet" (March 22, 2008)

Not as daft as it looks. The basic idea of re-using water is an idea that was common in my father's day, and I'm sure will become more common.

Although I applaud the philosophy of this gadget, I think that the human engineering details have to be re-thought. Can you imagine loading or unloading that washer? I can, and get a backache doing so.

Beautifuland awesome Lightning

"Beautiful and awesome Lightning"

On - over two dozen very remarkable photos on lightning.

Photos and Description of a Contemporary House

"Robert Harvey Oshatz, Architect" - Wilkinson Residence / Portland, Oregon

Nine photos, and description, of a remarkable residence.

Yankee Doodle in the Land of Dixie: an American English Dialect Quick Quiz

"Yankee or Dixie?"

This 20-point quiz tells you, we're told, how your habits of speech fit into the American English dialects. I come out as having a very slight Dixie accent - which is very odd for a man who grew up in Minnesota.

Just the same, it's fun. And, apparently, has some fairly solid research behind it.
A little background:

"American English Dialects - A Quiz"
Virtual Scratchpad (April 14, 2008)

This blog post links to the quiz - and has a little extra information.

"American English -- The Yankee - Dixie quiz" (BlogCatalog discussion thread (started April 16, 2008))

This is where I found out about that pair of pages. Here's a quote from the start of the thread:

"Speakers of American English tend to use certain words and phrases that are characteristic of the region where they grew up or have lived for a long time. Someone developed a nifty little 20-item quiz that claims to assess regional American dialects. It's called the Yankee-Dixie quiz."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lemming Tracks: Tax Time! (and other excuses)

That's not, entirely, the reason for my having neglected this blog today.

Actually, it's a combination of insufficient planning, a couple of unexpected tasks, and an appointment that I had forgotten about. Thankfully, my wife has a better grip on the space-time continuum than I do, at this point.

I'll be back, I trust, tomorrow: with a dozen posts, and maybe a new idea or two.

Or, maybe not.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Vlad Dracula: Wallachia's Cotribution to World Culture??

"Vlad Dracula"

This is a pretty good biography of the Wallachian prince who provided the name of Bram Stoker's famous vampire.

Unlike the comparatively civilized Bram Stoker Dracula, Vlad Dracula was in the habit of committing offenses against humanity of the sort which should draw attention from human rights groups today.

Vlad's favored means of execution was impalement, which explains his nickname, "Vlad the Impaler." This page goes into a bit more detail than I actually needed. It didn't help that I'd just finished eating, when I read it.

Despite Vlad's odd notion of combining pleasure with capital punishment, his old stomping grounds remember him "as a great patriot and a key person in the development of the Romanian nation".

Firefox Tweaks: Sounds Promising

"8 Easy Firefox Tweaks for Super Fast Web Browsing"
mad WAHM (April 13, 2008)

"Fast loading web pages while surfing the Internet may have more to do with your web browser settings and preferences than your Internet connection speed.

"Try these easy tweaks and you'll see that you’re surfing the Internet from 3 to 30 times faster!"

These sound promising, but I'm no expert. I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who's tried these.
"Waiter! There’s a solar system in my cup!" (February 25, 2008)

"If you are ever in Vancouver, B.C. you might want to drop in at one of the 5 Caffe Artigiano locations around the city. Their champion baristas can turn your cup of hot chocolate or latte into a work of art. I particularly liked this cosmic design!"

With photo. Cool.

I Can Honestly Say That I Never Thought of Asking This Question:
Jedi Lightsaber vs. Superman

"Can a Jedi lightsaber cut through Superman?"
Yahoo! Answers

"Short answer: No.

A Jedi lightsaber is plasma contained in a magnetic field. Plasma is basically the form of matter which stars are made of. Pre-Crisis Superman has flown through the heart of a star without being harmed. Therefore, he is ....

Actually, a rather well-thought out response. With comments.

What Does He/She Really Mean? A Comic Dating Dictionary

"Dating Dictionary"

Funny, if a bit off-color. An excerpt:

40-ish................................56+ (it's the red convertible that makes him feel so young)
Active................................Gets up to get his own damn beer
Adventurous......................Slept with everyone.
I am hungry..........................I am hungry
I am tired..............................I am tired
Nice dress...........................Nice cleavage!"


Stylish Art Photos

"Great Photos by Musin Yohan"
Styish Web (March 13, 2008)

Lots of photos. No description.

I'm assuming that these are actually photos, and not digital art.

Keep looking, past the first few examples. There's more than storm clouds and old people.

"Stylish" is a pretty good one-word summary.

Avatar Origins

"The story behind your avatar"
BlogCatalog discussion thread (started April 14, 2008)

Ever wonder how, and why, people chose the avatars they did? Here's your chance to get some answers.

(And yes: I'm leaning on BlogCatalog quite a log today. I've got a lot on my plate, and am trying to save time. Besides, that online community is a good spot for learning and sharing. Sort of like a college coffee shop. I miss those places.)

The World's Most Beautiful Beach

"Where is the most beautiful beach?"
discussion thread on BlogCatalog (started April 14, 2008)

I don't think the question will be settled any time soon, but meanwhile, there are a lot of good beach photos to see. And opinions to read.

I think the most beautiful beach in the world must be in Minnesota, but I may be biased.

Writing Contest, Self-Publishing, Caveat Emptor

"Wordclay Short Story Contests Now Open: Submission Guidelines Posted"
Writing, Self-Publishing, Book Marketing (April 2, 2008)

"It’s my pleasure to announce the official open of both the Wordclay Single Short Story and the Short Story Collection contests. As of 11 a.m. today, April 2, 2008, you can send our readers your stories and cover letters for a chance to win cash, publishing packages as well as copies of the Wordclay Anthology Best Modern Voices, in which the 15 story finalists will appear in Volume 2."

The deadline is "May 31, 2008, by 11:59 p.m.," but the author didn't say in what time zone.

I'm very cautious about self-publishing. The industry didn't get the name "vanity press" without reason. Back in the day, many self-publishing companies offered wannabe authors an excellent to swap thousands of dollars for a garage-full of unsellable books.

That said, has a charming website: and this is the Information Age, not the late Industrial Age that I grew up in.

And, the website has a quite a story on its homepage today:

"...No, you're not crazy. You heard correctly. Despite our attempts to maintain an air of secrecy, word's gotten out. Information has been leaked to the public. Unconfirmed rumors about a robot working for Wordclay have been making headlines.

"I'm here not only to substantiate the story, but to introduce the robot that's stolen all our hearts here at mission control as well. "
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