12 September 2002
Vanishing act

It was titled "The Lady Vanishes," and Charles Sheffield wasn't kidding. In this short story (which first appeared in Science Fiction Age, November 1996), one Dr Lois Doberman devises a computer-assisted bodysuit that took the input from light receptors on one side of her and fed it to an LCD array on the other side. If you happened to be looking at her, what you were actually seeing was whatever was behind her; so long as the computer didn't crash and the fiber optics weren't twisted into ineffectual shapes, Dr Doberman was effectively invisible.

This of course isn't the first example of a cloaking device in SF or fantasy, but it might be the first example of one that could conceivably exist, and Ray Alden, an inventor from North Carolina, has not only conceived of it but applied for a design patent. For those of us with a heftier-than-normal interest in the unseen, it's a sure-fire wish-list item.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 PM)
21 September 2002
Decrypt this

Up until now, cryptographic keys have been derived from mathematical functions. Now MIT researchers have figured out a way to derive keys from actual physical objects: they've embedded glass beads in small blocks of epoxy, directed a laser beam into their midst, and then converting the interference pattern from the beam into a string of approximately 2400 bits.

Since no two physical objects are absolutely identical, the little epoxy blocks can serve as identification keys or as verification for security devices. You'll probably be carrying something like this yourself in the next ten years.

Update, 7:05 am, 24 September: Fusilier Pundit reports the following:

"Scientific American had a little sidebar story long long ago, on a technique the US developed to authenticate serial numbers on cruise missiles. They sprayed a mixture of lacquer and microscopic ground glass particles over the serial numbers, and photographed each one from several angles. The reflection patterns of each marking were unique and reproducible (duplicate the flash intensity and color and the angle of incidence) but not practicable to duplicate. I'd venture this was 1987."

Evidently, there is truly nothing new under the sun.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:18 AM)
20 October 2002
Coming soon

What's the Next Big Thing? Recombinant DNA parlors? Remote-controlled taser guns? Nick Denton says that computer-generated erotica, courtesy of Poser and similar products, "is going to be an industry," and for the life of me, I can't think of a way it can possibly fail; the weak link in so much of the material (apart from plot considerations, which in the age of gonzo are now basically obsolete anyway) is "How in the world do we get someone to do that?" Click, click, and it's done.

As Penn Jillette once observed, "Shopping, sex and shopping for sex propel all new technology." I'm not quite sure where those taser guns would fall.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:32 PM)
4 November 2002
Full circle

Verbatim, a major manufacturer of optical recording media, has announced a CD-R designed to look like a 45-rpm record. I simply have to get my hands on a box of these.

(Muchas gracias: Boing Boing.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
3 December 2002
From the Department of Too Cool

Jamie Zawinski's WebCollage pulls in random images from the Net and, well, forms them into a collage. About every minute or so, an old image is replaced with a new one and the page reloads. (And yes, you can click on the image and go to the page whence it came.)

I discovered this quite by accident: it pulled in a page of mine, however briefly, and someone looking at the collage duly clicked on the link. Highly spiffy, if you ask me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:17 PM)
20 January 2003
Gratuitous flashback

On the 30th of March, 2001, I said this:

The search engine Google claims to have indexed over 1.3 billion Web pages; inasmuch as they've definitely hit all of mine — the GoogleBot checks in here at least once a week — I'm tempted to believe it. Sturgeon's Law, of course, mandates that 90 percent of these things are, um, crud, but that still leaves at least a hundred million pages worth reading, though clearly some are worth far more than others.

There wasn't any point to that observation then, and there isn't much point to it now except to mention the date, which was, I repeat, 30 March 2001.

Which was the last time the women of UConn lost a basketball game.

Fifty-five wins in a row! And everyone thought last year's national-championship squad would be done in by graduation. The men's record — 88 games from 1971 through 1974 by John Wooden's UCLA squads — might actually be broken by this time next year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
8 June 2003
Nailing spammers

Eric Scheie at Classical Values proposes this modest solution to the problem of email spam:

Spammers could simply be crucified along the highways, just the way the Romans did it. As in the good old days of public crucifixions along the Via Appia, here the modern Al Gore Information Superhighway could be seamlessly linked to live crucifixions via strategic web cams, viewable at anti-spam websites, where we could watch the spammers die (and other spammers could witness the fates of their comrades). What a deterrent!

A real "Pilate Program!"

Needless to say, no libertarian would seriously propose that the government get involved in such cruel punishments (which obviously violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution), and I am not doing that. Let's keep it in the private sector where it belongs. Spammers flooded the world with shoddy advertisements during their lives, and it is only fair that their deaths be advertising spectacles — the tackier the better! "Your corporate message and logo HERE! on THIS CROSS!" (Buy as many crosses as you can afford!) "Another spammer nailed courtesy of SnuffNet.com!" Securely fastened with "Palm Pilate" brand "finishing nails" — as seen on the Internet!

Serves 'em right for promising to grow all that wood for us.

(Muchas gracias: Craig Ceely.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:31 PM)
15 October 2003
WWEOD?

If you were an Evil Overlord, what would you do?

(Muchas gracias: Terkish Payne.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:25 AM)
20 November 2003
If you can't beat 'em

SBC is the first of the Baby Bells to see what may be the writing on the wall: today they will begin offering a Voice-over-Internet Protocol telephone service to its business customers that bypasses the usual wire. The SBC package includes the servers and gateways needed for VoIP; customers need only come up with VoIP-ready handsets or adapters for standard phones.

VoIP has been available from some vendors for a year or more, but this is the first venture by an actual wired telephone company into sending telephone signals over the Internet. Others are expected to follow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:49 AM)
5 December 2003
And it speeds up as it approaches

Taito says it will produce a run of ten thousand coin-operated Space Invaders machines for the US market, to commemorate the game's twenty-fifth anniversary.

The consoles, which will be manufactured and distributed by Namco — Taito no longer has its own facilities for this sort of thing — will be essentially identical to Taito's 1978 machines, with one notable exception: it will cost two quarters to play.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:50 AM)
6 December 2003
Whither Gorf?

Robb Hibbard at Tropiary, in linking to the Taito/Space Invaders story below (5 December), wants to know:

Who owns the rights to GORF, and will a similar release be planned for that particular game come 2006?

I assume that's up to Midway, the Bally subsidiary which produced the arcade game — with one minor caveat: when Gorf was ported to home game systems, the third mission (of five) had to be substantially reworked because it was entirely too close to Galaxian to suit Namco's lawyers (though Midway had licensed Galaxian as an arcade title).

Still, with the current interest in retrogaming in general, I think a Gorf revival is well within the realm of possibility.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 AM)
1 March 2005
Engage the cloaking device

It's called a "plasmonic cover" by its proponents, Andrea Alù and Nader Engheta of the University of Pennsylvania, and it works by resonating in tune with the light that would normally illuminate an object, thereby reducing the amount of light that is scattered, making the object in question more difficult to see. Eliminate all the scattering, and the object is effectively invisible.

There is, of course, a downside: the cover must be tuned for any specific wavelength of light, which means anything you can see in ordinary visible light, which is made up of a multitude of wavelengths, isn't shieldable. Yet.

(Via the largely-unseen Syaffolee.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 AM)
5 April 2005
It's two! Two! Two searches in one!

Have you ever said to yourself, "Self, wouldn't it be freaking cool to pull both Yahoo! and Google search results at the same time and throw them up on a split screen?"

Enter Yagoohoogle. Use it now before it's litigated out of existence.

(Via Lifehacker.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:54 AM)
14 April 2005
Head games

Do we want our robots to look, well, robotic? Last year, Dallas inventor David Hanson, founder of Human Emulation Robotics LLC, said no:

Most people doing social robots believe that human faces will turn people off and will disturb them. I think that's ridiculous. The human face is perhaps the most natural paradigm for us to interact with.

I have yet to make up my own mind here, but I have to admit, I can see myself getting into a conversation with Hanson's "Eva," whom you can see here [link requires QuickTime and, at 17.2 mb, much patience] for yourself. At least there's a chance she wouldn't glare at me like those real girls.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
25 April 2005
Next: the 8-track DVD

Not just recycling, but repurposing: getting new uses from the same old stuff. Detractors will note that roughly half the posts here follow this model, but they're just being sniffy.

Besides, even when it's impractical — sometimes especially when it's impractical — it can be a great deal of fun.

With that in mind, here's a 1957 rotary phone updated for wireless use. Not only does it work, sort of, but it doesn't require you to peer into a screen the size of a commemorative postage stamp or punch buttons one-eighth the size of your finger; you just dial, dammit.

What? No, of course it doesn't do text messages. Sheesh.

(Via the Fire Ant Gazette.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 AM)
26 April 2005
A vinyl solution

Recording one's LPs to CD is not inordinately difficult, but it's not a particularly intuitive task either, and, well, not everyone still has a turntable these days.

Enter TEAC with the GF-350 shelf system, which incorporates a three-speed turntable, an AM-FM tuner, and a Compact Disc recorder smart enough to detect the space between LP tracks (unless it's a really noisy record) and increment the CD track accordingly. The GF-350 records on both CD-R and CD-RW discs, with the usual caveats about rewritables. And there's a pair of RCA jacks for plugging in another audio component — a tape deck, perhaps. (Interestingly, the GF-350 will apparently not record off its own radio tuner.)

I'm pretty handy at doing this the hard way, so I probably don't need this cute little box, but I'll bet it's exactly what someone is looking for.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 AM)
30 April 2005
For every formula, a form

I am legitimately something of a math geek — I didn't score 800 on the math portion of the SAT, but I came close, and the second BASIC program I wrote (after a variation of Hello World) was a Fibonacci number generator — and once upon a time I worked for H&R Block. So I'm bound to appreciate something like this: If the IRS had discovered the quadratic formula. [Link requires Adobe Reader.]

(Found at Hatless in Hattiesburg.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:01 PM)
13 May 2005
Truly decadent

Is there no decade VH1 doesn't love?

Of course not.

Prepare yourself for I Love the 30s. [Requires QuickTime.]

(Via Screenhead.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
7 June 2005
Log: a rhythm

I just love this: Jacqueline Passey fuses John Napier to John Kricfalusi.

It's better than bad; it's good.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
10 June 2005
Dial M for Me

Warren Bell proposes a new telecom service:

Find Me is a telecom service that provides you with one phone number that you give to everyone. Then you tell Find Me where you want to be contacted at any given moment in the day. Getting into the car? Call Find Me's toll-free number, enter a PIN (not a PIN number, because that would be a Personal Identification Number number, and boy does that irk me, just like ATM machine), and tell Find Me to route all calls to your cell. Or program Find Me with a schedule, so that all calls at 8 AM routinely start going to the cell, at 9 AM to the office and so forth. Tell Find Me which numbers should always go to the office, or which should go to voicemail (mother-in-law. Oops. Was that out loud?). Your friends and family can have an emergency code that allows them to try all of your phones until you are found. And Find Me will automatically recognize a fax machine and send it to your fax.

And you only ever have to give out one phone number for the rest of your life.

Well, okay, but I'm not buying unless there's some way to turn the SOB off entirely. I mean, Judith H. Christ, I may not want to be available to the whole freaking world 24/7/365.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:56 PM)
11 June 2005
Mama's got a brand-new bag

Well, yes, you're supposed to put something in it. That's the whole idea.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:00 PM)
16 June 2005
Following my own advice

Which, as many of you know, I don't often do.

I've just ordered this little darb for myself, mostly because it weighs rather less than my turntable-receiver combination and takes up rather a lot less space.

(More specifically: My actual receiver, which dates to the quadraphonic days, measures, per the owner's manual, 7.125 by 20 by 15.875 inches and weighs 44 pounds. That's a hell of a lot to lug halfway across the house just to rip some vinyl, which in turn must be lugged from a different location.)

I will report as time and circumstances permit. I paid the usual $399 price — this thing is never on sale, after all — but the dealer (a New York outlet with which I am familiar) is picking up the tab for UPS ground shipping.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
22 June 2005
Life with the GF-350

About a month ago, I mentioned the Teac GF-350 shelf system, which incorporates a three-speed turntable (yes, it plays 78s), an AM/FM stereo tuner, and a CD recorder, which simplifies the task of converting all that vinyl (and I have, if not literally tons of vinyl, probably at least one ton of it) to digital form. Last Thursday I ordered one for myself from a dealer on Lawn Guyland; it arrived today and was immediately put to the test.

As a shelf system, it's okay, if not great; the power is modest (3.5 watts per side) and the tuner is just barely adequate. But what you want to know is "How well does it record?" The answer is "Pretty darn good, actually," especially if your records aren't in absolutely terrible shape.

I tested with a decent 1970s LP (The Works, a Warner Bros. sampler album) and an original styrene 45 from 1965. The cartridge is apparently a ceramic type, which means its RIAA equalization is approximate at best. Still, the minimal amount of tweaking I had to do to these files suggests that the Teac is doing a good job of getting the sound out of the grooves: the LP came out very well, if a tad bass-shy, while the 45 benefited from a 3-decibel cut around 15 kHz. For the casual listener, this is all you need; for us drooling audio geeks, it's the quickest way to get an editable file into our computers for further processing.

One word of warning: the GF-350 expects CD-Rs (or CD-RWs, if you can find any) that are specifically labeled for digital audio. I was unable to trick it into using the cheapie CD-Rs I buy in bulk.

Teac has a Web site for the GF-350; you can read the manual with Adobe Reader, if you're curious.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 PM)
26 June 2005
We got your pregroove wobble right here

Previously in this space on the Teac GF-350:

One word of warning: the GF-350 expects CD-Rs (or CD-RWs, if you can find any) that are specifically labeled for digital audio. I was unable to trick it into using the cheapie CD-Rs I buy in bulk.

Of course, this invites the question: "How the hell does it know? The disc is blank, fercrissake."

Well, almost:

Even though general purpose CD-R and CD-RW discs and their consumer audio versions appear for all practical purposes identical, only blank media bearing the "Compact Disc Digital Audio Recordable" (CD-DA Recordable) and "Compact Disc Digital Audio Rewritable" (CD-DA Rewritable) logos can be written in consumer audio recorders. The reason for this restriction is to comply with international copyright agreements. A special Disc Application Code present in the ATIP information of a CD-DA Recordable/Rewritable disc's pregroove wobble identifies it specifically for audio use. Consumer audio recorders are programmed to reject discs not containing the correct code. By adopting this safeguard various countries and other authorizing jurisdictions may selectively apply copyright levies to the price of blank discs intended for consumer audio use while exempting those destined for computer or professional applications.

Now to me, "pregroove wobble" sounds vaguely sexual, and indeed it's possible to see this as a screwing of sorts:

The disc application codes are used to distinguish between discs used for different applications. The two main application codes used are "Discs for Unrestricted Use" and "Discs for Restricted Use." Within the "Disc for Restricted Use" code, another additional encoded identification may be used for special disc applications. One example of this would be the Photo CD.

This is why, for example, you can't use blank data CD-Rs in a consumer audio disc recorder. You must use an audio CD-R. The audio recorder will check to ensure that the blank CD is encoded for audio applications. The audio CD-R isn't any better or different, but will cost more because of copying fees paid to the RIAA.

Ah, yes. The RIAA. The last thing they did that was of any value to anyone other than themselves was the LP equalization curve (500 Hz crossover, 13.7 dB rolloff, and it scares me that I remembered that).

This still doesn't explain why at least one GF-350 I know of supposedly runs just fine with ordinary CD-Rs, but there are such things as running changes, and well, he bought his first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:48 AM)
28 June 2005
Water for North Africa?

This looks promising: General Electric will partner with an Algerian energy company to build a major water desalination plant. The plant, which will cost about $270 million, will provide 53 million gallons of potable water per day from the Mediterranean Sea, enough to serve one-quarter of Algiers' three million residents.

GE entered the desalination business three years ago, and acquired major player Ionics Inc. in 2004 for $1.1 billion; the company sees a $5 billion market growing at 15 percent annually.

The largest such plant in the US, which opened in Tampa in 2003, ran into difficulties early on and is operating only intermittently while system upgrades are performed. GE, with more resources at its disposal than the firms who collaborated on the Tampa project, perhaps can be expected to have fewer problems with the Algiers facility, which could open in 2007.

(Via Matt Rosenberg.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:43 PM)
21 July 2005
I don't think that I can take it

Someone left a cake out in the rain.

And by "someone," I mean Fred.

Who says life doesn't imitate art?

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:29 PM)
25 July 2005
Truly buzzworthy

It's called the Charcoal Companion Amazing Bug Zapper, which is probably a bit of rhetorical overkill, but with pesky insects, overkill is exactly the level of kill desired.

What it is, in fact, is a fly swatter with an oversized face, rather like a tennis racket, and a grid of electrified wires that will finish off any fly that actually survives the impact of having this thing come down on its little buzzy behind.

Yeah, you can get classic fly swatters down at the dollar store in enormous quantities, but they don't offer the same level of grim satisfaction that comes with the $12.99 Zapper.

Batteries are included, your first set anyway. (It takes two AAs.)

(Via Jacqueline Passey.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
2 August 2005
The adventure of a lifetime

What else could it be?

One fortunate man, and one extraordinary woman. Of such are legends made.

(No, I don't meet the qualifications, but thank you for asking.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 AM)
15 August 2005
Ask for the Number One

A battery that runs on urine? Absolutely:

Dr Ki Bang Lee, who heads the research team at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, said: "We are striving to develop cheap, disposable, credit-card-sized biochips for disease detection. Our battery can be integrated into such devices, supplying electricity upon contact with biofluids, such as urine."

No, this isn't for your iPod:

The paper-thin device is designed to run cheap, disposable test kits for diseases such as diabetes. Many such tests use the chemical composition of urine to reveal signs of disease.

The new battery will allow the urine being analysed to provide the electricity needed to run the test kit, without having to rely on lithium batteries or external power sources.

Downright ingenious. My congratulations to the whiz kids who thought this up.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:18 AM)
16 August 2005
Just say the word

Is this a great vanity plate or what?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 PM)
2 September 2005
Like severe tire damage, only more so

A South African inventor has come up with a female condom incorporating a device to discourage sexual assault.

Called, indelicately enough, "rapex," the gizmo is worn tampon-style; when the intruder performs insertion, it hooks into the dingus with sharp barbs and literally will not let go. The perp will have to seek medical attention, and, well, your friendly physician knows how it got there.

In addition to this particular benefit, "rapex" also provides, like a proper condom, protection against STDs carried by the rapist. I suspect this would sell well here in the States if it could get past the usual regulatory hurdles.

(Via Phil Dennison.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
5 September 2005
A life full of sit

Everyone please be seated.

(Via ad-rag.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:07 PM)
10 September 2005
Al Gore, good neighbor

Former Vice President Al Gore put up 100k for two charter flights to New Orleans, airlifting about 270 residents of the beleaguered city, including patients at Charity Hospital, to points in Tennessee.

As James Joyner says:

Damned nice of him. Sure, he can afford $100,000 without batting an eye. But so can a lot of people who didn't do anything like this.

And yes, Gore was on the bash-Bush circuit yesterday, speaking to the Sierra Club, but he made a point of not tooting his own horn, which deserves some sort of credit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:41 AM)
12 September 2005
Sunflower watch

Using our very own mascot, Fred explains how we got so many of these blooms staring us in the face:

[W]hat big fat seeds it has, wrapped in a thick, dry husk. What a loser in the game of seed dispersal and reproductive success.

I can pretty well say the tender seed inside the woody exocarp doesn't survive the goldfinch. Its beak, for a bird its size, is strong and sharp-pointed. They hang upsidedown from the nodding heads and deftly pluck the disk flower's fruit — a single seed — and crack it with their beak, select the oily, high-fat nut with their tongue, and it's bird 1, plant 0. But in the process of possessing that one tasty morsel, the bird has dislodged a dozen more.

The fallen seed waits on the garden soil for a vole, mouse or squirrel. The rodent will carry it off and bury it, forgetting where it planted some, thus planting a wild garden of sunflowers across the road, beside the barn and beyond the compost pile. The odds of survival probably aren't great with this approach to plant propagation, but then, look how many seeds a single flower produces to improve its odds of success! Depending on how close they grow, a single head will produce from 500 to over 800 seeds.

Sunflowers are produced commercially, for the oil or for the seeds, but I always think of them as old friends by the side of the road, waving as I go by.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
13 September 2005
I can name that tune in 10 digits

"What the heck is the name of this song?" Radio formats often don't allow for such trivial details.

To the rescue: 411-SONG. Call them up, pick up your wireless phone, dial 866-411-SONG, wait for the beep, and then hold the phone up to the sound source for at least 15 seconds.

They will send you back a text message with the song's title and artist, and if it's available as a ringtone, they'll tell you that too.

For 99 cents (buying the ringtone, if any, will cost the usual price), this strikes me as a heck of a deal.

(Heard at Lifehacker.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
17 September 2005
Saving a few energy bucks

At what point do renewables become less expensive than fossil fuels? I buy 600 kW from OG&E's wind farm every month at two bucks a 100-kW unit; in exchange, the fuel-adjustment factor is eliminated from the bill.

For the period ending 9/9, the wind option cost me the usual $12; the fuel-adjustment factor came to $11.77.

So with natural-gas prices out of sight for almost half the billing period, the difference between electricity from gas and electricity from wind was a whole twenty-three cents out of a $95 bill. I have to assume that the tipping point is well within reach.

Beyond my reach, but obviously within someone's, is Ideal Homes' prototype Zero Energy Home, funded in part by the Department of Energy with technical assistance from OG&E, and tucked away into the Valencia subdivision at 2508 NW 180th Street. The idea isn't new, but the price point is: this is, says Ideal, the first ZEH in the nation to carry a sub-$200k price tag.

"Zero," of course, is an approximation, but the house is designed to produce about as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year. Climate control comes from a ground-source heat pump, which takes advantage of the fact that ground temperatures vary a lot less than air temperatures. The roof of the south side of the house is fitted with an array of 28 photovoltaic cells, grabbing energy directly from sunlight. The glass is double-pane low-E; the water heater is tankless.

The house will be leased for twelve months, starting around the first of the new year, in testing mode, after which time it will be sold; the target price is $199,000, which is on the high side for a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house with 1650 square feet, but the energy savings should compensate for that, and Ideal has said that the proceeds from the sale will be donated to the local Habitat for Humanity. Two other houses currently in the Valencia development have some of the energy-saving features, but there's only the one full-on Zero Energy Home.

For now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:30 PM)
22 September 2005
Levittown in Crescent City

Rebuilding the neighborhoods in New Orleans — well, the analogy I thought of first involved Heracles cleaning out the Augean stables, but the method he used seems inapt here.

Regardless of my rhetorical non-flourishes, though, this is a daunting task. Fritz Schranck has an idea to make it a bit less daunting, based on a proven, if often derided, technique:

Levittown was one of the first, remarkably successful suburban tract development projects in the post-World War II era. It began on 1200 acres of former potato fields in Long Island, and one critical element of its success was copied all over the country — the developers offered only two basic house designs.

Over the years, the homeowners added their own improvements to these very simple homes, including additional rooms and garages. For as much as these Levittown homes looked all the same at the beginning, they certainly aren't now.

The limitations of the city's lot dimensions also suggest that a similarly simple approach to reconstruction in New Orleans would be the fastest way to bring new housing stock online.

Modular home builders could quickly set up and install the basic elements of several fundamentally New Orleans home styles, including Creole cottages, shotgun houses, camelback houses, or sidehall homes.

This time, however, these homes can be significantly improved over the ruined homes they replace, with better insulation, duct work for heat pump/air conditioning systems, and updated plumbing and electrical fixtures.

And at a significantly lower price than designing them one at a time.

This summer I visited the second Levittown, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and if I hadn't known beforehand that all these houses were created from a handful of models, I'd never have believed it; over the past half-century, nearly every house has been modified, some only slightly, some to the point of unrecognizability.

Fans of bespoke architecture will no doubt complain on aesthetic grounds. Let them. Right now, I'm thinking that a returning resident first wants a good, solid house, and whether it looks like another one in the same block is a secondary consideration at best.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:53 AM)
26 September 2005
Warding off excessive seriousness

Declares Sue Ellen Cooper, Queen Mother of the Red Hat Society:

The Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan. We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together. Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection, forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next.

There are RHS chapters all over the place, including the Dazzling Sophisticats and the Sun Kissed Natural Divas.

And the Society is apparently big enough nowadays to have its own credit card, so I have to assume that their message is being heard.

Brendan Gill once said that "Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious," which supports the idea of God as Comic Genius. Works for me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
1 October 2005
One last eye-opener

As the Shorts Season draws to a close and all those glorious legs (some of them actually walking about 42nd and Treadmill) go back into hiding for the winter, I am bemused to report that Angela McNeany of the Chicago 'burbs has, we are told, the best legs in America.

My immediate reactions are three:

  1. Well, someone had to;
  2. At least it wasn't Katie Couric;
  3. If said gams are truly that incredible, it's probably a good thing I'll never see them.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
7 October 2005
Because you really want to know

Sean Gleeson presents: Ask Harriet!

(McGehee is gonna love this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:56 AM)
9 October 2005
Porpoiseful travel

Technically, it's a Variable Attitude Submersible Hydrofoil©, a fully-enclosed watercraft that can operate on the surface or dive for short periods.

More familiarly, it's known as the Bionic Dolphin™, and what amazes me about it is that it's controllable over the same three axes as aircraft (pitch, roll and yaw), something you find in submarines but not in surface watercraft.

I don't even want to know how much it costs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
14 October 2005
From Sussex with love

"Your name, sir?"

"Schranck. Fritz Schranck."

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
18 October 2005
Of course, some of us are shameless

Urban Aid presents the Shame On You Kit™:

  • 1 toothbrush (and toothpaste)
  • 1 panty (one size fits all thong)
  • 3 condoms
  • 1 "emergency" phone card
  • 1 packet of pain reliever
  • 1 "leave behind" note

In the case of thongs, I am more inclined to believe that one size fits none, but I suppose that this pack of stuff could be useful in certain situations, and the price ($24) is not out of line.

Of course, the price you'll have to pay for having needed this pack of stuff — but that's another issue entirely.

(Via Lawren.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:25 AM)
19 October 2005
Beyond levitation

Knowing how it's done doesn't ruin it for me: I have a few elementary magic tricks up my sleeve, so to speak, and after all, they do call them "illusions."

Still, I've got to wonder how this is going to come off:

David Copperfield says he plans to impregnate a girl on stage — without even touching her.

Speaking to German magazine Galore, the illusionist rejected the theory that there were only seven different kinds of magic tricks.

He said: "Bull s**t! There is a great deal of new territory to conquer. In my next show I'm going to make a girl pregnant on stage."

He added: "Naturally it will be without sex. Everyone will be happy about it, but I'm not telling you any more."

Maybe we should just ask Tom Cruise.

(Courtesy of Lawren.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:45 AM)
21 October 2005
Bulletproof windows?

The trouble with armored vehicles is that at some point you have to see out of them, and that requires glass, and glass doesn't resist ordnance all that well unless you use so much of it that you can barely see through it.

Now there's a layered aluminum oxynitride armor, backed up by a polymer with just a little glass in the middle. It's nicely clear, and in testing this summer it stopped a .50-caliber round. Try that with glass.

Right now, the stuff is about twice as expensive as glass, but you have to figure it's going to last quite a bit longer.

(Via Dean Esmay. And no, you can't get bulletproof Windows; Microsoft hasn't figured out how to do that yet.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:10 AM)
22 October 2005
Do your shoes stick to the floor?

Jacqueline goes to the movies and is pleasantly surprised:

So Terrence, his friend Ana, and I went to a movie at the Terra Mall in Cartago tonight. They have something there called the "VIP theaters". These theaters come equipped with faux-leather reclining seats with cupholders and waiters who bring you BEER or COCKTAILS or CREPES or even SUSHI to enjoy during the movie.

Costa Rican civilization is clearly more advanced than ours. It is a good thing for the US that they are a peaceful people, or we would be doomed.

Geez. I'm happy if I can get an actual box of Raisinets for under four bucks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:57 AM)
23 October 2005
Not an aerial view of my bookroom

But close enough. As the title says, it's a few thousand science-fiction covers in a seeming jumble; but as you mouse over each one, you can get an enlarged image and some publishing details. There's a similar engine for Mad magazine and for comics and graphic novels.

(Via Denise Inglis.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:58 AM)
27 October 2005
Coverpop culture

I mentioned this over the weekend; Eric picks up on it and (in Comment #4) comes up with an astute cultural observation:

The coolest stuff gets done when people set out to do something for no discernible purpose other than to see if they can do it.

As motivations go, it's one of the best.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:51 AM)
Send Shepard Smith to Vesuvius

It's nice to know someone preserved these little bits of history: screenshots from the first 2500 years of Fox News Channel.

(Via Rocketboom.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:38 PM)
2 November 2005
We come in peace, shoot to kill

Or at least to dazzle.

The next prototype is due in the spring. (It's tech, Jim, but not as we know it.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:28 PM)
4 November 2005
Okay, so he's a little older

Through the miracle of Photoshop, Dawn Eden finds the right guy.

This seems to be as good a time as any to deny that I have Harriet Miers on my speed dial.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:18 AM)
7 November 2005
A pattern with guts

A model of the human digestive system, knitted.

If the first thing you noticed was the color of the rectum, go to your room.

(Via Jan the Happy Homemaker.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 PM)
9 November 2005
A different angle entirely

The complaints about wind turbines tend to focus on their presumed unsightliness and their Cuisinart-like impact on passing birds. A firm called Terra Moya Aqua Inc. has responded with a 90-degree turn: TMA's new turbine spins on a vertical axis, which allows for a lower tower and which birds don't seem to notice.

Even better, mounting the blades in a plane parallel to the ground apparently causes a lift effect on the back side to supplement the push effect on the front, which means, says TMA, at wind speeds above 5 mph, the turbine actually turns slightly faster than the wind.

If this thing works at all, and I can't think of any particular reason why it shouldn't, it might eventually supersede more conventional windmills, though I expect that the two types will coexist for a while — at least, until TMA's patents run out.

(Via Mister Snitch!)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:50 AM)
Ego plus charity

I'll just let Matt Drachenberg tell it:

One of the highest honors a blogger can receive, even better than being mentioned by the MSM, is to have the amazing Chris Muir canonize you in a Day by Day cartoon. Well, now's your chance to get that mention, without having to do any of that pesky blog journalism.

Chris has agreed to create a custom (and autographed) Day by Day panel to support Project Valour-IT!

So here's the deal. We're going to auction off this chance to be immortalized by Mr. Muir. The bidding will start at $50 and will be open until Friday at Noon CST. I suppose you don't have to be a blogger to win, but it would probably give Chris a little more material to work with. And, although I'm supporting the Army team in this effort, the winning bidder can designate which team will receive credit for the donation.

Since the two major motivations for blogging seem to be (1) the desire to Do Good and (2) the desire to see one's name all over the place, this scheme should draw lots of responses. At least, I hope it does.

Leave your bid in the Comments to Matt's original post.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:45 PM)
17 November 2005
And you thought your SX-64 was neat

Behold the Atari 800 laptop.

(Via Rocketboom.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:45 PM)
19 November 2005
I guess it cures headaches

Unfortunately, I don't see any reason to stock up on this, though I did briefly entertain the idea of buying a case and FedEx-ing it to Maureen Dowd.

(Via Mister Snitch!)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 PM)
22 November 2005
Anything you can do I can do better

Actually, they had me at "David Bowie as Nikola Tesla", but the idea that they're filming The Prestige at all fills me with all sorts of weird anticipation; this novel by Christopher Priest was genuinely creepy, in a good way. (The Brothers Judd review it here.)

I'll add this to my Must-See list when it appears, probably late next year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:15 AM)
26 November 2005
And it should be reusable, too

The price of a first-class stamp is going to increase two cents in January, to 39 cents, and, well, what legendary American is forever associated with the number 39?

Right. Which is why the president of his fan club is calling for a Jack Benny 39-cent stamp. There's even a PR campaign.

And there's also a petition, which I have signed. As a former resident of Waukegan, Illinois, I see this as a must. (Current residents will note that the Jack Benny Center for the Arts is located at, yes, 39 Jack Benny Drive.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:39 AM)
27 November 2005
Holy tera

Maxell's first holographic storage system will ship in late 2006, they say, with a storage capacity of 300 GB — eventually expandable to 1.6 TB.

Terabytes on your desktop! At this point (meaning I don't do any video work on the PC), I can't even imagine 1.6 terabytes, which works out to 1,759,218,604,442 bytes, or 45,211,344 Commodore 64s (at 38911 BASIC bytes free).

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 PM)
29 November 2005
Fhtagn yourself

So it's settled, then: we lose that hack Bil Keane and let H. P. Lovecraft do the captions henceforth.

(What could possibly go wrong?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:26 AM)
5 December 2005
No 8-tracks, though

The holiday catalog from J&R has arrived, and as always, it's crammed full of neat techie stuff that I don't really need but am always tempted to buy anyway.

Page 22 is labeled "Media," and they've got CDs and two or three flavors of recordable DVDs and tape for digital camcorders and even Sony MiniDiscs.

And in the midst of all this is a number I know well: L-750.

Migod, it's actual Beta tape! From Sony, with the Betamax logo and everything, and a $3.99 price tag. Considering the last consumer Betamax for the US market came out in 1993, this would seem incredible. (Then again, I bought my last Beta machine in 1997.) But production continued in other markets, notably Japan — which matters, since Japan, like the US, uses NTSC video — and the very last Betamax was produced in 2002. And I must admit that the idea that you can still get tapes for what is technically a thirty-year-old system has a certain visceral appeal; it's like finding a stash of Kaiser-Frazer parts.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:44 PM)
Saltier than Lot's wife

Yes, I'm aware that there are scenes of fierce eroticism in the Old Testament, but do I really want to see them in full color on a calendar?

Well, um, maybe.

(Via Sexoteric Blog; I wouldn't recommend opening up any of these links in the presence of coworkers.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:11 PM)
7 December 2005
Could I borrow some bandwidth?

You know, this could work:

Speakeasy has a program where you can share your connection with your neighbors. They handle the billing, you handle the admin headaches. You get your bill reduced. So you can go get that $120 1.5 megabit connection, split it 4 ways and be spending 30 bucks a month for high speed goodness. Admittedly during peak time you might be splitting bandwidth, but that's no big deal, and that is the same as a cable modem in any case.

And besides, you've already learned how much admin sucketh by installing your own wireless network; how much worse can it get just adding on a few more users?

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:33 PM)
10 December 2005
Hybrid, schmybrid

Here's a guy who provides his own motive force for acceleration.

Of course, like any rational person, he hates winter, but as we keep telling ourselves, it's only temporary.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:45 AM)
12 December 2005
Signs of extreme boredom

This one I have to admire:

I just sent a PJL job to all the network printers to change their LCD displays to read "INSERT COIN."

What I want to know: Did anyone approach the sysadmin and ask if s/he had change for a buck?

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:22 PM)
16 December 2005
Sit on a potato pan, Otis

A palindrome is a sequence which, when reversed, is identical, give or take word spacing, capitalization, and other relative trivialities.

I had thought that not much had been happening on the palindrome front, though "Weird Al" Yankovic put together a nifty collection of them in a Dylan pastiche called "Bob" a couple of years back.

How wrong I was. The classic "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!" is seven words long; with (in)judicious use of computerized word lists, it's been expanded to 17,259 words. Not the easiest sentence fragment to parse, but it's pretty good for a rotary gyrator.

(Via Damn Interesting.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:37 PM)
18 December 2005
Cool nightwear for hot flashes

Not that I'll be buying any of this stuff any time soon, but this makes a certain amount of sense to me:

The various inventors of this new sleepwear all seem to have had essentially the same eureka moment — on a night when they started getting hot flashes of their own. They were all active and fit women, with years of experience with perspiration. And they realized that the temperature fluctuations of menopause called for the same wicking fabrics as running, hiking or exercising in the gym.

(Via Boinky, who quips: "No wonder ... Maureen Dowd can't find anyone to sleep with her.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:02 PM)
20 December 2005
Rare brilliance

Eloise's 8-year-old is becoming suspicious of this whole Santa Claus scam, even going so far as to demand of the babysitter how it is that all these items, putatively sourced from the North Pole, nonetheless bear Target tags.

It's simple, explained the sitter, wise beyond her years: that's so if you get an identical item from someone else, you can return Santa's gift to the store.

I tell you, it's this sort of ingenuity that guarantees the Claus operation's continued market dominance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:01 AM)
21 December 2005
True out-of-the-box thinking

Auto parts from Japan arrive at Honda's Marysville, Ohio plant in huge shipping containers. Sending them back empty is not particularly difficult, but it costs money, so Honda built a plant next door to process, of all things, soybeans.

Really. The Autoextremist reports that Honda has been buying soybeans from a couple hundred Ohio farmers (there are a few in Michigan also) at about a buck above the going rate per bushel, then ships them back to Japan in those cargo containers. Honda's willing to pay that premium because they insist on beans with high uniformity and with no genetic modifications, in accordance with the demands of the Japanese market. Last year Honda's Harmony Agricultural Products In Ohio division exported nearly a million bushels of soybeans and made about $10 million in the process, a brilliant example of a profitable niche market developed to avoid an expense.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:08 PM)
22 December 2005
Where the hell are the flying cars?

Um, here, actually.

Meanwhile, The Consumerist would like to know:

What products, created by the movie industry at the behest of paying corporations, would you actually like to see produced?

The C-ist makes a good case for the hi-tech Nike hi-tops worn by Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future II. I'm going to have to think this over very carefully.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:56 PM)
Girls just want to have axes

At first I was appalled; then I was amused; finally, I decided, "Why the heck not?"

Why, indeed? Here's the Fender Hello Kitty Stratocaster.

(Beret tip to Dean Esmay.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:26 PM)
27 December 2005
Let's do it (let's fix this house)

Cole Porter's early childhood home in Peru, Indiana is getting a makeover at the hands of its new owners, the Ole Olsen Memorial Theatre, which will turn the 18-room house into part museum, part B&B.

The repairs will cost about $105,000; donations have been received for about half that sum so far.

There's a restoration blog, which for the moment has its newest posts at the bottom.

(Via Lawren.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:27 PM)
28 December 2005
Beyond silly

Three years ago, I reported on the death of Dr. Earl Leathen Warrick, a founder of Dow Corning and the developer of Silly Putty.

Since that time, I've gotten regular traffic from people wanting to know how to get the stuff ("3179 Dilatant Compound") in bulk from the factory, but I claim no credit for this:

Not long ago, I walked by the desk of software engineer JJ Furman, and saw that he had made an interesting addition to his desk: a large blob of Silly Putty, about the size of a grapefruit. Intrigued, I asked how he'd gotten so much of the stuff. The answer? A bulk order directly from the manufacturer! Of course.

I knew then that I wanted some, and it dawned on me that I probably wasn't the only one. So I set out to place a really, really big bulk order. An email went out to cohorts. Their orders came in. Three weeks later, I had an eighth of a ton of Silly Putty delivered to my desk.

You gotta love it.

(Noticed by Mister Snitch!)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:26 PM)
31 December 2005
The best a girl can get?

Two months after my original posting, I continue to get search-engine traffic for Angela McNeany, who won a Gillette competition earlier this year for the Best Legs in America.

On the semi-honorable basis that (1) a few more visitors won't hurt me and (2) it took me a while to locate an actual photo of the young lady, I am taking this opportunity to give you a look. And while I'm not about to claim that I'm disappointed or anything, I must state for the record that I've seen better.

In fact, I've seen readers of this site better.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:25 PM)
1 January 2006
Assuming you don't lose your phone

I can see the demand for this. The Texas electronics firm Keyless Ride is introducing a new remote-control system which permits you to access your existing keyless-entry system with devices other than your fob: a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, perhaps.

So if you lock your keys in the car, you just hop on the cell, dial up a code, and the door pops open.

(Or, if you're a cheap so-and-so like me, you have a spare key in another pocket.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:14 PM)
4 January 2006
Microloans take a different twist

Kiva is a variation on the microcredit theme: the site maintains a list of borrowers, and anyone with a PayPal account can lend any of them as little as $25. Kiva works through the Village Enterprise Fund, an African organization which provides seed capital to small entrepreneurs.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, word of this got to the left side of blogdom first; I'm on record as being a fan of microcredit in the Third World, but I missed the introduction.

Erica explains the appeal:

What I love about this, and about groups like Modest Needs, is that 1) I understand what it's like to need just a little more to get by, and that 2) as someone with generally only a little to give I can really see the difference I'm making.

Really big disasters — tsunami, Katrina, and the like — get all the attention and most of the dollars; operations like this remind us that it's not some distant mass of humanity, but individual people, who occasionally need help.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
7 January 2006
They call it "Dean's Song"

Well, actually, they call it "Sam's Song"; when Bing Crosby recorded it back in 1950, it didn't occur to him to retitle it "Bing's Song" — or, for that matter, "Gary's Song," what with Gary Crosby singing along with his dad. Bing just didn't do things like that.

On the other hand, Dean Martin, even in the presence of Sammy Davis, Jr., had no such compunctions.

And however many years later, a man named Sam is on the cusp of history, and who's vowed to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings? Why, a fellow named Dean, as Sean Gleeson illustrates.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:23 PM)
8 January 2006
Beyond the flip-flop

Last summer I said something about prizing the ability to look really good in really insubstantial shoes.

Well, you can't get much more insubstantial than this.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:03 AM)
17 January 2006
A hull of an improvement

Today there are gift cards, phone cards, all sorts of cards that are used once, maybe a few times at most, and then thrown away, adding a few inches to the mountain at your local landfill and, if incinerated, yielding up some yummy toxic wastes.

Enter Arthur Blank and Company, which has a new card design that doesn't clutter up the place indefinitely or give off that dreaded burned-PVC vapor. It's made from corn, and it's specifically designed for minimal environmental impact.

Arthur Blank, based in the West Roxbury section of Boston, says it can produce these cards for only 10 percent more than the standard plastic stuff, and expects to convert about half its existing gift-card business to the new CornCard.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:02 AM)
27 January 2006
And with only four strings, yet

You'll never make fun of the ukulele again after this.

(Sent me by Greg Brandt, who knows a thing or two about strings.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 PM)
30 January 2006
Yet another vinyl component

I've previously bent your ear about the Teac GF-350 shelf system, which neatly combines a three-speed turntable and a CD recorder in a retro-styled medium-fi box.

Of course, if all you want to do is fill up an iPod, this is probably not the tool for you, and as of last night at 9 pm, four people had written me about Ion's iTTUSB two-speed USB turntable, which plugs into the USB port on your sound card, assuming you have a USB port on your sound card. (Mine doesn't, but then it's old.)

The Ion comes with Audacity recording software, which I haven't tried, and has already drawn a lot of discussion at Engadget, not all of it positive, despite the fact that it's not supposed to ship until mid-April.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:10 AM)
9 February 2006
These toes are made for whistling

And that's just what they'll do. [Video clip, preceded by short ad.]

Dick Morris was unavailable for comment.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:35 PM)
11 February 2006
On a wild Shatterday night

Try as I may, I can't seem to get my mind around this concept:

Ceramic corsets.

Then again, what would I know about either fashion or eroticism?

That said, Oklahoma City artist Nicole Moan, in whose oven these garments come to life, is one of only 60 designers (of around 5000 applicants) who will be featured in Swatch's Alternative Fashion Week 2006 next month in London. And of course, schlepping all this wear-ware to the UK costs money, so there's a traveling show/fundraiser called "See It Before London", which will culminate next weekend with a couple of shows: Saturday at Sober Grounds Coffee House (2808 NW 31st, just east of May), and Sunday at Café Nova (4308 N. Western).

If nothing else, this hammers a few more nails into the coffin of the Sleepy Town on the Prairie reputation this town has, um, enjoyed for the last 117 years, though I don't think it's enough to win over the likes of Charles Barkley.

(With thanks to Steven "Metro" Newlon.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
13 February 2006
Present accounted for

The past is, well, past, and who among us can tell the future?

This analog watch shows only the present: hours to come and hours gone by are equally obscured.

If you live for the moment, perhaps this is your timepiece.

(Via Belhoste.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:54 PM)
14 February 2006
Talk back, trembling lips

Matt Galloway, whom you may remember from such classic blogs as The Basement, has introduced Buzz-O-Phone, which permits persons with telephones (remember those?) to leave up to a two-minute rant.

"And then what?" you ask. Then this:

Your recorded diatribe or approbation will be nearly instantaneously podcast to several, maybe even dozens of interested folks around the globe.

Or you can listen to a batch of them right on the site using Buzz-O-Phone's Player.

I may have to try this out myself, once I'm outside of an environment whose background noise rivals anything you imagined in Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Update: I recycled repurposed some of my condom remarks to try out the B-O-P. Kinda neat. Look for 14 February, 17:27:05.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:53 AM)
15 February 2006
The question of the ages

It's never been determined exactly how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, although a great deal of research has gone into the matter over the years.

The problem, of course, is that each person has a distinct licking style, so to speak. And if you keep losing count, well, here's the device for you. I suppose it's too much to hope that it's made in Newark, Ohio.

(Via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:03 PM)
17 February 2006
Press to play

Have you ever oscillated between "Wow, I have to have one of these" and "Geez, what was I thinking?" at faster than 10 rpm?

I must be going like sixty as I look at this. Yeah. An ironing board. But an ironing board somehow rendered Sorta Cool, as though using it would transform you into the hottie pictured therewith. And it gets better. The board, I mean, not the hottie.

Is all this worth $225? Probably not. But keep in mind, you're dealing here with a guy who just put his water bill on his Target RedCard.

(Via Lileks, who probably didn't buy one either.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
20 February 2006
A sign in the heavens

Cartoons, schmartoons: here's the next inflammatory image, and just let them try to destroy it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:21 AM)
21 February 2006
Asymmetrical location

It's no particular secret that Oklahoma City is undergoing a downtown renaissance of sorts, and while most of us who live around here are somewhere between pleased and thrilled, there have been a few complaints about how you'd never know it if you happened to be motoring by on the freeway: even if wondrous things are happening at street level, and they are, it's still pretty much the same old skyline.

I get a little bit unnerved by the thought of really tall structures here in the Big Breezy, even though nothing inhabited has fallen lately. (WKY radio lost its tower in a tornado in 1998.) I mean, I don't even go to Nikz, which, on the 20th floor, isn't all that high up.

Still, this is amazing, and you know it's going to dominate the Louisville skyline when it's finished four years or so from now, and I find myself thinking that maybe we ought to do something this grandiose, this breathtaking, this freaking tall out here on the prairie.

Even if I don't ever get above the 20th floor.

(Via Nobody Asked.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:54 AM)
26 February 2006
"Potent Potables" for $1000, Alex

Travel writer Martin Martin visited the western islands of Scotland in the 1690s, and subsequently described his experience with "usquebaugh-baul", the quadruple-distilled single-malt whisky then produced on the island of Islay:

The first taste affects all the members of the body: two spoonfuls of this last liquor is a sufficient dose; and if any man should exceed this, it would presently stop his breath, and endanger his life.

Quite a recommendation indeed. Now the Bruichladdich distillers on Islay have announced that they will produce a limited run of the stuff according to the old recipe.

The alcoholic content, needless to say, is formidable: 92 to 94 percent, though it will drop by about one percent per year as it matures. Quipped Bruichladdich managing director Mark Reynier, "To be honest I'm just hoping the distillery doesn't explode."

I surmise there should be plenty of demand for this whisky once it's aged properly, despite its storied physical effects: after all, absinthe makes the parts go yonder, and it still sells.

(Via Fark)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:01 AM)
27 February 2006
Besides, no one will throw beads

Now here's a shirt I could wear, even out here in Vanilla City.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:23 AM)
22 March 2006
And, well, they won't buy Levi's

Well, if there are Islamic soft drinks, why can't there be Islamic jeans?

The jeans, designed in Italy and manufactured in Pakistan, are baggy, so they won't bind during prayer, and have lots of pocket space, to accommodate the accessories one must remove during prayer.

Price is a smidgen over $30, which, as designer jeans go, is pretty inexpensive. The garments will first be marketed to Italy's 1.1 million Muslims before going international. They'll be easy to spot: the seams are green, the Official Color of Islam.

(Via Tinkerty Tonk.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 AM)
27 March 2006
The avatar of Avalon

As a character name, it's already been used; as a concept, it's only just begun.

I know this because romance authors are discovering The Sims:

Many authors spend days assembling collages to serve as visual aids while they labor on their latest novel. I find it a whole lot easier and great deal more fun to open up The Sims2 — where I can make my heroines and heroes look precisely as I envision them, and where I can not only build that towering castle or isolated manor that's going to figure so prominently in my book, but also furnish it and actually walk through it to determine whether its layout is exactly what I need to make my story work.

And sometimes, if I'm lucky, the process operates in reverse. Recently, I constructed an old Victorian house. When I first began to build it, I had no real purpose for it, other than thinking that I wanted to try out various construction techniques. But the more I designed and redesigned, erecting some walls, tearing out others, adding a gazebo, stream, pond, and landscaping, the more I decided that it would make an intriguing house for one of my novels.

Who would live in it — and what would his or her story be? I wondered. I started imagining all kinds of different characters who might live in the house. I now have several from which to choose.

This premise seems extensible even beyond print: I wouldn't be surprised to hear of filmmakers using The Sims to create virtual storyboards.

Color me suitably impressed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 PM)
2 April 2006
No C.O.D.s to coyotes

Anyone who ever sat through Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes and/or Merrie Melodies will appreciate this: from the catalog of Sears, Roebuck and Company, circa 1900-1910, you could order anvils.

Acme brand anvils.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:52 PM)
3 April 2006
Lasers on a sunny afternoon

On the World Tours, I am accompanied by three electronic gadgets: my notebook, my cell phone and my digital voice recorder. Compared to some of you, I'm probably just this side of a Luddite. But if I had more gizmos, I'd start wondering about how I'd provide regular battery juice.

Enter the solar-powered bag, which draws enough skyborne voltage to keep up (we hope) with the demands of the hardware. The form factor is sufficiently compact, in fact, that it's possible to produce backpacks, even jackets, with a solar array.

Not that you'll get me into a jacket in the middle of July, but I'm still impressed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
5 April 2006
Booze in space!

Well, no such luck: it's methanol, not ethanol, which means that it's not drinkable unless you have access to Ted Kennedy's liver.

Still, the idea of organic molecules of this sort floating around in the universe has a certain appeal, if only because it vaguely supports the notion that We Are Not Alone.

(Via Play One on TV.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 AM)
7 April 2006
Top 40, large

Wouldn't it be neat to have, say, a 1963 WMCA Good Guy T-shirt?

Until Mr. Peabody gets the WABAC machine working, this will have to do: fresh CafePress knockoffs, researched by the major radio fiends at RadioLogoLand, who have imaging from lots of classic pop radio stations — though nothing yet from Oklahoma City's KOMA or WKY. (They do have KAKC stuff, for the Tulsans among us.)

I suggest you grab one of these before the Gods of Intellectual Property take umbrage and request injuctions.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:01 AM)
11 April 2006
Sex, Yellow Dye #5, and rock 'n roll

It's even timely, sort of: Great Moments In Rock And Roll History (As Reenacted by Marshmallow Peeps®).

(Purloined from E. M. Zanotti.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:47 PM)
16 April 2006
Drill bits

There's scarcely a hole I dig without wondering how long it would take me to get all the way to China. (And given the slowness with which I dig, I wonder how I'm supposed to live that long in the first place.)

The problem with this, of course, is that there's apparently no place in the US from which you can dig a hole straight through the earth and come out in Chinese territory. If I'm doing the math correctly here, from my perch here at 35.52 north latitude, 97.56 west longitude, the hole should emerge at 54.48 south, 82.44 east, which is a few hundred kilometers southeast of Heard and McDonald Islands, an Australian territory in the Southern Ocean that's a bit too close to Antarctica to suit your average tourist. (I really ought to go there some year, just for the sheer hell of it — not that there's a lot to do.)

Beijing's Tiananmen Square is at 39.56 north, 116.20 east, so its opposite number would be at 50.44 south, 63.80 west, in the Atlantic east of Rio Grande, on the Argentinian side of Tierra del Fuego.

What prompted all this? A visit to DigHoles.com, as suggested by Venomous Kate.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
22 April 2006
That infernal nonsense Turtle Bay

Dr Sanity, with a pretty taste for paradox, drops Kofi Annan into Gilbert and Sullivan, with delightful results.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:42 AM)
24 April 2006
And she didn't know it

Erica T. Carter is a highly-respected contemporary poet, working primarily in blank verse.

At least, I have high respect for her, given the fact that she's not a person at all, but an aesthetic language generation system. (The name comes from "Electronic Text Composition," bestowed upon the system by its creator, Penn lecturer Jim Carpenter.)

Miss Carter, if you will, exhibits obvious strengths and severe limitations. Erin O'Connor elaborates:

Erica can't write sonnets or other strongly metered poetic forms, but she writes free verse with speed, ease, and, if her editors at poetry magazines are to be believed, great sensitivity. As such, she seems to me to be at once a remarkable testament to the artistic potential of code as well as a damning comment on the artistic pretensions of much contemporary verse.

Needless to say, I had to sample her wares. Offering up six words as seed values, I requested eight lines with the following criteria: abstraction, 65/100; lyric, 40/100; active verb use, 40/100; structure, frame; minimum one line in form of question. In about one minute per line she rendered this:

She is people.
Enshrouds surrounding, repeating on turnover.

She is the town.

Ghostlike piano after op plays.
Turnover under other as capacity now gets to stagger, closing.
Hides to his day, as good as labor.
Sunset is great.
What is the yellow sunset of life?

I've seen worse. Indeed, I've written worse.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 AM)
Spreading the buzz

Marketing whiz and bloggish type Matt Galloway was interviewed this morning on KGOU, and the centerpiece of the interview was a sampling from Galloway's Buzz-o-phone, the "drive-by shooting of the marketing world".

It came off well, I think, and Buzz-o-phone will no doubt get a few more calls as a result. KGOU has a link to a paragraph about the piece, which I expect will be updated with actual audio once it's uploaded.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
27 April 2006
Hardly Davidson

"So where were you all last week?"

"I was knitting a motorcycle."

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:11 PM)
28 April 2006
Standing tall

Seagate is readying a 750 GB external hard drive that connects via FireWire or USB and ships with backup software for both Windows and Mac.

The drive is due out next month for $559. Remind me to put one on my Wish List.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 AM)
30 April 2006
Features from Floyd

I've been to Floyd County, Virginia only once: on World Tour '03, at the behest of Fred First himself, and the place left me more or less speechless. In one (well, maybe two) of those less-speechless moments, I took this photo from right off Fred's porch, and said this:

[I]f you haven't seen Floyd, as 99 point something percent of you haven't, you're missing something: on the edge of the Blue Ridge, Floyd looks like all your best dreams of getting away from it all, rolled into one.

There's still no substitute for seeing it yourself, but Fred First has made the next best thing possible: Slow Road Home: a Blue Ridge Book of Days, 232 pages of Fred's own wise words and occasional examples of spectacular photography. I've already ordered mine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
14 May 2006
I told you to stop staring

And this is what you get:

The Electric Cinderella shoes idea began as part of Simona Brusa Pasque's thesis at the Interaction Design Institute in 2002 and was inspired by a beautiful woman who Simona interviewed for her thesis who wanted to be able to "intimidate her intimidators." She wanted to be empowered without losing her femininity, to have the freedom to be sexy without fear. The shoes certainly achieve that, offering 100,000 volts of high fashion stun gun power which can be activated by a control on the matching necklace. The weapon is hidden and when the wearer taps on the matching necklace an electric spark is displayed in the transparent tip, warning the would-be assailant to back off. The weapon is designed for a one time use, in case of emergency, by breaking the tip of the shoe.

The prototype shoe is Plexiglas; the heel contains the electronics and a battery, and two wires run to the toe — the "business end," if you will.

Reaction to the prototype, as detailed in the inventor's thesis, can be characterized as mixed:

"I'm not sure that wearing this kind of shoes would be enough to defend myself, it would be only a psychological effect on me but not so useful in case of aggression."

"I'd prefer another kind of shoes, that's not the style that I normally wear. Something more comfortable that can hide the spark and that people can't see."

"It could be a very strong signal! Better than a knife because you wear it. Showing or not showing the electric spark is really crucial in the communication of you, I always try to avoid conflicts so I'd turn it on only if needed."

"The only problem is that if you use them you have to buy another pair."

I'd say this fits nicely into MIT's notion of wearable hardware, and that I should probably avoid trying to annoy someone who might be wearing these shoes.

(Found at Annika's Journal.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:50 AM)
29 May 2006
Another bullet bitten

About two years ago, I resolved to get myself a digital camera, if for no other reason than to improve the production values (such as they are) of the travel logs from the World Tours. One should never underestimate my capacity for procrastination, however, and I managed to delay the purchase of one of these contraptions until this morning.

mulberry treeThe contraption in question is Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LZ3, and while its image quality, by most accounts, is no better than average for this price class ($200ish), it had one gee-whiz feature I thought was worth having — a built-in optical stabilizer, for when the camera is being operated by Mary Anne with the shaky hand, or worse, me — and there's the fact that, unlike my experience with some brands, I have never had any trouble figuring out all (okay, "most of") the bells and whistles on a Panasonic product.


calendar girlThese were my first two attempts: they are reduced from 5-megapixel size and slightly cropped, but otherwise unaltered. The tree is the mulberry out front, recently slightly cropped itself to remove dead limbs and the like; the young lady (age unknown, but way over twenty-one) appears on a calendar hanging on my wall, though that photographer was careful to give her an actual head, and the glare on the southeastern edge is clearly my own contribution. (Click either for a version with less debigulation.)

Still to be acquired: suitable memory expansion, in the form of SD cards.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:09 PM)
31 May 2006
Higher than SubPop

Jools Holland presents The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

What? Oh, nevermind.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:06 AM)
1 June 2006
Gutfeld rumbles

An actual interview with Greg Gutfeld, and it's chock full of snarky goodness:

[B]estiality's a tough call, mainly because of PETA.

What would be their stance? Is it rape? Or is it reward? How can you tell if the animal really wanted it? If animals are equal to humans, as PETA believes, then animals should have power of consent. But if we say it's a crime, then we are saying that animals are incapable of making their minds up about their sex lives, which strikes me as out and out bigotry. Another thing about PETA: They never protest when ugly animals are killed. Vultures are an endangered species, because there's not enough roadkill anymore to keep them alive. PETA has been strangely silent on this issue. Why? Is it because you can't cuddle a vulture? Probably.

For all I know, Ingrid Newkirk could keep a shrike in her shorts.

On celebrities, in and out of the HuffPost:

There are many pleasant, down to earth stars, but in general, it's good to steer clear. There was a study that just came out on the top 10 desires of children. Number one: to be famous. Others on the list: to get free stuff like ice cream and presents, pets that would live forever, no war. This is exactly the same list you'd get from a Hollywood celebrity.

Stars are exactly like children, in that they play all day and never buy stuff like light bulbs. And that makes them susceptible to destructive stuff like new age religions and Michael Moore movies. It's why stars give their kids such funny names. Those are EXACTLY the names you'd give your kid, if you were, say, a kid! Naming a kid, to them, is like naming a turtle. A box turtle.

On America's place in the world:

Brits go on about our bigness. Brits say we have big food, big asses, big teeth. All true. The obsession about being small makes most European countries feel small and hate us for our hugeness. It's the whole point behind the EU. It has absolutely nothing to do with what America does. It's what America is. That's why it's completely pointless to apologize for anything America does. People hate apologists.

Life is, alas, not all sweetness and light:

[In the UK], people are accustomed to seeing naked chicks in the dailies. But you won't see Maureen Dowd's yams in The New York Times. Sadly.

[insert "Times Select" joke here]

(Snarfed from Al Maviva.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:49 AM)
2 June 2006
The girl I used to be

The things you find in referrer logs.

Actually, this is bait for something called regender, which takes your average Web page (and mine is nothing if not average) and, well, does this:

Have you ever wondered ...
  • What would the world look like if the two sexes switched places?
  • What would it look like if English had genderless pronouns?
  • What would it look like if English identified races the way it identifies gender?

I did notice, on my first trip through, that the parser inverts the gender of pronouns, nouns where appropriate, even some proper nouns. The city of Edmond, I noticed, is rendered "Edna," which is kinda cute; I can't wait to see what they do with "Enid." Meanwhile, making an appearance are such luminaries as artist Dawn Chihuly, Senator Jill Inhofe, Governor Brandy Henrietta, composer Rita Wagner, and former President Wilma Jennifer Clinton. On the blogroll: Australian journalist Tina Blanche, crazy Canadian ranter Samuel Burns, both Susan and Phillip Gleeson, Michael Malkin, Melvin Yourish, and the ineffable Brianna J. Noggle. (Ken Layne got mutated into "Kendra Larry," which is utterly wonderful.)

On the other hand, I don't even want to mention what happened to my "Screwing for Chastity" post.

Regender might be more effective as a parlor game than as a Tool for Change, but as M. C. Escher (her friends called her Marilyn) used to say, there's nothing wrong with having your perceptions upended once in a while.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:27 PM)
3 June 2006
And no blow-in subscription cards

Exact Editions is a British startup that seeks to preserve what's good about the magazine experience in a Web context. For instance:

It turns out that if you treat them right, magazines work fine on the web pretty much exactly the way they are. This means that we can read a magazine as a sequence of web pages, or we can browse it rapidly by viewing a section of 16 pages in a browse mode, individual web pages can be bookmarked or referenced, and we can print out a page if it particularly interests us or we want to take a recipe into the kitchen. These are natural uses for magazines and magazine articles and the web simply extends our familiarity with the magazine format.

And no, it's not a PDF; each page is an image file, but the words are indexed in a database somewhere behind the scenes and can be searched, and embedded links and such are live.

Exact Editions started in Britain with four titles this spring; they're now up to 15. Can American editions be far behind?

(Courtesy of Richard Charkin.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:11 AM)
The next voice you hear

As part of a promotion for The Da Vinci Code, a Japanese scientist was asked to determine the actual sound of the voice of the mysterious woman we know as the Mona Lisa.

The methodology is sorta neat: based on body measurements (such as we have), the dimensions of the skull and its chambers are determined, and from them, voice parameters — pitch, timbre, maybe even speed of delivery — are calculated.

Dr. Matsumi Suzuki originated this technique for police work, to determine possible voices for suspects; whether Leonardo (whose voice is also "sampled") gives more or fewer clues than your average perp is a question for the ages.

And assuming that Dr. Suzuki's research is extensible beyond identification to modification, would someone please do something about Gilbert Gottfried?

(Via Fark.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:39 PM)
9 June 2006
A screen as big as all outdoors

Well, okay, not that big, but:

Inflatable home theater screen and your own projector let you create a "drive-in" experience right in your own backyard. Big, weatherproof 8-ft. screen inflates in just 4 minutes with the powered air pump. Connect the two weatherized outdoor amplified speakers with full range sound and you're ready to watch a movie or the big game with your family or friends. Screen secures to the ground for steady viewing. Theater deflates for easy storage. Screen is durable, weatherproof PVC. Two nylon rope screen tie-downs keep it stable. Amplified speakers are weatherized for outdoor use. Theater works with most projectors (not included). 8-ft. l x 7-ft. h.

I see one possible downside. If you think looking for a missing remote in the living room is a pain, imagine the joy of trying to find one in the grass late at night.

(Via Belhoste.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
10 June 2006
The music is reversible

But time is not, and in days gone by, if you wanted to play a record backwards, your options were decidedly limited.

A stereo four-track open-reel recorder used tracks 1 and 3 in the forward direction, and 4 and 2 in reverse, either by way of a complicated autoreverse mechanism or by the lower-tech expedient of switching the reels at the end of the tape. When quadraphonics came along, the four-track machine was adapted to do all four tracks in the same direction; however, two-track stereo tapes were handled the same way as before, which meant that if you were desperately searching for those secret backwards messages, all you had to do was record forward on tracks 2 and 4 and then swap the reels.

Computers, of course, simplified this task immensely, but the purists, even today, spurn digital trickery. For them, there's the Record Reverser [includes 5-minute video clip], a device that clamps your disc above the turntable platter. You can then rebalance your tone arm to exert tracking force upwards instead of downwards; this will only work, of course, if you have a cartridge mount that permits you to reverse the orientation of the cartridge.

Were this picked up from Fark, there would probably be a caption to the effect that "All other problems having been solved...." I'm not quite so snide; I believe everything can be improved. And if you don't believe me, ask Penn Jillette, who patented a hot tub which directs the water jet into the naughty bits of a female user instead of to random areas around the periphery. There may be nothing new under the sun, but there's never any shortage of brightness.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:00 PM)
20 June 2006
Brick by brick

What do you do with 350,000 bricks?

Boral Bricks' newest plant is in Union City, and when its test production run proved to be up to industry standards, Boral first thought about selling the bricks at a discount.

But no, you can't buy them: instead, Boral is donating the entire run to Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity, enough to build 54 houses. Says Habitat's Ann Felton:

We are truly blessed to get this because brick is very expensive. We really try to blend into the neighborhoods we build in and a lot of the areas we're building in right now require brick.

The gift from Boral is worth an estimated $103,000, including storage and subsequent delivery to the build sites.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:19 PM)
25 June 2006
Thereby redefining "download"

It's called Je Joue ("I play"), and, um, it's sort of an iPod for your pants.

Well, not my pants, technically.

(Safety for work may be questionable.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:17 PM)
29 June 2006
Torrential brilliance

A Swedish firm is offering RIAA insurance: if you are busted by the music industry for file-sharing, they say they will pay whatever fines are assessed against you. The annual premium is 140 kronor, which is nineteen American simoleons.

Says Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow:

I have no idea if these insurers can be trusted with $19/year, but it actually sounds like a pretty plausible business model. If you count up all the file-sharers on the net, and divide it by the all the fines and settlements ever paid to the RIAA, my guess is that it's way less than $19/year.

I'd recommend it to all those dead grandmothers who wind up on the RIAA's hit list.

(Via The Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:07 AM)
4 July 2006
Beyond Smart

Agent 86, you'll remember, had a phone in his shoe. Female agents, of course, wouldn't countenance such a thing: less room for the circuitry, and, well, sometimes it's just awkward.

Which perhaps explains this:

It utilizes a unique but very intuitive rotation scroll wheel in place of a regular keypad. It comes with a 2.0 megapixel camera for those incriminating photos that you want to take. It?s even equipped with a video recorder/player. Of course, there?s the standard MP3 player and FM radio, plus multimedia messaging, Bluetooth, and OTA (Over The Air) remote synchronization as well.

Elegantly designed with sensual leather-inspired materials, complemented with etched metal and quicksilver surfaces, you can pull the classic ploy of ?checking your lipstick? while in fact reporting to Headquarters.

And never once do you have to fiddle with your Jimmy Choos.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
No, it doesn't do MP3s

I'm enough of a throwback to appreciate this: a new cassette deck from Marantz.

The SD4051 has dual transports, variable pitch in playback, and Dolby B for noise reduction, for $320ish in Japan. No word yet on whether they're going to mail any of them to the States.

(I have two cassette machines, both from Pioneer: the CT-9R, now twenty-three years old, would cost nearly its original list price, which was $700, to bring back up to speed, and I picked up a cheapie on eBay about six years ago for $36 or so. At this writing, I have about 400 tapes; my last three cars have had tape players.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:26 PM)
5 July 2006
No sweat

It's called SolarVenti, and it's a solar-powered dehumidifier that mounts on a wall facing south. And it works just like you think it would:

Warm dry air absorbs much more moisture than cold air. After a cool night all of the atmospheric moisture is lying on the ground as dew, or frost in the winter, leaving a very dry but cool atmosphere. SolarVenti takes in this cold dry air and warms it before pumping it into your house where it sucks out moisture from the fabric of your property and replaces the colder damper atmosphere.

Except, of course, that it adds zero to your electric bill.

(Via Treehugger.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
17 July 2006
Higher-quality distractions

DaimlerChrysler is planning this for in-dash entertainment:

Its features include an AM/FM radio, CD/DVD player, embedded Sirius satellite radio with real-time traffic info, [a] 20GB HD, a USB jack, line-in jack, two audio outputs, Bluetooth hands-free calling and a 6.5-inch touchscreen with voice control.

The 20GB HD itself hold[s] all of the navigation software, which precludes the need for a dedicated DVD drive like most nav systems use. It also stores about a 1GB of system software (think operating system) and what's called a Gracenote lookup engine. Since you'll be able to rip CDs into the car's hard drive right on the spot, the Gracenote software is what will generate the artist, title and track information from a database of over 4 million CDs. Aside from ripping CDs directly, there's also a USB on the lower left side of the head unit that allows music and pictures to be transferred from a USB flash drive. There's room for around 1,600 songs to be uploaded depending on their file size.

And which Mercedes-Benz will be getting this package first?

You are wrong, gullwing breath. This system will be offered in the middle-market Chrysler Sebring, perhaps as early as this fall.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:27 AM)
18 July 2006
Fine tuning

Remember when Nigel Tufnel boasted that "these go to 11"? These go to 1600.

(Probably NSFW.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
20 July 2006
Words on a keychain

Franklin, who made a zillion spellcheckers the size of checkbooks back in the Pleistocene era of computing, has now dropped an entire dictionary onto a USB flash drive.

Licensed from Merriam-Webster®, the dictionary contains 300,000 words; Franklin has tossed in a thesaurus with 500,000 entries, a Grammar Guide, and a hint machine for crosswords. At fifty bucks, it's cheaper than the Third New International Unabridged, and certainly a lot easier to schlep around.

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
28 July 2006
Give me down to there

Hair today, gone tomorrow? Leila Cohoon just laughs. She knows better. And she'll tell you the story of an archaeological find: a mummy from ancient Egypt, dug up with its hair — its hair style, even — still in place after all these years.

Leila's Hair Museum, and that is the name of it, is located on a busy boulevard in Independence, Missouri, and it's about the only place on earth devoted to the fine art of hairwork: wreaths, decorative items, jewelry, made partially or completely with human hair, sometimes wound about the thinnest of wire.

This practice sounds somewhat, well, colonial, and indeed it was fairly common in the days of the American Revolution, persisting for a century afterwards and then falling into desuetude. But forming hair into objets d'art goes back as far as the Renaissance, maybe before; the oldest documented piece in the Museum, a brooch with a strand of hair inside a crystalline case, was made in Sweden and dates to 1680.

The pieces I found most interesting were the family wreaths: often in the overall shape of a horseshoe (for easy updating), hair from family members was twisted into flowers or leaves, attached to the framework, name and dates affixed, and the process repeated for subsequent generations. (Example here.) This was slow, painstaking work: one young girl spent two years assembling a wreath. Another wreath consists entirely of one woman's hair; her mother began the construction at her birth, and continued to collect samples for the next forty-five years.

The jewelry is remarkable in its own right. Sometimes the hair is a structural component; sometimes it's ground to a powder and used as a pigment. Those of us who have grumbled about split ends will shake our heads in disbelief, but it's true: hair, treated well, is darn near indestructible. (Leila's hint: Quit using those shampoos with the same pH as drain cleaner, fercryingoutloud.) More than 2000 individual pieces of jewelry — watch fobs, bracelets, rings, brooches — are presently in the collection. I was fascinated by the "funeral rings," built upon a lock of the decedent's hair, sent to relatives far away who could not attend the burial services. They are simple and unadorned, but they speak volumes.

It's probably not too hard to understand why hairwork of this sort died out: it's labor-intensive and then some. Still, there are a handful of hardy practitioners still out there. (Here's a contemporary birthstone wreath by Melanie Mead.) And Leila Cohoon, seventy-five, her own hair of course impeccable — she also runs the Independence College of Cosmetology and must therefore set a proper example — is the true keeper of the flame, or at least the flame-colored tresses. (I did not think it proper to suggest that there seemed to be a lot fewer blondes in the 19th century.)

Leila's Hair Museum is at 1333 South Noland Road in Independence, a block and a half south of 23rd Street. It's open 9 to 4 Tuesday through Saturday, and admission is a mere $5, or about a third of what I pay for a haircut. Photography is not permitted, though the Lawrence Journal-World has a small gallery of photos from the museum, taken last fall. And you know, any museum in which both Daniel Webster and Phyllis Diller are represented simply demands your attention.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:10 PM)
4 August 2006
Tripping the joy buzzer

"How do you know," someone once asked, "if you're really leading the life you wanted to lead?"

Hard to say, but I think one irreducible component is being able to get away with crap like this:

I'm sitting at my desk when, out of the blue, it hits me: I need a burger. Not just any burger, mind you, an In-N-Out burger. The West Coast chain is the purveyor of cheap, fresh, immensely amazing burgers. No problem, right? Get up, go out the door, go to lunch.

Sure. Except for the fact that [our] editorial office is in Michigan, and the West Coast is, well, way out west. I check the Internet: the closest In-N-Out is in Prescott, Arizona.

Yep, tasty burger. I stare at In-N-Out's Web site. My eyes lose focus for a second.

I call my friend Jeff Diehl. Jeff lives in Chicago; Chicago is on the way. That's good, because I can't drive 1965 miles nonstop by myself. I ask Jeff to come with me, simultaneously glancing over at the car sign-out board. The keys to a 505-hp Chevrolet Corvette Z06 dangle from one of its hooks. I mention this to Jeff; he gets silent for a moment. Then he asks when we're leaving.

I grab the keys from the board and tell the rest of the staff I'm going out for lunch.

That's Sam Smith of Automobile Magazine, and the whole sordid story — thirty-three hours worth — is in the September issue.

Oh, and then they had to drive back home.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:12 AM)
8 August 2006
I only have eyes for you

Never underestimate the power of a little temporary joy:

BLIND Andrew Hall stunned his bride when he SAW her walk up the aisle and stand with him at the altar thanks to special vision-enhancing drugs.

Andrew had not seen girlfriend Carolyn, 25, properly for years — but thanks to the medication, he achieved the seemingly impossible.

However the drug is so strong it can only be taken for a short time because of side effects — and the sight benefits do not last.

Andrew has just six per cent sight thanks to Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Some things, of course, are worth mere side effects.

And Lachlan asks the question:

[I]f you were [to] lose your sight, but could have it restored, what was one thing you would want to be able to see again?

Someone other than me in the hallway mirror, I think. Beyond that, I'm not really sure.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:14 AM)
12 August 2006
The little beige doorstop still lives

I gotta love this: the C64 Orchestra is a real live band that, for the moment anyway, plays music from Commodore 64 games.

Details, sort of:

Recent fascination in the Commodore 64 (not just as a retro game computer) has fuelled compelling interest for the C64 as an instrument in the dance-scene (think of the Dutch hit from the artist Bastian "You've got my love" in 2001).

For this new production, Micromusic and Productiehuis ON invited members of the Dutch Riciotti ensemble and conductor Bas Wiegers for the C64 Orchestra. This new orchestra focused their attention on the groundbreaking 80s computer, the Commodore 64. Micromusic and ON approached two of the most experienced C64-composers of the 1980's, Rob Hubbard and Jeroen Tel. The Dutch Ricciotti ensemble will perform their music, with scoring done by Rob Hubbard himself. The game scores that are to be performed include the following Rob Hubbard compositions: Monty on the Run, One Man And His Droid and International Karate.

Also Jeroen Tel's Cybernoid II, Hawkeye, Myth and Supremacy will be performed.

Okay, it's not a massed array of SID chips, but I'm impressed just the same. And here's a highly-subjective list of the greatest C64 game music, just to jar those memory locations.

(Seen at Popgadget, which, despite being billed as "Personal Tech for Women," is rapidly becoming my favorite geek-overload site.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:30 PM)
15 August 2006
Nothing up my sleeve

As Fleshbot says:

This is either the worst striptease of all-time or the greatest magic trick ever, depending on your point of view.

Either way, it's not safe for work unless Hugh Hefner is your supervisor, and possibly not even then.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 AM)
21 August 2006
Sew what's old

A friend sent me this, and I have to admit it's kinda neat:

Past Patterns, one of the premiere pattern manufacturers of historical sewing patterns, covers Regency through 1930s fashions, engineered with historical accuracy, skill and come with detailed instructions and historical background. These patterns are suitable for novice through expert sewers. Highly recommended.

$60.50 Canadian will get you, for instance, a template for this:

Wedding Gown with Cathedral Train
Slight bustle created by metal stays in three rows from below the centre back waist to the knees, but can be eliminated without effect to the cathedral train which can be removed all together. This makes into a gorgeous gown. I have created this from ivory Duchess silk satin with antique (c.1860) lace for a client and found the pattern to be wonderful. Sizes 10-16 inclusive.

Only one thing perplexes me:

Weight: 971.00 gms

I've got to assume that this is the shipping weight for the pattern, because surely this gown weighs more than two pounds, doesn't it?

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:24 PM)
29 August 2006
You'd think there'd be a hitch

Now here's something you don't see every day: a motor home with a garage.

Precisely where the Greyhound bus stashes your duffel bag, the Volkner Mobil RV parks your car. (This being a Eurovan, I have to assume that the space won't hold something the size of a Mercury Grand Marquis de Sade.) Still, it beats the heck out of towing the family car.

The Volkner is on display at the International Caravan Fair in Düsseldorf through Sunday, 3 September. Your local RV dealer down on the Interstate will be back as soon as his blood pressure returns to normal.

(Via Jalopnik.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:53 AM)
31 August 2006
Or wait for the trees to catch fire

A University of Oklahoma professor of meteorology and an Arizona lightning expert have come up with a a gizmo that can predict lightning strikes by scanning the atmosphere for electrical discharges.

The concept resembles the electric field detection used by NASA in Florida, says Professor William Beasley:

They use a network of electric field meters. If the electric field is greater than 1,000 volts per meter anywhere on the place, you can't fuel a car, you can't launch a rocket, you can't do anything because there's a charge overhead and it could lead to lightning.

However, this version doesn't cost space-shuttle prices: the production model from Campbell Scientific sells for about $3500, plus power source (solar cell) and mounting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 AM)
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The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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