8 September 2006
Recycled and then some

They're called TerraCycle, and they go one step beyond what most of us think of as recycling.

Really. TerraCycle sells an organic fertilizer which is basically, um, worm poop: they feed table scraps to earthworms, collect the residue, and — this is the neat part — they sell it in used beverage bottles.

[T]he entire product is made out of garbage — from the contents to the packaging. As a result, TerraCycle Plant Food is the first mass-produced consumer product to have a negative environmental footprint.

That wasn't quite the original plan, says Popgadget:

The company founders hit upon the idea of using discarded soda bottles out of necessity. It seems that they ran out of money when it came time to ship the first batch of product. Out of desperation they raided every dining hall trash can at Princeton, and decided to stick with the idea once they no longer had to.

File this under "I wish I'd thought of that."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 AM)
18 September 2006
We take dollars or Kruegerrands

In Wes Craven's 1984 chiller A Nightmare on Elm Street, the part of Elm Street was played by Los Angeles' Genesee Avenue.

And now 1428 North Genesee, which you'll recognize the moment you see it, is for sale for $1,095,000.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the place needs "some work."

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:04 PM)
20 September 2006
Illusions I recall

Victorino Matus wonders if the magic has gone out of magic:

[T]here is a pervading sense that magic is not what it used to be. The turn of the last century was considered the "golden age" of magic. It was a time when audiences around the world were left spellbound by the death-defying acts of Harry Houdini, who left such a magical impression that after he died some of his followers tried to contact him beyond the grave.

[Andy] Dallas, who presides over the oldest association of magicians [the Society of American Magicians], says that magic's image tends to change over time. "In the 1960s," he explains, "we had the Scientific Age and magic was at an all-time low. Then along comes Doug Henning in the 1970s with his long hair, the new face of magic, and it's back." (A flamboyant illusionist, Mr. Henning performed his hit "The Magic Show" for more than four years on Broadway.) Mr. Dallas says that we are currently experiencing a decline, but a temporary one.

Cyclical? Or something else at work?

There are a number of factors responsible for this. One is technology: With advances in computer-generated imagery, magic on TV has become suspect. (Would anyone be impressed today by David Copperfield's floating over the Grand Canyon, as he did in 1984?) There may also be an image problem too — magicians are, for lack of a better word, strange.

But that's only the front of the cabinet:

The greatest threat to magic, however, may come from within, when illusionists decide to reveal secrets of the trade. One tenet of the Society of American Magicians' "Framework for the 21st Century" reads, "We are opposed to the exposure of all magic whether by purposeful acts or through careless or ill-prepared performance."

In 1997, Fox aired "Magic Secrets Revealed," in which a masked magician showed the audience how certain tricks worked. Andy Dallas called the show "incredibly damaging." "We very much opposed it but there wasn't much we could legally do."

I sat through every installment of "...Revealed," somewhere between transfixed and awed. And pace Mr Dallas, I don't think my interest in magic was at all diminished by getting a look behind the scenes: if anything, I got to marvel at how everything had to come together just so to make the illusions work.

And what's more, illusions are constantly evolving: while the basics remain much the same, the execution changes constantly, and there's enough competition among magicians to ensure that there will be even spiffier tricks to come. I remember back in the 1980s watching a variation on the old sawing-a-woman-in-half theme on some cable show, and saying something to the effect that "You know what would jazz this up? If they sliced her lengthwise." Sure enough, a few years later, I was watching another magic show on cable, and the assistant was propped up perpendicular to the table, and a circular saw dropped from the ceiling to split her right down the middle. The next step? Earlier this year, Cris "Mindfreak" Angel ripped someone in half on a park bench with no equipment at all. (Oh, come on. It's a trick.)

Fred Casto, who heads up the International Brotherhood of Magicians, saw no lasting damage from Fox's brief foray into illusion exposure:

"[I]n the long run, I don't think it hurts. You could take the principles that were exposed on television last week and turn around and fool the person who watched that program today with those same principles. You might just have to dress it a little differently."

It will certainly work on me.

With the rise of blogdom, the next Grand Illusion should be obvious: set up a giant blender on stage and introduce a litter of puppies.

Oh, come on, it's a trick.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:20 PM)
21 September 2006
I started out with this, I think

What do you give somebody who has everything?

Why, Nothing, of course.

The sales pitch is certainly encouraging:

This lovingly crafted vial of emptiness is filled to the brim with unfettered nothingness. Free from the burden of possessions, the weight of responsibility, Nothing is as idiotic as it is brilliant.

Indeed even old Macbeth, though mad as a kipper, realised that life, whilst full of sound and fury (and that was before iPods) is inherently daft and ultimately signifies Nothing. And let us not forget, that 'Nothing' is so important that most of our universe — and the contents of a lot of people's heads — appears to be made up of it.

Hard to tell from the packaging, but I don't believe this is actually vacuum-packed.

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 AM)
23 September 2006
Beyond the Handi-Van

My knees are bad with a small b, by which is meant that they didn't actually give out on me during an unexpected bout of exercise on a Saturday night. I don't think they're going to get so capital-B Bad that I'll give up the walking shoes in favor of wheels, but if it ever comes to that, I want a ride in one of these:

[The] Dignity Star wheelchair-accessible limo [is] believed to be the first of its kind in North America. Based on a 2006 Dodge High Roof Sprinter 2500, the Dignity Star's cargo hold has been converted into a limo with all the opulent trimmings one would expect in any stretch, including 15- and 20-inch LCD TVs, a DVD/CD player, five-speaker sound system with wireless headphones, and full dark window tint. There's also a curved leather couch inside that seats six and enough room for two wheelchairs to come aboard via the rear-mounted lift.

There's always the question of whether any overstuffed limousine should be tagged with a term like "Dignity," but what the heck: wheelchair users are just as entitled to bling as the rest of us.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:05 PM)
24 September 2006
Hybrid bicycle

Bicycles, of course, are, um, "people-powered." But some people provide more power than others. This Urban Terrain bike has electric-motor assist, just like a Honda Civic hybrid, to kick in when it sees a demand for its services: going uphill, for instance. (Downhill, the motor takes itself out of the loop entirely.)

The drawback, of course, is the extra 9 lb of battery pack, which takes about five hours to recharge and which brings the total weight of the bicycle up to almost 50 lb, on the high side for industrial-strength bikes. Still, if you're wanting a bicycle more for a commuting device — it folds up nicely — than for a workout machine, you might find this little darb endearing, and the $1199 price is not too daunting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 AM)
Virtual library index

If I ever have time to key in a thousand or so titles and authors, I, too, can be part of the LibraryThing. So far, they have 82,000 members and 5.9 million books, which is about six dozen books per member; while there are the usual vast numbers of extremely popular titles — some 6,000 folks report each of the Harry Potter books — over 1.2 million titles are listed as "unique." I'd be tempted to join just to see that list.

(With thanks to Jennifer, in whose Margin Notes I found the link, and David, who made the following rash statement: "The title of [this] post is pretty cool because it starts with the letter V and ends with the letter X. Tell me where you can find any other entry on any other blog with THAT spiffy feature! Uh-huh, I thought not.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 PM)
28 September 2006
Could I be swinging on a star?

Probably not. On the other hand, this is the closest thing yet to carrying moonbeams home in a jar:

While the Sun Jar appears to be an ordinary mason jar, it is really a solar powered lamp that charges during the day to be used at night. I really appreciate its eco-friendly approach, which doesn't feel too mechanical. Put it on your windowsill or in your sunroom, next to your jar of sun brewed tea.

Yeah, I know: this isn't exactly newtech. I have a couple of exterior lights that run off the same principle. But this thing, which looks like you captured the Mother of All Fireflies, has higher gotta-have-it factor, important to those who seek to be better off than they are.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:47 PM)
9 October 2006
Pi on the head

Not the same as pie in the face. Pay attention here.

Step 1:  Select a color of yarn for each digit.

Step 2:  Ascertain the digits of pi, keeping in mind that you'll run out of yarn but you'll never run out of digits.

Step 3:  Knit.

Step 3.14159....:  Apply directly to the forehead.

Chance that I would recognize this pattern, were I to see it on the street: next to nil, since I'm not at all proficient at counting rows.

But you gotta love it: a hat with a secret message.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:24 PM)
13 October 2006
An actual peacemonger

The Nobel Prize for Peace, in a stunning disregard of recent tradition, was awarded to deserving recipients: Grameen Bank and its founder Muhammad Yunus, pioneers in the field of micro-credit.

The Grameen ("Rural") Bank was founded in Bangladesh in 1976 with seed money of $27. Today the bank has over six million borrowers. It works like this:

The Grameen Bank is based on the voluntary formation of small groups of five people to provide mutual, morally binding group guarantees in lieu of the collateral required by conventional banks. At first only two members of a group are allowed to apply for a loan. Depending on their performance in repayment the next two borrowers can then apply and, subsequently, the fifth member as well.

The assumption is that if individual borrowers are given access to credit, they will be able to identify and engage in viable income-generating activities — simple processing such as paddy husking, lime-making, manufacturing such as pottery, weaving, and garment sewing, storage and marketing and transport services. Women were initially given equal access to the schemes, and proved not only reliable borrowers but astute enterpreneurs. As a result, they have raised their status, lessened their dependency on their husbands and improved their homes and the nutritional standards of their children. Today over 90 percent of borrowers are women.

Says Mr Yunus:

Grameen believes that the poverty is not created by the poor, it is created by the institutions and policies which surround them. In order to eliminate poverty all we need to do is to make appropriate changes in the institutions and policies, and/or create new ones. Grameen believes that charity is not an answer to poverty. It only helps poverty to continue. It creates dependency and takes away individual's initiative to break through the wall of poverty. Unleashing of energy and creativity in each human being is the answer to poverty.

Grameen brought credit to the poor, women, the illiterate, the people who pleaded that they did not know how to invest money and earn an income. Grameen created a methodology and an institution around the financial needs of the poor, and created access to credit on reasonable term enabling the poor to build on their existing skill to earn a better income in each cycle of loans.

(Previous discussion here.)

I normally don't call attention to Nobel laureates — they always get plenty of press — but in an era when you're expecting the Peace prize to go jointly to, say, Madeleine Albright and Spalding, it's a pleasure to report that the awards committee didn't screw up this time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 AM)
17 October 2006
Scaring up something to do

A Web directory: routine.

A Web directory that lists local Halloween events: useful, at least this time of year.

A Web directory that lists local Halloween events and is called GooGhoul: why didn't I think of that?

(Yes, I suppose they are baiting the lawyers. What of it?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:44 PM)
20 October 2006
Things I've posted elsewhere

I suppose I could crosspost from those other sites, but this way I spike their stats just a hair. (Not that anybody reads them anyway.)

On that sorta-functional invisibility cloak: I want one.

And this is the neatest CD-R idea I've seen all year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
21 October 2006
Accord in the sky

I have always had a high regard for Honda's cars. Despite this, I've never owned one, and have gotten very little seat time in any of them; it's simply that their priorities and mine have never precisely meshed at the point of purchase. (I was considering a used Acura TL during this year's whirlwind auto-shopping extravaganza, which ended with the acquisition of a not-too-dissimilar Infiniti.)

Back in July, Honda announced that they would be selling aircraft, and on the 17th of this month they started taking orders for the HondaJet, for delivery in three or four years. Autoblog reports they've already sold 100:

"We are extremely pleased with the early customer response to HondaJet. In addition to the strong demand we have experienced from individuals, we are negotiating with a number of fleet customers as well," said Michimasa Fujino, president & CEO of Honda Aircraft Co., Inc. "Due to this overwhelming response, we are now considering an increase in our production plan to meet the needs of our customers."

The HondaJet will be built in the US, at a location to be determined; Honda Aircraft is based in Greensboro, North Carolina. Some of the features:

The HondaJet uses a bunch of revolutionary new technologies, including the over-the-wing engine mount (OTWEM) configuration that allows increased room in the cabin and cargo hold, while reducing aerodynamic drag increasing performance and fuel efficiency. HondaJet should be good for a cruising speed of 420 knots with a range of up to 1180 nautical miles, all while returning 30-35 percent better fuel economy versus other jets of comparable performance.

The HondaJet sells for $3.65 million; originally, they'd planned to build 70 a year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:11 AM)
24 October 2006
Paint your car for $50

Who needs Earl Scheib? All it takes is Rustoleum, a roller, a couple of brushes for the tricky stuff, and this guy's amazing nerve.

I would not recommend that you try this on your fading Lamborghini, but I have to admit, the results aren't half bad.

(Via the Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:26 AM)
26 October 2006
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone

But this will help:

The Suntracker One is an intriguing upgrade on the conventional skylight. Consisting of a 4'x4' acrylic dome, the Suntracker uses three heliostatic mirrors that track the sun and reflect its light down into the building. A prismatic diffusion lens then spreads out the light through interior spaces. The reflective surfaces within the dome are run by a small solar-powered motor. Every ten minutes, the mirrors move to keep up with the sun as it moves across the sky, maximizing natural light in Winter months when days are shorter and the sun's path is closer to the horizon.

This would be nice on days like today when your Florida room looks more like Labrador.

(Aside: I know, I know, I know.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
27 October 2006
A bath accessory you can bond with

It's a shower curtain displaying the Periodic Table of the Elements, and not only will it enlighten you while you lather, rinse and repeat — assuming you can read backwards or had the temerity to mount it in reverse — it will keep water from splashing onto the fluorine.

(Sorry about that. I do tend to boron and on. And my apologies if you prefer to wash your hair in the zinc.)

(Xenon Popgadget, which is not responsible for this content; they just lead me to the source.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
28 October 2006
A rack and a hard place

I've never played tournament Scrabble, and I'm starting to think that it's a good thing that I haven't: here's a chap who scored 830 points in a single game, including a single play for 365. What's more, his opponent scored a not-even-slightly-shabby 490. And by the reckoning of tournament experts, these guys really aren't that good.

For the record, my high game is 515, in which I had a 203-point play. I'm sure at least some of you can beat that.

(Via Vincent Ferrari, who probably can.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:17 PM)
3 November 2006
A shortcut in the paper chase

Life in Erica's world:

We have this system for electronic document routing. You upload your doc, fill out some things, and then everyone who needs to review it gets an email. They make notes and sign electronically. You manage those notes, fix your doc up all purty-like, and then it goes around again for e-sigs for approval.

"Cumbersome" is putting it mildly. So why not this?

When you log into the system, you have a list of all your docs that are in review or approval, and you have a list of everyone else's docs that you need to review or approve.

What I'm really really wishing for is an RSS feed for my list of docs, so that whenever someone leaves a note or signs off, I can aggregate that information somewhere, instead of having to go back to that list and refresh, refresh, refresh.

Yeah, it might be a pain in the tuchas to set up — once — but if people's time is worth anything at all, and surely it is, the return on investment should be considerable.

(Why, yes, I do use Lotus Notes. How did you guess?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:52 AM)
10 November 2006
Because it's the thought that counts

This will definitely make your Camaro more bitchin':

Skymaul catalog page

(Via Treehugger.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:46 PM)
12 November 2006
So this is where they all went

Floppy handbagSeen at Popgadget, the ideal gift for the geek girl in your life: a big, floppy bag made from real floppies. A dozen of them, in fact, mounted on a black vinyl liner, which contains various pockets on the inside and a removable magnetic latch on top. For those who read hangtags, here's what this one says: CARRY YOUR STUFF IN GEEK-CHIC STYLE WITH A PURSE MADE FROM TWELVE (12) GENUINE 1.44 MB COMPUTER DISKETTES. ALLOCATE INTERIOR POCKETS TO MANAGE INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION. TOTAL AVAILABLE MEMORY: 17.28 MB. Now all I need is a geek girl. [sigh]

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:12 AM)
20 November 2006
Snakes on a bike

That is to say, bicycle locks in serpent form, which probably won't scare off malingerers but which do add some reptilian, or optionally non-reptilian, color to the Bicycling Experience.

Also available: a bird that collects paper clips.

(Slithery items seen at Popgadget).

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:23 PM)
28 November 2006
Oops, I did it again, and Creon is so mad

Christie's is selling a junior-high paper by Britney Spears on Sophocles' Antigone, handwritten on lined paper, which they expect to bring $500 to $700.

She got an 88, which isn't too shabby, though I still think I trust her judgment more on semiconductor junctions than on Greek tragedy.

(Via Salon.com's The Fix.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:33 PM)
1 December 2006
A frank appraisal

We definitely have a wiener here: How to Calculate Pi by Throwing Frozen Hot Dogs.

Of course, if you insist on including the buns, you will be off by approximately twenty percent.

(Via Rocket Jones.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:25 PM)
6 December 2006
Smile, you're on Toll Road Camera

At the beginning of this month, Texas began collecting tolls on a stretch of State Highway 121, from Carrollton to the Denton County line. And no, there aren't any tollbooths:

TxTag® stickers, the Dallas area TollTag, and the Houston area EZ TAG are accepted on the road. Toll charges are deducted automatically from your prepaid toll account when you use the road.

If you don't have a toll tag, you're still welcome to use SH121. There's no need to prepay or register. Just get on, and we'll record your license plate, match the license plate number with the state's vehicle registration file, and send you a monthly bill for your toll charges.

About time they did something useful with a traffic camera. Of course, you'll pay more without the toll tag, but this is pretty much the rule with any toll road these days.

Will we ever get something like that here? Steven Roemerman asked the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority:

I contacted Jack Damrill, public relations for OTA, and asked him if this was in the future for Oklahoma. I got the impression that they were cool on the idea, the official position seems to be "We will watch what happens in Texas."

I'm not sure why we would not want to implement video tolling. Getting rid of toll booths would eliminate the need for the employees to man the booths; it would reduce unnatural congestion points, and would make the toll roads more accessible. But if our official stance is "wait and see," I guess we will wait and see.

I guess he's right.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 PM)
13 December 2006
These tunes are downright Qwerty

"Hip-Hop Is Dead," says Nas, but there will always be rhythm, and for a while, anyway, there will be the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, which plays music sorta like Leroy Anderson but without all those pesky traditional musical instruments in the background.

Having paid some dues in my time as a typist and occasional 10-key operator, I can understand the urge to produce some serious syncopations from the Smith-Coronas, undulations from the Underwoods, rhythmic rolls from Remington Rands, and that's what BTO (not to be confused with other musical operations with similar initials) does. There's even a CD, The Revolution Will Be Typewritten.

Me, I learned on one of these, though I never did seem to display any real talent.

(Via Rocketboom [video clip])

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 AM)
20 December 2006
Not that you'd necessarily want to do this

This little bit of advice came down through a listserv today: how to make Microsoft's Search Babe Ms. Dewey vanish before your eyes, albeit temporarily.

Wait for her to finish her spiel, go to the text box, and type lord of the rings.

It works as well for her as it does for those Hobbitual ring-wearers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
24 December 2006
Plant your bulbs today

Very large tree
This picture was received with "WOW" in the filename, and it might well be justified: this tree is around 80 feet tall, reportedly, and at least three-quarters of it is covered in lights. If you'd like to see it in person, so to speak, it's near NW 19th and Land, which would be three blocks west of May.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
25 December 2006
Where have all the records gone?

A lot of them went to these guys:

While literally billions of LPs still exist in the world, most are slated to become garbage before too long. Vinylux products take advantage of these obsolete piles of records and give new life to this neglected, but not forgotten, material. Over the past 4 years, we have recycled about 200,000 records — about 50,000 pounds of vinyl and cardboard.

I, of course, disagree as to the matter of their obsolescence, but they do make some neat trinkets, some of which found their way to my tree.

The following 45-rpm Holiday Ornaments were received:

  • Julius LaRosa, "Domani (Tomorrow)" b/w "Mama Rosa", Cadence 1265, 1955
  • Johnny Rivers, "Summer Rain" b/w "Memory of the Coming Good", Imperial 66267, 1967
  • Amii Stewart, "Knock on Wood" b/w "When You Are Beautiful", Ariola 7736, 1979

Incidentally, only one of these (the Julius LaRosa) was pressed on actual vinyl; the other two were pressed on styrene.

Also arriving, a set of LP Coasters, as follows:

  • The Mills Brothers, Yellow Bird, Dot DLP 25338, 1960
  • Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, That Travelin' Two-Beat, Capitol T 2300, 1965
  • David Frye, Radio Free Nixon, Elektra EKS 74085, 1971
  • Various, History of British Rock, Sire SAS 3702, 1974
  • John Travolta, Travolta Fever, Midsong International MTF 001, 1978
  • Terry Garthwaite, Hand in Glove, Fantasy F 9564, 1978

Only the Bing/Rosemary disc is mono; the British Rock album was a two-disc set in automatic sequence, and the present specimen is Sides 1 and 4. (The other disc would have been Sides 2 and 3.) The John Travolta album is a compilation of two earlier LPs, John Travolta and Can't Let You Go, which made #18 in Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell's infamous book The Fifty Worst Rock-And-Roll Albums of All Time, which I quote herewith:

What matters is that this record comes with a large poster of the idol, suitable for framing. We wonder how many young girls bought the package, threw away the records, and pulled out their thumbtacks.

I am compelled to point out that #19 in said book was Days of Future Passed.

And while I could mourn the destruction of perfectly good vinyl, I suspect it wasn't all that good. From the manufacturer's FAQ:

Most of the records we get are scratched, warped, or otherwise played out. When we do get good ones, they go onto our turntable.

(Thanks, Wampy. These are Seriously Neat.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:44 PM)
31 December 2006
Not cubic

But Zirconia, just the same:

Zirconia based coating from Zircotec in the UK will help your vehicle be more durable and powerful. The Zircotec ceramic coating was developed for the nuclear industry and has been proven in automotive applications by several Formula 1 teams. The purpose of the coating is to increase engine efficiency, improve aesthetics and improve thermal management. Older cars don't have the ability to manage the heat generated by their powertrain as effectively as more modern designs. There are also those pesky laws of thermodynamics and physics — a turbocharger housing is going to get bloody hot, no matter what. With a cherry red turbo snail, you'd best make sure anything that can burn or melt is well insulated. Coating parts like exhaust manifolds will improve engine efficiency by keeping the ambient temperature of the engine bay down, a by-product of which is lower intake plumbing temperatures.

And even the most modern designs still produce massive quantities of waste heat. How well does this magic spritz work?

The Zircotec coating is so good at providing a thermal barrier that a motorcycle racing team discovered they could remove exhaust pipes without gloves, while the gases coursing through the pipes were, uh, piping hot.

Now that's impressive. How did these guys get this good? I pulled up their FAQ and found this:

Zircotec now owned by Accentus plc is the new trading name for the surface engineering team divested from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in 1996. We have expertise in a range of coating applications and specialise in thermal spraying of metals and ceramics for orthopaedics, telecommunications, autosport and specialist engineering applications.

The UK used to get about a quarter of its energy from nuclear power; today it's less than 20 percent and dropping.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:36 PM)
2 January 2007
Highway wi-fi

Autonet is rolling out a wireless-Internet package that runs off Verizon's EV-DO network. And "rolling" is the operative word, since it's intended for use in your car.

I bounced this idea off Trini, and she was quick to point out an application: "Set up a music server at home, and take your tunes wherever you go."

It's a little pricey — $399 for the hardware, fifty bucks a month — but someone who travels more than I do might find this an absolute boon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:29 PM)
5 January 2007
I'm happy just to have it defrost

Samsung is showing a refrigerator equipped with RFID. What for, you ask?

[I]t does manage to keep a close [watch] on the amount of food remaining in your refrigerated containers. Moreover, this eagle-eyed fridge will purportedly be able to send a shopping list [to] the owner's cellphone or directly to the supermarket when it detects your milk, juice, eggnog, or assortment of critical condiments are reaching dangerously low levels. As if this wasn't enough to lay down a pre-order, it will supposedly offer up recipes to users as well based on what's currently residing in your fridge.

God only knows what this will cost:

[T]here's no (presumably lofty) pricetag attached to this pipedream just yet, but it is slated to hit retail floors "around 2008 or 2009," and maybe they'll enable it to physically visit the grocery store and shop for you in the meantime.

Can it tell a good tomato from a bad one? And, perhaps just as important, will it flirt with the checkout girls?

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
7 January 2007
Life with the new call screener

I mentioned elsewhere that I was buying one of these, and now that it's been here for 36 hours, I feel I can give it a reasonable assessment.

The actual hookup is ridiculously simple: you run the usual phone cord from the wall jack into the LINE IN jack, connect the phone to the PHONE jack, and connect the answering machine to the ANS MACH jack. It does require an available AC outlet.

The documentation, alas, is not very good. The manufacturer (I bought this from a reseller) would like you to envision this as a complete "household telephone management system," and their manual focuses on all the positive benefits of the system with various available-at-extra-cost extensions, while I suspect most buyers just want to know the quick-and-dirty negative stuff: "How do I keep this SOB from ringing my phone?"

I did note with some amusement that one number is already keyed into the memory: the manufacturer's tech-support line.

How it works, with my particular options enabled, on any given incoming call:

  • The number is compared to what's in the database. The search order: number exact match, number wildcard match, name exact match, name wildcard match.

  • If there's a match, the database record is pulled up and the specified action is taken. (In this case, the action is: route directly to answering machine, do not ring.)

  • If there's no match, the call rings through.

This is at the lowest level of screening, which I anticipate will be all I need. At the highest level of screening, only numbers that are in the database and tagged for automatic approval will be allowed to ring through. People who get threatening calls might consider the highest level. (There's one intermediate level.)

There are remotes which can be added to this contraption; it's possible to set an incoming call from, say, daughter's scruffy boyfriend, to ring only at daughter's extension. (Of course, he calls on her cell phone anyway, but such is life.)

In practice, operation is pretty seamless. If you dial an outgoing number, the machine will display it, in case you want to go ahead and enter it into the database without waiting for a call from it. (Which, incidentally, is how I set up my initial ban list.) Of the three incoming calls so far this weekend, one was a test from my cell phone, which was let through; two were from telemarketers via a wildcard match, who were sent immediately to the answering machine with no ring. The ban list contains wildcards for all four common toll-free NPAs (800, 888, 877, 866) and two numbers which annoy me on a regular basis. Hardware geeks will note that there are eight actual DIP switches on the back, for setting various arcane options. I didn't need any of them.

Verdict: Pricey, perhaps, but it sure is quiet around here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
11 January 2007
Triggering one's decorative instinct

It's a gun! It's a vase!Suck UK, once derided as the most overrated design team ever, is selling scads of these, in this table-vase form and a wall-mounted version, each around $65 at the current exchange rate. It's deucedly simple, too: you fill the barrel with water, then insert the stems. Even your average garden-variety hoplophobe can handle it. (Maybe.) If this isn't dangerous enough for you, they also sell coat hooks in the shape of British darts. Given my inexplicable fondness for things that aren't especially safe, I'm surprised I don't already have a brace of these; on the other hand, there's nothing inherently unsafe about these things, unless you expect to subdue an intruder with one — in which case, roses are recommended, what with the sharp, pointy bits along the stems and such. (Seen at Popgadget with a better title.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
15 January 2007
This is your brain on Romulan ale

Any questions?

This message is presented as a public service by the Federation Office of Intoxicant Control Policy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
16 January 2007
The big Rakku

Actually, it's not that big, and that's the charm of it. The Rakku Shoe Wheel is about two and a half feet (as it were) in diameter, and it stores a minimum of 20 pairs of shoes. (You might be able to get two pairs of flats into one pocket, but don't try it with heels.)

I don't see this as a solution to my shoe-storage issues, but then I'm a guy and therefore don't have that many shoes. What's more, I wear a 14, which won't fit in the pocket; the maximum size allowed is a men's 10½, which is more or less the equivalent of a women's 12½, which I've never seen on anyone outside the WNBA. I like the looks of it, though, and the price — $65 — doesn't look too heinous.

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:52 AM)
19 January 2007
Thrashing the puppy

Woof, damn youI am convinced that Microsoft put more effort into developing that farging puppy for XP's search utility than into the utility itself. (The lovely and talented Ms Dewey offers none-too-mute testimony to this tendency of Redmond's, in case you've forgotten Microsoft Bob.) When I gave up my W98 work box for a sorta-new XP machine, I grumbled about this and sought out alternatives; eventually Trini came up with the idea of Copernic Desktop Search. I duly installed it, and in whatever spare time the machine had, Copernic indexed what seemed to be every last file on the box, and I'd moved over about 12 GB of stuff. Eventually it caught up — as of this week it bothers only when it sees new or changed files — and I decided it was suitable for my home box as well. The big difference: instead of 12 GB of stuff, I have about 60. The indexing, inevitably, is taking longer, despite the higher horsepower of this machine; so far 103,125 documents have been indexed, with 1,538,854 keywords. To my amazement, it's even sorting through my mail, and I have about ten years of mail accumulated. (Not counting the deleted items yet to be flushed, there's a third of a gigabyte of mail to be inspected.) I am impressed with this application: it's quick (it gets used several times a day at work, often in rapid succession); it opens a handy little search box in the XP taskbar; and it doesn't suck up every last bit of memory in the machine. Moreover, there's no animated assistant. (Yes, I know there's a Registry hack to banish the pooch; the utility itself is still seriously retarded next to Copernic, or for that matter next to the old Windows 98 search.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
24 January 2007
Not just for squares

My experience with quilting totals one hand-decorated (and appliqued) square donated for a Good Cause many moons ago, so this statistic jumped out at me:

The "dedicated quilter," according to a 2006 Quilter's Newsletter Magazine survey, has more than $3,000 worth of fabric in her "stash" and $6,500 worth of quilting tools and supplies, including an average of 2.6 computerized sewing machines costing from $2,500 to $6,000.

And I bet that six-tenths of a machine is a pain to keep running, too.

This bit of news comes from Kathryn Jenson White in a two-page feature on quilting in this week's Oklahoma Gazette, along with the revelation that quilting is a $3.3-billion industry in the States, and that there are at least thirty active quilt guilds in Oklahoma.

Nor is it an old-lady pastime:

"We've seen a growth in younger quilters," says Oklahoma Quiltworks owner Barbara Stanfield, who employs 26 women part-time in addition to many teachers for the large number of classes the shop offers. "We have many now in their 20s to 40s. Some want to do something meaningful, to make something for future generations, but many women make quilts just for the love of it. They don't necessarily know what they're going to do with them."

While looking for stuff on guys who quilt, I found this:

African-American males ... are actively involved in the tradition of quilting. In 1996, the University of Maryland hosted "Made by Men: African American Traditional Quilts," featuring historic and contemporary quilts crafted by African-American men from across the U.S., including work by [Raymond] Dobard.

Some of this I'd learned in school and forgotten; much more of it I never knew at all. All the more reason to pass it on, I think.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:03 PM)
4 February 2007
Just when I think I've seen everything

Okay, a screen for your projection TV is no big deal, even at 90 inches diagonal.

But an inflatable screen for your projection TV: well, there's no middle ground. Either this is exactly the sort of thing you're looking for, or you wouldn't buy this in a million years even if you won the lottery and your significant other demanded that you put a home theatre system out by the pool you're supposed to put in.

I tend to lean toward the latter, if only because Woot buyers are the fastest frickin' clickers in the online shopping universe, and it took almost nine minutes to log one sale. (As of now, twelve minutes later, there's no second sale.)

Update, 10 am: It appears they've now moved four of them. Perhaps this is their way of making sure they have nothing to do while the game is on.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:21 AM)
6 February 2007
This stuff just flat works

Inspired by Lastango, here's a list of things I have that simply refuse to die:

  • Ace Clipper 702: Ace describes this as "the stapling plier that all others are modeled after. It's perfect for laundries, dry cleaners, checkout counters and factories. Built to Ace's traditional high quality standards for commercial use, the Clipper features all steel construction, chrome finish and 2½" throat depth. It loads a full strip of Clipper undulated staples which have twice the holding power of normal staples." I bought mine in 1969; I'm convinced it will outlive me.

  • Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 720C: This came out in the late 1990s, before HP had perfected the art of the disposable printer. The drive belt on this model can shred, I am told, but so far mine's going strong after nearly a decade.

  • Onkyo CP-1036A semiautomatic turntable: This 1980s relic is as smooth and quiet today as it was when it was new, despite constant cartridge changes (and head swaps to make those changes simpler), and short of actually screwing around with the leads, it's seemingly impossible to get it to produce any of the dreaded 60-Hz hum that indicates improper grounding.

  • Realistic 12-181B "Weatheradio": The infamous Radio Shack VHF receiver in the shape of a cube, tuned to the National Weather Service. (Photo here.) I've had this for about twenty-five years; it asks only for a fresh 9-volt battery twice a year.

  • Hoover 1248 upright vacuum: I bought this new in 1976. It's on its third drive belt ($3), and God knows how many bags (type C, not too hard to find) it's been through. It's getting less use now that I have hardwood floors underfoot, but it still knows how to deal with a rug.

  • Casio SA-53 digital watch: Purchased circa 1984. A succession of crummy bands, though the current one has now lasted ten years. (Photo here.) It keeps fairly indifferent time, and 362 batteries are no longer ubiquitous, but I refuse to start buying watches on Woot.

Addendum: While rooting around in the bedroom, I found the original Casio clasp-type watchband. I have no freaking idea how this thing ever worked.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:09 PM)
15 February 2007
Where no detective has gone before

For eight years or so, SETI@home has been using people's spare CPU cycles to look for life on other worlds. While no certified aliens have been pinpointed yet, the system has apparently solved a crime:

Several years ago, [James] Melin installed SETI@home on his wife's laptop, which was stolen from the couple's Minneapolis home on Jan. 1.

Annoyed at the break-in — and alarmed that someone could delete the screenplays and novels that his wife, Melinda Kimberly, was writing — Melin monitored the SETI@home database to see if the stolen laptop would "talk" to the Berkeley servers. The laptop checked in three times within a week, and Melin sent the IP addresses to the Minneapolis Police Department.

Officers subpoenaed Quest Communications, Melin's Internet service provider, to determine the address where the stolen laptop logged onto the Internet. Within days, officers seized the computer and returned it to the rightful owners.

The only way this story could be happier would be if the thief were blasted into deep space.

(Via Bitter Bitch.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:12 PM)
18 February 2007
Welcome to Juneau, Belarus

Once in a while you'll hear mention of a state's economy (usually California's) being as large as that of some entire nation (usually France). Some kind soul on Flickr has ginned up a US map in which each state is labeled with the name of a country with a similar-sized economy: Texas = Canada, Illinois = Mexico, Tennessee = Saudi Arabia.

Dr B will be amused to see Oklahoma = the Philippines.

(Via Zack Wendling.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:29 PM)
21 February 2007
Shredz64

Everybody loves Guitar Hero on the PlayStation 2. (Okay, maybe not everyone, but work with me here.) Of course, there's the fact that not every budding Hendrix owns a PS2, but this didn't stop Toni:

[M]y Shredz64 project [is] an attempt to built an interface to connect the Playstation Guitar Hero controller to the Commodore 64 computer, and then build a guitar-hero like game on the C64 utilizing this controller.

There's a way to go yet — for one thing, the whammy bar is disabled — but it's always fun to see someone finding yet another application for the little beige doorstop, which, I might add, was my first computer, back in the Pleistocene era.

(Seen at Engadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
23 February 2007
Advantage: Lampoon!

I was waxing semi-lyrical today about National Lampoon's infamous Sunday Newspaper Parody, a complete edition of the Dacron (Ohio) Republican-Democrat — which, incidentally, has been reissued — and in the process, I gave special attention to the Swillmart ("Where Quality Is A Slogan") advertising flyer by Bruce McCall. I ran a Google search for possible Swillmart images, and came up with this.

And then, just because, I ran the text search for Swillmart, and Google responded:

Did you mean: walmart

Feel free to write your own joke.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:31 PM)
25 February 2007
Queen Victoria's keyboard

Keyboard mods by SteampunkI have one of the IBM Model Ms myself — manufacture date, 4 October 1990 — so I'm pretty sure that this M-based retro keyboard will be at least decently reliable. What's more, I suspect that committed typewriter fiend Andrea Harris might want one of her own after she sees this, though I hate to imagine how much it would cost to do an entire production run of these.

(Seen at Engadget; no actual typewriters were harmed in the manufacture of this keyboard, although obviously some had been dismantled beforehand by someone else.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:45 AM)
2 March 2007
Bulblub

Which, you have to admit, is a better name than Lamp/Lamp.

Lamp/Lamp

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:58 PM)
4 March 2007
I'd like to see them queen a pawn

Otherwise, this is neat: Edible Chess. One possible drawback: neither descriptive nor algebraic notation allows for nutrition information.

(Via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:10 AM)
10 March 2007
Use with compact fluorescents only

It's, well, um, it's a chandelier made of Gummi Bears.

"I wouldn't sit under that," insisted Damocles.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:10 AM)
Anyone have Obi-Wan's ZIP code?

Star Wars mailbox"I've mailed information vital to the survival of the rebellion through this R2 unit." Apparently these are legit: for the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, the US Postal Service has come up with a commemorative mailbox. This is a bit disturbing, I suppose, though no more than, say, if C-3PO were doing Old Navy ads. (Idea for a sure-fire hit: a piñata in the form of Jar Jar Binks.) What's most likely to happen to one of these boxes: someone hauls it away from the Post Office in the dead of night, then (1) faces ten years for theft of government property and (2) ends up on Fark.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:38 PM)
11 March 2007
A brave little toaster

Le grille pain-four
In point of fact, I can't vouch for its courage, but it's certainly intimidating at first glance. According to the blurb, you push a button and the little basket begins to spin, slowly but inexorably, while toaster-level heat is directed at your old stale croissants or muffins or whatever for up to 15 minutes. Of course, this will also warm up your kitchen; whether this be blessing or curse depends on the conditions prevailing right before you hit the button. I briefly entertained the idea of getting one of these, just to see what it would do with a blueberry (unfrosted) Pop-Tart, but sixty euros (including 0.25 to support some arcane European Union environmental mandate, and not including whatever horrid sum it would take to ship out here to the New World) seemed like an awfully high price to pay for a brief moment of amusement, though I'm sure there exist call girls whose profession demands that they disagree with this viewpoint. Still, this gizmo has high-enough WTF factor to justify its appearance here.

(With thanks to Emalyse, who saw it first.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:54 PM)
15 March 2007
Technology for bloodsuckers

I dread getting bloodwork: it's not so much that I swoon at the sight of bodily fluids (though I will happily look at the opposite wall when given the opportunity), but that it's so darn hard to find a convenient vein. Most of the time, it takes two tries; more than once it's taken three.

The VeinViewer from Luminetx was invented a couple of years ago to address this issue, and it's now available to healthcare professionals at retail. Using near-infrared light to spot the blood vessels and a computer-assisted imaging system to project the locations directly on the patient's skin, it's the next best thing to X-ray vision: it shows exactly where the veins are located, saving both time and unnecessary sticks. I'm sort of hoping my doctor reads this, and sort of surprised I didn't call this "You're So Vein" or something similarly silly.

(Via Popgadget.)

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19 March 2007
Daddy never sleeps at night

Mama's been playing Accordion Hero II.

Disclosure: I had no idea there had been an Accordion Hero I.

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30 March 2007
Best. Obituary. Ever.

Well, the first sentence, anyway:

Sara Katherine Petterson Brouillard, 55, passed peacefully Wednesday March 21, 2007, at a Bangor hospital, after a brief, courageous battle with cancer and a long and aggravating marriage to Paul Brouillard.

I think I miss her already.

(From Slublog via Electric Venom.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
31 March 2007
We saw your house on the computer

The Oklahoman's Richard Mize has a story this morning on something I probably should have anticipated, but didn't: Real-estate listings on YouTube.

And it's not like no one's been doing video of homes for sale — Cox Cable has a whole channel of such — but what's the first place you look for video? Yep.

Still, I don't think a lot of buyers, at least at first, are going to use YouTube as their first search tool. Doesn't mean it won't work, though: last time (and I emphasize last time) I bought a house, the Expert I had engaged emailed me links to MLS listings that looked promising, and adding YouTube links to such mailings is a simple matter of cut-and-paste.

Here's a sampling of YouTubed listings, which you may find interesting:

These run generally three to four minutes, though the Edmond listing runs about nine.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:59 AM)
3 April 2007
Put a gallon in me, Alan

Bloodwise, I am type A, and Rh-positive.

If this works out, I won't have to care anymore:

In the 1980s, a team in New York showed that an enzyme from green coffee beans could remove the B antigen from red blood cells. It proved too inefficient for practical use, but Henrik Clausen at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and colleagues have now screened bacteria and fungi for more powerful enzymes. "The diversity you get in the bacterial kingdom is much higher," Clausen explains.

The researchers homed in on two enzymes. One, from a gut bacterium called Bacteroides fragilis, removes the B antigen. The other, from Elizabethkingia meningosepticum — which causes opportunistic infections in people — targets the A antigen. The purified enzymes are highly efficient.

And, less A and B, you're left with O, the "universal donor" — provided you can get past that tricky Rh factor. Plasma, of course, is another matter.

(Seen at I See Invisible People. Title comes from this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:06 AM)
7 April 2007
Queen Victoria's keyboard (2)

Keyboard mods by SteampunkYou might remember this from February, when I said something to the effect that "committed typewriter fiend Andrea Harris might want one of her own after she sees this." Well, she's seen it, and she wants it. I wonder what she'd think of RSS feeds via telegraph sounder. (Me, I want this rotary-dial GSM cell phone, just to see how T-Mobile, which is desperate to sell me some high-zoot electrotoy with a camera, an MP3 player and a medical tricorder, would react to its presence.)

Update, 8 April: Tam likes it too.

Update, 9 April: Tam's readers seem to like it too; we've picked up 440 565 hits from View from the Porch at this writing. This is more than twice as much as I've ever gotten from that other person in Knox.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:36 AM)
17 April 2007
Tine is on my side

By now, most people are familiar with the term "spork", and some of us are still silly enough to wonder how it came to be "spork" and not, say, "foon."

Now there's the "chork", which is a hybrid chopstick/fork, sort of: imagine two chopsticks joined together at the base. For those of us who can't handle the traditional chopstick worth a flip, this could prove to be a godsend — especially if they come out with a version in titanium.

Now all we need is a runcible spoon. Or spork.

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:44 PM)
19 April 2007
But do they keep warm in the fridge?

Atomic Food Containers are supposed to discourage people from stealing your lunch, what with the radioactivity symbols and the Eat and Glow legends and all. I have serious doubts, though, that these would work at 42nd and Treadmill: some of those people will eat seemingly anything, with the possible exception of ocelot spleen.

(Via Popgadget.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:22 PM)
24 April 2007
Unobtainium still on back order

There's no way to reword this without snark:

Kryptonite, which robbed Superman of his powers, is no longer the stuff of comic books and films. A mineral found by geologists in Serbia shares virtually the same chemical composition as the fictional kryptonite from outer space, used by the superhero's nemesis Lex Luthor to weaken him in the film Superman Returns.

"We will have to be careful with it — we wouldn't want to deprive Earth of its most famous superhero!" said Dr Chris Stanley, a mineralogist at London's Natural History Museum. Stanley, who revealed the identity of the mysterious new mineral, discovered the match after searching the Internet for its chemical formula — sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide.

Asked to comment, Daily Planet reporter C. Kent turned visibly pale and headed in the general direction of the men's room.

(Seen at Fark.)

Update, 1 pm: Okay, it isn't green, but it can be red, sort of: "It will react to ultraviolet light by fluorescing a pinkish-orange," says Dr Stanley.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:15 AM)
28 April 2007
And with your third hand you open the door

The One-Handed Balancing Serving TrayNot anymore. The One-Handed Balancing Serving Tray is just like it sounds: a tray that you can schlep around with one hand. It holds up to 11 lb, and the surface is rubberized so things won't go flying around way down there. And the handle folds flat for storage, because otherwise this handy item would be a pain in the neck to put away. As with anything both cool and useful, it's kinda pricey, but life is like that sometimes most of the time. (Via Popgadget.)