23 February 2006

Education, Hard Drives, and To-Do Lists redux

Augh! I accidentally hit a poorly-placed "navigate backward in your browser" keyboard button on my IBM T41 and lost my first-draft masterpiece. Why'd they put it next to the arrow keys?Grr. So, in abridged format, for your surfing pleasure:

[Y]Our Customers in Class
New EAS-INFO posting that explores the lack of professionalism in many of today's undergraduates despite the role of college as a sort of career training ground. Excuses for late papers, "Should I buy a 3-ring binder or a subject notebook?", and sites like ratemyprofessor.com [link].

Where's My Hard Drive Space?
Wonder why your 20 GByte drive is down to a measley 500 Megs? Wonder if there's an easy way to see what folders are fattest? Run, don't walk, run to Werkeme.com for SpaceMonger. Free utility for WinXP that scans your drive and displays your folders as nested rectangles - with area proportional to size of contents. This thing's magic! I cleaned out 5 Gigs within minutes once it showed me that a duplicate iTunes folder was lurking within. Thanks to a work colleague for this pointer.

Photo from Werkema.com

To-Do Lists
I gushed about Backpackit.com, the free web-based to-do list. Still love it. Give it a try.

Signing off from the home office at the Diesel Cafe in Somerville, Mass.,

22 February 2006

New Food

McSweeney's (yes, another note about McSweeney's nationwide gaggle of humor writers) has: reviews of new food!

It's one of those "I clicked on it and started reading and finally figured out what it's about but holy cow it's 20 minutes later where did those 20 minutes go I'll never have them back yikes I need to get some sleep and go to work again" kind of things. But I'm better for it. And you will be too.

Plus you can learn about Burger King's "Chicken Fries" and microwave kettle corn.


20 February 2006

Childhood Keepsakes

Wonder where your buttons, erasers, and toy soldiers went?

The story of a contributor to Make magazine who bought a Skippy jar full of a child's tiny treasures [Blogspot] at a garage sale for $1... and put photographs of each little item online [Flickr].

What is it with Andre the Giant?

That little icon at the bottom of this blog lets me see roughly how many people end up at this site. From time to time, it also reveals what Google searches end up here. A few months ago I thought it might've been a temporary oddity, but looking back, it appears to be a solid thing. People seem to come here in hopes of learning about:


ps Safe travels to the Fergusbergs!

17 February 2006

Some Disorganized Thoughts of G-Fav's

This is a link to a thoughtful essay on "old-fashioned" tips for teaching undergrads. It's geared towards engineering, but it certainly applies elsewhere. It is appended by thoughts from one of my favorite professors in electrical engineering at Yale, Prof. Kindlmann.

Hello! I was gone (and am now back) from a one-night business trip to Houston, which on the non-business side featured: a woman acting so oddly at the Logan boarding gate that I pointed her out to the staff, some of the best raw oysters I've ever had (Texas fresh!), and the first quarter of the Dave Eggers book You Shall Know Our Velocity.

The Fergusbergs are in town for the long weekend! With me and J-Fav! Hooray! We will take a few-day break from 3-D displays, stocks & bonds, and educational consulting to... celebrate the coming baby & paint the baby room. The big quandry: orange or green?


12 February 2006

Sunday Snowy Sunday

Definition and Origins of the Word "Meme"
After seeing the word across blogs web-wide, you've probably deduced your own definition for "meme." Where'd it come from? The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is largely credited with coining the term in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. I quote from p. 192 of the 1989 edition:
But do we have to go to distant worlds to find other kinds of replicator and other, consequent, kinds of evolution? I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind.

The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. 'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene'. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.* [points to endnote] If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to 'memory', or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with 'cream'.

Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leading from brain to brain in a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. ...
Actually, Dawkins may not have been the first to come up with (or name) this concept. For example, Wikipedia points to a German biologist Richard Semon who in 1904 published Die Mneme about similar concepts.

Okay, enough scientific rambling. On to...

Funny Clip from The Lonely Island
YouTube has more shorts from The Lonely Island, like "Fighting Neighbors" and "The Tangent." (Tip: click the "pause" button, let it load all the way, and then play.)

When Automated Weather Sites Reach Out for Human Contact
I used to use wunderground.com for weather reports, which are usually terse and matter-of-fact, like:

Rain. 70 degrees. 40 mph wind.
But for the last few days it's had a more emphatic, almost heartfelt,
Snow. Blowing snow. Snow may be heavy at times.
MySpace and My Hometown
As you have seen on the news, kids in high school are gravitating to MySpace (instead of, say, Blogger). It's customizable to the point of lunacy - you'll find flashing banners, interactive applets, movie and song clips, and hundreds of comments streaming down the page. Also, media outlets like CNN and Newsweek have reported that kids are putting themselves at risk by posting too much personal information, photos that really shouldn't go before the public, and information that enables stalking.

I know I'm stating the obvious, but as a 31 year-old I can look back over, say, 20 years of technical progress. In 1986 I was frequently logging into (text-only) "bulletin board systems", trading quips with other nerds with 1200 baud modems, adding to community-written science fiction tales, and snooping around to see what Apple II software was being provided by software pirates. However, this took a little - not a lot, a little - technical knowledge, and appealed only to the sciency math club types in the hallway.

Now we're in 2006; my young relatives, at age 8, surf the web to play online games. My sister-in-law sends text messages to friends while watching television. And the mainstream high schooler spews personal information into public view with the passion of the typical teenager with a phone stuck to his or her ear in the 1980s. I'll give you an example; last night I was curious if anyone I went to high school with decided to make a blog. It'd be fun to chat and also fun to hear what the kids today think of my favorite teachers of yesteryear. What'd I find? Well, I don't want to single out any one kid, so here's the MySpace page for the West Orange High School class of 2005. I bet that if you click on any of those students, you'll find enough streaming media that it'll nearly crash your computer.

I'm more than a little worried about this; I'll be a parent soon, and J-Fav and I need to add a new layer to the "don't talk to strangers" maxim. A whole "the Internet is public" thing. A whole, "yes, there are creepy people who will deduce who you are, where you live, and whether you'll be at the band concert tonight" realm of weirdos to be concerned about.

And now: time to shovel the snow!


08 February 2006

Aerial 3-D Imagery

A Japanese computer company claims to have produced 20-pixel 3-D images that float in the air. The images are produced by a strong laser that creates a plasma from the molecules in air. I don't know how "real" this is.

From Nikei website

Read stories translated into Engilsh by Google at asahi.com, Nikei BP, and the company websie of "Burton."


03 February 2006

Links / "i'm lovin' it"

Hello -

There you are, bored, clicking about the World Wide Web in search of that last nugget of information that'll leave you convinced that there are no stones left unturned and it's finally safe to turn off your computer. Yes, you. (No, not you over there... you. Yes.)

Enough of my weird self-portraits and excursions into high-tech land. Here are a few good old-fashioned links to stuff on the web. THEN you'll be fully prepared to log out. Honest.

Commencement Speeches
Commencement speeches from Steve Jobs, Guy Kawasaki, Salman Rushdie, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart, Richard Feynman. Here's some (37Signals), and here's the list of many more (Yahoo).

Video Games
Video games have become so realistic looking that it's just nuts. Check out this preview of a boxing game (click on the thumbnails). Compare to, say, Zaxxon. Dig it.

You've heard about Google limiting search results for their Chinese web site. Check it out. Here are examples of what images pop up when you search for "Tianamen" when you search using the U.S. site versus the Chinese site, courtesy of GeekPress.

i'm lovin' it
I can't stand McDonalds's current marketing campaign in which all their messaging is all "slangy" and... man... just awful. "i'm lovin' it." When you go to McDonalds the soda cups have it written in, like, ten languages. "i'm lovin' it" in French is "c'est ca que j'aime" or something like that.

Well, this may be rife with offensive language, but I think Maddox over at "The Best Page in the Universe" sums it up well. Here's his... ah... essay... on the matter: "McDonald's new ad campaign is an anagram for 'ailing vomit.'"

Oh, Ted? If you're reading, here is Maddox's essay on XTREME Marketing for Corn Nuts.

(No, I don't know the story behind "The Second Best Page in the Universe" versus "The Best Page in the Universe," but if someone would like to explain it to me, I'm all ears.)

Dr. Pepper
And I leave you with Frenchboxing's meticulous collection of Dr. Pepper knock-offs from around the country.

Folks, it is now safe to turn off your computer.


01 February 2006

Dither Kernel

This pixelized self-portraiture must come to an end! I doubled the "resolution" per side, so this one took four times as long. I hope you get a kick out of the tiled primitives, visible in the detail shot on the bottom.

(pen + paper, about 5" x 5")

It is encouraging that J-Fav knew, at a glance, which photograph this was from.

I used a set of 10? 11? custom "tiles" to build this mosaic. Tried to encode the DC component and some higher frequencies in different directions (i.e. white, grey, black, and "directionality" for each little square). Each 1/4-inch square on paper contains four 1/8" x 1/8" tiles.


Cindy Sheehan Arrested @ State of the Union

As described by Cindy Sheehan on Michael Moore's blog.


ps Unrelated: interesting post by Don Boudreaux comparing the costs of things in a 1975 Sears catalog... in terms of the number of hours one must work to purchase it. For example:

Sears lowest-priced garage-door opener: 20.1 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a 1/4-horsepower opener); 8.57 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a 1/2-horsepower opener; Sears no longer sells garage-door openers with less than

(Linked through GeekPress.com)