Friday, April 28, 2006

Explorer Destroyer

Now, this is a thing of beauty:

So, this is what you do when you're raking in Billions in profits: give a buck to anyone who can convert a competitor's customer to using an open source product instead. What will Google think of next?

Explorer Destroyer

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I knew it was there!

Fascinating to see these pictures of a secret soviet sub base. If it weren't for the regular-looking Joe in some of the photos, I'd think it was off the set of a James Bond film.

I can't remember anything this cool in the hills around Los Alamos, but then again, I never dared jump over the razor-wire-topped fences, either.

My First Platial

On any given Thursday night, you can find me at one of these places:

A different kind of pledge

Found a very novel use of Pledgebank today. I've participated in the past by pledging to give $120 to Catalytic Communities only if I was joined by another 399 people doing the same. I gladly PayPal'd the $120 bucks when they met their target.

I was intrigued by a novel use of the platform (promising to vote a certain way v give money) I've pledged to not vote for Diane Feinstein (my US Senator) if she continues to support the PERFORM act (which, among other things will ban the streaming of mp3 files and mandate DRM for internet audio). From the pledge page:
Diane Feinstein is trying to sell out your rights to the music industry with her introduction of the PERFORM act. Please sign this pledge to show her that we will not put up with these antics and that we will vote her out of office if she contiunues on this path that is harmful to her constituents.
Registered to vote in California like me? Won't you sign the pledge, too?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sharpen those knives

Came across a great article on today that explains, in hyper-detail, how to sharpen knives.

Now, if you just can't get enough of cooking shows like Good Eats or cookbooks like Cookwise, this is your kind of article. The author doesn't just tell you how it's done, but why it's done. As luck would have it, I married into the family of the master of how it's done.

When my wife and I lived in an apartment in Virginia so many years ago, my brother-in-law Bill came to stay with us for a short visit. He found the dull chef's knife in my kitchen drawer inexcusable, so he set to work sharpening it. An hour and a half later, he presented me with the sharpest blade I've ever held.

It was only after I went to cooking school that I learned just how righteous his indignation was. I should have been ashamed much more than I was. A dull knife's a dangerous weapon.

Bill died in a plane wreck not long after that knife-sharpening visit. To this day, I keep my blades sharp in his honor. Rest in Peace, Bill.

Happy 50th Birthday to the Big Box

This month marks the 50th birthday of the shipping container.

I admit that I've always taken the existence of shipping containers for granted (because I've never lived in a time without them - kind of like kids and the internet today). Thanks to a couple members (mentioned below), I'm now seeing containers everywhere. I'm even paying more attention to stories in the news about the effects of containers on our everyday life (cost of shipping goods, the plan to enlarge the Panama Canal to allow the now way-too-big container ships through from China to the East Coast of the United States, etc).

The book The Box : How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (link to Amazon) was published just last month, and here's an excerpt from the dust jacket to bring us all up to speed:

In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible. The Box tells the dramatic story of the container's creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about.

Published on the fiftieth anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive histroty of the shipping container. It recounts how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, turned containerization from an impractical idea into a massive industry that slashed the cost of transporting goods around the world.

It's a shame the book doesn't include the innovative uses of containers by our fellow members to make the world a better place: Ray B-r-o-s-s-e-u-k and David "Kids in Cans" Bales. That's a story I'd like to read more about.

So little red... I've got to get out more

create your own visited country map
or check our Venice travel guide

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's now free? But I paid for it!

I was checking my RSS and atom feeds yesterday when I got the only-slightly-annoying popup to tell me a new version of Shrook (a wonderful news aggregator for us Mac typs) was anxiously awaiting my pending install.

Dutifully, I clicked through to the download page and there, just below the "Download" button was that most-desired-label on the web: Freeware!

WTF? I paid for this application when it was back in its 1.x days, and now they're giving it away for FREE?!?

Quickly hopping over to the Shrook blog (you know there had to be one), I see that Graham's shared his rationale:

So a few months ago I went a bit crazy and declared war on Brent Simmons and NetNewsWire. It's taken me a while to work out what to do and to put all the pieces in place, but this is what I'm doing: I'm making the full version of Shrook freeware.

This isn't a temporary promotion and this isn't a sign of abandoning Shrook. I just want as many people as possible to be using it, because it is better than NetNewsWire and NewsFire and everything else out there. Shrook fans (that's you) can now recommend it to their friends without requiring them to spend money.

Not sure how I feel about financing yet another war. (The first one I'm financing courtesy the IRS isn't going too well) But it would seem Graham's logic, albeit unconventional, is sound.

Now I can recommend Shrook to everyone I know without the caveat "it'll cost you $25, but it's worth it." Go ahead, download it today. Oh, and add my feed to your channel list.

Monday, April 24, 2006

That means you're solidly pro... convenience?

Since I ride my motorcycle to work (and seem to go a bit faster than anyone else in a cage), I get to peer into the cars of all those folks who drive in the carpool lane.

I wish I was surprised at how many of these carpool lane users don't meet the minimum two-people-to-a-car threshold. It's as if they think they need to get where they're going so much earlier than you solo drivers do.

Now, I've gotten quite good at spotting the tell-tale signs of a child seat that brings a frazzled parent up to the carpool-lane worthy status of shortening one's trip during commute hours. So they qualify. When I've taken one of my daughters with me in the carpool lane (in my car, thankyouverymuch), I've gotten quite the nasty glares from those who don't see the kiddie seat in back and assume I'm a member of the solo-drivers-better-than-thou club.

Now, many folks don't see the difference between the above two classes of commuters (solo parent with toddler in the back and solo-driver, period), and they don't hold back their contempt for the parents-with-toddlers "clogging up the carpool lane." (You can watch for their whining words to cycle the Merc's Mr Roadshow column every month or so)

Given that, I'd be very interested to see how many of these rabid "it doesn't count as a carpool if it's just a kid in the car with you" folks are also firmly in the "pro-Life" camp. My guess is, there's quite a bit of overlap.

If anyone can get me the data, I'm happy to make the venn diagram. I'll even make it in the colors of your choice!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

An unbiased diagnosis (of sorts)

From today's Washington Post comes another dog-bites-man revelation:
Every psychiatric expert involved in writing the standard diagnostic criteria for disorders such as depression and schizophrenia has had financial ties to drug companies that sell medications for those illnesses, a new analysis has found.

Of the 170 experts in all who contributed to the manual that defines disorders from personality problems to drug addiction, more than half had such ties, including 100 percent of the experts who served on work groups on mood disorders and psychotic disorders.
What's the appropriate amount of disclosure required for us to feel more at ease with "expert opinions"? Or should we seek solace in expert opinion at all anymore? The Wisdom of the Crowds is looking more and more attractive as we uncover more and more monetary influences behind the lone-expert opinions. Not as a silver bullet mind you, but as a viable alternative to taking at face value the recommendation of someone who's getting paid to influence behavior.

Regardless, it would seem that the "cure" for ADT is just around the corner, don't you think? (maybe in the form of a massive power outage)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Camp(y) for a Cause

Got my regular newsletter from Invisible Children today, only there was a special treat inside this issue, which I'm happy to share with you here.

Now, I confess I may appreciate the musical video (note: it's not a "music video") because I know the kids who star in it and am truly impressed by their ability to quickly pull the whole thing off. I think what impresses me most is the earnestness of their campiness and I think it's just weird enough to get picked up and passed around YouTube.

Here's hoping there are a lot of new registrations for the Global Night Commute, and even more folks actually camping out April 29. Oh, and the whole stopping a war thing would be super cool.

Things that just don't matter

Courtesy Men's Health magazine, a list of things that just don't matter.

Maybe I'll indeed sleep better tonight with my newfound relief.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Cheechoo gets Richard. Thornton gets Ross.

And so ends the regular season.

I'm not sure which was worse: watching the Sharks struggle mightily (while not really trying) in last night's meaningless shutout loss to the Kings, or having to rely upon's play-by-play of the Rangers v Senators game late this afternoon to see if Jagr was going to pull out a miracle and regain both the scoring and goals title for the season.

Cheechoo and Thornton blanked last night, unable to put any more room between them and Jagr in the race for the individual trophies. So, that meant I had to endure the agony of hitting the browser reload again and again and again to see whether or not Jagr scored in today's season finale at Madison Square garden.

Thankfully, Jagr lived up to even my low expectations and only got a single assist in a game that meant a lot to the Rangers. You'd think that someone who had league MVP stamped (you didn't tattoo it, did you?) on his forehead by the media months ago would be able to step up and deliver to help his team clinch the Division title and secure the number three seed in the playoffs. Eh, didn't happen, so I can breathe easy tonight.

Yes, the wonder twins of the Sharks did it! Jonathan Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard Goal Scoring trophy, thanks in no small part to a phenomenal 11 goals this month alone. And Big Joe Thornton (thanks Boston!) got the Art Ross trophy for most points scored in the league. As would be expected, they credit the entire team for the success, not hogging the spotlight themselves.

This civility seems to be a hallmark of the Sharks organization. When the Caps came to the Shark Tank back in December and I was one of a handful of people wearing my Caps jersey (with Mike Grier's #25 on the back -- you'll see him playing for the Sabres now, thankyouverymuch), all I got was well-wishes from the folks around me, including the ticket taker saying "Thanks for coming out tonight. Hope it's a good game." Maybe it's because the game was an east-west contest (and the Caps were already sucking so bad). But that wouldn't explain the great sendoff that the Sharks gave to Luc Robitaille of the Kings last night.

Yes, we love to hate the Kings. Bitter rivals and all that. And yes, I'm already teaching Hannah how to scream "Beat L-A!" in perfect cadence. But last night was Luc's last game. Ever. Retiring for good. And since the Kings failed to make the playoffs, that meant his last game was an away game in San Jose.

Imagine my surprise when a tribute to #20 flashed across the video screens during a break in play and everyone in the sellout audience gave him a standing O. Cool. And then, after the game was over, the entire Sharks team lined up to shake his hand (a la end-of-playoff-series sendoff), and another standing O from those in the stands.

Classy organization. Classy team.

Here's hoping we go deep in the playoffs. Oh, and that Big Joe gets the MVP award he deserves.

Next up: Nashville!

almost back on the bike.

back on the bike 2
Originally uploaded by thomas pix.
It's finally (finally) stopped raining here in the Bay Area, and I was SO looking forward to riding my motorcycle in to work today.

I did the pre-ride inspection of the bike (tires inflated? check. oil level at full? check. nothing loose on the bike? check). It was all looking good for a fun commute into work.

After suiting up and putting all my stuff in the saddle bags, I put in my ear plugs, put on my helmet, slid on my gloves and put the key in the ignition.

FINE-C, and I hit the start button. Instead of the normal chugga-chugga-VROOOOM, I heard click-click... click-click.

In the two months since I last rode, the battery had drained so much that it couldn't turn the engine over to start.

So, no ride in today (the battery will charge up overnight). Thank goodness tomorrow's supposed to be even sunnier and warmer than today.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Go Sharks Go

Off to see the San Jose Sharks win out the regular season at the Shark Tank.

Can hear the chants of "Beat L-A!" already.

Boy I hope Cheechoo and Thornton are on fire tonight and make the gap between them and Jagr insurmountable for his final game tomorrow night. Yes, I'm still bitter about the "extended vacation" he took as a member of the Washington Capitals when I was a season ticket holder.

Of course, the rules were different back then. But why don't I give him any wiggle room? Will ponder that between periods tonight.

Friday, April 14, 2006

When slot cars grow up

front "wheel well" of the X-1
Originally uploaded by thomas pix.
How many times in your life are you asked if you'd like to take a spin around the block in a car that goes 0-60 in 3 seconds? My guess is no more than once, so of course I said yes.

And I still haven't stopped smiling from my two minutes in the passenger seat of the Wrightspeed X1 (be sure to check out the video on the Wrightspeed web site showing the X1 out-drag a Ferrari 360 Spider and a Porsche Carrera GT). While the site tells you it's a startup using "ultra clean technology" to produce highly energy efficient performance cars, the real thing is so much more than that.

The X1 is a 1500-lb street legal prototype with Lithium-ion batteries and a high-power electric motor. When you sit in the X1, your butt is all of 6 inches off the ground, so the sensation of speed is already baked in, even if you're only going 15 miles an hour. Of course, we went faster than that, but nowhere near as fast as the bragged-about "to 80mph and back in a city block" (we made it to 50 and back, taking it easy). The acceleration is snap-your-neck-back quick, and the whole thing's just so damn quiet.

See my full X1 Flickr set for more pix.

And here's a video from YouTube:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Where am I and where will I be? (ask Google)

So, with the announcement today that the Google Calendar is in beta, it's only a matter of time before my gmail account contents are scanned, the locations of my meeting are geocached and my GPS is programmed to take me where I need to be.

Oh, and anyone who wants to know where I am at any time will simply need to Google me. No RFID required!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Identity and Uniqueness

One of the things I'm really interested in finding is a solution to the "are you who you say you are?" question.

So many different concepts are baked into that (seemingly) simple question, it's hard to know what to unpack first. The web offers so many opportunities to practice selective schizophrenia, sometimes it's difficult to know where one person(ality) ends and another begins.

A few of the ways I've seen sites try to prove you are who you say you are leverage existing well-funded tracking systems:

  • Leverage the credit card authentication system (simply pay US$1.00 on your credit card and we'll verify you are who you say you are). But this method assumes that 1) you have a credit card and 2) you can afford the dollar to validate your ID. Nothing wrong with this method as long as you're looking to get credit-worthy Americans who can afford to spend a buck to tell you who they are on your system.
  • Leverage the banking industry by making small (talking a few dimes' worth) deposits in your bank account and asking you to verify the amounts. This method assumes that 1) you're willing to give up all your bank account information to a third party site (why is it I'm putting myself through this?) and 2) you have an account to begin with. Again, nothing wrong with this method as long as you're looking to get folks who have bank accounts (normally US banks at that) to give up their demographic info to validate they have access to accounts on your system.
What if you're looking to do something that'll involve a more diverse crowd than the credit-card carrying banking clientele? Things get slippery, but I think a lot more scalable.

More to come at a later date (yes, trying to figure out how this applies to the folks)

ADT? Nothing Beyond Page 3

Interesting to see (thanks to the Beeb) there's new Jupiter report based on a a study surveying 2,369 US online consumers. The report points out that most internet searchers give up scrolling through the results after reaching the bottom of page 3.

Other salient info from the report:
  • a third of users linked companies in the first page of results with top brands.
  • 62% of those surveyed clicked on a result on the first page, up from 48% in 2002.
  • 90% of consumers clicked on a link in these pages, up from 81% in 2002.
  • 41% of consumers changed engines or their search term if they did not find what they were searching for on the first page.
Brings to mind the recent C|NET interview with Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell. He's identified something similar to ADD he calls Attention Deficit Trait that really describes the modern-day inability to focus thanks to all these electronic "tools" we have beeping at us and demanding our attention all at once.

Combine ADT with the page 3 behavior, and maybe we can optimize our own search engine to only cache the first three pages of results for any query rather than loading all results.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

First Post

Up and running on April 11, 2006.

So this is the blogosphere? I thought there'd be more fanfare than that.