Tuesday, October 31, 2006

You must be at least this tall to comment

Recently I've been thinking of captchas, those little tests you often have to pass in order to prove to a webserver that you are not a robot. The occasion was a couple weeks back when I inadvertently posted a comment to a blog not realizing that my little one-sentence expression of my opinion was going to lead to invective and ridicule from the blog owner and regulars of that blog, who seemed to be all of a quite distinct way of thinking from mine. If only I'd known that I was expected to conform to a particular standard, I could have saved myself the trouble right at the beginning and found another place to leave my mark.

Traditional captchas are simply to determine whether you are human, a pretty low standard, I think. What about some challenge questions such as these:

  • Type the atomic weight of bismuth

  • Choose the accurate statement: (1) Time has inertia. (2) Iraq was responsible for 9/11. (3) The Jews run Hollywood. (4) Global climate change is far from proven.

  • Which mole do you want to whack?
    Selections have been deleted, see the reason below.

I think it could save a lot of trouble and confusion.

By the way, I am not going to link that blog on which I had that contretemps, sorry!

Update (June 2008): Linkrot at Flickr? Oh well, here is the one of the three images I linked which has not been deleted from the system:

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Is the Senator ready for his catchphrase?

I was listening to this week's On the Media and heard the story about the speculation about Senator Barack Obama's possible presidential aspirations. It included a mention of the supposed Kennedy connection, which led me to coin a one-word moniker which I offer to the Obama loyalists if they want to run with it...


I was shocked to find it in circulation neither on Google nor Technorati, at least not yet.

Update: The word has gained some traction, though we're still talking only about 300-400 hits in Google here. Took them long enough. Also, someone has grabbed the .com domain and someone else the .net domain, though neither one has put any content up at this time. I guess they are probably waiting till after the Iowa caucuses.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Twin birthday cards

Tomorrow is my wife's birthday, a milestone I am obliged to mark using the usual tokens such as gifts, dinner out, and a card. Now, she is a twin, so of course the same goes for her sister as well. So that is how I found myself in a local Walgreen's looking for a pair of birthday cards, and among the dozens of categories (for men, for women, for religious people, for sisters, for kids, for those of different ethnicities, for co-workers, for non-English speakers, etc.), I could find no special card for twins. When I got home, two separate cards in hand, I did a search and found that such cards do exist in electronic form, but it seemed to me that an opportunity was perhaps being missed to produce an interesting product in the Real World directed at the 1% or so of the population who is a multiple.

The idea would be print cards in pairs (naturally) where the pictures on the front can be placed side-by-side polyrama-style to form a picture, sort of like a diptych. Here is what I came up with in the way of a pair of abstract designs which twin together.

  • The first card

  • The second card

  • The two side by side

Of course, for triplets, quadruplets, ..., one would have more pictures to make a real polyrama effect.

It would really be nice to have these for the twins themselves as they exchange their cards, kind of like those pairs of rings which fit into one another. Maybe one would have a line of cards where there are different left-halves which all go along with a set of different right-halves, so the twins could be surprised to see what they come up with jointly.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Plain old paper

Sunday evening is usually when I do lots of my office work for the upcoming week - printing calendars, drawing maps to appointment sites, setting up directories for pictures I take on site.

This evening, just as I was getting started to do this, the laptop that has my business software started acting up, with the screen flashing on me, then freezing up, unresponsive to the keyboard. I powered it down and back up but it would not boot back into Windows. Further investigation showed that one of the pins on the hard drive had been bent and shorted against its neighbor, so I straightened that back out with a kitchen knife and reinserted it. This time, it got as far as spinning up the drive, but still I was getting a blank screen, even when I plugged a standalone monitor into the external video socket. So, I am guessing that something got fried on the video part of the motherboard, or the board itself has gotten fritzed out. Tomorrow I'm going to the computer store to see whether it can be saved somehow.

One good thing is that I was able to verify that the data on the disk was still okay, by putting it into a USB enclosure and attaching it to my wife's desktop computer. Although I could see all the folders and files, because my contact management software uses SQL Server, I could not read any of it on this other machine unless I were to take my program disks and install everything, then copy over the data files, and even then I might run into some problems with making sure my keys and licenses were all working. So it seemed that I was going to be starting out the week without a clue as to what I had to be doing day by day.

Fortunately, I was able to salvage some of the situation by means of good old paper records. I did have my printout of last week's calendar which had the names and the times of the customer appointments written out for this week. I am pretty careful to keep this up to date and in sync with what is on the computer, because it is my lifeline out in the field. Some of the customers were repeat visits, and for them I had previous maps to their addresses with telephone numbers and that kind of thing as well. Then there were new appointments for people I hadn't seen yet, and in those cases I turned to my pile of scrap paper - lists of calls to make, incoming faxes of messages left for me, and other old paperwork. Sifting through this junk, I was able to come up with an address and phone number for everyone I was scheduled to see this week. I plugged those into Mapquest and come up with the vital maps I needed.

So, here's a case where hoarding redundant and almost useless paper scraps helped saved me when technology broke down. It would be impossible to run my little business completely from paper records, I'm pretty sure, but it has proved to be the bridge I needed as a backstop when my two sets of redundant backups (the last one was updated just this morning!) were not enough to make sure that I could get the data I needed.

In the non-business realm, my main blog has been running for over three years now continuously and I would hate to lose that content if for some reason those backups were not enough. Maybe I should print out those hundreds of pages onto paper too. Also, it's probably high time to update my paper copy of my password file with all the new accounts I have had to set up lately. This one goes into a safe, naturally.

Update: I forgot to mention that also yesterday I managed to corrupt the Memos database in my Treo 650 the way I did once more, apparently by editing an item in a way that it didn't like. It is even giving me problems HotSyncing the records over to the desktop. It does seem as if this version of PalmOS is much more fragile than the one I had on my Visor Platinum.

Second update: It's been a long, slow process recovering from the madness. I convinced myself that there was not going to be any way to resurrect the original laptop, so I bought a new one on clearance at Staples. I had my hopes, but simply sticking the old hard drive into the new computer got me nowhere, so I found the next few days filled with such things as repartitioning the new drive, restoring the data from Ghost, overlaying the old (broken) Windows XP installation with a new one from CD, and now trying to reinstall all my critical applications. My current contact management software is a single spreadsheet, backed by lots of loose paper. And if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to the battle.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


True fact: I don't like fireworks. It isn't some kind of delayed September 11th thing either, I just have not been a fan of loud bright exploding things for a long time now.

So if there are other people who share my dislike (and I think there might be), why don't they take an idea from the people who produced the latest Sony Bravia ad and have colored non-toxic dye displays instead? No worries about things being set on fire, at least, and I think one might be happier not having the possibility of premature detonations. They would work best in the summertime where the colors could show off to best advantage, or else at night with lights and lasers playing through the streams.

I know that harbor cities sometimes feature spectacular fireboat displays, but I think the addition of liquidy charges going off at the top of the jets as in the ad is a nice touch too.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Block those pledge breaks

It's Fall pledge drive time for one of the two public radio broadcast stations here, a thing which always makes my level of goodwill toward the system plummet. I support the stations when I can (i.e., not at the moment), but it strikes me as unfair that those who do respond to the pleas and commit their money are not immediately spared the crapfest of begging for the remainder of the drive.

You get an initial bit of good-feeling when they thank you and maybe read your name on the air, but in the hours and days to come, what do you get for being upstanding? Only torture. You're at the mercy of the rest of the listening audience as to when the proceedings end, and who wants to trust those people?

Once the radio spectrum gets converted to digital, this can all end.

The idea is that at the time of a pledge, supporters would be given a limited-duration key to a station's secondary audio broadcast which would be blessedly free of fundraising activity. This incentive would be much, much better than a coffee mug or umbrella typically given out as a come-on! Special digital receivers would be built to accept a key that lucky listener would receive as part of the confirmation of their donation and this would unlock (unscramble, basically) the programming. The receiver would be portable, so that you could unlock it when you're at home, then stick it in your vehicle and bring it to work with you too. I would make the key pairs would automatically change after a brief time interval, say 5 minutes, to reduce any incentive to share these valuable pieces of information over the Internet or by other means. The subscription to the secondary broadcast would last for however long the fund drive lasts, and then become useless when the encryption would be turned off. Till next time.

Now I know this scheme is not bulletproof: the keys could be brute-forced, people could conspire to trade keys, the automatic key-changing algorithm could be attacked. But hey! these are public radio listeners we're talking about here, not people trying to hack access to a central bank, after all. More sinister would be the temptation for these broadcasters to go to into full-time fundraising mode, which would effectively turn their service to a sort of subscription radio for classical music and news junkies, sort of like the way the satellite radio companies run things.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Attention, Gnarls Barkley

How about a latte art remix of Crazy? I think it should be possible.


Originally uploaded by Daffodilious.

Today, Otilius was posting about how he'd miss the razorwire if he ever left Brooklyn, and I commented about how nobody seems to have come up with the idea of razorwire jewelry. (Barbed wire jewelry is, by contrast, not hard to come by.) Hardcore urbanites could have a brooch, necklace, or bracelet with the pointy parts intact, while those who just like the look but do not want to risk the scars might want the edges filed down a bit. I think if one made a pair of dangling razorwire earrings, one would have to be careful not to poke one's own carotids inadvertently.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Visible Man
Originally uploaded by bcostin.

I did have one once. It was great.

You can buy along with the Visible Woman, Horse, and Cow here, as well as the mechanical analogues.

I would also appreciate it if someone well versed in sculpture would devise these:

  • Visble Pig

  • Visble Tyrannosaur

  • Visble Whale

  • Visble NCC-1701-D

  • Visble Cray YMP

Regrettably, although the Visible Alien does exist it is only in virtual (Shockwave) form. I'd love to see one in actual styrene plastic instead, life-sized, preferably.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Rothko cocktails

Originally uploaded by Jacky The Ripper.

I was thinking about colored drinks recently and the subject reminded me of the Mark Rothko exhibit I saw at New York's Whitney some years back. This classic tequila sunrise looks not too different from Rothko's Orange and Yellow

Orange and Yellow
and I thought that it would be an interesting theme party for art lovers to have pousse cafe style cocktails which reproduce some of his other work. For instance, White over Red looks like cream over grenadine, float some blackberry brandy over the top and you've got Purple-Red-White. Not that I'd want to down either of those, but this is art!

To show off the drinks to their best advantage, one could steal an idea from Peter Hewitt and devise tumblers with rectangular flat plate glass sides.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Carnival of carnivals

I have only slowly become aware of the blog carnival meme, wherein links on a particular topic or theme are solicited and collected by an organizer, then published on a blog of the organizer or of one of the participants. The first Carnival (Carnival of the Vanities) is still going after four years, but many others have had trouble establishing themselves and have been allowed to die off.

Undeterred, I present my own list of proposed blog carnivals:

Carnival ofTopic/theme
VenomInvective and abusive postings.
Copyright ViolationIllegal downloads, scans, rips.
Self-Absorbed AngstCris de coeur from everyone's inner adolescent.
SpawnPictures of your children or grandchildren.
Inappropriate BehaviorScenes from all yesterday's parties.
Ironic ForeshadowingPostings by people who plan to commit sensational criminal acts.
Is This Thing On?Your very first blog post.

My apologies if any of these have already been done.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ditch the black

Time for a new look now, using a template from Dented Nerd Designs. It feels a little skinny to me right now, like new clothes which are a little tight, but I'll wait a while and see how I think of it in a little while. Your comments are of course welcome.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Forest-grown computer case

I saw this site describing how to grow your own wooden furniture (via Wists) and came up with the idea of a grown computer enclosure.

Take one tower enclosure and spray all surfaces with a good coating of rustproof paint. Better yet, choose one made of something rustproof such as aluminum. I'd take off all the actual electronics (power supply and that sort of thing) because they won't want to be out in the elements. All the case penetrations (connectors, ventilation openings, slots for disks and USB, and all that kind of thing) have to be covered over, perhaps with dowels sticking out, so that the plant matter doesn't pierce through where it isn't wanted and so that you can get into these locations afterwards. Also, you will want to plan ahead and cut the bottom out of the case so that you'll be able to get back inside in a few years when the sides are covered with wood. Fill in the cavity with something like a plastic bag that won't degrade so that things won't grow up into there and get in the way.

Now take the prepared case outside and set it where a suitable species of tree will climb up the sides of the case. It seems to me that a strangler fig would do well, and would also make a good talking point when you are through. So go to a rainforest, take a seed from a fig, and set it gently on top of the case, so that its roots will cascade all around and entomb the case. Wait a few years, then the tree down to size. Allow the "knotted and twisted wood" to cure, and then clean it all out from the open bottom and the prepared penetrations. Finish the wood, then install the electronics using the mounting points on the metal case inside.

It might be prudent to set up a few cases at one time this way, in case some of them encounter problems along the way. But if some of them work out, I think they'd look pretty cool!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Pen, no flash

At the Dodge Poetry Festival I attended one day this last weekend we were enjoined from taking flash photos in the main tent during the readings. Besides being distracting to the poets and musicians on stage, it was bad for the video equipment recording the event. (Oddly, there was no accompanying warning about cell phone ringers, and it was a credit to the attendees that there were few breaches of those sorts of etiquette audible.)

Instead, and even before the advisory was made, it seemed to me to be more in keeping with the surroundings to take out my small sketchpad instead and do a few drawings.

Although it isn't exactly as easy to concentrate on the reading at the same time one is drawing, it isn't much more difficult than pointing and shooting a camera, especially because the readers were relatively confined to one location and pose. It is actually a lot easier than trying to do a drawing of someone on a television screen, because of the way camera people always like to move around and cut between views. Perhaps organizers of poetry readings should consider handing out drawing materials to their audiences, with the bonus that one might be able to get the author to sign the completed drawing afterwards.

It would have taken a more talented artist (and speedier) to capture Anne Waldman's more kinetic performance style this way. A professional graphic artist would be more up to the task, maybe using a laptop computer and a tablet, the way Robh produces his amazing works.