Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gift idea #1 - vaseline glass

Vaseline glass in Hawley, PA...
Vaseline glass in Hawley, PA...,
originally uploaded by NJ Artist.
[This is the first in a planned series of holiday gift-giving suggestions.]

The picture shows one of the largest vaseline glass in the country. The glass gets its characteristic yellow-green color from uranium oxide, and, as a consequence, is mildly radioactive. What better way to tell your loved ones how much you esteem them than to give the gift that emits alpha particles for years and years? And such a topical gift as well! Especially thoughtful if the recipient owns his or her own geiger counter.

Update: Neatorama posted a very similar item the same day I did. I swear I didn't steal the idea!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The winds of entropy blow strong

The following items have broken or gone bad in the last couple of weeks:

  1. I was working on someone's furniture, sitting on the floor as usual, when I looked down and saw that the sole of my left shoe, maybe two years old, was completely split crosswise. The thing was being held together by just the upper and insole. So now I'm down to one pair of work shoes in brown.

  2. At my latest routine dental appointment, they brought out a new instrument that uses a laser to spot decay in its early stages. For most of my life, I have been pretty fortunate in having pretty good teeth, so I don't think I've ever been diagnosed with two cavities at one time before, in the crowns of my left side molars 18 and 20. I guess the placement was fortunate, as the dentist could install both fillings with a single shot of anesthetic.

  3. My Treo 650 has been having fits of madness lately, sometimes spontaneously rebooting (and turning off the phone in the process, which is annoying), and then corrupting the Memos database. When you enter a new memo into it, the first line of the memo becomes the name of the memo. Occasionally, however, this name gets wiped out or altered somehow, so when you pull up the list of memos there's a great big gap where the item should be. It always seems to be the item which I was just working on, so I'm wondering whether it might have been caused by stray keypresses adding onto that important first line, maybe pushing it past its limit.

    Anyway, when this happens, what I typed into the body of the memo becomes inaccessible from the handheld, and when I sync it up to my desktop that becomes corrupted so that the Palm Desktop software crashes when I try to bring it up. I tried a bunch of different tricks to try to get it to heal over the damage, even reinstalling the desktop software, but it didn't work.

    So, currently everything that I've been entering on the tiny keypad on my Treo, over 200 memos, is stranded there. What I would like to do is to copy all of them over to plain text files, do a hard reset on the Treo to clear the memory, then restore all the ones I want. For some reason, even though the handheld accepts SD memory cards, they did not provide a way to copy memos over. And now that my old laptop died, I can't use the IR link to beam them, since my replacement laptop does not have an IR receiver. So I've picked up a USB Bluetooth adapter at eBay and hope to be able to transfer them that way soon.

  4. I brought my work van in for scheduled maintenance with some dread, since the last time I did this the bill came to something like $900+. I mentioned to them the strange grinding sound that would come from the vehicle, especially first thing in the morning. It turned out that the power steering pump had died at around 55000 miles, a $430 part and $250 worth of labor to replace.

I've often noticed that certain kinds of misfortune tend to cluster. I'll lose something, then soon find that all sorts of things are starting to go missing. Some days I am attacked by a case of the "drops" when I'll notice an unusual number of unrelated items falling to the ground all around me. And there are times when directions go crazy and I can't find my way anywhere, even familiar places (a distinct disadvantage in my line of work). This feels like the same kind of thing, in which a spate of things all decide to wear out and die on me.

I think I'll wait a couple of months before booking my routine eye appointment.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thumb piano piano

Neatorama has this item pointing to a Flickr photoset showing some artsy kalimbas or "thumb pianos" made of such things as briefcases, lamp parts, cameras, and other items not normally associated with musical instruments. Lots of them have pickups (they are ekalimbas).

I'm thinking that the next time I see an old piano offered on the local freecycle group, I might want to pick it up and make a thumb piano out of it. Don't think that's been done yet.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Uff da

Schadenfreude is the sensation of pleasure upon perceiving the pain of others. The predominate feeling I got when we went to see a matinee show of The Queen this weekend was something close to the opposite - a feeling of pain in sympathy for the grief that another person was inflicting upon themselves. Up around Minnesota and thereabouts, when one sees someone else stub their toe or drop their change down the gutter the common expression that one employs is uff da. The sense is that one could imagine the same kind of thing happening to oneself as well.

In the context of this film, watching the royals persist doggedly to go in one direction while the larger part of their subjects were going down another, stuck in a kind of behavior once felt to be admirable and dignified but which later was to be viewed as arrogant and callous, elicited dread in me for the harm they were bringing upon themselves. Maybe if they were portrayed as more culpable and scheming, rather than simply mean-spirited and out of touch, I could take some satisfaction in their comeuppance, but at the climax of the film, my sentiments were such that I wanted them to find their way out of the mess they were in. Uff da, that's a bad thing to have so many think so poorly of you.

Paint chips

I was playing with the Sherwin-Williams Color Visualizer and came up with some of my own name suggestions:

  • Witch Hazel

  • Philodendron Leaf

  • Livid Bruise

  • Galena

  • Martian Sunset

  • Persimmon Peel

  • Insolence

  • Beeswax Candle

  • Dinner Roll

  • Bananafish

  • Chicken Broth

  • Gunbarrel

Update: I forgot that I had posted about this last Fall's lineup of colors over on my other blog, and found that Pantone's now posted the fashion color palette for Spring 2007: Silver Peony, Tarragon, Opal Gray, Golden Apricot, Hollyhock, Green Sheen, Grapemist, Café Crême, Strawberry Ice, and Sky Blue. Ho-hum.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Interview with the terrorist mastermind

It was early Saturday morning and time to interview Osama bin Laden. I and my translator went into the room, which looked like a high-ceilinged school auditorium without the seats, where there was a long sofa heaped up with blankets. My translator looked at me to begin.

"Good morning..." A one-word answer came back: Good morning!

A figure popped up out of the the bedclothes and began stuffing a colorful knit blanket (the kind I now realize in retrospect to be known as an Afghan) into the end of a 2m long cardboard tube standing on its end. It didn't fit. We were about to ask another question when the person, a girl apparently, darted away. My translator got up, went around the sofa and snuck a peek at the lower part of the tube. I asked him "what does it look like?" He gave me a look as if he didn't want to say aloud what was on our minds, which was that it looked rather like a bomb or something equally suspicious. Somehow I gleaned from his expression that at least he didn't see a fuse sticking out. "Oh, it's like a balilkbayan box - from Osama."

We laughed, then noticed something stirring among the blankets: a man, suprisingly young-looking, I took to be bin Laden. He looked as if he were still pretty sleepy.

I wa composing a question to him in my head, something about whether he had gone up to the mosque on the previous day, when up pipes a fellow on the opposite side of the room. He was sitting on the end of a piano bench and his face looked like a cross between Russell Crowe and Kenneth Branagh. He addressed bin Laden directly, ignoring the translator straddling the bench behind him, going into a rambling remark about religion - something about Catholic Masses and Protestant services and other things i thought irrelevant and clueless. He flashed a smile at me and at Osama, who rolled over a little and ignored him.

Freakydreams [via] completely ignored the al-Qaeda angle and preferred to focus on words like time, room, school, up... "Up?" How can that word be a significant part of my dream? I think it probably has more to do with a problem with getting information in the course of doing my job, or maybe tension dealing with people I meet.

Friday, November 24, 2006

4309200 domain names for profit

[Changing the title because of a change in my script: formerly it was just 4237500 domain names...]

Daily Blog Tips posted a list of some 200 prefixes and suffixes for domain names.

One of the most effective ways to find a free domain name that is relevant to your site is to grab a keyword and add prefixes or suffixes to it, until you find something unique. Suppose you want to launch a blog about marketing, all you have to do is pick the word marketing and start adding prefixes like “”, “”, “” or suffixes like “”, “” or “”.

So I took these lists, mixed them with the top 50 searches at Lycos, threw in a few popular TLDs, and spiced it with some simple JavaScript to produce this tool [new window] for your consideration. I also threw in a domain lookup so you can see whether someone's already reserved your creation.

I look forward to reading about your winners in the comments. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to register and make millions.

Update: Now the script lets you choose whether you want prefix, suffix, or both. Thanks Daniel!

Another update: Corrected the links to my other site, which has changed hosts.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Where to put that fat leg

The Fat Leg Cable Table has four legs, one of which enlarged and hollowed to accept cables for electronics. [Via Make.]

It seems to me that a more elegant solution would be to use a pedestal table design instead. If one objects to having the cables routed to the center of the table, there are double pedestal designs as well. The pedestals are already hollow, so you just have to put an appropriate-sized hole in the table top and Bob's your uncle.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Don't they want my money?

I got pretty annoyed the other day at a local Dunkin' Donuts shop for the following reasons:

  • There was a long line which went all the way to the entrance, so when we came in, I was right up against the door itself. Popular place on a Saturday morning.

  • The counter is way back there, behind the people in line and the high displays on either side of the registers. It's like the order-takers have barricaded themselves against the masses.

  • The displays are so high you can't see the products. I wanted a biscuit, but I couldn't tell if they had any until I got to the front of the line. (They didn't.) Pam wanted a pumpkin muffin sans frosting along with her iced coffee. (They had the muffins, but only the frosted kind, and they were kind of low down so you couldn't see them from back in the line.)

  • The prices are up high, so at least you can see them, but they don't include everything for sale. Such as biscuits.

  • I think there might have been four people working, but taking orders at two registers only, wedged between the aforementioned high displays.

  • Once people ordered, they stayed in place in front of the registers while they waited for their food, so the next person was blocked from placing their own order. Every other fast food place has figured out that after the customer has ordered, they should be encouraged to yield their spot to the next customer, picking up their order at a different location. Why hasn't Dunkin' Donuts figured this out?

  • We get to the front of the line and I find out the bad news about the biscuits. I order a French Toast stick. "No coffee?" "No, thank you." "You sure?" "No coffee!" I know that they make more money on the coffee than on the baked goods, but they don't have to be quite so pushy about it.

  • It was actually so crowded around the register that it was difficult to settle up.

It was fortunate that the food was good (hence the big crowd), but I was fuming about all the obstacles getting in the way of what should have been a simple transaction.

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest

People have dove releases, butterfly releases, and balloon releases at their public outdoor ceremonies, but I think what people really want is an angel release. A flock of animatronic winged beings equipped with tiny motors would waft up in formation, singing praises and hymns, circle once around the spectators, then disappear into the distance (to be picked up elsewhere for reuse). I am pretty sure a wizard of special effects could get the technology to work.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Die, giant sea snake

I woke up this morning dreaming about a sea snake the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I am thinking this image stuck with me because of having read this thread about rattlesnake stunts. Anyway, this snake was in some fairly shallow water and rearing up in a menacing fashion.

Fortunately for me, I happened to be carrying a battle laser. It was a metal case about the size of a suitcase, with a long coiled, orange hose going to a sort of nozzle like a sprinkler. I hit the switch and sort of charred some parts of the top of the menacing snake. The beam was invisible, but you could see its effects. I aimed the nozzle a little lower to hit the snake on its underside, and it kind of capsized and drowned.

Anyway, I kind of liked the idea of a lethal battlefield device which looked less like a firearm and more like a piece of gardening equipment.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Book plate

I was thinking very literally when this bookplate site came up on Monkeyfilter: has someone made a plate (or other item for the table) out of an actual book? There was a recent article in Make about how to hollow a book, and perhaps the technique could be adapted. I am thinking that one would scoop out the innards of a thin book, leaving a rim, and pot the whole thing in clear resin. Conceptual art!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hit and run

It's been three years since I've been witness to a traffic accident here, so I had kind of forgotten how disturbing the experience can be. This one was particularly heinous, because it happened five feet in front of me.

It was about a quarter to six and the sun had already set. I was driving north through Teaneck, in a middle-class neighborhood on a main traffic route through town. I had just gone to the gym and had stopped off at a drugstore to pick up some things, and was planning to go to a bakery to pick up some pan de sal that Pam likes to eat for breakfast. I was stopped at the head of the line at a traffic light, and a young man, maybe 13 years old, was crossing the street in front of me just as the lights were about to change. From the cross street, traveling at a high speed, came a black light truck making a left turn - hitting the pedestrian with a loud sound.

I pulled the van out of gear and got out. The truck had hesitated by the side of the road a few car lengths behind, and I tried to make out the license plate. "V - O - M ..." Then he stepped on the throttle and left the scene: it was a hit and run.

I went back around to the front of the van and was looking underneath, because I thought the victim might have been thrown beneath my grill. Nobody there - what the hell? Then I saw him over on the side of the road, standing somewhat crouched over, so I went over to see how he was. I had actually expected more grievous or fatal injuries judging from the impact, but at first glance he didn't seem to have serious fractures or lacerations by some miracle. Another pedestrian, a woman about my age, was there asking him how he was feeling. She had already called the emergency 911 service and they were dispatching aid, so I put my phone away. The boy seemed to be relatively aware of his surroundings (he said he lived nearby and was able to give his name) so I don't think he'd had a head trauma.

Another person came up, a young woman, having seen the accident. She was crying, asking how someone could hit an innocent person and just drive off. I sort of knew the reason why, since the driver would likely have faced serious consequences from the accident, especially if they had a bad record, which seemed likely. I didn't advance this theory aloud, though.

All through this my van was blocking traffic. I'd fumbled when attempting to put my emergency flashers on and some people were starting to get annoyed and started honking as they went around. On the other hand, another driver called out as they went by "I saw the whole thing!" so not everyone was callous.

A Teaneck police officer arrived, lights flashing, and we told him what had happened and tried to give a description of the perpetrator. In addition to my partial plate number, one other person said that those were Jersey plates, and distinctly remembered a small mirrorball hanging from the driver's rear-view mirror. "He went that way!"

I took advantage of a lull in the action to get back into my vehicle and pull over into a parking lot. More emergency responders came, firetrucks and EMTs who assessed the boy's condition and set up a gurney for him to be transported to the hospital. I went back up to the police officer and gave him my statement and my business card. I hope they catch the offender and call me to the trial.

Now, ordinarily I'm among those decrying the surveillance regime creeping everywhere into urban life, but this one time I would have been grateful for a better means to identify the bad guy than trying to strain my eyes to read a license plate. I've always thought that if I were interested in becoming a criminal, I would want to have a vanity plate like IO1 0II or O00 0O1 or something equally hard to read. If I had the time I would have reached for my work camera in the back of the van or even my cameraphone and tried to snap a picture or two of the truck, but one only thinks of these things in retrospect.

To be better prepared for the next time, (and there probably will be a next time, judging from the congestion around here) I think I should study up on some elementary emergency training should I need it. And if I am the victim that time, inshallah, I'll be pleased if I can make it through the experience too thanks to the help of professional first responders and concerned strangers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Action figures of the Book

The Marines won't be giving out talking Jesus dolls to kids this Christmas owing to the possibility of giving offense to non-Christians. "We can't take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family."

The obvious solution would be to go a little further back give out talking dolls of religious figures the three monotheistic faiths can agree on. The same company making the Jesus action figure already makes one of Moses (as does, and King David is also esteemed by each religion. But why stop there?

  • Abraham/Ibrahim: "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!" "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."

  • Noah/Nuh: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers." "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem!" "May God extend the territory of Japhethand may Canaan be his slave."

  • Isaac/Ishaq: "She is my sister." "Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land."

  • Jacob/Yaqub: "Sell me your birthright." "I am Esau your firstborn." "Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her."

  • Adam: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

And of course you could have Eve and Rebekah and Sarah and Rachel figures for the girls and unselfconscious boys, though they don't seem to get nearly as many lines in Genesis so one would need to be a little more creative. All the very best passages in the Bible/Torah go to Yahweh, who could be represented by a Burning Bush or an Ark of the Covenant perhaps.

And if any of the kids receiving toys happen to be Buddhist or Hindu or Wiccan? Well, you can't please everyone.

Friday, November 10, 2006


I read this story about a world-class Rubik's Cube solver and was befuddled in two places.

  1. "This weekend he will try to regain the title of world blindfold Rubik's Cube champion" Blindfold Rubik's Cube? How can that be? I did a little searching around and found that the idea is that one receives a scrambled cube, studies it, then dons a blindfold and unscrambles it. Silly me, I thought that they would first put on the blindfold, then receive a scrambled cube where the colored faces are replaced with tactile cues (sandpaper, grease, Braille dots, thumbtacks) and then solve it just by touch. It might actually be easier than what the fellow's doing. Ah well, not a completely original idea after all, though I didn't know it at the time.

    I think I thought this because of my other idea for a Braille condom. But that's for another time.

  2. "'That was also a lot of fun,' said Mao, who is now working for a constancy firm." Pardon me, a what? I Googled around and found hits for web constancy firm, management constancy company, and that kind of thing, but no clue as to what the definition of this (apparently Commonwealth country) entity is.

I've never figured out Rubik's cubes myself. For me, the most fascinating thing is taking them apart to see how they work anyway. I think some architect should adopt this scheme to build a Rubik's apartment building (not an office building, for God's sake), so everybody could have a different view every day. Or a Rubik's fridge, to make it easier to rotate out those things which usually get stuck at the back for far too long.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Happy days are here again

Happy days are here again
Originally uploaded by milkfish.

More evidence of a photographic sort on the utility of plain old paper. Our friend John (former Dumont borough council member and also an usher at our church) is posting up the numbers on the wall of the Elks Club as they are gathered district by district by the local Democratic party's representative as the polls closed at 8pm last night. It was an overfull slate this year with four council seats in contention by the two parties.

The first returns were from the parts of town which are more Democratic-friendly, so when they came out solidly in the Democrats' favor the optimism was tempered. You can see the tension here. But by the time the more well-heeled, Republican-leaning part of town had its numbers tallied, also solidly in the same direction, everyone in the room knew that it was a sweep.

I presume the Republicans were having their election night event on the other side of town at the Knights of Columbus hall, though I did not see or hear of their representatives conceding the tally.

The great idea of this post is that local politics is still interesting to be involved with and that people are still working hard to try to run the detailed business of our communities. A fine party like this one (and the catered buffet was a fine one indeed) has got to beat an apathetic night at home watching the pundits on TV any time.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Opt-out campaign ads

If there's anything as annoying as public radio and television pledge campaigns, it's political campaign ads sprouting up on the airwaves every Fall. I know they work to sway the undecided voters, but for those of us who have their minds made up (for some time now, actually), they are a waste of time and money.

Couldn't a subscription model work there too? Once you've decided you don't need any more of the arguments they are proposing, really and truly for sure, you could flip a setting on your TV and radio and telephone and be spared any further pitches.

Maybe we could arrange things that the act of switching the setting actually registers your vote ahead of time absentee-style. That way the political interests would know for sure that there is no point bombarding you any further, since you have already made your choice, October/November surprises or no. So making your selection would have to be done only when you have a feeling of ironclad commitment, also telling the political powers that there is also no point in appeals to you attempting to affect the voter turnout (the second main function of political ads).

In order to get people to keep their minds open and to not opt-out, advertising consultants would have an incentive to make their ads interesting to watch and creative, the same way other advertisers have. The undecideds might want to withhold their commitment in order to enjoy the play of ideas and issues right up until Election Day. This, I think, would also be a good thing as something to help counteract voter apathy.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

They'd be perfect if we didn't need to run programs on them

Mistah Kurtz, he dead

The finish line is in sight for the two-week long odyssey of the computer rebuild hell which has made my outlook on life even gloomier than usual these days. Just today I read a column in the local paper about the importance of file backups, but I'm here to tell you that admirable as this endeavor is, it is simply not enough if you value your precious binary data.

The problem is that simply copying the data over to a new machine is not enough, even if you don't happen to need to go between different versions of the operating system. Even though I had the contact management and the bookkeeping data files from just before the old laptop died, they were basically useless without the programs themselves in running order, and it didn't take much difference between the layouts of the old and new machines to insure that the program files and configuration would not play nicely with my new setup. No, it was a matter of going back to original distribution CDs and reinstalling everything from the bottom up.

The trouble was that over time I seem to have acquired a hundred or more of the installation CDs, packed away in boxes and folders and sleeves, and I spent a long, long time looking for what I needed. Luckily I did find a Windows XP Pro installation disk I'd bought years ago when I thought I was going to upgrade my wife's Presario, a failed effort at the time, so with some effort I was able to set up a dual-boot arrangement on the laptop, making it a little less likely that I'd destroy everything I had. But the CRM and ancillary software installation disks were nowhere to be found, and I began to suspect that at the time I started up my business, the laptop was delivered to me without the installation media. If I were an independent operator I would have had a hard time getting these, but as a franchise member in good standing with my Home Office I was able to contact the IS people there who set up the machine and get some disks of the appropriate vintage sent out to me by overnight mail.

This is the basis of my current idea: I would like there to be a service which would take my installation disks and store them for me in some organized fashion. Including the vital license/serial number information and the documentation for installation. Maybe they'd just provide mailers so I could dump in the whole box the software came in, and periodically email me a list of the software they have on hand. I guess for software which I received electronically (as a download), I could imagine an upload server to send the package to. Then when the hardware fails, I could contact them with a list of what I needed and they would send back just what I needed (maybe from a common stock of media from their warehouse, along with an electronic record of the license key). Maybe it would be on a subscription basis, so that as long as I had a current membership they would not need to charge me at crunch time, or maybe they could have some kind of partnership program with software vendors where they could provide programs (and upgrades?) to their members at a discount. Or they could have an arrangement whereby one could obtain software which had not been previously vaulted, assuming I knew the name of the program and the version, with a new key.

If you are like most people and the data you want to keep is in the form of text files, pictures, and music files (DRM-free, that is), this won't be quite so critical to you, since pretty much any computer you buy off the shelf will be able to give you access to these. But you might well have some accounting software or video editing applications which might not come standard on a basic computer which you still might need to maintain the ability to install when the PC dies.

It's times like these that remind me why I do not ever want to go back into the business of supporting computers myself. I actually contacted a company here to do the hard work, but it turned out that they were already working at capacity and declined taking my troubles on at $125/hour.