Thursday, August 31, 2006
Thursday, August 24, 2006
According to Wikipedia: "Other names in English for the symbol include: about; ampersat; asperand (not to be confused with ampersand); ape; apothrope; arroba; arobase; cabbage; cat; cinnabun or cinnamon bun; commercial symbol; cyclone; each; mercantile symbol; schnable; scroll or scroll-a; snail; strudel; vortex; whirlpool or whorl." I have never used or heard any of these myself, and I think it disgraceful that such a ubiquitous symbol has no universally accepted name.
My suggestion is ATPERSAT, on analogy with ampersand (from "and per se and").
My other innovation is the inverted version of this symbol ("natpersat?") which one would use to designate email addresses which no longer work. Here's an example of its usage.
Update: I see that my atpersat idea was already done. Alack! But at least the Guardian called the coinage elegant.
Natpersat: still as far as I know, mine, all mine.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
A former acquaintance of mine is into the sport of geocaching. I was thinking that it would be a more thrilling pastime if one introduced mild hazards into the mix — nothing deadly or terribly hazardous, but just distateful. Tear gas, not nerve gas, if you like. Along with the cache, what about secreting a very ripe durian? A cluster of wolf spider eggs? A small pail brimming with saliva? A paintball booby-trap? Or an emotionally disturbing snip of video?
The finder could be awarded points for getting to the cache having bypassed the hazard, making it more like a bomb-squad mission of sorts for the finder, and like an evil overlord experience for the person setting up the cache.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Ice cream names:
- Enriched Uranium Scumble
- Light Sweet Crude Gorefeast
- Marmite Menthol Sabayon
- So Tart Cardamom Rumble
- Dirty Marzipan Fluff
- Fancypants Cracknel Aggregate
- Kind of Sloe Persimmon
- Himmliche Zuckerbrust Indulgence
- Long Tail Central African Republic Obbligati
- Isinglass Realgar Jawbreaker Freeze
- Killer T-Cell Restorative Blast
- Supercharged Pinenut Grandee
Sunday, August 13, 2006
While I'm going on and on about how cars can be made better, I thought of one more annoyance that can be remedied along those lines. Usually, though not always, I arrive in my car someplace and have to unload some items I have with me. While I'm turning to pick up what I need, usually the driver's side door that I've opened slowly, then more quickly, swings shut on its own, sometimes narrowly missing crunching one of my limbs. Usually I have to say a bad word and kick the door back open with my foot, and if I'm on a hill I might even have to hold it there to make my exit. It seems to me that there's a better way to do this.
Doors could instead have a ratcheting mechanism to help hold them in whatever position one opens them to. The pawl holding the door in place would be released by the user by means of a button on the inside door handle or by the outside handle itself. If one does not like the crikkk sound of a ratchet, it could also be just a friction latch that has pads that press against the rubber surface and are released in the same way as the pawl. I can see that this would be especially useful for those with motor disabilities who might not want to deal with wayward doors on top of the other aspects of getting in or out of a vehicle.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
My friend Ian was visiting from Chicago the other day and we went out to dinner in the city. At one point, the subject of lousy cars came up, and I mentioned the worst vehicle I have ever driven, along with the advantages of having a lousy car.
It was a 1978 Dodge Aspen owned by the research group I was a member of in the early 80's and shared by all the students who were living on site at Fermilab. It was only fitfully maintained, (nobody wanted to do the paperwork for reimbursement) since I don't think at the time that safety inspections were a requirement for keeping up the registration. Because of this, the rigors of the climate, and the inherent low quality of the construction, it was quite a mess by the time I encountered it. The muffler was rotting out, the hinges on the passenger side door would shriek loudly when you opened the door, the suspension was bouncy and soft, the car probably had never been aligned and would more-or-less slowly drift toward the gutter left to its own devices, and the broken contacts for the horn inside the steering column would cause random honking when you turned the wheel. Driving 40 mph (the speed limit on site at the lab) felt like you were going 80, with the underpowered 6 cylinder engine valiantly laboring to bring the monster up to speed.
At this point in my story, I made my confession: what a thrill it was to drive! Certainly much more of a test of nerves than the Mercedes SL series owned by one of the other students.
Consider: one cannot legally race on road anywhere in the country, so having a car that goes 180 mph is nearly pointless. But with the right kind of preparation, you could get the same delicious sensation of danger, the alarming vibration in the driveshaft, the random buzzes and clatters under the hood, the body lurch when taking a turn, without necessarily needing all the speed or acceleration. Of course, nowadays with strict safety and emissions requirements, simply allowing car to deteriorate for real is not an option, so much of the features of having a heap should really be simulated, not real. For instance, since actual suspension bounce can be dangerous when one has to maneuver in critical situations, one could get something of the same sense by installing a servo on the seat mounting to give a little jolt, not too much, based on amplified road feel. Toss out your fancy high-tech radio while you're at it and put in an antique pushbutton unit which you have to work at tuning to bring any stations in, and put a piece of whippy metal coat hanger there in place of an antenna, and even listening to music becomes an adventure.
Naturally, when it comes to having a wreck of a vehicle, it is possible to go too far.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I was sitting on a NJ Transit bus yesterday for two hours trying to get into NYC and needed something to pass the time. This is what I came up with, up till the time that the rumbling and jolting upset my guts so much that I had to stop typing on my Treo.
- Lembas Lambic
- Fu Manchu Export Brew
- Danelaw Golden Ale
- Rinpoche Tulku Lager
- Cruel World Bitter
- Paradox Black and Not-Black
- Birnam Wood March Porter
- Elven Promise Entdraught (with HGH)
- Thief in the Night Rapture Red
- Holy Oak Latesummer Wheat
- Redshift Classic
- Reichskristallnacht Hefeweizen
- Nantucket Chowdah Dahk
- Darkside Obsession Stout
- Cerveza Especial Dos Mamas
- Dr. Bronner's Semi-Cogent Light
None of which, of course, may be carried on any US or British air carrier today.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
There are times and places when I really hate having to sneeze: driving in heavy traffic, while cutting up food that I'm cooking, that sort of thing. I hope that someone somewhere is working on a way to override the sneeze reflex at least temporarily, for times when one is performing a task which one cannot afford to have interrupted.
From what I read on the net, the reflex arc for sneezing and coughing goes through the medulla oblongata and back to the musculature responsible for breathing. If we could put a cutoff switch somewhere in there, whether electrical, chemical, or physical, we should be able to affect the reflex. Alternatively, if someone had this installed and threw the switch hard in the opposite direction, we would have artificial snuff, which might also have its uses.
I can see that the military would be interested in this, thinking of all those scenes in the movie when some spy or scout is skulking around in a clandestine manner, and then his nose begins to twitch, and before you know it, the foe knows that someone is sneaking around, and things go bad.
I probably wouldn't want to turn off the sneezing reflex entirely or for a long period of time, because I am sure it is there for a good survival reason. But I think in most situations if you could inhibit it for a half hour or so that would probably be enough.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
When it comes to communication with other drivers and with pedestrians, motorists have only a couple of bits available to them (the horn, flashing the high beams, gesturing, etc.) There have been times when I was waiting to cross the street on foot and the driver of the car at the intersection would beep their horn, leading me to wonder "Does that mean that I should cross, or that I should not cross?" One solution would be a car-mounted public address system, such as one sometimes encounters around Election Day, but this would likely invite abuse and a backlash from the community at large who do not wish to hear what's on one's mind.
Instead, why not have a set of LED text displays mounted on the vehicle to show some text messages? With a button press or two, with voice feedback to the operator, the signs could display things like GO AHEAD or STOP or EMERGENCY! or YOU ARE DRAGGING SOMETHING BEHIND YOU. If we make the text standard and pre-recorded in nature, it reduces the temptation to the driver to be typing in traffic, and would discourage those who might want to scroll up something along the lines of HEY BABY ARE YOU FREE???
I seem to think that something like this was done before, but was only a rear-window display suitable for communication with tailgaters, and that it didn't really catch on. I would want at least two displays viewable from the front and the rear, with a choice as to which one would display the message I select.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Based on this post on an innocent light saber battle gone terribly wrong, I thought up the idea of a protective cover for your television screen. Why should the most fragile part of this expensive device be utterly unprotected from damage. Originally, I pictured something like the halves of a clamshell camera's protective case, but when I tried to picture this on a 40 inch plasma screen, it seemed just a bit ridiculously large and obtrusive. Instead, something like Roman blinds made of some tough, yet soft (on the inside) material, which would roll or pleat up out of the way when you wanted to watch the screen. Alternatively, the blinds could be vertical, in two halves, and roll up to the sides.
In the course of business, I've encountered the type of TV cabinet with swinging or sliding doors to conceal the entire television, the kind often seen in hotel room armoires. The advantages of a non-furniture-based screen protector are:
- It would work with TV screens which don't normally sit in entertainment centers (such as wall-mounted plasma TV screens).
- The material for the blinds could coordinate with the room window treatments. In the ultimate implementation, the flat-screen TV could appear to be just another window on the wall until the blinds are opened.
- The mechanism to open the blinds could be connected to the power circuit, so that it would automatically swing open when the remote was switched. This would be cool and would provide protection at all times when the TV is not in use.
- Some microfiber cloth could cover the inside of the blinds, so that every time they were opened, dust would be wiped away, helping the screen to remain clean.
It sure seems like a winning idea to me. Note that neither this scheme nor the entertainment center door protection would help if the television screen were menaced while it was being watched by someone, whether saber battling or throwing beer bottles at the umpire.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Saturday, August 05, 2006
I watched the recent Tour de France avidly, and this most recent testosterone scandal fills me with much dismay. Not just because of the cheating aspect, but because of the unsettled nature of the outcome of the race -- who's the "real" winner when all is said and done, with some of the competitors on artificial supplementation and others (I presume) not?
My proposal is a sort of analytic continuation between the dopers and the non-dopers so that they can be included on a single scale.
Here's how it would work: At each stage, the official time for each racer would be modified by an penalty corresponding to the amount of the prohibited substance detected in a sample taken immediately before the start. A "clean" racer would have no time added, one with a slightly elevated amount would have a moderate amount added (a few seconds, maybe), while one with a high amount would have one or more minutes added to his time. The GC leader would be determined by adding these modified times.
A similar modifier could be used for the points scoring as well, to determine the sprint and king of the mountains titles.