Monday, January 31, 2005

White tree in Maine. Taken on a non-skiing ski trip that did feature plenty of apres ski, nonetheless. A few more on the photo blog too, although none of anyone you know...

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Tyranny of Structurelessness

From a friend on LJ, an article from the women's lib days on how structureless groups have their own informal rules and roles: The Tyranny of Structurelessness:
For those groups which cannot find a local project to devote themselves to, the mere act of staying together becomes the reason for their staying together. When a group has no specific task (and consciousness raising is a task), the people in it turn their energies to controlling others in the group. This is not done so much out of a malicious desire to manipulate others (though sometimes it is) as out of lack of anything better to do with their talents. Able people with time on their hands and a need to justify their coming together put their efforts into personal control, and spend their time criticizing the personalities of the other members in the group. Infighting and personal power games rule the day. When a group is involved in a task, people learn to get along with others as they are and to subsume dislikes for the sake of the larger goals. There are limits placed on the compulsion to remold every person into our image of what they should be.

The Sexual Network Of An Entire High School

Off BB, one of my favorite topics, social networks plus pics: Researchers Map The Sexual Network Of An Entire High School.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Guide to Public Restrooms

Boston Online's Wicked Good Guide to Public Restrooms. Rated by number of toilet paper rolls.

(I had a friend in college whose mother wanted to write a coffee table book about restrooms she'd used; photos of graffiti, nice architecture, odd conversations overheard, etc. I remember it every time I visit one in a restaurant. In bus stations, I'm too busy running to remember it.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"The Flyer" in St. Croix.

This is a boat with a history...

I thought of it because, well, the weather sucks right now. I took this boat on a trip to the Buck Island reefs off the coast of St. Croix. I was sitting on the deck (there's no room below for anything except our bags and the lifejackets) and some other sarcastic passengers from MA (natch) started asking questions about the construction, which looked a bit homegrown. ("What are we doing, like 2 knots?" And that was with the wind behind us.)

The Flyer been hand-built from a DIY kit by a doctor in France. The mast was in the wrong spot and it had difficulty sailing into the wind. Monsieur Le Medecin Bad Boat Builder got transferred to the Caribbean and didn't want to leave his little project behind, so he convinced 10(!) friends(!) of his to sail(!) it across the Atlantic for him(!), without any motor. We blanched at the idea of storing enough food for 10, let alone where they would all have slept and with sailing into the wind being a distinct possibility as you head west from France. Apparently it was a brutal trip, they ran out of food, and took way longer than expected. I don't know if any of them are still friends, or if anyone got eaten on the trip.

A few years later, he was transferred back to France. He left it behind this time. "La Vache" was probably the French name, although that detail is sadly gone from the story. It really would have made it perfect for me.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The "Medium" Psychic

When I watched ep. 1 of "Medium," I was annoyed by how perfect she was. It would've been fun to have her battle a little more confusion and doubt, like Dead Zone gives us. That's how "real mediums" are supposed to be -- and this article on the real Allison Dubois backs that up, while also talking about the difficulty of testing someone who isn't always 100% right and speaks in generalities about handsome men and black dogs.

Varied readings on Arizona psychic

Dead Microbiologist roll-call

Sarah Weinman posted about this, and it's not a mystery novel. Apparently some folks (Steve Quayle anyway) think that the rate of mortality for microbiologists is a little too high, and it might mean something about future bio warfare.

Steve Quayle's list with pics and method of death: Dead Scientists; and another page of Quayle's with news clippings on the same.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

LED floodlights

I'm strangely fascinated by LEDs. Possibly it was the talk at Ubicomp 2003 about how to hack one to detect light as well as emit light. Via MetaEfficient and Treehugger, here's a bunch of LED-powered super-efficient floodlights using LEDs. They even come in colors!

Enlux Lighting.

My cat Salem watched the blizzard this morning in the kitchen window. More cold birds on the photo blog.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Aliens, Global Warming, and Climatologists

It's snowing, and they expect up to a foot or more. So I'm reading about global warming. Here's's post on Michael Crichton's State of Fear, a scientific rebuttal of bad popular science writing, in their opinion.

The comment thread is, for the most part, intelligent and points to more evidence and counter-evidence. In it, I hit this: Crichton's Caltech Michelin Lecture, aka "Aliens Cause Global Warming." He lambasts scientist for being Bad for making public appearances intended to sway policy-making and mixing specious conclusions in with Things That Can Be Proven and Are Therefore Appropriately Scientific. Yeah, ok, in many respects he's probably right to offer the reminders; but he's a poor social scientist himself to overlook the role of peer networks in doing research (and don't forget even peer review can allow bad results to get published!), the necessity of relying on second hand reports to keep oneself informed, and the lack of time a scientist has to prove everything from first principles for her own satisfaction or otherwise keep mum about it.

20 Questions: "Does it exist in another dimension?"

Hey, this is fun. Play 20 questions with an expert system that learns from the game. From the post-game responses you get (see mine below for "lemon"), I think people might be telling it lies, though. Check it out at

Uncommon Knowledge about a lemon:

Does it bring joy to people? I say No.

Can it affect you(cause an effect to you)? I say Yes.

Does it have keys? I say Yes.

Is it a part of something larger? I say Probably.

Does it have buttons? I say Probably.

Is it tapered? I say Yes.

Does it have good vision? I say Probably.

Does it spin? I say Yes.

Do people own it as a pet? I say Yes.

Is it lumpy? I say Probably.

Does it have paws? I say Probably.

Is it found in salad bars? I say Yes.

Does it exist in other dimensions? I say Yes.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Stone in Framingham Cemetery.

Wristwatch of the Future

A bunch of folks from HP Bristol put together a really fun brainstorm design document: The Wristwatch of the Future, a series of concept sketches and descriptions of possible arm-accessories we could build 10 minutes into the future. Some of my favorites: the Webcam wristwatch (so I can see my cats and house from anywhere), the Landmark Reminders wristwatch, based perhaps on David Allen principles that to-do items belong in places as well as lists, and the Mood wristwatch. Imagine how useful it would be if everyone wore a mood indicator: the next meeting wouldn't require advance notice that so-and-so is in a lousy mood so you'd better not pitch that new idea or tug his/her chain today.

Complexity in Design 2005

I saw this once before and thought it interesting, but now that I've read it again (weeks later, after a glass of wine), I find it heart-rending. Here's an entire conference dedicated to both the customers of my company, and the employees at my company, many of whom used to be customers and now have to support other customers in their new role as software engineers: CiD: Complexity in Design 2005. Too bad it's in Glasgow in March (what were they thinking?).

For example, mechanical engineers must develop products that go faster, require less maintenance, use less raw materials than ever before. These demands are compounded by the increasing emphasis on mathematical modelling and simulation rather than destructive testing. Similarly, software engineers are being asked to develop systems that interact with these devices and with human operators. Increasingly the demands of developing safety-critical systems are being exacerbated by the need to produce `band-aid' software that addresses known problems in the underlying mechanical and materials engineering or that addresses underlying human factors problems in the usability of an application.

For instance, re-use simplifies many aspects of complex systems design. These techniques also carry important overheads; it can be hard to ensure that an implementation satisfies the intended requirements within its new context of use. This applies to software engineering just as it does to mechanical engineering. These comments may also, arguably, be applied to the reuse of design processes and teams. Similarly, risk assessment has been used to guide the development of many previous generations of complex systems. However, the increasing integration of large scale application processes and the inter-disciplinary nature of many engineering endeavours makes it hard to sustain this approach from individual component reliability up to the `systems' level.

Monday, January 17, 2005

2 Lists of Books

This has a few that sound worth looking into: Business Week's Pick Of This Year's Crop Of Books. For instance, the provocative title The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations and Emanuel Derman's My Life As a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance.

And then there's the doomed-to-failure-but-always-interesting attempt to list Mathematical Fiction, fiction with mathematical themes. It reminded me of the existence of group theory, and why I don't date a mathematician anymore. (Er, just kidding.)

Both links off Neat New Stuff.

Being French in America: Bridging Oceans of Differences

An American who has spent several years abroad in other countries, I never felt more "American" than I did when I lived in France. I felt it was a culture of polite indirection, circuitous discourse, and ephemeral business values and goals at odds with what I had learned in Silicon Valley. I'll never forget the bid my company lost with Euro Disney, an American company employing international staff. My boss's explanation for why they should have taken our proposal despite our pricetag and my understanding of why they didn't were 180 degrees divergent. A few years later, I'm still trying to understand my 18 months there. (And, it must be said, I feel a bit foreign in the US much of the time, especially around election time.)

Here's a very interesting article by a French consultant who lives in the States and writes about cross-cultural workplace issues. I'm not sure it's capturing exactly what I experienced, in terms of how I understand the cultural differences I saw, but it's valuable for me to see a French experience on the issues. I especially appreciated the section on "Feedback and Self-Esteem." See Life in America: an International Perspective.

Gigapxl again: Balboa Park Reflecting Pool

I am following myself up with a different picture from the previous site: Balboa Park Reflecting Pool, off Gigapxl. This one is interesting because of the people in it. What people, you say? Scroll down to see all the blowups magnifying bits of the scene till you get to the couple sitting on the bench.

Which makes me muse on privacy assumptions again as these cameras get even better -- most of us don't walk around assuming we're being monitored by hi res spy cameras or listening devices (at least those of us who aren't crypto-paranoids), and so we don't worry that the guy 2 miles away with a big camera is about to capture in living, crisp color the fact that we were sitting on a bench with a strange blonde woman who is not our wife, smoking a cigarette after we said we'd quit. Not to mention that we were caught wearing bad Oakley sunglasses and male pedalpushers at the same time.

I'm just pointing it out.

Petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock

I discovered a new obsession this past year: petroglyphs.

This single rock in Utah has enough detail to last me for months, in a very high resolution picture. Look at the 1% zoom and see how crisp it is! From Roy's Blog: Newspaper Rock on Gigapixl Project.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Eclipse Project

If you're interested in well-thought-out and cool dev platforms with wide open plug-in archictectures, a serious Java development evironment as the first proof-of-concept, a non-superficial attitude towards UI, and open source, check out the slides explaining the philosophy of the Eclipse Project. Also see their Project Page.

Thanks to Erik for being excited at me about it.

Robot Quilts

Off BoingBoing, but nevertheless domestically applicable, it's Robot Quilts! Here, "The Robot Visits the West."

Check out Kathy Weaver - fiber and mixed media artist. She also has some "political" quilts featuring automatic weapons, which I recommend less for household use.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

More backyard birds I can't indentify on the Photo Blog.

More stones in a Framingham cemetery.


An interesting teaching concept: an English-speaking "immersion" town in Spain for English-learners, offering a scenario that could be a setup for a cool Agatha-Christie-style novel or a very nice holiday if you speak English.

How does a 8-day stay in a picturesque village in the mountains of Spain sound? And how does it sound if you add in free room and board, and interesting company? These aren't trick questions – this is the deal offered by Vaughan Systems, a language school with offices in Madrid, Barcelona and Granada which specialises in helping professionals whose first language is Spanish to improve their conversational English by isolating them in said village for 8 days with a group of English speakers.The Spanish speakers pay, the English speakers stay free – they just have to live up to their name and speak English to the Spanish speakers, morning, noon, and night, through meals, excursions and dedicated “talking time”.

Check out Vaughan Village, their website. I seem to be unacceptable, since I have had some minor experience teaching ESOL when I was in college.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Rotundus Rolling Robot

According to, there's a new ball-shaped rolling robot in town: The Rotundus Rolling Robot. They say,

Nils Hulth of Rotundus AB in Sweden writes, "I do not know if you are interested in our novel robot design - a ball-shaped robot. Currently we are looking for uses for this robot apart from surveillance and inspection. Maybe one of your readers might have an idea?" The Rotundus robot looks like a large, black bowling ball.

The videos and stills on the product page are entertainingly weird. Don't miss the arty photo of the ball sitting by a fence in the snow.

So what can you do with a rolling ball robot? I can think of a few things really fast: put double stick tape all over it and use it to clean your floors (compete with roomba?), cheat at boules/bowling with it, paint it like a jackolantern and scare kids on Halloween (chase them off your porch in Legend of Sleepy Hollow flying head style!), confuse your cats/dog/bird/rabbit, play a really surprising soccer game with it, crush spiders and ants in your yard and house, roll it uphill and convince paranormal investigators they're looking at another magnetic magic hill, kick it around all by yourself and just tell it to come back by itself, scare home invaders away (with appropriate sensors and menacing sound effects), polish it and take pictures of it in the snow.

Because I'm convinced by my domestic terror use cases and want one of these myself, I one-click-ordered Robot Building for Dummies today.

Framingham, Mass, cemetery stone.

big heads

Via, this fellow noticed an odd trend on Yahoo news stories: pictures of giant heads behind some smaller foreground figure. His collection of thumbnails from 2004 giant heads is at "big heads."

Watchr and Watcher: watching RSS feeds for pics

Two friends of mine challenged each other to make popup notifiers for photos posted on RSS feeds, and they produced these:

Watchr and Watcher.

Cool concept, although I haven't tried them myself yet.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Howard Zinn & Noam Chomsky: LOTR Commentary

My brother sent me this and it got me giggling in the middle of pretty lousy weather: McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Unused Audio Commentary By Howard Zinn & Noam Chomsky, Recorded Summer 2002, for The Fellowship of the Ring Platinum Series Extended Edition DVD, Part One.

Zinn: You view the conflict as being primarily about pipe-weed, do you not?

Chomsky: Well, what we see here, in Hobbiton, farmers tilling crops. The thing to remember is that the crop they are tilling is, in fact, pipe-weed, an addictive drug transported and sold throughout Middle Earth for great profit. ...

Zinn: Well, you know, it would be manifestly difficult to believe in magic rings unless everyone was high on pipe-weed. So it is in Gandalf's interest to keep Middle Earth hooked.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The last few St Croix pictures are on the Photo Blog: surf, salt flats, restaurants, ruins, old streets. (Navigate backwards by using the "prev" button.)

WebCams of the World, united!

Via BoingBoing, this is a page of random thumbnails from random webcams with IP addresses. If you mouse over the thumbnail, it will tell you what country it's from (or more). My first random page had 2 from Cambridge (I'm trying to identify the college and failing, they all look alike now), one from my ugliest alma mater (I'm not telling which one), and a bunch from Sweden. Those Swedes seem to enjoy showing off their snow. The Dutch one had the prettiest picture.

The US ones were mostly offices and roads, how interesting (not).

Random WebCams From the Net.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Rorschach Audio: EVP

A UK Telegraph piece on the new movie "White Noise," about electronic voice phenomena (aka "phone calls from the dead"): "They're heeeaaaring things..."

They pointed out that the voices sometimes sounded like snatches of conversation from foreign radio stations picked up by Raudive's tape recorder. One researcher found that one of the most impressive "voice texts" appeared to be a burst of 37 German words from an Easter Sunday radio broadcast. ...

Psychologists quickly recognised EVP – sometimes referred to as "Rorschach audio", after the test in which subjects read their own interpretation of inkblot images – as just another example of the brain's penchant for making sense even of the patently senseless.

Known as pareidolia, it lies behind such bizarre claims as the decade-old toasted cheese sandwich said to bear an image of the Virgin Mary, which sold for $28,000 on eBay in November. In its search for order, the brain simply cajoles random patterns into making sense – sometimes at the price of rationality.

Linguists have done experiments on the brain's "categorical" perception of indistinct sounds for decades. This phenomemon is one of the foundations of modern phonetic theory; based on your learned language's sound system, your brain is more likely to "hear" sounds that fit into the phonetic and phonological rules you've internalized. It will do work to make noise fit into those sound categories.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

TiVo's new announcements

From CES (the annual consumer electronics show), a blogger reports on the latest showing from TiVo: TiVo To Go, handheld media devices, and opening up the engine to developers for other content types. Reporting from CES: Going Deeper into TiVo's announcements | PVRblog

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Villa on St Croix. More pictures on the blog from the trip...

Human Universals

Apologies to those of you who got this from me elsewhere: an interesting list of proposed universals about human behavior and thought. Good for designing alien cultures, if you're into that kind of thing.

Human Universals

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Templars in Hertfordshire and Mary Magdalene in France

Apparently Hertford is where the legendary Templars went to ground, complete with secret tunnels underneath the post office. (I'm a sucker for secret tunnel stories.) Guardian Unlimited:Hertford, home of the Holy Grail:

"He explains that there is a stained-glass window in St Andrew's Church, just down the street, that contains a clear metaphorical allusion to the Holy Grail, and a cryptic hint that it might be hidden in Hertford. In the picture, Acheson adds, Jesus and Mary Magdalene are looking at each other 'in a very meaningful way'. (Later, I find the window, interrupting local parishioners who are decorating the church for Christmas. I think I can see what Acheson means about Jesus's expression, although mainly he just looks a bit depressed.)"

While on the topic of Mary and folklore about her, France is littered with stained glass showing her in Provence, where she is believed to have taught and lived post-Jesus. Here's a window from Chartres.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Clay Food. You too can etc.

Now this is a specialty book. Making Miniature Food and Market Stalls, out of polymer clay. There are 7 glowing user reviews! I mean, check this out:

"She starts with the bakery and deli stall (tarts, breakds, cakes, salami, pork pies and cheeses) to meat stalls (bacom, chops, poultry, beef...sausages) to fruit and veges (from potatoes to cucumbers with transluscent seeds to grapes), the fish stall and market display items."

"I made the cutest crab tonight."


Since I have a friend or two who like to see the country by driving, here's a site worth checking out beforehand (or even for your local homecooked options -- I like the MA options!):

What is roadfood? Great regional meals along highways, in small towns and in city neighborhoods. It is sleeves-up food made by cooks, bakers, pitmasters, and sandwich-makers who are America’s culinary folk artists. Roadfood is almost always informal and inexpensive; and the best Roadfood restaurants are colorful places enjoyed by locals (and savvy travelers) for their character as well as their menu.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

17 King Street.

5 details of 17 King Street, Frederiksted, St Croix. Keep hitting "prev."

The ESP Game: Labeling the Web

Here's another "wow" already, but for a different reason. It may be old now (it's a CMU CS student project), but it's just so cool. I could play this for hours. What's killer, and makes a good recipe mix for a school project? Online games, multiplayer, anonymous, guessing (but timed and with a pretense at "developing your ESP" for grins), viewing random pictures off the web, scores and rankings. And then making it fun to do something useful, in the end. (Although being asked to provide keywords for tiny gifs on random webpages is a bit, uh, "challenging.")

The ESP Game: Labeling the Web. (Again off Tom Coates', which I've just been catching up on.)


Wow, is this cool. Go for Flash if you can; after it loads, click and drag your mouse to start crawling through the weird universe in a neverending zoom. Backing out again at high speed is amazing too.

I haven't said "wow" to interactive art yet this year; what a nice way to start. (Gotten off