Tuesday April 29, 2003

Volume Control #2

Earlier this month, I wrote
My sweetie is not only an all-around great guy :-), he's also smart and electrically talented.
Well, he did it again :-) ...
       Continue reading "Volume Control #2"

Volume Control #2 ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Tue, 29 Apr, 23:42 Pacific

Monday April 28, 2003

Grey squirrel - up close and purrsonal!

The grey squirrel has been back a few times; I'm making sure I refill the feeder with sunflower seeds. But today, as I sat on the screenporch finishing my lunch, he came right up to the windows and sat on the outside windowsill. This was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that Bebop was sitting on the porch with me, enjoying the vieWOW! Look at that! Oh oh oh oh oh. quiver.

Even more fun than Bebop's obvious fascination with the whateverthatis on the windowsill was the fact that the squirrel was obviously just as fascinated with Bebop!

Grey squirrel - up close and purrsonal! ( in category Nature/Cats ) - posted at Mon, 28 Apr, 13:38 Pacific

Friday April 25, 2003

50 years of the Double Helix

On April 25, 1953, James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announced the structure of DNA in the journal, Nature. Unlike many scientific papers, this one had a simple title: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid. Fifty years has gone by; a lot has changed. Today we have sequenced the human genome.
In April 2003 , NHGRI and the Department of Energy will celebrate three historic events: the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the DNA double helix, the essential completion of the human genome sequence and publication of NHGRI's new vision for genomics research.

     --  National Human Genome Research Institute

I recommend James Watson's personal account of the discovery, The Double Helix. It's an interesting read.
50 years of the Double Helix ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Fri, 25 Apr, 23:15 Pacific

Friday April 25, 2003

ETech Con - Day Three

This was the third (and last) day of the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference. Still a winner. We didn't attend even one session that didn't make us think and give us something to discuss. No session that we attended was boring or uninteresting, nor was any session exactly what we thought we expected. I think this is the first conference I have attended where I can truly make those claims.. ...
       Continue reading "ETech Con - Day Three"

ETech Con - Day Three ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Fri, 25 Apr, 23:00 Pacific

Thursday April 24, 2003

ETech Con - Day Two

More interesting talks at Day Two of the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference. We made it to the first keynote (scheduled for 8:30 am) after a 1-hour drive through some nasty rain. Yuch!. The first speaker was Alan Kay, inventor of SmallTalk, who gave a well-attended talk on User Interface history, entitled Daddy, Are We There Yet, complete with video clips. Many of the things we take for granted today were in research labs 40 years ago... yet some of what was in those labs still hasn't made its way into currently available computing interfaces.

The second keynote, Personal Interfaces, was presented by Kevin Lynch of Macromedia and focused in large part on what Macromedia is doing to turn Flash (an animation engine) into a much more functional development system for creating desktop Internet applications that will still work after being disconnected from the Internet.

The third keynote was an energetic and very interesting discussion of social structure and social software, with the intriguing title, A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. This talk was presented by Clay Shirky (without any visual aids; I took 5 pages of notes!). Clay has achieved a place on my short list of "must hear" speakers - no matter what the topic, if he's speaking, attend the talk!

With lots of things going on at home too, we could only attend the morning sessions. I'm sure the ones we didn't attend were just as informative and interesting. So far, this conference has been an all-around winner.

ETech Con - Day Two ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Thu, 24 Apr, 21:35 Pacific

Wednesday April 23, 2003

Emerging Technologies

Day One of the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference. Fun stuff. We went to a talk on Biological Computer Models - how to use ideas from "swarms" (e.g. ant colonies, bees, wasps...) such as "simple rules" and "bottom-up modeling" to make new and different computer systems. When Southwest Airlines applied these models to their air cargo transport, they improved their efficiency by 70% and saved millions of dollars. All by using a "traveling ant salesman" algorithm.

We also attended a talk on semantic search engines, given by a speaker from NITLE - they appear to have some very interesting projects going on.

We stopped by to chat with the folks at the Internet Archive Bookmobile. The Internet Archive is collaborating with numerous libraries to digitize as many texts and books as possible, The Bookmobile is making "out of print" (and/or out of copyright) books available to people one book at a time from the back of a well-equipped minivan.containing an HP duplexing color printer, a couple of laptops, a desktop binding machine, and a paper cutter.

The Bookmobile is a demo of a public domain application. It addresses the basic question: What good is the public domain?
Lessons from the Internet Bookmobile

It was an interesting day. I look forward to tomorrow.

Emerging Technologies ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Wed, 23 Apr, 23:30 Pacific

Tuesday April 22, 2003

We saw a squirrel!!!

We had a grey squirrel on our porch rail this morning! Rich told me last night he had seen one yesterday. I was hoping it would come back. We'll have lived here 15 years in May and this is only the second time I've seen a squirrel closer than a mile from the house - the other time was December of last year when I saw one in the tree behind the back fence. That was terrific; today was just delightful!

The boys were entranced (they saw it first). I don't know how long they had been watching before I woke up.

This porch is a small deck just off the end of our upstairs screenporch. The porch rail has our sunflower seed feeder on it. The cats love the screenporch - fresh air, a great view of the back yard (and the birds). And today, a treat! ...
       Continue reading "We saw a squirrel!!!"

We saw a squirrel!!! ( in category Nature/Cats ) - posted at Tue, 22 Apr, 10:00 Pacific

Monday April 21, 2003

Space Station Science

I've found another cool web site. This one is part of science.nasa.gov. The site I discovered today (with the assistance of a mailing-list friend ;-) is Space Station Science: Picture of the Day. You can subscribe to get the latest nifty info and picture in your mailbox, daily. I love the web.

Here's an excerpt from the entry for April 21, 2003:

The Physics of Space Gardens

Credit: ISS Expedition 6 Flight Engineer Nikolai Budarin

It could only happen in space: A tiny bubble of air hangs suspended inside a droplet of water. The droplet rests in the cup of a delicate green leaf, yet the stalk doesn't bend at all. Cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin photographed this scene on April 9, 2003. He was peering into the Russian Rasteniya greenhouse onboard the International Space Station (ISS), and his snapshot illustrates some of the strange physics of gardening in space .

First, consider what would happen on Earth: The air bubble, lighter than water, would race upward to burst through the surface of the droplet. Meanwhile, the leaf would be busy tipping the heavy water onto the floor below. Everything would be in motion, the picture a blur.

In Earth-orbit, though, the scene is truly motionless. The air bubble doesn't rise because it is no lighter than the water around it--there's no buoyancy. The droplet doesn't fall from the leaf because there's no force to pull it off. It's stuck there by molecular adhesion.

Be sure to read the rest of the story, with links and explore the archives. I recommend Blowing Bubbles too!

Space Station Science ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Mon, 21 Apr, 23:30 Pacific

Monday April 21, 2003

I've been dreaming

Under "normal" circumstances, I wish I didn't dream much. It's not that I have "bad" dreams exactly. It's more that my dreams are so... busy! Very High Production Values to my dreams - lots of action, lots of people, crowded sets. Lots of COLOR. When I wake up from a dream I am tired. I have often wished for a pill or hypnotherapy or something that would assure me uninterrupted, quiet, restful, sleep. Instead, I wake up groggy thinking "Who were those people and what were they _doing_?!". Sigh.

Recently, however, my dreams have been a bit more interesting. ...
       Continue reading "I've been dreaming"

I've been dreaming ( in category Random Thoughts ) - posted at Mon, 21 Apr, 12:10 Pacific

Sunday April 20, 2003

Easter Sunday

Today is Easter Sunday in the western Christian (Gregorian) calendar. Eastern Christian churches that follow the Julian calendar tend to celebrate Easter on a different date.

Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (the paschal moon) — unless that full moon falls on the equinox, in which case it's the next full moon — unless the full moon falls on a Sunday, in which case it's the following Sunday. The reason for the changing date has to do with the relationship of Easter to the Jewish feast of Passover. ...
       Continue reading "Easter Sunday"

Easter Sunday ( in category In The News ) - posted at Sun, 20 Apr, 01:19 Pacific

Saturday April 19, 2003


As is often the case, Mezzaluna was lying across the foot of the bed this morning when I woke up. I leaned down to stroke her tummy and rub her chin. She was (again, as is often the case) purring. Mezzaluna has an incredible motor. I lay my ear on her chest and let all of those wonderful vibrations fill my head.

Last weekend at Wild Cat Adventure, you may recall we met a cheetah. We were told that scientists were at first unsure whether to classify the cheetah as a cat or a dog. Unlike most cats, cheetahs do not have retractable front claws (it's easier to run in cleats). They don't have glow-in-the-dark eyes and great night vision either (cheetahs hunt in the daytime when the lions are sleeping; lions prey on cheetahs). They don't climb trees.

Well, after spending time in a room with a contented cheetah (he was in charge; he was content) I could tell the scientists that the cheetah is unequivocally a cat. Cheetahs purr!

Purrrrrrr ( in category Nature/Cats ) - posted at Sat, 19 Apr, 12:11 Pacific

Friday April 18, 2003

Private manned spaceflight

A private manned spaceflight program was unveiled Friday at a desert airport where it has been in secret development for two years.

A rocket plane, dubbed SpaceShipOne, and the White Knight, an exotic jet designed to carry it aloft for a high-altitude air launch, were shown off in a hangar at Mojave Airport by famed aircraft designer Burt Rutan, who developed the program.

Rutan is best known for creating Voyager, the airplane that made the first nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world in 1986.

Story by Andrew Bridges, AP Science Writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, Apr. 18, 2003
Take a look at the SpaceShipOne FAQ.
Private manned spaceflight ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Fri, 18 Apr, 22:16 Pacific

Thursday April 17, 2003

Crunchy Mornings

The furkids get a crunchy treat every morning after breakfast (Whiskas tartar control tuna flavor). The ritual goes like this:

We all troop downstairs after everyone has finished breakfast.

Mezzaluna, who usually finishes early, is sitting tucked into the corner by the bookcase, waiting.

Squirrel keeps a close eye on Vickimom (many backward glances and mews of encouragement) to ensure I don't get lost on the way. I have been known to get distracted.

We arrive at the place where the crunchy treats are distributed; Everyone gathers round.

I get the bag off the shelf. If Squirrel is feeling really cute, he sits up and paws at the air. Unfortunately, I can't get him to do this more often, though I try. It's adorable.

I pour out a handful of treats. These go on the only bit of linoleum at the far end of the downstairs room. Everyone starts to eat. Positions are constant - Mezzaluna in the corner, Bebop in front and facing the wall, Squirrel at the opposite end from Mezzaluna.

I go clean the litter box which is in the bathroom at the far end of the room where the cats are crunching. I can look up and see them. I can see Squirrel leean out, reach a long paw towards Mezzaluna, and snaffle a crunchy treat from her area. I can see Mezzaluna try to extract crunchies from under her tail feathers.

As I finish up with the cat box, Squirrel saunters towards me. This is always a slow and deliberate, apparently "random" stroll, occasionally stopping for a wash. Still, he's always immediately outside the door of the bathroom before I leave.


I follow him back and put down a second small handful (the other half). The cats commence to crunching.

Crunchy Mornings ( in category Nature/Cats ) - posted at Thu, 17 Apr, 11:47 Pacific

Wednesday April 16, 2003

Garbage In, Oil Out

"This is a solution to three of the biggest problems facing mankind," says Brian Appel, chairman and CEO of Changing World Technologies, ... "This process can deal with the world's waste. It can supplement our dwindling supplies of oil. And it can slow down global warming."

A new process, soon to be in commercial production, uses heat and pressure and water to convert any form of organic waste into oil, natural gas, powdered carbon, and re-usable minerals. The oil can be further refined and distilled into gasoline, kerosene, and naphtha. The process, thermal depolymerization, can convert a wide variety of waste products, from plastic bottles to municipal sewage to food wastes to those heaps of tires that traditionally dot the landscape.

Thermal depolymerization has proven to be at least 85 percent energy efficient (that remaining 15% is used to run the process as the gases are burned on-site to make heat for power). Even the Oil companies seem to be taking a favorable stance; thermal depolymerization can make the current petroleum industry itself cleaner and more profitable.

Depending on the feedstock and the cooking and coking times, the process can be tweaked to make other specialty chemicals that may be even more profitable than oil. Turkey offal, for example, can be used to produce fatty acids for soap, tires, paints, and lubricants. Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC—the stuff of house siding, wallpapers, and plastic pipes—yields hydrochloric acid, a relatively benign and industrially valuable chemical used to make cleaners and solvents.

Read the complete article in the May 2003 issue of Discover magazine.

Edit (Dec 2013) - Discover Magazine sold its domain to the Discover Credit Card and Changing World Technologies has gone through some changes.
Garbage In, Oil Out ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Wed, 16 Apr, 22:00 Pacific

Tuesday April 15, 2003

Tax Day Humor

I was in the Post Office contract station today, at the shopping center near our house. I wasn't mailing my taxes; I do that electronically; but we'd been talking about taxes.

A woman came in who said she'd been in the Millbrae PO earlier (Millbrae is the next town south of ours) and they were serving orange juice and apple juice and cookies and candy this morning.

I said "Well, that's what they usually do when you give blood". The PO lady and another patron laughed (the woman who'd been at Millbrae didn't get it; the other patron was explaining it to her as I left :-)

Tax Day Humor ( in category Random Thoughts ) - posted at Tue, 15 Apr, 15:28 Pacific

Monday April 14, 2003

Safari has Tabs!

The latest Safari beta has tabs! It has AutoFill as well. My first and second most desired enhancements are now part of Safari. My new favorite browser now has everything I wanted!.

Tabs have been a big deal since Safari shipped the first Beta. There are Tabs in Mozilla and (most) users like tabs (count me among them). Giles Turnbull wrote an article comparing Safari to Camino (formerly Chimera), the Mac OS X Aquatized Mozilla project. He wrote:

No sooner had Safari made it out into the wild, than many users were clamoring for tabbed browsing. Long available in Mozilla, Opera, and other browsers, the use of tabs to bring together a screenload of web browser windows into a smaller, single-window package has become a very popular feature (although there are some who consider tabs alien to the Mac way of doing things).
       Continue reading "Safari has Tabs!"

Safari has Tabs! ( in category WebTech ) - posted at Mon, 14 Apr, 14:07 Pacific

Sunday April 13, 2003

Wild Cat Adventure

There's a group in the SF Bay Area called Leopards, Etc that I recently found out about! They do educational programs (public outreach, programs for schools, corporate and private events). They do 150 programs of some sort a year! Leopards Etc. is owned and operated by Rob and Barbara Dicely, experienced educators (formerly teachers), licensed by the State of California, the US Dept. of the Interior, and various other governmental organizations to keep, train, and show wild cats. They have a 20-acre property in Sonoma County, CA, with (at present) 24 cats.

Several times a year they do a public outreach program called "Wild Cat Adventure". This is a one-hour program to which they bring 5 or 6 cats and give a talk, with demonstrations. I was looking forward to attending as soon as I heard about it (only a few weeks ago) and today we attended the Wild Cat Adventure at Foothill College (just north of San Jose). ...
       Continue reading "Wild Cat Adventure"

Wild Cat Adventure ( in category Nature/Cats ) - posted at Sun, 13 Apr, 23:27 Pacific

Saturday April 12, 2003

It's raining, it's pouring

It may be spring but the winter weather isn't behind us yet, at least not in beautiful Bay Area CA. We had an arctic storm blow in over night. It's raining pretty heavily now (heavily for here; this is no patch on central PA, Maryland, or the southeast USA). We did have some good thunderbooms a little while ago; thunderstorms are unusual here so we take what we can get (Rich & I both like thunderstorms and really miss them from the east coast).

It's a good day to stay indoors, read a book, snuggle kitties, take a nap...

It's raining, it's pouring ( in category Random Thoughts ) - posted at Sat, 12 Apr, 12:19 Pacific

Thursday April 10, 2003

Jury Duty - Not!

Rich received a summons a few weeks ago for Jury Duty. Today would have been the day he had to report. The good news is that he didn't have to go; he called the number last night and his presence was not required. That happened to me the last time I was "summoned"; I guess we live in a low-crime county.

It's good he didn't have to go; otherwise he would have spent today sitting in a room full of bored people, waiting to have his name called, waiting (hopefully) to be excused. We can't afford to have Rich on Jury Duty right now; he's the only one with work :-(

One thing we noticed that was new on this summons note was that it specified a dress code - no T-shirts! And this for the first day (on which I wouldn't have guessed even "selected" people would actually sit on a case). Weird. But, in any case, not an issue because his presence wasn't required.

All clear for another year.

Jury Duty - Not! ( in category Random Thoughts ) - posted at Thu, 10 Apr, 15:11 Pacific

Tuesday April 8, 2003

Booklovers' Mysteries

I have recently been reading, and enjoying, Julie Kaewert's series of "booklovers' mysteries". The protagonist, Alex Plumtree, is a publisher, collector and bibliophile, owner of a 100 year old small publishing house in London. I envy Alex his library, as well as the libraries of many of his friends and acquaintances. I think of an "old" book as one printed before 1900. Many of Alex's "old" books pre-date the printing press!

I don't envy Alex his life, however; it contains far too much danger and intrigue! As is so often the case in stories like this, the protagonist keeps getting into trouble with politics, enemies, danger, and dead bodies all around :) A bit unusual, however, for this style of "cozy" mystery series, is that Alex is frequently the initial target of the trouble (usually the "detective" trips over a mystery or a body and is gradually snared).

The books are interesting as well as informative; the characters are real and likable. The series so far, in order: Unsolicited, followed by Unbound, Unprintable, Untitled, Unsigned, and Uncatalogued.

A small chuckle of interest especially to computer people: I looked up the series on Barnes&Noble online (to recommend to a friend) and was interested, then amused, to discover that the 4th book was mis-"shelved" in their online data base, under the "title" A Booklover's Mystery. Given that actual title is, erm, Untitled, I think B&N has a small bug in their database design :-)

Booklovers' Mysteries ( in category Books, Movies, Music ) - posted at Tue, 08 Apr, 14:25 Pacific

Sunday April 6, 2003

Spring Ahead

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. Today is the beginning of Daylight Saving Time. Winter is officially over. Summer is officially on the way.

I hate winter. I hate short days and sundown before 5pm. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real, as is its milder cousin, the "Winter Blues". But in February the days start getting noticeably longer again. The sun isn't down at 5... there's more light. And then, on the first Sunday of April, we shift an hour of that lovely daylight to the evening. Huzzah!

California actually petitioned Congress for year-round DST! Unfortunately, the request was made in May 2001; that was before 9/11 and Iraq so Congress probably has other things on their minds these days :-(

DST saves energy. Studies done by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent each day with Daylight Saving Time. California has a report (PDF format) called Effects of Daylight Saving Time on California Electricity Use. I'm a fan of saving energy... but mostly, I just love the fact that the sun sets an apparent hour later today.

More light. More day! Winter is over for another year.

Spring Ahead ( in category In The News ) - posted at Sun, 06 Apr, 14:18 Pacific

Saturday April 5, 2003

Not quite a Kraken....

It's not Kraken sized, exactly, but it could try to eat a London bus. Researchers have retrieved an example of a colossal squid, yclept Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni .

Then again, half a millennium or more ago, ships were much smaller. Columbus's ships averaged less than 3 times the length of the modern London bus. And this was considered to be an "immature" specimen of colossal squid. So... perhaps this is a descendant of the famed kraken after all!

Not quite a Kraken.... ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Sat, 05 Apr, 10:18 Pacific

Thursday April 3, 2003

Volume Control

My sweetie is not only an all-around great guy :-), he's also smart and electrically talented.

We recently purchased a pair of small radio tuner / CD player units; one for Rich's office, one for the bedroom. These are very nice and have an easy to use (especially in the dark) remote control, but the volume control adjustment was pretty coarse at the low end. And when you're listening before falling asleep (or sitting 2-feet from the speakers in your office), you want a finer volume control at the low end! Worse, we listen to the classical station a lot. Because classical music has a large dynamic range, it was often a case of "I can't hear it" vs "that's a bit loud".

But as I said, Rich is not electronically challenged! He simply stuck a pair of (50 ohm) resistors between the player and the speakers, and lowered the volume across the dial. He says an "L-pad" would be the right answer, really, but this is just fine as a hack. In any case, we're now up in the "mid-range" adjustments, and the adjustment capability is finer and smoother. Delightful!

Volume Control ( in category SciTech ) - posted at Thu, 03 Apr, 12:09 Pacific