Friday February 18, 2005

SnapNDrag

I have started using a new screenshot utility called SnapNDrag, from Yellow Mug Software. It has a couple of features I really like.

  • It lets me name my files! (No more `Picture 1.pdf').
  • It lets me choose my default filetype! I can use JPEG from the getgo instead of converting the file after the shot.
  • It provides drag and drop ease for storing the resulting file. No more "everything is on the Desktop until you move it").

SnapNDrag includes the (expected) screen, selection, and timed shots (with selectable countdown) as well as shots of a selected window. The app interfaces with two additional products from Yellow Mug, allowing cropping (with EasyCrop) and framing (with EasyFrame). The developers, so far, have been responsive. The apps and the web site are colorful, clean, and well designed.

SnapNDrag is fully-functional freeware. EasyCrop and EasyFrame are shareware ($12 and $15 respectively).

If you like SnapNDrag, consider upgrading to SnapNDrag Pro for even more features:

  • The ability to scale down screenshots
  • User-configurable, global hot keys for quick access (I like this one!)
  • The option to turn off the sponsor's message (of course ;-)
For a limited time (at this writing), if you buy a copy of EasyCrop, your copy of SnapNDrag will be upgraded to Pro automatically, for free. That's what I did.

Snapndrag

SnapNDrag - posted by Vicki at Fri, 18 Feb, 23:16 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday February 12, 2005

My Birthday Present

Proving that I am indeed a techie... and that our definition of "normal"... differs... from that of other people.

Rich and I were at Fry's about a week before my birthday. Fry's is a SF Bay Area institution, a techie hardware store. They sell computers, televisions, hard disks, DVDs, MP3 players, game players, memory chips, potato chips, and a whole lot more,

While Rich was buying RAM, I was looking at the DVDs. Then I came to find Rich and passed something wonderful in a nearby aisle. I found Rich and took him back to look at the Wonderful Thing.

It was a power supply. ;-) But not just any power supply, oh no! This was far better and more fanciful than the other, ordinary, aluminum-cased boxes on the shelf.

For starters, the upper half of the case was transparent! That's so you can see all the neat stuff inside. And, the neat stuff inside is all brightly colored too. But it got better!

The cables were all sheathed in bright green "UV-protective" material. The unit looked like a strange bright-green octopoidal creature from outer space. All of the connector plugs were yellow. The power switch and plastic surrounding where the power cable is plugged in were fluorescent green. The packaging advertised two blue LEDs in the fan housing. Whoooooooo.

What a cool toy. Unfortunately, we didn't need a power supply for anything. But. But. And it wasn't expensive. But. Still.

I looked at Rich. Rich looked at the power supply. I looked at the power supply. Rich turned to me.

"Happy Birthday Vicki!" said he.

"Oooooooohhh ... Thank you sweetie" said me.

So we bought the power supply (and Rich found some neon-colored molex connectors for it). Then we brought it home where it waited patiently for us to find just the right sort of lamp or something to drive off it (because to run it, it had to drive something).

Last night, we found just the perfect thing.

Rich has been planning to install FreeBSD 5.3 and upgrade our server. He always does this upgrades by installing a second machine, then moving everything over from the previous machine. This saves some pain. Usually.

So after he finally got the thing together, Rich came into my office and said the fateful words "There's a problem..." (Uhuh). It seemed that the power supply that came with the computer housing wasn't going to be adequate for what was required. But.

"There's a perfectly good 500W power supply sitting on the shelf on the next room and..." said he.

"Sure. Sounds perfect. Use it." said me.

Rich suggested that we could make an expedition to Fry's to get me replacement power supply but I said I thought this was just fine, actually, even better than just driving some light bulbs. My power supply would be In Use. Rich doesn't put the case back on these machines, so I'll be able to see the blue LEDs in action whenever I go into the server room.

Not only that, but my fancy colorful power supply goes well with the red motherboard, the tangerine-colored anodized-aluminum heat sink, the pastel-colored connectors on the back, and the fancy AMD hologram on the fan over the CPU housing (woooo). It's all rather much of a piece.

Dscn0050 Dscn0054 Dscn0055

My Birthday Present - posted by Vicki at Sat, 12 Feb, 12:06 Pacific | Comments (0)

Thursday January 20, 2005

Skin Printer

Scientists at Manchester University's School of Materials (in the UK) have developed a printerthat prints... skin!

Using the same principle as an ink-jet printer, experts are able to take skin cells from a patient's body, multiply them, then print out a tailor-made strip of skin, ready to sew on to the body. The wound's dimensions are entered into the printer to ensure a perfect fit.
...
"It's not like printing a sheet of paper. We can print a few millimetres in depth and build it up layer-upon-layer until, in principle, we could produce bone fragments the size of a golf ball.

"It is difficult for a surgeon to reconstruct any complex disfiguring of the face using CT scans, but with this technology we are able to build a fragment which will fit exactly. We can place cells in any designed position to grow tissue or bone."

[ ref: Manchester News Online, article, Wednesday, 19th January 2005 ]

Wow. What will they think of next.
Skin Printer - posted by Vicki at Thu, 20 Jan, 17:42 Pacific | Comments (0)

Monday January 10, 2005

Fixed-width fonts

I love fonts. I collect fonts. I especially love "handwritten" fonts.

As a programmer, however, and constant email user, I need to use fixed-width fonts, preferably with easily distinguished characters. So how do I mix and match my love for handwritten fonts with fixed-width programmer's fonts? Take a look at some of the cool fixed-width fonts I've found!

Fixed-width fonts - posted by Vicki at Mon, 10 Jan, 00:05 Pacific | Comments (0)

Friday January 07, 2005

Optomap

Optomap I had an eye appointment today. They have a "new" gadget called Optomap (they've had it for about a year now). The patient looks into a 4" diameter hole in the front of a big white box (face turned sideways, nose smooshed into place). A green light flashes and the machine takes a picture of the back of the eye. Repeat for the other eye and then, back to the exam room to look at the pictures. The images are then stored in the computer as a permanent record of the condition of the patient's retina at that exam.

Conventional Retinal Imaging Technology only captures a small area of the retina [about 30 degrees] at one time. ... In contrast to the simple illuminating effects of whitelight in a conventional examination, the Optimap allows review of a 200 degree internal scan which is viewed in separate wavelengths of light."
Not only that, but there's no need for eye drops, fuzzy vision for the next hour, or those funny plastic sunglasses.

My optometrist pointed out the optic nerve, which shows as a bright yellow spot in the center of the frame, and the macula, a dark smudge. I could see a bunch of veins running to the optic nerve. I asked if the image showed that I was nearsighted and he said yes. Apparently nearsighted people have some "fraying" around the edge of the optic nerve (although I don't have much of that).

So, how does it work?

Healthy Retina The Panoramic200 Ophthalmoscope consists of a low powered laser beam that is scanned in two dimensions over the retina. Light reflected from the retina is detected and transformed into a digital computer image - the Optomap Retinal Image.

The instrument uses coherent red-green illumination, enabling it to image pathology throughout the layers of the retina, from the sensory retina and nerve fiber layer, through the RPE and down to the choroid. The ultra-widefield image can be separated to present the distinct retinal sub-structures and the individual red and green laser images can be displayed in grayscale separation for enhanced contrast.

If you're interested, there's a nicely done Flash presentation/demo on the website. I also brought home the 2-page explanatory flyer they hand out to kids. It does a pretty good job of explaining how the process works (leaving out the part about the smooshed nose).

Flyer: [Page 1] [Page 2]

Optomap - posted by Vicki at Fri, 07 Jan, 23:58 Pacific | Comments (0)

Sunday December 12, 2004

Technology Moves Forward at the Grocery Store

Thirty years and more ago, your local grocery store used cash registers. Prices were marked on all items; the checker punched that price into the cash register and the total was calculated much like a desktop calculator with a paper tape.

Although the first patent for a bar code type product was issued in October, 1952, and the first bar code used commercially in 1966, it wasn't until 1970 that an industry standard was set. By 1970, the Universal Grocery Products Identification Code (UGPIC) was written; this evolved into the Universal Product Code (UPC) in 1973. In June of 1974, the first U.P.C. scanner was installed at a supermarket in Troy, Ohio. [ref: The History of Bar Code]

Still, those first bar-code-scanners fed into a system that worked a lot like the earlier cash register. For a long time, the sales receipt simply read something like this:

Grocery   .59
Grocery  1.09  Tx
Grocery  2.15
Grocery   .59

After a number of years went by, people got smarter and started to put the item information into a data base so the receipts became more descriptive, if a bit cryptic.

Crm Mush Soup   .59
Palmoliv Liq   1.09  Tx
Deli           2.15
Crm Mush Soup   .59

There was still, however, very little difference between the scanner / computer system and the early cash registers. Nevertheless, people keep improving things.

Our neighborhood grocery recently installed a new system that provides a major jump forward in receipt technology. This is the first time I've seen all of my purchases sorted and categorized on the receipt. Regardless of the order in which the checker scanned the items, everything is neatly organized on the receipt. Even if one can of soup falls into the bottom of the cart and is scanned last, it will be listed with the rest of the soup. I like that.

As a slightly different case, the Target department stores print a bar code on the bottom of every receipt. If I want to return something, the customer service checker scans the item and the receipt and Poof! the money is back in my Target Visa account without my even needing to reach for my wallet.

We're well past the point where the computerized register system is a simple model of what we used to do before we had computers. Now we're moving into the stage where we can exploit the abilities of the computer, the database, and the programmer, to provide functionality that would have been difficult, time consuming, or expensive 20 years ago. It makes me wonder what might be next.

Technology Moves Forward at the Grocery Store - posted by Vicki at Sun, 12 Dec, 18:26 Pacific | Comments (0)

Sunday November 21, 2004

SubEthaEdit

Do you ever find yourself trading a document back and forth with someone else? Rich and I do this a lot. One of us writes, then emails to the other who edits and emails back. It works but it's tedious.

Today I discovered SubEthaEdit. (Although the editor has been around since Spring, 2003, I never got the tuits to try it until now).

SubEthaEdit is a collaborative text editor - it works via Rendezvous and over the Internet (haven't tried that part yet). Syntax coloring, regex search and replace, spell checking, FTP support, lots of preferences, and other cool features are included. The most useful, of course, is the live collaboration. Rich and I worked up a weblog entry together this evening. I got it started, then he worked on that.

SubEthaEdit won an O'Reilly Mac OS X Innovator's Contest award as well as an Apple design award in for Best Mac OS X Student Project, both in 2003. I'd say the awards were well-deserved. This one goes on my "must-have" apps list.

A friend reminds me that SubEthaEdit was originally named "Hydra"; the name was changed due to a trademark dispute. (sigh).

SubEthaEdit - posted by Vicki at Sun, 21 Nov, 22:48 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday November 20, 2004

311 Citizen Services

New York City has a relatively new Citizen Services telephone number, 311, started by NYC Mayor MIchael Bloomberg. I think it should go nation-wide.

311 proved itself in a vital way for thousands of NYC residents during the east coast blackout of 2003.

The moment the lights flickered off to begin the great blackout of 2003, New York City's emergency management teams put elegant procedures into action, anticipating New Yorkers' needs in a city suddenly denied power. They prevented looting, located stuck elevators, and prepared to treat victims of heat exhaustion. But for thousands of people that long night, the most pressing concern was something that hadn't occurred to the government: blood sugar levels.

As the blackout stretched from afternoon into early evening, many diabetics grew increasingly apprehensive about the shelf life of their refrigerated insulin. Emergency planners may not have foreseen those worries, but within a matter of hours, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was addressing the vital but arguably obscure topic in one of that night's many press conferences. The insulin issue had trickled up the command chain thanks to a service Bloomberg started: the 311 line.

311 ... may well be the most radical enhancement of urban information management since the invention of the census, and it promises to make urban centers into more livable spaces.

[ Operators are Standing By, Wired Magazine, November 2004 ]

So, how does it work? It seems like a brilliant combination to me. First of all, the lines are handled by live operators :-) In addition, 311 provides three distinct services in one.

First, it's a kinder, gentler 911: You dial 311 when there's a strange guy hovering around the playground, not breaking into your apartment.
I like that. 911 tends to be slow to respond because people use it for too many not-yet-emergencies. (Here, we call the local non-emergency police number).
Second, 311 functions as an information concierge.
What are the hours for the zoo? Who do I call to report a leaking sprinkler at the park? Is the Art & Wine festival running this weekend? Which streets are closed for the parade?

The third service is the most interesting to me. This is the one that made the insulin refrigeration issue known to NYC officials so quickly.

Third, the government learns as much as the callers do. That's the radical idea at the heart of the service: Every question or problem carries its own kind of data. [The] system tracks all that information... 311 automatically records the location of each incoming service request in a huge database that feeds info throughout New York City's government. Think of 311 as a kind of massively distributed extension of the city's perceptual systems, harnessing millions of ordinary eyes on the street to detect emerging problems or report unmet needs - like those worries about unrefrigerated insulin.
In a way, we have a smaller version of this "massively distributed extension of the city's perceptual systems" in the San Francisco Bay Area. It started about five years ago and provides rapidly updated, realtime traffic status. The radio stations call it the Cell Phone Patrol.

Back before cell phones became so popular, Interstate 280 didn't have a lot of coverage for traffic reports; "Skycopter 1" flew over US 101 by the bay (a more heavily traveled road). Most of the time, this didn't matter; accidents and slowdowns were rare on 280. But when they did happen, no one knew.

These days, traffic coverage on 280 is excellent. I've called in accidents and road hazards myself. Whether they're reporting a brush fire or just a slowdown, the Cell Phone Patrol has improved traffic information immeasurably.

Already, 311 data is changing the [NYC] government's priorities. In the first year of operation, noise was the number one complaint; the Bloomberg administration subsequently launched a major quality-of-life initiative combating city noise. Today, geomapping software displays streets with chronic pothole troubles and blocks battling graffiti - all integrated into custom dashboards on city officials' laptops.

...Connect 311's database to a city full of Treos or Wi-Fi laptops, and it's easy to imagine the extended urban organism growing more adaptive: subway riders tapping in up-to-the-minute reports on passenger loads and parents giving high marks to a new hire at a school.

...When people talk about network technology revolutionizing politics, it's usually in the context of national campaigns: Internet fundraising, political blogs. But the most profound impact may be closer to home: keeping a neighborhood safe, clean, and quiet; connecting city dwellers to the immense array of programs offered by their government; creating a sense that individuals can contribute to their community's overall health just by dialing three numbers.

I want that where I live.
311 Citizen Services - posted by Vicki at Sat, 20 Nov, 12:07 Pacific | Comments (0)

Wednesday October 20, 2004

TV-B-Gone

Several of the restaurants we patronize regularly have televisions going - our favorite diner, the burrito place, one of the Chinese places, the Japanese restaurant (that one's at the far end of the sushi bar and more difficult to see). I often find myself watching (especially the one at the diner). I don't want to... not really. But I get sucked in by the colors and motion.

You're staring at a piece of furniture!

People on TV are not your friends. They're not in the room with you. You are alone in the dark, staring at a plastic box. Think about it. This is like a science fiction horror story; but it's really happening. People have stopped living as humans and connected themselves to machines instead.

Does this happen to you? Do you wish you could just turn it off?

Now you can :-)

Mitch Altman, founder of Silicon Valley data-storage maker 3ware, has a new device, the TV-B-Gone, a universal remote that turns off almost any television. [from an article in Wired News, "Inventor Rejoices as TVs Go Dark"].

The device, which looks like an automobile remote, has just one button. When activated, it spends over a minute flashing out 209 different codes to turn off televisions, the most popular brands first.

For Altman, ..., the TV-B-Gone is all about freeing people from the attention-sapping hold of omnipresent television programming. The device is also providing hours of entertainment for its inventor.

The entertainment value comes as Altman wanders the city, zapping television sets in restaurants, malls, and laundromats.
Improved conversation was the motivation behind TV-B-Gone, and it's why Altman calls it the most helpful tool he's worked on. He said it compares well to the Apple video game he wrote in 1977 (which became a military training module), virtual-reality systems he helped build at VPL in 1986 (used for military research despite his and the company's explicit pacifist policies), and the hard-drive controllers he patented after starting up 3ware.

Since he left 3ware, he has spent most of his time finishing up TV-B-Gone. His equity from that firm provided the capital for the first run of 20,000 remotes.

Rich and I talked about taking one to the diner. The problem, as Rich put it, is ... if the TV kept going off soon after we enter the restaurant, how long would it take for the staff and other patrons to make the connection? Still... it's tempting.
TV-B-Gone - posted by Vicki at Wed, 20 Oct, 17:44 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday September 04, 2004

Pramoxine

Today I came up with a theory that fit the facts, then looked up some references that supported the theory. Cool!

At dinner today I noticed a red area on my arm around a small scratch I got a couple of nights ago. Neither the red area nor the scratch hurt particularly. It's not infected. It looked almost like a bit of light sunburn.

We were out in the sun today for about an hour and the red patch was... hmmm, about the size, shape, and diameter from the scratch of the or=inrmtnet I had applied that morning. I wondered...

So I did a web search for the antibiotic ointment - Neosporin, containing neomycin, bacitracin, and polymixin. I found a useful page that told me there were "no problems expected" from sun exposure. Hmmm.

Oh yes! Then I remembered that I hadn't used the "regular" Neosporin, but the variation containing Pramoxine Hcl to combat itching. So I looked up pramoxine.

There it was. Pramoxine is listed as a sun-sensitizing drug.

It's also interesting to note that pramoxine is one of the topical ointments used to fight the itch of sunburn ;-)

Pramoxine - posted by Vicki at Sat, 04 Sep, 22:30 Pacific | Comments (0)

Thursday July 29, 2004

Tasks

We've invested in a new piece of software. This is a web-based hierarchical to-do list manager called Tasks. I was especially pleased to see Tasks 2.0 mentioned on versiontracker (in the Mac OS X section) where it has received very good reviews.

Tasks is quite nice; you can try the demo. There's also a 30-day trial version you can load with actual data; if you buy the product ($29.95) you'll get your trial data to load in. The standard version is a one-user version; it you need multiple-user and group task support, there's a "Pro" version ($125).

The documentation is easy to follow, the author is responsive, and there's a support forum for users. The interface is pleasant to look at, clean, and easy to use. The author makes ample use of "tool tips" (little explanatory text block that appear when you hold the mouse over things). There's an included calendar and support for notes. All in all it's well thought out and well put together.

Tasks - posted by Vicki at Thu, 29 Jul, 23:32 Pacific | Comments (0)

Sunday July 25, 2004

Inverse Femtobarns

Rich and I have learned a new unit of measurement - the inverse femtobarn.

What on earth is a "femtobarn," and what does it have to do with the amount of data an accelerator produces?

Rich picked up a copy of the Stanford Report, a daily Stanford newspaper. In the paper was an article entitled Understanding luminosity through 'barn', a unit that helps physicists count particle events.

A barn is the unit used by nuclear physicist for the size of an atomic nucleus of uranium.

The cross-sectional area of a uranium nucleus is about 10 -24 square centimeters, small on the human scale, but large compared with other atomic nuclei. "Femto" means a factor of 10-15: a thousandth of a millionth of a millionth. A femtobarn, then, is 10-39 square centimeters ­ an incomprehensibly small unit of area.

The term "barn" was coined by two physicists, M. G. Holloway and C. P. Parker, at Purdue University in December, 1942.

Scientists on the BaBar project (at SLAC and around the world) use B meson particle data from the PEP-II accelerator:

In early July, the PEP-II accelerator ... reached a new milestone: It is delivering three times as many particle collisions per second as the machine was designed to produce.

Researchers designed PEP-II to collide electrons and their antimatter counterparts, positrons, at the precise energy that produces an abundance of short-lived pairs of particles and antiparticles called B mesons, which decay spontaneously into other particles of matter and antimatter. Because the B meson is relatively heavy, it can decay into matter and antimatter in more ways than lighter particles can. If there were no difference between matter and antimatter, both the B meson and the anti-B meson would decay at exactly the same rate.

Some decay patterns are very rare. The BaBar collaboration has seen some decays only a few times in 10 million events. Were it not for the multitude of B mesons PEP-II is providing, studies of such unusual particle behavior would be impossible.

[ SLAC experiment triples its data production for study of matter and antimatter

Here's where the inverse femtobarn comes in
...to calculate how many B-meson pairs PEP-II had delivered by July 1, you multiply the cross-section for those events (1.1 million femtobarns) by the integrated luminosity (100 events per femtobarn),
(that's 100 inverse femtobarns)
and you get 110,000,000 events.
Inverse Femtobarns - posted by Vicki at Sun, 25 Jul, 20:58 Pacific | Comments (0)

Tuesday July 20, 2004

It's Physics

There's a joke about Science:
If it wiggles, it's Biology.
If it stinks, it's Chemistry.
If it doesn't work, it's Physics.
Perhaps to this we could add:
If you don't understand it, it's Quantum Physics.

The following sentence is excerpted from a news article on Superconductivity and the 2003 Nobel prizes in physics and medicine.

While helium-4 is a boson, helium-3 is a fermion, so the two isotopes have quite different quantum properties.
Aalthough I'm willing to take the second half of that sentence on faith, I find the fact that it apparently follows naturally from the first half of the sentence to be amusing. "While helium-4 is a boson...". Ohhhh. Of Course! (Not :-)

I am nevertheless entranced. I'm thinking of turning the first half of the sentence into a bumpersticker :-)

While helium-4 is a boson,
helium-3 is a fermion

It's Physics - posted by Vicki at Tue, 20 Jul, 07:32 Pacific | Comments (0)

Friday July 16, 2004

Are Mac Users Smarter?

Well, yeah...Isn't it obvious? I mean, we use Macs!

Duh!

Paul Murphy decided to do a little "scientific research" into the subject for his recent article in MacNewsWorld.

I doubt it's possible to get a definitive answer, but as long as you don't take any of it too seriously you can have a lot of fun playing with proxies such as the average user's ability to read and write his or her native language. This isn't necessarily a reasonable measure of intelligence (mainly because intelligence has yet to be defined) but almost everyone agrees that a native English speaker's ability to write correct English correlates closely with that person's ability to think clearly.

In other words, if we knew that Mac users, as a group, were significantly better users of written English than PC users, then we'd have a presumptive basis for ranking the probable "smartness" of two people about whom we only know that one uses a Mac and the other a PC.

For his analysis, Murphy decided to compare the readability of texts written by members of the Mac, PC, and Slashdot communities. Readability statistics assess quantifiable attributes of text, such as the average number of words per sentence, average length of sentences, number of syllables per word, and so on, to derive a formulaic estimate of the ``readability'' of the text. To get the statistics, Murphy used style, a useful but little known Unix command from the long-ago days when Unix was a trademark of AT&T. Style produces a variety of readability scores and statistics based on common readability formulas.

Not only were [reader comments from Macintouch] ratings significantly higher than those given Slashdot's contributors, and thus better than those given text from the PC sites, but the vocabulary was larger too. Without collapsing words to their root forms, but after removing punctuation (including capitalization) and numbers, the Macintouch stuff had 870 unique words to only 517 for the combined PC sites.

Overall, the results are pretty clear: Mac users might not actually be smarter than PC users, but they certainly use better English and a larger vocabulary to express more complex thinking.

:-)
Are Mac Users Smarter? - posted by Vicki at Fri, 16 Jul, 23:49 Pacific | Comments (0)

Thursday July 08, 2004

Hardware Hackery

Rich has a T-shirt that says

I Am a Professional.
Do Not Try This at Home.

Perhaps I should have worn that shirt this past Monday. :-)

We have a Powerbook 2400. The 2400 is a fairly old Mac laptop. It's a PowerMac but it can't run Mac OS X. It will be stuck on Mac OS 9 forever. Nevertheless, back in November of last year, we decided to upgrade it to a larger hard disk (it came with a 1.3 GB drive). We had recently upgraded the drives in our G3 Powerbooks so we had a pair of 12 GB hard drives just lying around. Why not swap one into the PB 2400?

Well, one reason "why not?" is that it's difficult to do. It turns out that the PB 2400 really has "no user-serviceable parts inside". Just getting inside is tricky. We finally found instructions on the web. The instructions were not encouraging.

The 2400 is indeed very scary on the inside. This procedure is definitely not for the faint of heart. However, even though its got a lot of screws, it doesn't require any forcing and bending of plastic or ribbon cables, which is more than I can say for some other PowerBooks, and everything just kind of comes in and out comfortably. If you've had experience taking moderately complex things apart before, this shouldn't be too bad.
OK, it shouldn't be too bad. How bad could it be?

You will need:
1. A grounding strap (don't be dumb about this)
...
7. A clean and uncluttered work surface

8. Lots of patience and organization

It is very, very, very important that you place every screw and part in such a way that you will know how to replace them. Don't even think about putting them all in a Dixie cup and figuring it out later. Take notes if you have to. Between 32 and 37 screws will come out, and they're many different sizes. I put them on the desk in order of extraction.

Rich did the actual take-apart. It requires two or three tiny-bladed Phillips head screwdrivers, very good light, a keen eye, and a lot of patience. It did not take a short time. He got the drive replaced and the PowerBook 2400 back together and... there were three or four screws left over.

We looked at each other. We rationalized. We dithered. We sighed.

Rich took the 2400 apart again. This time when he put it back together there was one screw left over. This time he said "No. One screw does not matter." So, we crossed our fingers, took deep breaths, and pressed the Power button.

It did not boot. Worse, it came up to a nasty little screen of nearly unreadable text (grey on darkgrey) that said we were in OpenFirmware. If you don't know what that means... you're better off for not knowing.

It turned out that Dumbo had made a mistake. (Dumbo is me when I do something so stupid I feel better referring to myself in the third person). Dumbo knew that the drive from the G3 had Mac OS X on it but... well,... in theory it had Mac OS 9 on it too and I just sort of thought the machine would boot the correct partition. I was worng [sic]. It seems I had gambled and lost. Now what?

Now we had a choice: go back inside the PowerBook or try to get it to boot from the hard drive. It wasn't much of a choice. Rich vetoed plan A. So, over the next month or so, on and off, when I had a spare tuit or two, I would try to get the 2400 to boot.

I asked a friend to return the external CD-ROM drive he had borrowed that works with a PB 2400 (the PB 2400 has a very, shall we say unusual, SCSI connector). I tried to boot from a CD. No dice. I tried a different CD. I asked friends for suggestions. Suggestions were supplied but not in any form I could readily use:

You should be able to boot into "SCSI Target Mode," wherein the 2400 operates like it is an external SCSI hard disk. Plug into some computer that supports SCSI and you can whack on the 2400's internal HD at will.

You need the right cable:

Apple HDI-30 SCSI Disk Adapter This adapter, model number M2539xx/A is specifically for SCSI Disk Mode, also known as HD Target Mode. It can be distinguished by its HDI-30 connector having 30 pins (5 rows of 6). ... When a 30-pin cable is plugged in, the 2400 automatically comes up as a target device.

The only issue is that you *should* set its target ID (SCSI ID) in a control panel before shutting down and inserting the 30-pin cable. Since you cannot do this, we don't know if a) it'll pick something useful, or b) it won't work at all.

Well, that was academically interesting...

So we put the 2400 on a shelf. Every now and then I would walk past it. Every so often we would discuss it (this usually led to one of those "discussions" that is a euphemism for a rousing, er, "Discussion". Occasionally, I would suggest that I would do the take-apart this time, but I wanted an assistant and moral support.

The PowerBook continued to sit on the shelf.

In recent months, we came up with a possible use for the PowerBook. But the PowerBook was still in suspended animation. Finally, this past Sunday, on a drive to the North Bay, we had another "rousing Discussion". We ended up promising each other that we would take the durn thing apart on Monday (a holiday and therefore a free slot on both our schedules). Amazingly, when Monday came, we still had momentum. We gathered PowerBook and screwdrivers and implements of destruction. I sat down at the kitchen table and started to take the PowerBook 2400 apart for the third time.

In the end, it was all pretty tame. I got the machine apart with only a little difficulty. One screw was "screwed" and had to be forcibly removed with a "tool of last resort", the aptly named "Screw-Out™ Damaged Screw Remover" (a most excellent tool; buy one for yourself). Rich helped when a second pair of hands was needed. When we got down to the drive Rich said "If we weren't so paranoid we'd try to load Mac OS 9 on that 12 GB drive." and I said "But we are." and swapped in the original 1.3GB drive.

Then I started reversing my steps, putting everything back. We couldn't find another screw to fit where Rich had forcibly removed the dotched one... but we made do (he shaved the sides flat and finished screwing it in with a pair of forceps :-) I needed help getting the various tiny ribbon cables reconnected — it turned out Rich was very good at that. I made one mistake with which screws went where; I had marked which screws were the "upper" and which the "lower" but didn't mark the location of the respective holes.

We even found a place for that one screw that was leftover last time.

Then... smoke test.

BONG!

It's coming up! There's the startup screen.... the marching icons... the Finder!

It's back together. It runs.

Rich says next time we have a project like this, he's just going to hand me the screwdrivers and let me do it.

Hardware Hackery - posted by Vicki at Thu, 08 Jul, 19:37 Pacific | Comments (0)

Sunday May 30, 2004

Fun With Meccano

When I was a kid, I wanted an Erector set very much. I think I must have asked for one for ChristmasOrMyBirthday several years in a row before I finally got one! But nothing I might ever have made from my Erector set could come close to the cool stuff that Tim Robinson has done with Mecanno.

Robinson says he's always been fascinated wwith Meccano, "almost exclusively with mechanism and models that 'do something real'." He recalls building "astronomical clocks, orreries, looms and other textile machinery, a gear cutting machine (which cut usable gears in brass), and perhaps most enduring, the differential analyzer (an analog computer)."

Wow.

His site features photos of a working differential analyzer as well as a small scale model of a difference engine.

[The differential analyzer] has four integrators each equipped with a two stage torque amplifier, a dual output table, and an input table. The modular construction makes it easy to extend, or to remove sections for maintenance.

Each leadscrew on the I/O tables or the integrators has a digital rotation counter attached, making initial setting of the machine simple and accurate.

...

[The difference engine] operates on principles very similar to Babbage's original designs, though the constraints of using only standard Meccano parts inevitably mean some aspects of the operation are somewhat different. The model can handle decimal numbers with up to four digits, and up to three orders of differences - similar in scope to the fragment of the original Difference Engine #1 which Babbage actually realized in 1832. There is no reason in principle (other than the limited world supply of 2 1/2" gears and ratchet wheels!) why it could not be extended to arbitrary sized numbers and an arbitrary order of differences.

...

Cooooool.
Fun With Meccano - posted by Vicki at Sun, 30 May, 00:25 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday February 07, 2004

Make Your Motor Cortex Dance

"Brain areas that are used to perform an action are also needed to comprehend words related to that action," ... "Remarkably, just the reading of feet-related action words such as dance makes [the motor cortex] move its 'feet.'"

[cf "The Brain's Word Act: Reading verbs revs up motor cortex areas", by Bruce Bower, in Science News, week of Feb 7, 2004

Wow! I like learning about how the brain processes words. A few years ago, we read of a study in which people who had been blind since birth or early childhood, but who had recently had their sight restored, were asked to identify images such as squares and triangles (at different angles, anywhere in their visual field). The results inside the brain differed markedly from those of people who had been sighted since birth.

Always-sighted people look at a triangle and see ... a triangle. Their brain "lights up" in a particular special area that says "I instantly know this shape". The people for whom sight was a relatively new thing also identified a triangle — but their brains were doing calculations to tell them what they saw. Their brain activity indicated that they saw, not an instantly recognizable shape, but three lines, three points three angles. They "built" a triangle in their minds, then determined that what they saw must in fact be a triangle.

Now we're getting some fascinating research into the relationship between language and action. (There's a book by S.I. Hayakawa called "Language in Thought and Action". The book is about Applied General Semantics.The title, however, resonates well with recent studies of neural activity, conducted in Cambridge, England.

ch930125_verbing
For more than 60 years, scientists have known that a strip of neural tissue that runs ear-to-ear along the brain's surface orchestrates most voluntary movement, from raising a fork to kicking a ball. A new brain-imaging study has revealed that parts of this so-called motor cortex also respond vigorously as people do nothing more than silently read words.

Not just any words get those neurons going, however. They have to be action words—active verbs.

As volunteers read a verb referring to a face, arm, or leg action—such as lick, pick, or kick—the motor cortex areas that control the specified action exhibit high rates of blood flow, a sign of intense neural activity, say neuroscientist Friedemann Pulvermüller of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England, and his colleagues. For instance, reading the word lick triggers pronounced blood flow in sites of the motor cortex associated with tongue and mouth movements.

Make Your Motor Cortex Dance - posted by Vicki at Sat, 07 Feb, 11:05 Pacific | Comments (0)

Sunday February 01, 2004

"Roll 'em" gets a new meaning!

The future of e-paper and rollable displays gets closer.

In a major step toward electronic paper that works like a computer monitor yet feels and behaves like a page of a book, researchers in the Netherlands have made electronic-ink displays on flexible plastic sheets.

A U.S. company developed the electronic ink over the past several years. "Just like your newspaper, you can see it in bright light, dim light, or from all angles," says Michael McCreary of E Ink in Cambridge, Mass.

The ink consists of millions of microcapsules, each one containing white and black pigments of opposite charge. When a certain voltage is applied, the white pigments rise to the surface and the black ones descend out of sight. An opposite voltage leads to black pigments on top. Each pixel in the display is controlled by its own silicon-based transistor.
...
The result: a display that a person can bend, roll, and even drop without fear of breaking it.
...
"This is a significant step toward display systems on plastic," says electrical engineer Ananth Dodabalapur of the University of Texas at Austin.

In a show of muscle, the Philips group has produced displays with close to 80,000 pixels, which the researchers claim are the largest and thinnest polymer electronics-based displays fabricated to date.
...
One ... product could be a display that rolls into a pen and can be carried around in a shirt pocket.

[cf. Flexible E-Paper: Plastic circuits drive paperlike displays, Science News, Week of Jan 31, 2004.

Oh, yeah!

The February 2004 issue of Scientific American also has a piece on flat displays, in this case it's the cover article. The article discusses OLEDs, organic light-emitting diodes. The substrates can be flexible plastic or even metal foil.

In the coming years, large-screen televisions and computer monitors coould roll up for storage. A soldier might unfurl a sheet of plastic showing a real-time simulation map. Smaller displays could be strapped around a person't forearm or incorporated into clothing. Used in lighting fixture, the panels could curl around an architectural column or lie almost wallpaperlike against a wall or ceiling.

[cf. Webster Howerd, "Better Displays with Organic Films", Scientific American, February 2004, pp 76 - 81. ]

Methinks Dr. Howard is an avid reader of Science Fiction. Still... his bio says he was led the development of OLED-based microdisplays as CTO of eMagin and was also awarded a prize from the Society for Information Display in 2003 for his contributions to flat-panel display technology. So, he does understand the possibilities.

Those possibilities seem mind-boggling. According to a side-bar in the Scientific American article, nearly 100 manufacturers are working at developing applications for OLEDs, including wearable computers, TV and computer screens, digital cameras, cellular phones, and (!!) an electric razor (Philips). The razor is listed as 'on the market" (Question: what does a razor need a screen for?)

Wow! Maybe we still can't bend or fold it, but it looks like the future will roll.

"Roll 'em" gets a new meaning! - posted by Vicki at Sun, 01 Feb, 07:35 Pacific | Comments (0)

Friday January 30, 2004

Happy Anniversary, Macintosh!

[ Lest anyone consider this entry to be belated, please consider that some people (such as myself :-) prefer to mark anniversaries by their proximity to other events. Apple aired the "1984" Macintosh introduction ad during halftime on Super Bowl Sunday, January 1984. This year, Super Bowl Sunday is later, on Feb. 1. ]

At halftime on Super Bowl Sunday, January 1984, Apple Computer aired one of the greatest commercials in the 37-year history of the Super Bowl. The ad is among the ten finalists for CBS.com's Super Bowl Greatest Commercials, which airs on Saturday, January 31st, 2004 at 9 pm.

Since 1967, there have been 37 Super Bowls, containing approximately 60 commercials in each, which works out to more than 2,200 Super Bowl commercials in all! We've narrowed the field down to ten.
On January 24, 1984, Apple introduced Macintosh. The first Macintosh (you didn't call it a "Mac" yet ;-) had 128K of memory (the same as the first Palm Pilot 1000), a 9" diagonal black and white (not grey scale) screen, a graphical user interface with a "desktop" metaphor, a one-button mouse and a floppy drive. It didn't have a hard drive (or any way to connect a hard drive). There were several applications, including Write and Paint, but no business software, yet. And it sold for $2500. (c.f. The Computer for the Rest of Us).

Although Rich and I were intrigued and spent several conversations discussing the possibilities (we even visited an Apple Store that February for a demonstration) we didn't buy one of the early Macintoshes. In fact, neither of us was "properly introduced" to Macintosh until September, 1986, when I joined Apple Computer to work on A/UX, Apple's first commercial, mass-market, Macintosh-based Unix offering (and even A/UX was not Apple's first dabble into Unix ;-)

The first Mac I had on my desk was a Mac Plus, with a whopping 1 MB of RAM and a 10 MB hard disk (not SCSI). I was soon upgraded to a 20 MB SCSI drive and then (wow) to a Mac II, the first of Apple's "open architecture" machines and the first machine to run A/UX. My first purchased Mac (on Apple's loan-to-own program) was a Mac IIci (a marvel of easy-to-work-on hardware design).

Today, Rich and I both use Mac OS by choice as our primary desktop systems. I switched in the late 1980s (an A/UX Mac was a great improvement over a VT-220!). I convinced Rich to abandon his Sun workstation in early 1996 (and he wrote 6 "I/Opener" columns for SunExpert, discussing and recording his adventure :). Over the past 15 years, we've also gotten most of our relatives (and a great many of our friends) onto the Path of the Mac.

We use Mac OS X (Panther). We're both pleased to see Unix rise again at Apple, this time playing to a more appreciative audience (both inside and outside the company). Although we both lust after the "latest, greatest, and fastest" Power Mac G5, we're each still running a blue & white G3 (we have to admit we have no rational need to upgrade).

We're both fully sold on the Mac interface and the Macintosh Way.

Happy Anniversary, Mac ol' buddy!

I can't wait to see what you do in the next 20 years!


1984_0 1984_0a 1984_1

1984_2 1984_3 1984_3a

1984_3b 1984_4 1984_5

Happy Anniversary, Macintosh! - posted by Vicki at Fri, 30 Jan, 19:41 Pacific | Comments (0)

Monday January 19, 2004

1 Terabyte. Really

In a bit of understatement, storage enclosure manufacturer LaCie announced the "Bigger Disk" this week, a device that houses a full terabyte of storage.

c.f. extremetech.com, "LaCie Boosts PC External Storage To 1 Terabyte", Jan 16, 2004


The LaCie Bigger Disk, with the largest hard drive capacity available, is a unique innovation that packs an amazing 1 terabyte of storage space in a manageable 5.25" form factor. With this unsurpassed storage capacity, the LaCie Bigger Disk allows users to store nearly two years of continuous music and up to one month of non-stop MPEG-2 video1. Truly plug and play, this device requires no driver or software installation for Windows XP and Mac OS X users.

c.f. LaCie.com

US$1200

Gosh. I can remember when the 20 MB hard disk from Apple was a "big thing". I can remember when prices dropped to a dollar a Megabyte. I can remember when we were impressed by the advent of the 1 GB disks.

References (from FOLDOC, the Free On-Line Dictionary of Computing.)

byte = 1 (standard) unit of storage. One byte typically holds one character.
kilobyte (KB; kilo = "thousand) = 2^10 or 1024 bytes
megabyte (MB; mega = "million") = 2^ 20 or 1,048,576 bytes = 1024 kilobytes. The text of a six hundred page paperback book would require about a megabyte of storage.
gigabyte (GB) = 1024 megabytes. Roughly the amount of data required to encode a human gene sequence (including all the redundant codons).
terabyte = 1024 gigabytes

1 Terabyte. Really - posted by Vicki at Mon, 19 Jan, 10:30 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday December 20, 2003

Verse Meter Analyzer

In The Eyre Affair (a Thursday Next novel), author Jasper Fforde describes Thursday's introduction to the Verse Meter Analyzer:

He opened the door to another side office. A pair of identical twins were operating a large computing engine. The room was uncomfortably hot from the thousands of valves, and the clicking of relays was almost deafening. This was the only piece of modern technology that I had seen so far in the office.

"These are the Forty brothers, Jeff and Geoff. The Fortys operate the Verse Meter Analyzer. It breaks down any prose or poem into its components — words, punctuation, grammar, and so forth — then compares that literary signature with a specimen of the target writer in its own memory. Eighty-nine percent accuracy Very useful for spotting forgeries. We had what purported to be a page of an early draft of Antony and Cleopatra. It was rejected on the grounds that it had too many verbs per unit paragraph."

The Verse Meter Analyzer exists only in Thursday's alternate universe, but something very much like it exists in our own.

Stylometry is the science of measuring literary style.

Stylometry is now entering a golden era. In the past 15 years, researchers have developed an arsenal of mathematical tools, from statistical tests to artificial intelligence techniques, for use in determining authorship. They have started applying these tools to texts from a wide range of literary genres and time periods, including theFederalist Papers, Civil War letters, and Shakespeare's plays.

"We can now pretty accurately identify authorship—under the right conditions," says John Burrows, an emeritus English professor of the University of Newcastle in Australia.

What's more, the tremendous growth of computer power and electronic archives of literary texts is allowing stylometrists to carry out mathematical analyses on a scale previously unimaginable.

[cf. Bookish Math: Statistical tests are unraveling knotty literary mysteries, Erica Klarreich, Science News Online, Week of Dec. 20, 2003; Vol. 164, No. 25 ]

Truth is occasionally stranger than fiction... in this case, it's only just as strange.
Verse Meter Analyzer - posted by Vicki at Sat, 20 Dec, 13:56 Pacific | Comments (0)

Sunday November 30, 2003

Terra-cotta warriors show their true colors

The terra-cotta warriors buried near the tomb of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, present a fierce challenge—to modern-day chemists. Since the site's discovery near Xi'an, China, in 1974, archaeologists have unearthed more than 1,500 of the life-size figures. But once the warriors see the light of day after more than 2,200 years of burial, their paint disappears, sometimes within minutes of exposure.

With an estimated 8,000 more figures still buried, scientists have been looking for ways to lock the paint in place. Now, a group of chemists in Germany has a technique that just might work.

Although the terra-cotta warriors excavated so far have lost their original color coats, a novel restoration technique could preserve the paint layer on the thousands of warriors that remain in the ground.

[c.f. The March of History: Terra-cotta warriors show their true colors, Alexandra Goho, Science News Online, Week of Nov. 29, 2003

Cool!

What's even more interesting (to me :-) is that this article's abstract arrived in my mailbox yesterday, the day after we watched the latest Lara Croft movie Tomb Raider II: The Cradle of Life. (Yes, I enjoyed the movie very much). The terra-cotta warriors are featured in a "bit part" in the movie. Synchronicity strikes again.

Terra-cotta warriors show their true colors - posted by Vicki at Sun, 30 Nov, 13:08 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday November 08, 2003

Powers of Ten

One of the coolest coffee table books of all time is Powers of Ten.
Back in 1968, designers Charles and Ray Eames made a 10-minute documentary film, titled Powers of Ten , showing what the universe looks like at different scales. Philip and Phylis Morrison were scientific advisors on the movie, which Philip narrated, and it was chosen in 1998 for preservation in the National Film Registry, which selects "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant motion pictures" for preservation. The Morrisons' book translates the film onto paper.

Starting with a view of a billion light-years, the book (like the film) moves inward, with each page being at one-tenth the scale of the previous one. In 25 steps, you're looking at a picnic by the shores of Lake Michigan, then plunging into a human hand, down through the cells inside it, the DNA inside the cells, the atoms inside the DNA, and the subatomic particles inside the atom. By the time you've gone a total of 40 steps, you're in a world of quantum uncertainty.

There is no better guide to the relative sizes of things in the universe, and no better teacher about what exponential, scientific notation really means. --Mary Ellen Curtin

[c.f. Amazon.com editorial review for the book version of Powers of Ten by Philip Morrison, Phylis Morrison, Office of Charles & Ray Eames ]. Also available on DVD.

Now, the Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida has recapitulated Powers of Ten as a Java applet (also available as a Windows screen saver).

View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree just outside the buildings of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.
Cool!

Java works so nicely on Mac OS X :-)

Powers of Ten - posted by Vicki at Sat, 08 Nov, 18:46 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday November 01, 2003

November is for Nuts

November isn't just for turkeys anymore.

November has been designated Georgia Pecan month. Is pecan pie a traditional part of your Thanksgiving feast? Add pecans to your stuffing this year! (I've always added almonds and hazelnuts; pecans would be tasty too). Or... try my family's recipe for cranberry gelatin salad, a tasty and light side dish to complement your Turkey Day dinner.

November is also Peanut Butter Lovers Month. Yummmm. (National Peanut Month is in March). I'm not sure how to add peanut butter to Thanksgiving... maybe some peanut butter cookies? Or peanut butter-stuffed celery as an appetizer! If you live near a Safeway store, try their house brand "100% natural peanut butter". It's our favorite.

Have a nutty month.

November is for Nuts - posted by Vicki at Sat, 01 Nov, 12:32 Pacific | Comments (0)

Sunday October 12, 2003

Does Winter make you SAD?

It's the middle of October. The middle of Autumn. The next three and a half months are my least favorite time of the year. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area, 37.8° North latitude (about even with Richmond, VA to the east); if we lived much further north, I probably wouldn't like February either.

Winter is too dark. The days are too short. It's bad enough right now, but on Sunday Oct. 26, we'll turn the clocks back. Then it will get darker even faster in the evening. Full dark by 5:30 pm. Yuch.

Throughout the centuries, poets have described a sense of sadness, loss and lethargy which can accompany the shortening days of fall and winter. Many cultures and religions have winter festivals associated with candles or fire. Many of us notice tiredness, a bit of weight gain, difficulty getting out of bed and bouts of "the blues" as fall turns to winter.

However some people experience an exaggerated form of these symptoms. Their depression and lack of energy become debilitating. Work and relationships suffer. This condition, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may affect over 10 million Americans while the milder, "Winter Blues" may affect a larger number of individuals.

The typical symptoms of SAD include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. Symptoms begin in the fall, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. Some individuals experience great bursts of energy and creativity in the spring or early summer. Susceptible individuals who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD-type symptoms at any time of year.

[c.f. Seasonal Affective Disorder and Light Therapy

My sister realized that the "winter blues" were real when she lived in Chicago, in an apartment where only the bedroom got much sun. She realized she was spending all of her at-home time in the bedroom, never in the living room or kitchen.

I used to work in a relatively dim home office — one standard 100W incandescent ceiling light. I have a window onto a sunroom, but never have a lot of bright sunlight. At jobs, I rarely had an office with a window, and I used to prefer a halogen "torchiere" lamp or two to the overhead fluorescent lights. Many office workers turn down the overhead lights to prevent glare.

Then I started to think about how winter makes me feel. I considered my sister's comments. I made some major adjustments to the way I think about lighting.

These days, Rich and I both have four 4-ft fluorescent ceiling fixtures in our home offices. We make sure we use a lot more light than we used to. Last summer I had a temporary job where I worked for 10 weeks in an office environment where most of the ceiling lights on the floor were disabled; it was like working in a cave! I asked Facilities to turn on the fixture above "my" cubicle. At least I had light. Still, the lack of windows on the floor was depressing. And, this was in summer.

If you're affected by the shorter, darker, days in winter, be sure you use more light in your home. There are special lamps available, for example the Litebook or the Sun Touch. These products have been coming down in price over the past few years but they are still expensive ($150 - $200). There are also special bulbs that produce a more "daylight-like" light; these are a LOT cheaper and can be placed in your ordinary fixtures.

The important thing to remember in the winter months is to get as much light as possible, preferably sunlight or bright indoor lights. Try to get outside during some of those short daylight hours and go for a walk. Install fluorescent fixtures to complement the incandescent lights in your home. Turn on the lights when you're in a room that has them. If you need more help, see your doctor.

This winter, perhaps you can avoid being SAD.

Does Winter make you SAD? - posted by Vicki at Sun, 12 Oct, 00:04 Pacific | Comments (0)

Wednesday October 01, 2003

Everything I know about UI design

Found on slashdot (this explains a few things about some of the programs I've used, especially on Windoze... - V.)
Everything I know about UI design, I learned from Games
  1. If the user doesn't have to stop what he's doing to solve an inexplicable puzzle every few minutes, he'll be done waaaay too fast.

  2. Obey the principle of most astonishment. Surprise the user as often as possible! Preferably with something terrifying that makes him literally fling himself out of his chair (example: the aliens in Alien Vs. Predator love to sneak up on you along walls and ceilings and suddenly let you have it from three directions -- a guaranteed excuse to press "pause" and go put on a new pair of underwear).

  3. If the user screws something up, HE MUST BE PUNISHED. Usually, this means his onscreen persona (resume, spreadsheet, etc) should die a wretched, gory death, scaring the crap out of the user (see #2) and he should have to start whatever he was doing over from his last save point. This of course encourages saving documents frequently, always a good thing with Microsoft software.

  4. If the software includes networking features, you MUST include a "taunt" feature. Allow preformatted taunts and on-the-fly taunts; both are equally fun for all. "Hey, BILL! Your powerpoint SUCKS!"

  5. And, finally, you have to include a few easter eggs and hidden areas. These should include a "must-have" that isn't granted to ordinary users (like, say, print preview).
And, people said video gaming wouldn't ever get me anywhere!

[c.f. User Interface Design for Programmers by crazyphilman (609923) on Wednesday October 01, @12:43PM

Everything I know about UI design - posted by Vicki at Wed, 01 Oct, 12:39 Pacific | Comments (0)

Wednesday September 17, 2003

What's Up? - Mac OS X Bits & Pieces

It's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone... not much to report. Some minor technical successes... (but would I really want to consider doing tech support for a living?)

I spent far too long trying to install an Epson Stylus Color InkJet printer under Mac OS X. We bought the printer 6 months or more ago, then never quite got around to installing it. In the meantime, I had mislaid the CD with the drivers... so I went to the Epson web page, naturally. However, I naively assumed that a Stylus C42UX printer was a "C40 series" printer. It's not... After several days of back and forth with the Epson Tech Support people by email (plus trying a different cable, etc), I discovered a totally different file I had downloaded months ago and forgotten I had. With a totally different name. Apparently the Stylus C42UX is a "C42 series" printer. Well, Duh. I wonder where that file is on the web site... I never saw it this time around. By the way, the printer works beautifully... now.

If you've ever gone searching for a nice word processing program that lets you create your own stationery, with background images that don't get written over, search no more. Take a look at LetterWorks from objectpark.development. Sorry, Windoze users, it's Mac OS X only. Time to switch? :-)

We made a pilgrimage to the Apple Store in Burlingame this evening; it's so nice to have a pleasant shopping experience where the sales folks are technically knowledgeable and know the product! We picked up a new Canon USB flatbed scanner (the CanoScan LiDE 30). Our previous scanner (a CanoScan N1240U) will go to a friend we are upgrading to Mac OS X. It's a pretty little scanner (the two models are virtually identical; it's just that I figure if I paid for it I get to keep the newer one :-) Canon has (finally) developed a Mac OS X native driver (although the included image editing program still runs under Classic mode); if you have PhotoShop 7.0 you can import and edit images in X. We're still waiting (impatiently) for the Mac OS X native port of ColorIt!... due any time now...

What's Up? - Mac OS X Bits & Pieces - posted by Vicki at Wed, 17 Sep, 21:48 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday September 13, 2003

One Very Big "Oops"

Ooooouch.

As the NOAA-N Prime spacecraft was being repositioned from vertical to horizontal on the "turn over cart" at approximately 7:15 PDT today, it slipped off the fixture, causing severe damage. (See attached photo). The 18' long spacecraft was about 3' off the ground when it fell.

c.f. spaceref.com - Sept. 09, 2003

One Very Big "Oops" - posted by Vicki at Sat, 13 Sep, 10:45 Pacific | Comments (0)

Tuesday September 02, 2003

Hooray for Peanut Butter

I've always liked peanut butter; lately I've discovered it's actually good for me (Unfortunately, I don't think Reeses cups count :-)
Eating low glycemic index foods such as peanut butter, yogurt, beans and broccoli along with a diet high in cereal fiber can significantly reduce the risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes in women, according to a new Harvard School of Public Health study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

c.f. Peanut Butter Lovers.com

Rich and I have been discussing reducing carbohydrates in our diet... cutting down on the "High Glycemic Index" foods. So now, instead of peanut butter toast, I'm going to be eating my peanut butter on celery. Gee, peanut butter and more fiber too.

Low-Carb and Glycemic Index References:

  • The new Glucose Revolution, Miller, et al
  • How I Gave Up My Low-Fat Diet and Lost 40 pounds, Dana Carpender
  • Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, Robert C. Atkins (this comes in 4 different formats, hardcover, trade paper, regular paper and the 'old" edition, and thus 3 different price tags and several versions!)
  • Dr. Atkins' Carbohydrate Gram Counter, Robert C. Atkins - looks useful as it gives both Carbs and "Net" Carbs (the ones that impact blood sugar) as well as fiber counts
Hooray for Peanut Butter - posted by Vicki at Tue, 02 Sep, 23:48 Pacific | Comments (0)

Friday August 22, 2003

Last week's blackout

[The satellite photo I posted earlier was a hoax :( Sigh. These are real]
Left is approx. 20 hours before the blackout; right is approx 7 hours into the blackout. Click images to enlarge.

I know a couple of people who were within the black-out zone.

Elizabeth lives in Toronto; she wrote this on Saturday night (Aug. 16):

i'm alive and well and staying at my mother's house. she got power back at about noon on friday, and apparently my little corner of toronto didnt get power back til midday today. i had just finished purchasing a bottle of wine when the lights went out, lol, and it came in handy after a somewhat harrowing trip home. one of my co-workers and myself thought we would have to walk because the subway was down, and no buses go from where i work to where i live. i lucked out in asking a cab driver who's light was off if he was free. he was kind enough to work out a deal with us (because between us we only had $20.00). so two hours after leaving work i got home (a trip that usually only takes 45minutes). so i spent the evening eating whatever cold food i had in the fridge, drinking red wine in the candlelight with my cats ! lol.

my brother decided to go to my mother's house as she had power, and we didnt know when we would get power, and pretty well insisted i go, though i didnt really want to...i didnt want to leave the kitties alone. apparently we got our hydro back around 1pm today, so my brother and i will head back to toronto tomorrow. i couldnt get to work on friday as the subway wasnt working, so it will be interesting to see if they have it up and running on monday. apparently they are still having problems with the hydro and not everyone in toronto has it, and they may have rolling blackouts. what fun and games. i didnt realize til thursday/friday how much i rely on tv/internet/radio for my info...i had to call my supervisor on friday and ask her what was happening. lol. sorry for such a long e-mail.

Peg lives in NYC (this was her account from Friday/Saturday)

Hope all didn't have too much hardship. Most New Yorker's were quite laid back about it. After 911 - we take these things in stride.

I left work in lower Manhattan at apx 4:30 & got home (east 70s) apx 9:30. Combo of walking, catching a bus, sitting in traffic, part of a pretty good run up 1st Ave. Then sitting in traffic til someone on the street said the jam went to about 60th street. Bus was about 32nd. S0 - got out & walked.

Along the way, citizens were directing traffic. Drivers were cooperating. You could tell the corners where there were co-op or condo building. Those were REALLY COORDINATED. On one, I think I definitely spotted the co-op president - very much in charge. Then there was the guy selling ice-cream to the drivers stuck in traffic.

Or the little old man on a dim corner warning people about a curb you couldn't see. Lots of building parties - tenants just parked in fron of the building with drinks food & candles. If you stayed on the main Ave - the stuck cars gave light to the sidewalks. You really didn't want to go down the side streets unless you had a flashlight. Some notice people around them without light & swung their flashlight around while they walked to help others around them. Some businesses did a bang up volume if they could stay open -selling lights drinks etc. A few bar/restaurants were open with huge parties spilling out into the street. If I were 20-30 - I would have stopped in. Most restaurants were closed. The local pizza places had lines down the street.

As I got closer to my building, started to worry about actually getting to my apt. Well - several neighbors had set up candles in the lobby. The super & some others were going up the stairs with flashlights to assist people getting to their apts. Someone had extra candles if needed. BOY was I happy to get home. My cats were very happy to see me. Night ended well. A neighbor had some friends in for a blackout get- together.

Saturday was the defrosted food dinner - a few of us brought whatever we could make from the food that was OK but you didn't want to re- freeze it. Quite a good mix actually.

I grew up here & remember the transit strike in the 60's when I walked to/from work over the Brooklyn Bridge. The blackout of 65 - walked with my father up to the park which overlooked Manhattan and the harbor. It was the most beautiful sunset - but eeerie. No lights from Manhattan, but the colors of the sunset (red, orange, purple) reflected off the glass of lower manhattan. I still have a vivid mental image. Beautiful. Blackout of 77 - scary. Lots of looting, arson, riots. My neighbor came down to sleep on my couch. She had a studio. It was the outside of the building but someone still climbed up & tried to get into her apt. She scared them away - but she didn't want to be alone & I was VERY happy for the company.

Last week's blackout - posted by Vicki at Fri, 22 Aug, 20:46 Pacific | Comments (0)

Monday August 18, 2003

The Ambient Orb

Oooooh. I want a new toy!
The Ambient Orb is a device that slowly transitions between thousands of colors to show changes in the weather, the health of your stock portfolio, or if your boss or friend is on instant messenger. It is a simple wireless object that unobtrusively presents information. ...

The Orb arrives set to indicate the Dow - glowing more green to indicate market movement up and red to indicate movement down... It can be customized to a set of free channels, such as market indices...or weather in select cities. Optionally, you can upgrade to access more premium channels, such as your customized portfolio, local weather, pollen count, or IM buddy watch. There's also a developer interface where any semi-savvy web programmer can control the color of their Orb with a simple http "get" call. Track how full your hard drive is, traffic on your website, Slashdot posts, or your credit-card debt.

I want one of these!

See more at Think Geek

The Ambient Orb - posted by Vicki at Mon, 18 Aug, 21:39 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday August 16, 2003

Close Encounters

Look for it in the night sky - an increasingly brighter, reddish "star" near the moon. That's not a star; it's the planet Mars.

Earth and Mars are rapidly converging. On August 27, 2003--the date of closest approach--the two worlds will be 56 million km apart. That's a long way by Earth standards, but only a short distance on the scale of the solar system.

Between now and August, Mars will brighten until it "blazes forth against the dark background of space with a splendor that outshines Sirius and rivals the giant Jupiter himself." Astronomer Percival Lowell, who famously mapped the canals of Mars, wrote those words to describe the planet during a similar close encounter in the 19th century.

[c.f. Approaching Mars, Science@NASA]

At the beginning of August Mars will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m. By the end of August when the Earth and Mars are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m.

Astronomers call these close encounters "perihelic oppositions." Perihelic means Mars is near perihelion--its closest approach to the sun. (The orbit of Mars, like that of all planets, is an ellipse, so the distance between the sun and Mars varies.) Opposition means that the sun, Earth and Mars are in a straight line with Earth in the middle. Mars and the sun are on opposite sides of the sky. When Mars is at opposition and at perihelion--at the same time--it is very close to Earth.
I saw it for the first time last night. Mars and the moon were the only thing we could see, given the cloud cover. It was definitely bright and sort of orangeish and bright.. Tres cool.
Close Encounters - posted by Vicki at Sat, 16 Aug, 12:10 Pacific | Comments (0)

Thursday August 14, 2003

Gadgets and Gizmos

I've discovered two new gadget sites recently.

The first, Gizmodo ("The Gadgets Weblog") is for techie toys: PDAs, cellphones, cameras, etc. Take a look at the article about the iBOT 3000, a wheelchair that climbs stairs!

The other site is a bit more prosaic. If you're not into computer tech, you may prefer The Gadget Source, ("The Authority for Kitchen Gadgets"). They even have a Kitchen Gadget of the Month Club. Oooohhhh... And me without a steady income :-( ... I found this site while looking for a source for a metal sink strainer I bought a few years ago at a (long-forgotten) store. (The strainer is a most excellent sink accessory. I recommend it highly).

Gadgets and Gizmos - posted by Vicki at Thu, 14 Aug, 11:22 Pacific | Comments (0)

Sunday August 10, 2003

Hearing New Voices

One of the best things about the WWW is how much interesting information is available - how many new things you can learn if you keep your eyes open. Weblogs make even more information available, as people share links, news, and personal stories. The WWW is both a community and a community-enhancing tool.
Though there's a lot of talk about newspapers and politicians and celebrities having weblogs, we are continually reminded that the most amazing thing about weblogs is how they let average people share their unique perspectives on life.
The above quote is from Six Log, the weblog for Six Apart, the company behind Moveable Type (the weblog engine I use for this weblog) and TypePad (a new weblog service). Here's more:
Two of the sites that have caught our attention recently are Bionic Ear Blog by Meryl Evans and Perry Miller's Cochlear Implants: A Mate's Perspective .

As the title of Perry's site suggests, both weblogs are about cochlear implant technology, which is restoring or improving hearing function for people who've lived most of their lives with profound hearing loss. Reading about these experiences allows all of us to learn from someone who is going through the implantation procedure or to follow someone whose spouse is learning to live a new life enabled by these remarkable devices. It's a good reminder that the best technologies are those that help us communicate with the people who matter in our lives.

[c.f. Hearing New Voices on Six Log]

I've been interested, at least peripherally, in deafness, Deaf culture, and related areas, since I picked up a copy of "A Basic Course in Manual Communication" (publ. by the Nat'l Association of the Deaf), way back when I was in High School. Then I took an American Sign Language (ASL) course, and another...

I've been using the WWW since its infancy in 1994. In the past few years, I have become more and more interested in the social engineering aspects of the web, from simple "home pages" to online forums, Wikis, weblogs, and so much more...,. I continue to be fascinated by the many ways in which web technologies help people to communicate, collaborate, socialize, and interact with each other.

... the best technologies are those that help us communicate with the people who matter in our lives.
Hearing New Voices - posted by Vicki at Sun, 10 Aug, 13:20 Pacific | Comments (0)

Friday August 08, 2003

The Forrester Electronic Toy Show

We went to a presentation yesterday at PARC (The Palo Alto Research Center). Daniel Rasmus and Rob Enderle, both industry analysts, provided an amusing presentation of "business and consumer gadgets and toys", from notebook computers, to handhelds, to cases, cameras, power supplies, and things we wouldn't have guessed existed. How about a gadget vest with many many pockets, ala Dilbert? For cooler weather, it has zip-in sleeves. Or, how about a laptop backpack that looks more like a baby carrier; it's so unusual that Mr. Enderle says he's stopped in security check points simply to explain what it is.

Some things were neat, many were... strange. Several gadgets caused us look at each other, raise our eyebrows, and mouth "Why would anyone...?". The one thing I came away lusting after was the Veo Network Camera. Nevertheless, it was a fun presentation, all in all.

The Forrester Electronic Toy Show - posted by Vicki at Fri, 08 Aug, 15:04 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday August 02, 2003

Is that fruit ripe?

A friend sent me this, from an article called "Ripe Now," by Jeffrey Steingarten (reprinted in "Cookwise," by Shirley Corriher).

So those incredible baseball-sized peaches we get at our local grocery this time of year, that go from hard to juicy in 3 days, were that sweet and nice to begin with?! Interesting.

I wonder if plums and nectarines fit in with peaches...


Aug 2, 2003

Also from my friend:
Shirley Corriher's book Cookwise is filled with this great stuff. Also, Alton Brown's I'm Only Here for the Food makes the info a bit more fun. Both great books.
I don't doubt it. There are some wonderful food books. We love Calvin Trillin's writings, as well as Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. If you can find it, Food (out of print), by Waverly Root is a joy to flip through. We got lucky once and found a stack at a used bookstore - great for presents. Also, for a slightly more "technical" approach, look for On Food and Cooking and The Curious Cook by Harold McGee.
Is that fruit ripe? - posted by Vicki at Sat, 02 Aug, 08:07 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday July 26, 2003

Re-defining the commuter car

(not to mention the concept of "back-seat driver")

The Tango, the first vehicle produced by Commuter Cars, is a glimpse into the future of commuting where we hope wasted time, energy, and freeway real estate due to traffic jams will be things of the past. The safety, size, and efficiency features of the Tango will be found in every vehicle we ever produce.
It's electric. It's tiny. It's cute. It looks like it's been squished between two big rigs :-)
At 39 inches wide and 8 feet 5 inches long, it's skinnier than some motorcycles and shorter than many a living-room couch. It runs on batteries, not gas. ...zero to 60 in less than 4 seconds ... 80 miles per charge; three hours to recharge in a dryer socket.
Demo models are currently zipping around Spokane, Seattle, and Montréal ... maybe we'll see them on the streets someday.

Re-defining the commuter car - posted by Vicki at Sat, 26 Jul, 10:02 Pacific | Comments (0)

Friday July 25, 2003

San Francisco Factoid - BART Transbay tube

== The San Francisco Factoid ==
Essential local trivia you'll probably forget almost immediately

BART's landmark transbay tube was completed in August, 1969. Constructed in 57 sections and reposing on the bay floor as deep as 135 feet beneath the surface, the $180 million structure took six years of seismic studies to design, and less than three years to contract. Before it was closed to visitors for electrification, thousands of adventurous folks had walked, jogged, and bicycled through the tube. It received a dozen major engineering awards and rapidly became famous, seeming to capture the imagination of visitors from all over the world.

[c.f. Mark Morford, SF Gate Morning Fix, July 25, 2003]
San Francisco Factoid - BART Transbay tube - posted by Vicki at Fri, 25 Jul, 11:21 Pacific | Comments (0)

Thursday July 24, 2003

Eat Fish? There's a catch...

Eat more fish! But not too much fish. And not the wrong kind of fish.

Eating plenty of fish, nuts and oil-based salad dressings that contain polyunsaturated fatty acids cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, researchers said on Monday.

A seven-year study of 815 nursing home residents -- 131 of whom developed the brain-robbing disease -- found those who reported eating fish at least once a week had a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer's compared to those who rarely or never ate fish.

[c.f. Reuters AlertNet article, July 21, 2003]

But be wary.... too much of the wrong kind of fish can lead to memory loss and other health problems! Large predator fish (some of the tastiest fish) such as tuna, halibut, swordfish, red snapper, flounder, and freshwater bass, have on occasion shown unsafe levels of mercury. Dr. Jane Hightower, an internal medicine specialist in San Francisco, found that eating 'too much of the wrong kind of fish can give you a nasty case of mercury poisoning".

Dr. Hightower's conclusions are discussed in the August issue of Reader's Digest and the April issue of ELLE Magazine (summarized at HealthNewsDigest.com) and elsewhere (MSNBC News, LA Times article, SF Chronicle article).

The Reader's Digest article (August 2003 issue) recommends no more than 2 meals per month of the worst offenders; pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children under 8 should avoid these fish altogether.

Eat Fish? There's a catch... - posted by Vicki at Thu, 24 Jul, 16:15 Pacific | Comments (0)

Microsoft's Patent Problem

I don't personally approve of software patents; I think they are bogus almost by definition. I've seen too many "inventions" that are nothing more than implementations of ideas that any reasonably bright programmer could have come up with. That said, this article causes me certain bemusement. On the one hand, I think s/w patents are wrong. On the other hand, they exist and, on the third hand, I tend to be in favor of just about anything that keeps Micro$oft from taking over more of the world, Borg-style.

Last month, when Microsoft announced its bellwether decision to award employees restricted stock instead of options, it also made news in a federal courtroom—the kind of news you keep quiet about.

Microsoft suffered utter defeat at a crucial pretrial hearing in what appears to be the highest-stakes patent litigation ever—one in which a tiny company called InterTrust Technologies claims that 85% of Microsoft's entire product line infringes its digital security patents.
...
As agreed before the hearing, the parties now enter a round of settlement talks. Though InterTrust declines to place a pricetag on the suit, it's hard to imagine the company settling now for any sum that does not have a "B" in it.
...

Read the complete Fortune Magazine article, posted July 23 on www.fortune.com (or on paper, published in the August issue, Vol. 148, No. 3, of the print magazine).
Microsoft's Patent Problem - posted by Vicki at Thu, 24 Jul, 09:26 Pacific | Comments (0)

Tuesday July 22, 2003

Science Buddies Mentoring Program

Started by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Science Buddies gives students throughout the SF Bay Area additional support to carry out successful science fair projects. Science Buddies is currently working with over 700 participants from a seven-county area in Northern California.

Science Buddies is a peer e-mentoring program for middle and high school students involved in science fairs. The hands-on program is structured with a schedule, deliverables, and a final goal of completing a science fair project and entering it in a Bay Area science fair. Top high school science students (Mentors) are matched with less experienced students (Investigators) and take the lead mentoring role on a science fair project. The Investigator does the actual work; the high school Mentor offers guidance and feedback. Adult advisors, usually professional scientists, complete each team and back up Mentors when they need it.

Read more at http://www.sciencebuddies.org or in the San Jose Mercury News article from March, 2002.

I never did a science fair project... maybe if something like this had been in place when I was in High School, I would have.

Science Buddies Mentoring Program - posted by Vicki at Tue, 22 Jul, 13:26 Pacific | Comments (0)

Doctors carry out first successful tongue transplant

A patient who doctors say is the first-ever recipient of a human tongue transplant is recovering and shows no signs of rejecting the new organ, his Austrian doctors said.
...
Dr [Rolf] Ewers said the team of doctors had been preparing for two years to carry out the tongue transplant, but had until now either lacked a candidate for the operation or an appropriate donor.

"And now finally after long training we were able to carry it out," Dr Christian Kermer said.

He said there is no evidence in the medical literature that such an operation has even been carried out on humans and that his team felt convinced they were the first.

Read more in this article from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Doctors carry out first successful tongue transplant - posted by Vicki at Tue, 22 Jul, 13:12 Pacific | Comments (0)

Wednesday July 16, 2003

Meowlingual

I'm actually fairly fluent in feline (especially the Coonese dialect :-), but still, I wouldn't mind trying one of these!
Jul 16, 7:55 am ET

TOKYO (Reuters) - Now that you can interpret what your dog is saying, how about your cat?

Takara Co, a major Japanese toy maker, said on Wednesday it would launch a device called the "Meowlingual" that can interpret a cat's meow, hoping to repeat its success with the "Bowlingual," a dog translation device.

Takara said the Meowlingual, a palm-sized electronic console that displays the interpreted phrase on a screen, will be priced at 8,800 yen ($74.62) and it would aim to sell 300,000 units by the end of March 2004.

Takara has sold about 300,000 dog translation devices in Japan since last year and plans to launch an English-language product in the U.S. market in August for about $120.

It has already rolled out the product in South Korea. The news hoisted Takara shares, which rose 5.68 percent to 781 yen by the midsession close.

[found at news.excite.com and posted to a cats discussion mailing list...]


July 17, 2003

meowlingual.jpg

Japanese cat Komachi (L) meows at American Shorthair Mick as they are held with the mock-up 'Meowlingual' device, which is can translate various meows into over 200 human words, at an unveiling in Tokyo, July 17, 2003. REUTERS/Eriko Sugita [found at story.news.yahoo.com ]

Meowlingual - posted by Vicki at Wed, 16 Jul, 11:12 Pacific | Comments (0)

Tuesday July 08, 2003

Rubber Ducky you're so fine...

Curt Ebbesmeyer has been tracking plastic ducks at sea. Dr. Ebbesmeyer, a retired oceanographer, says that anytime now the plastic ducks, and three other plastic species from the same shipment that's already washed up, in part, in Hawaii and Alaska, could turn up in Iceland, Canada or New England.
Today on NPR, Robert Seigel spoke with oceanographer and "flotsamologist" Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who tracks cargo lost off ships. Ebbesmeyer is currently watching a flock of rubber ducks, which has made its way from the Pacific to the North Atlantic. Listen to the story on All Things Considered Audio. Transcript also available ($4.95).
Rubber Ducky you're so fine... - posted by Vicki at Tue, 08 Jul, 23:50 Pacific | Comments (1)

Friday July 04, 2003

Virtual Fireworks

Happy Independence Day.

Try these virtual fireworks and have a happy and safe holiday. (Note: Requires Java; Java may take minute or two to load.)

Virtual Fireworks - posted by Vicki at Fri, 04 Jul, 14:56 Pacific | Comments (0)

Wednesday June 25, 2003

3 long days under WWDC

I spent Monday - Wednesday (9am - 6pm) manning a small MacTech booth in the Exhibits Hall for WWDC (Apple's annual World Wide Developers Conference). The conference was well attended - 3800 people. The Exhibit Hall had some 70 exhibitors - and essentially no "customers".

Part of the problem was the location. In the past, WWDC has always been in the San Jose Convention Center. Exhibits, break areas, sessions, lunch, have always been on the same level of the building. But this year, WWDC was moved from May to June and from San Jose to San Francisco, to the new Moscone West convention center building. The exhibits (and lunch) were on the first floor. Sessions and break areas were on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Except for lunch (2 hours each day) there are no scheduled breaks at WWDC. So, people either hurry from session to session, or spend short breaks talking to friends, checking email, grabbing a snack - this year, all on the 2nd and 3rd floors. One (or two) levels above the Exhibit Hall.

From 9 to noon and again from 2 to 6, the Exhibit Hall was a desert. One exhibitor, across the aisle from the MacTech booth, decided to pack it in and give up around 3pm Tuesday. Unfortunately for him, the Powers That Be (the show organizers) put a stop to his plan. So... he logged out the computer and left the building. Someone else did the teardown on Wednesday afternoon. They could stop him from dismantling his booth but they couldn't keep him on the floor.

Monday I people-watched (mostly the other exhibitors). Tuesday and Wednesday I brought my Powerbook. I discovered Bejeweled - it's worth the hype, I think. Quite pretty and a nice diversion for those long dry periods when there is nothing else to do. I could play until someone came up to drop off their free trial subscription card, talk to that person for a moment, then return to the game. No real state to maintain or concentration to break. One of the other vendors stopped by and said "You must really like games". Actually, I rarely play games... except when I am very, very bored. This week I downloaded and tried over a dozen games for Mac OS X - and I registered 4. I must have been really bored :/

Also at the show: ayoine who ever used a Yoyo CallerID device on Mac OS 8 should check out the PhoneValet from Parliant. PhoneValet will be released soon... I've been waiting for this product for several years!

3 long days under WWDC - posted by Vicki at Wed, 25 Jun, 22:28 Pacific | Comments (0)

Monday June 09, 2003

Amazing JavaScript Clock

Have you seen the Amazing JavaScript Web Clock? It's cool.

N.B.

  1. The clock requires JavaScript.
  2. Mac users note: The clock does not work under Safari Beta 2; try IE.5 (a bug report has been filed)
(Apparently the Javascript also does not work under OmniWeb, Camino/Chimera, or Netscape either... any JavaScript gurus who can figure out why not, please let me know!)
Amazing JavaScript Clock - posted by Vicki at Mon, 09 Jun, 10:00 Pacific | Comments (0)

Saturday June 07, 2003

Herbal Mosquito Repellant

Want a natural way to fight mosquitoes? Something without nasty pesticides?

Try catnip! Apparently it repels mosquitoes (and your cats will love you for it).

A natural way to fight mosquitoes

by Richard Fagerlund (The Bug Man)
The San Francisco Chronicle, June 7, page E4

Q: We have a problem with mosquitoes every year. Is there anything we can do to alleviate the problem?

A: You need to try to find out where they are breeding. If you have standing water on your property, you need to eliminate it. If they are coming from somewhere else and you can't locate their breeding area, then all you can do is to make sure your home is well screened and to wear a repellent when you go outside.

There are a number of repellents on the market. Unfortunately, most of them contain pesticides, particularly a pesticide known as DEET. Although the government says using DEET products is safe if label directions are followed, I personally have a problem spraying pesticides on my skin.

There are natural alternatives that work just as well as DEET products, including catnip. Until recently catnip oil had to be applied by smearing it on the skin. Now there is a catnip spray available that is not only effective, it is not expensive.

I used it all last year because I have lots of mosquitoes where I live. I found it to last almost two hours before having to reapply it. As anyone knows who reads my columns, I never recommend anything that I haven't personally tried and catnip, in my opinion, is the best alternative to pesticides in repelling mosquitoes (and my cats love to be carried around when I am wearing it). One distributor of catnip mosquito repellent is www.insectrepel.com ; the toll-free number is (800) 356-5099.

c.f. S.F. Chronicle article
Herbal Mosquito Repellant - posted by Vicki at Sat, 07 Jun, 22:43 Pacific | Comments (2)

Monday May 26, 2003

Miracle safe bee spray

It's bee season; we had three yellow jackets today trying to get into the screen porch - somehow they find their way in between the screen and the glass. Then, if they can figure out how, they're only one step away from being inside the screen porch. Ayiee!

So it's time once again for me to share the recipe for the Miracle Bee spray - harmless to humans and pets, lethal to bees, cleans your windows while you're at it.

Ingredients:

Put the water in the bottle, put the soap in the water, swirl to mix (don't shake hard; you want it evenly distributed, not foaming.

Next time a bee gets in the house, spray it. It may take a few squirts. The soapy water screws up their breathing mechanism. Then you can wait, or mash the bee, whatever you prefer.

So much easier than running around with a rolled-up magazine, yelling :)

Miracle safe bee spray - posted by Vicki at Mon, 26 May, 15:46 Pacific | Comments (1)

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 :-)

A couple of days ago, I bought a new telephone from Radio Shack, for the bedroom. It's a nice small size and fits in the minimal space alloted to it. We turn off the ringer on the bedroom phone; so I looked at the instructions and yes, the rinnger volume can be set to off. But there's a note:

Note: If you choose to turn the ringer off by selecting digit 0, the next time you pick up the receiver, the ringer will reset to the previous setting.
Excuse me? Every time I lift the receiver the volume reverts to "On"? What were they Thinking?!

Dismayed, I brought the problem to Mr. Electric who said "No problem". He clipped the leads to the ringer, then reconnected the ringer to the pulse/tone switch on the side of the phone. I now have a (physical) on/off switch for the ringer and I can set the "on" volume and tone as desired.

Maybe Rich should hire himself out as a consultant to Radio Shack...

Volume Control #2 - posted by Vicki at Tue, 29 Apr, 23:42 Pacific | Comments (0)

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 - posted by Vicki at Fri, 25 Apr, 23:15 Pacific | Comments (0)

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..

We missed the first keynote today, but caught the second, Google, Innovation, and the Web, presented by Craig Silverstein, the first employee hired by Google's founders and now Google's Director of Technology. The talk really impressed me. Google, Inc. combines careful hiring practices, a short but articulate mission statement, innovation, experimentation, focus on user experience, and a firm understanding of the need for process. Not only that, they have been successful with this combination and believe they will continue to be successful. I was impressed; here's a company that actively pursues code reviews, status updates, engineer testing, and product maintenance. Wow.

The third keynote featured Eric Drexler who provided a fascinating, animated discussion of the past, present, and possible futures of nanotechnology, entitled Nanotechnology: Bringing Digital Control to Matter . He began with an interesting question: What is the main digital storage system on the laptop computer in front of you? The surprising answer: It's not the hard disk. It's the DNA in the myriad bacteria that are contaminating the surface of the machine and its parts.

Nanotechnology can harness the principles demonstrated by the bacteria, the principles demonstrated in Nature by chemical reactions, biological systems, and physics. The starting point in understanding what Nanotechnology can be is to realize a fundamental principle: If a given thing exists, things like that other thing are possible. Nature shows us that molecular machine systems can exist: cheaply, cleanly, and working with molecular precision.

If you are interested in the future of Nanotechnology, take a look at the sites for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology as well as Dr. Drexler's organization, the Foresight Institute.

If you are interested in any of the technologies I've discussed in the past three days, consider attending next year's Emerging Technologies Conference. It should provide a lot to think about!

ETech Con - Day Three - posted by Vicki at Fri, 25 Apr, 23:00 Pacific | Comments (0)

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 - posted by Vicki at Thu, 24 Apr, 21:35 Pacific | Comments (0)

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 - posted by Vicki at Wed, 23 Apr, 23:30 Pacific | Comments (0)

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 - posted by Vicki at Mon, 21 Apr, 23:30 Pacific | Comments (0)

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 - posted by Vicki at Fri, 18 Apr, 22:16 Pacific | Comments (0)

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 issue of Discover magazine.

Garbage In, Oil Out - posted by Vicki at Wed, 16 Apr, 22:00 Pacific | Comments (1)

Saturday April 05, 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.... - posted by Vicki at Sat, 05 Apr, 10:18 Pacific | Comments (0)

Thursday April 03, 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 - posted by Vicki at Thu, 03 Apr, 12:09 Pacific

Tuesday May 14, 2002

The earth moved (but we didn't notice)

There was an earthquake at 10 pm last night. Magnitude 5.2, centered in Gilroy, which is about 75 miles south of us. We didn't feel it. If you're interested, there is information available at the SF Chronicle Earthquake site.

Map of the Quake Area

0513 quake image
The earth moved (but we didn't notice) - posted by Vicki at Tue, 14 May, 19:59 Pacific