Thursday, August 31, 2006

Try reading backwards

Dedication page for 1931Google announced yesterday that it is now possible to download full PDF versions of out-of-print books via Google Book Search.

The Google blog entry links to a fun-looking book: 1931: A Glance at the Twentieth Century. It's a speculative look fifty years in the future, penned in 1881.

I noticed something interesting: you can flip back through unnumbered pages to see the dedication page for the particular volume scanned by Google. Flip back another page, and you can look at the cover.

I tried this with a few other books, and it worked on them too.

I like this ability to examine elements that are unique to a particular copy of a book. It makes the whole digitized book experience, well, a bit more "bookish."


Digging misogynism is a great resource for keeping abreast of news stories. Users "digg" the stories that they find most interesting. Highly dugg stories bubble up to the front page, where they receive widespread attention. Users add comments about stories, and the comments themselves are dugg up or down. Often, spirited debates break out.

I admit to being a digg addict; it's a compelling way to keep abreast of the news, and of the ever-shifting reactions of the public. Discussions like this one, however, make it all too clear who makes up the user base. The story under discussion, which hit the front page today, is about girls scoring higher than boys on the writing portion of the SAT.

The first comment to appear was "Writing is a great skill for secretaries." As of this post, that comment has received 82 diggs. In other words, it's a big hit with the users.

Other comments follow a similar vein:

  • girls are better at making up their own answers than figuring out the correct answer.
  • I live in Spain and most girls here get better grades than the male counterparts. BUT, once out in the real world with big careers they don’t know how to implement their knowledge. In another words they learn to study and memorise things but they just can’t apply them. So they end up being teachers.
  • Bull-dykes of the world, rejoice!
Who are these people? According to a recent BusinessWeek article, they're 94% male, and they're predominantly below 30. Be that as it may, the rampant misogynism is more than a little troubling. One would hope that men's attitudes toward women would be...evolving, somehow. Is it just the tired old problem of men feeling threatened by successful women?

One user summed up my own feelings on this rather well:
I'm not surprised at the (barely) latent hostility towards women in the posts so far. Most of the guys here are probably afraid to talk to them. What I am surprised at is the effort to rationalize the difference away. Is it that hard to believe that women are, in general, getting smarter?


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Five questions

Busy week. Let me throw five questions out there and see what your thoughts are:

  • Does the Grateful Dead have any artistic merit?
  • Vast numbers of Americans devote a large percentage of their thinking to spectator sports trivia. Would we be better off if all that mental energy were devoted to something else? If so, what?
  • What's your favorite group name? (Mine is an unkindness of ravens. Thanks to my colleague Melanie Spiller for this list.)
  • Studies show that e-mail is often misunderstood. Plenty of anecdotal evidence backs this up. So how do we fix this?
  • Does peeing in public bathrooms make you nervous? If so, do you have a way of dealing with that? Doing mental math problems usually works for me.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Senior Citizen 2.0

In a long-winded stentorian monologue, one of my fellow morning bus passengers confidently explained his business prospects to his patient seatmate. "My future's bright," he said, "because geriatrics are really hot right now." The garrulous passenger didn't appear to notice my seatmate, who sat covering her ears and glaring at him. It was a little too early on a Monday morning to listen to unsolicited motivational speechifying.

At best, we view the elderly as a market demographic. At worst, we look down on them as an expensive problem. Age discrimination is widespread in the workplace. People are embarrassed simply about getting older (there's a point where it's rude to ask someone's age, as if you're drawing attention to an unmentionable ailment). Unsurprisingly, depression and inactivity are common among the elderly. Many feel that they have no value in the current milieu of fast-paced technological change.

We need to substantially readjust our attitude about our living ancestors. Your grandfather may not have heard of, but he has accumulated a wealth of experience in other areas. He's made mistakes and learned from them. In short: he's got wisdom. And while we're trying our best to ensure that the planet will sustain life 100+ years from now, we can use all the wisdom we can get.

To address this need, Rakesh Khurana and his colleagues at Harvard Business School have come up with an ingenious idea: the School for Advanced Institutional Leadership.

He says he woke up in the middle of the night and realized he had "solved the Social Security problem"....[the school is] not for people entering the workforce but for older people preparing to leave it. Enrollees would use their years of experience in science, government, business, or the arts to solve social problems. "Many of these people would like to give back, but they don't have a pathway," says Khurana. "The role of this university can be to create this third stage of education."
This plan is absolutely on the right track. BusinessWeek has argued that we've been ignoring certain intangible aspects of the economy. Might the collective wisdom of our elders be included in such an assessment?

Via Fast Company


Friday, August 25, 2006


That's a headline on Technorati right now, and I find it particularly funny. It's true; bloggers have devoted lots of ink pixels to Pluto over the past few days. You can use Technorati to find what bloggers are saying about Pluto here.

A few recent Pluto posts that caught my eye:


Thursday, August 24, 2006

The elation of calcoolation

calcoolate!!The venerable Microsoft Calculator is good at crunching out the basics, but it's not up to snuff for the more substantial calculations. You can use a spreadsheet application, like Excel, but it's a pain to a) open up a spreadsheet and (b) type the = sign at the beginning of your expression.

Enter Calcoolate. I was pleased as punch to discover it whilst browsing the chock-full-of-goodness blog Recommended. It's an online calculator that haughtily bills itself "the coolest calculator on the web."

After playing with it for a spell, I can affirm that Calcoolate has every reason to crow. It sports a spicy yet simple Ajax interface that lets you type fully nested expressions, along with basic functions (sqrt, etc). And everything can be quickly accomplished via your keyboard (which always wins me over).

Also, and this is lovely indeed, Calcoolate remembers your past calculations and displays them in a list. Click on one, and the expression appears; you can tinker with it as you like.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Not a good idea, McDonald's...

In a move that runs counter to the green zeitgeist currently brewing in America, McDonald's and Hummer have launched a joint marketing campaign. Marketing Shift puts it well:

In a match made in -- well, some place other than heaven -- McDonald's has teamed up with Hummer to give away toy versions of the SUVs along with happy meals.
RonaldMcHummer.comOver the past few years, McDonald's seemed to be getting smart about sniffing out the direction of popular public sentiment: they phased out their Supersize menu items and introduced salads, agreed to stop Amazon deforestation for soya farming, and started selling organic coffee in select restaurants.

So this latest decision from the McDonald's marketing staff is rather mysterious. Did they feel that their company's image had simply moved too far in a "blue state" sort of direction? It's hard to say.

A parody site has already emerged. At Ronald McHummer, you can make your own McDonald's readerboard (it's pretty fun, actually), and send a message to McDonald's with your thoughts about the Hummer marketing campagin.

Via Autopia


Pining for smarter search technology

People talk a lot about wanting a version of the CTRL+Z keyboard shortcut in the non-digital world: we want some easy way to undo our just-committed snafu. Avid CTRL+Z users sometimes find that after they've made a real-life mistake, their fingers instinctually make the CTRL+Z motions.

That hasn't happened to me yet. But I have been catching myself wanting to perform Google searches on books and magazines. Last night, as I was groggily reading in bed, my eyes twice darted to the upper right corner of the page, trying in vain to find the Google search box.

It's those kind of moments where I feel impatient for next-generation search technology to become available now. Like a voice-activated search service that is always available. I want that. And I don't want to have to state my search requests too loudly, either. (The walls in my apartment building are remarkably non-soundproof.)

Google appears to be working on voice-activated search, and I'm looking forward to learning what they come up with. Other interesting search technology is under development. Microsoft, Riya, and others are working on a way to conduct searches that match images with submitted images, rather than text.

Also, I remember hearing something on NPR a few months ago -- a futurist fellow conjecturing about where search technology is headed. Maybe smell-based searches (in addition to sound and images) are in our future, for instance. As I recall, he thought search technology will become a standalone field of study: undergraduate students will be able to major in Search.

I can't seem to find it, however. I remember it, so it must be out there archived somewhere, right? I've been searching for it in Google and within the NPR site, and no luck. The irony is delicious.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Gmail ads: worthy of discussion?

If you have a Gmail account, you've doubtless become accustomed to the Gmail text ads that appear in the right-hand column. For me, the novelty hasn't worn off: I continue to find those ads fascinating. It's interesting to see how closely the ads relate to the content of my email discussion. Sometimes the ads are right on target; other times, they're about something completely different.

Also, I find it interesting how sometimes my ads are different than those of my email correspondent's. For example, a recent email thread with my girlfriend included the word "Ulysses" (the name of one of her new pet rats) and a few references to the show Lost. My ads were all about Lost; my girlfriend's ads were about James Joyce.

How do I know this? Because we discuss what our ads are about! I'm sure Google would be thrilled that we have such an active interest in our ads. I wonder: does this make us bizarre? Does anyone else actually go so far as to talk about their Gmail ads?

Do you ever discuss Gmail ads?
Yes...I'm weird that way, too!
No. I notice them but don't discuss them.
I don't even notice the ads.
I don't use Gmail.
Free polls from

I'll post poll results in a few days!


Solar power: who uses the most?

From the latest Scientific American magazine, which I've been continuing to happily read on the bus:

Surprisingly, Kenya is the global leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita (but not the number of watts added). More than 30,000 very small solar panels, each producing only 12 to 30 watts, are sold in that country annually. For an investment of as little as $100 for the panel and wiring, the system can be used to charge a car battery, which can then provide enough power to run a flourescent lamp or a small black-and-white television for a few hours a day. More Kenyans adopt solar power every year than make connections to the country's electric grid.
Interesting, no? The article goes on to mention that the demand for small solar power systems is rapidly increasing throughout Africa.

As renewable energy technologies continue to mature, they'll play a big role in shaping the economy and culture of specific regions. It's clearly already starting to happen: solar is thriving in Africa, wind turbines are sprouting up all over Europe.

When I was in high school, we learned how countries are differentiated based on their main exports. I remember how a classmate of mine got frustrated and questioned the value of this sort of knowledge. "Why do I need to know that cork is a main export from Portugal?" he asked. The teacher couldn't come up with a good answer. Ironically, because of that moment, I'll always remember that cork is a main export from Portugal.

Will kids in future school classrooms differentiate countries based on their renewable energy industries?


Sunday, August 20, 2006

The job I never worked

Me as a paperboy, circa September 1987 Regarding the poll that I posted last week, the job from that list that I've never held (although it does sound like fun) is "newspaper technology reporter."

Back in the days when kids still did it, I delivered newspapers. The photo shows me in September, 1987, looking rather unexcited to head out on my daily route in Everson, WA. A decade later, I spent a year delivering office supplies in Seattle. And, during my brief healthcare phase, I even spent a few months working as a nurse's assistant in a nursing home.

The duties at the nursing home were...not particularly pleasant, to put it mildly. And the pay was terrible. It didn't take me long to notice that I was the only nurse's assistant there who hadn't recently emigrated from an African or Asian country. One of them expressed surprise when I told her that I had a college degree. "Why are you here?" she asked.

Why, indeed? During my 20s, I was driven by an experimentalist urge. Ever-flickering in the back of my head was the notion that a wide variety of experiences leads to increased wisdom. I also thought that I could distill these tales into a novel someday. That idea may still come to fruition, in a decade or three.

Instead of philosophy, I could have majored in computer science in college (as some folks advised me to) and stayed in the same line of work over the past decade. In that scenario, I'd be in a pretty lucrative position by this point.

But, I don't regret my own multi-faceted employment history. Although it didn't pay much or lead me to a glamorous job, the nursing home experience gave me empathy and respect for the people who do this sort of work for years. As an added bonus, a Kenyan coworker taught Swahili pick-up lines ("na kutaka" translates as "I want your thing" -- she advised me to be judicious about using this one).

Travelling through a unique panoply of jobs, I’ve hammered out a deep sense of identity, vocation, and compassion. I doubt I would have developed this outlook (which I'd like to think is an initial step towards wisdom) in a more traditional career track. Now, ten years out of college, I'm ready to explore career options that involve more responsibility and allow me to make a positive net impact. It's the ideal time to get an MBA, and I'm looking forward to starting the program at UW next month.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Blogger beta: my initial impressions

Blogger betaI saw the invitation to try out Blogger beta yesterday, and I've been giving it a go. At this point, I think it has its pluses and minuses:

  • Categories. It's now very easy to add categories to your posts (Blogger refers to them as "labels"). Previously entered categories appear as a list of links (you need to click on "Show all" to reveal them). Alternatively, if you type the first few letters of a category name, Blogger gives you an auto-complete prompt, which is a nice touch.
  • Blogger beta - drag-and-drop Drag-and-drop template customization. Using the mouse to modify the template is definitely easier than tinkering with the HTML and CSS directly.
  • No raw HTML editing. On the flipside, you can't edit the HTML and CSS in your template. While Blogger does give you the ability to add "HTML/JavaScript" modules to your template (which you can edit), you don't have contol over the HTML of the overall page layout, or of the posts themselves. So you can't adjust the column width, or put HaloScan trackback functionality in your posts, for example. Blogger says that this will be fixed very soon.
  • Incompatiable with Windows Live Writer. I'm not able to download my latest template into Windows Live Writer. Windows Live Writer indicates this isn't a problem; it can still publish my posts. But a big part of why I use Windows Live Writer is so I can see how the posts will appear in the template. I'm guessing that this is related to the fact that Blogger beta isn't allowing raw HTML editing of the templates. And hopefully, when this changes, it will work fine with Windows Live Writer.
  • JavaScript: some works, some doesn't. Site Meter works fine for me. AdSense ads don't appear at all.
I'm guessing these little wrinkles will get smoothed out in the near future.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Green linkalicious: 8/18/06

All manner of green linkalicious news has popping up lately. It's a lot of fun to follow what's going on in the "world o' green" right now; where ideas and innovations are occurring in a variety of flavors:

  • The September '06 issue of Scientific American is great stuff; it's educational and frankly, quite inspiring. It lays out a realistic plan for reducing world-wide carbon emissions over the next 50 years. I'm such a fan that I'll take the brazenly commercialistic move of putting an ad for the magazine right here in my post. There's plenty of gems on their Web site, too, like this article about the carbon-offset program at the 2006 World Cup.
  • In architecture, the 2030 Challenge encourages architects to design completely carbon-neutral (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate) buildings by 2030.
  • Planning is underway for power plants that convert chicken poop into energy. The chicken poop comes from factory farms, which can redeem themselves (a bit) through their participation.
  • A company called Australian Farmers' Fuels is using animal fat to produce biodiesel.
  • You can read and share green information Wikipedia-style at gWiki -- the Green Wiki. Via Treehugger.
  • Under talks between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tony Blair, California is cooking up a global warming reduction plan that puts the U.S. federal government -- and most other states -- to shame.
  • Carbon sequestration is the growing field of inquiry into how carbon can be captured, to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. Scientists are exploring ancient Amazonian dark soil, called terra preta do indio, for clues about how to capture carbon in the soil. Via Futurismic:
    This rare rainforest soil holds two and a half times the carbon content of normal soils, but no one is entirely sure as to how the ancient tribes of the Amazon actually created the stuff. If the secret can be cracked, we would have access to a carbon sequestration method that would take biofuels from being carbon neutral to carbon negative - in other words, actually pulling out more carbon from the ecosphere than is released by the use of the fuels produced.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A hyper-interactive reading technique

On the bus yesterday, I noticed that one of my colleagues was ferociously scribbling on a printout that he was reading. As we walked to our next bus, I asked him about it.

He explained that he has a sort of hyper-interactive reading style. As soon as he comprehends and absorbs (or in his words, groks) a sentence, he jots a mark next it. He literally does this after each sentence. If he has any other connected thoughts, he'll write those anywhere -- not necessarily in the margin. He said that all of his reading material is heavily marked up afterwards, and basically unreadable by anyone else. But. He claims that this method does wonders for his retention of the matieral.  

I'm intrigued, and I'd like to give it a shot. I can see how the tactile element (moving your pen after you "grok") could be really helpful. I've wanted to improve my content retention, lately. Maybe I just haven't been interactive enough with my reading material.

Of course, you can't really do this with library books.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Your very own Web 2.0 logo

I discovered this site this morning via Micro Persuasion, and I just couldn't help myself. Don't worry, it's temporary. :)

8/17 update --> I changed back to my original plain "Fixing Foibles and Follies" title. But for posterity's sake, this was my title banner for one day:


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ford's new-fangled marketing campaign

Three Minds @ Organic posted a positive review of the Ford Bold Moves site, which, after browsing through for a bit, I tend to agree with. It's a fascinating ad campaign that incorporates a blog and online documentary videos (currently at episode 9). What interests me is how Ford is inviting customers (or anyone who's interested) to participate in a strategy dialog.

Today's media audiences favor reality TV. They prize authenticity and eschew an obvious PR spin. In light of these facts, I think Ford's got the right idea here.

I'll get really excited when Ford starts producing truly energy-efficient vehicles. In the meanwhile, they're using energy-efficient furnaces. It's a start.

You can read another take on the Ford Bold Moves site here.


Quick facts: biodiesel vs. ethanol

41%  Total percentage energy gain (how much more total energy is produced than the total amount invested) for corn-distilled ethanol.

93%  Total percentage energy gain for soybean-derived biodiesel.

12%  Percentage fewer greenhouse gas emissions for corn-distilled ethanol, compared with fossil fuels.

41%  Percentage fewer greenhouse gas emissions for soybean-derived biodiesel, compared with fossil fuels.

Note that these figures compare normal ethanol with biodiesel. I'd like to see how cellulosic ethanol stacks up. It has the advantage of not competing with food sources, and may have greater overall environmental benefits.

Source: Scientific American, September 2006. Just got this (excellent) issue in the mail; it's not yet available online.


Web 2.0: is the frenzy peaking?

There is currently a mad profusion of services designated Web 2.0. They are accompanied by ever-increasing reviews, commentary, and general blogsophere attention.

A few days ago, for instance, "web 2.0," "web-20," and "web2.0" were all within the 30 most active tags on Technorati ("web2.0" is the only one showing up now; the other two have been bumped by "Windows Live Writer" and something else). Are we smack dab in the middle of the Web 2.0 revolution?

A recent Gartner report examines four Web 2.0 trends -- Social Network Analysis, Ajax, Collective intelligence, and Mashups -- and concludes that Web 2.0 is at the peak of a hype cycle. In other words, it's at the second of five stages, in which:

a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

Web 2.0 hottiesCertainly, there is plenty of Hollywood-style hype surrounding the Web 2.0 world. Valleywag tracks all the hoopla, covering events like the recent wild party for Web 2.0 company Yelp.

Amongst all this fanfare, Webby's World points out that it's still pretty difficult to pinpoint just what Web 2.0 means:
Some say it’s merely a buzzword used by new Internet start-ups, powered by venture capitalism, as a way to generate hype; some say it’s a new style of design; some say it’s the new style of web development, i.e. AJAX and Ruby on Rails; and some say it’s simply the next step towards a Semantic Web. I doubt there’ll ever be consensus until what Web 2.0 is until is is was.
Whatever it is or isn't, Web 2.0 is attached as a label to new services that look pretty fun and interesting:
  • Take Kevo, for instance, which is a social network for fans of celebrities (Mashable describes it as "Wikipedia meets Paris Hilton"). Natalie Portman is currently winning a popularity battle with Jesus Christ, by a rather significant margin.
  • Singshot, a service that mixes karaoke and social networking, also recently made a debut. You can learn more about it here.
  • Check out Emurse, an online resume-building application.
  • And there's SlimTimer, which provides online time-tracking from within your browser.
Social networking is a big part of the Web 2.0 pheonomenon, and social networks have an interesting way of immediately catapulting regular people into celebrity status. A 79-year old Englishman has acquired a huge YouTube following, as has the the 16-year old known as lonely girl.

Web 2.0 also isn't confined to a few countries: it's thoroughly international, as a map on B2DAy 2.0 shows.

It's difficult to see how Web 2.0 could get much bigger; it will certainly start slowing down soon. In the meanwhile, it's a lot of fun to keep track of.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Using Windows Live Writer with Blogger

An astounding amount of blog posts have appeared today that are dedicated to the new blogging authoring tool from Microsoft: Windows Live Writer. The reviews are resoundingly positive:

  • admits to not being the biggest fan of Microsoft products, but finds much to praise with this one. "It’s not some little mini-app Microsoft put out as an afterthought, this is a full-blown… blogging processor?"
  • GigaOm, also not the biggest Microsoft fan, is very impressed.
  • Performancing is generally impressed, but they (unsurprisingly) prefer their own blog editor, Performancing for Firefox.
  • Digital Inspiration is equally impressed, but points out that a strange phantom post ("Temporary Post Used For Style Detection") appears after you configure your blog with Windows Live Writer. Although I experienced my own problems (see below), this didn't happen to me.
  • And apparently, conspiracy theories are already linking Windows Live Writer with the NSA and Satanists.

As for myself, I downloaded the software tonight after work tonight, and this is the second post that I've created with it. I definitely agree with the positive reviews. Windows Live Writer is very easy to install. Naturally, it features Windows Live Spaces as a blogging service, but it is also compatible with all other major blogging services, including Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, and WordPress.

The UI is clean and uncluttered, and the word processing functionality feels just like Word (albeit a very limited version).

My favorite part is the View Mode menu options (Look how those handy keyboard shortcuts are listed in plain view...ahh). The default view, Web Layout, is similar to the default Print Layout view in Word: It's a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) interface. The Web Preview is the really handy bit: you can see exactly what your post will look like in your blog, nestled correctly into your current template. (Granted, a million bloggers have covered Windows Live Writer today, but maybe I'm the only one that has used the word "nestled.")

The Web Preview function in Windows Live Writer is much, much better than Blogger's terrible built-in preview function (maybe Blogger is improving this in its new beta). But I do like how the Blogger editor lets you change the time and date of your posts (didn't know about this? Look in the bottom left corner of the Blogger editing pane for the "Post and Comment Options" section). Unfortunately, Windows Live Writer doesn't include this feature.

I also make much use of Blogger's "Post Template" feature, which lets you add a chunk of HTML to every post: for me, the paragraph of Technorati tags of the bottom of most of my topics. So far, I haven't found anything like this yet in Windows Live Writer.

However, Windows Live Writer has developed an SDK to allow developers to easily add their own enhancements. So we should be seeing all sorts of nifty plug-ins soon.

Note: I didn't have any problems writing this post with Windows Live Writer, but I wasn't able to publish it (or post the draft) to Blogger. I got this server error message:

Server Error 0 Occurred

I'm not sure why this is; I was able to publish my last post fine with Windows Live Writer. Maybe a problem on Blogger's end?

So, I had to do it the old-fashioned way, and copy the HTML into Blogger and publish from there.

Anyone else using Windows Live Writer? What do you think? Are you having any problems posting to Blogger?


Blogger categories (real ones) have arrived

Perhaps overshadowed by today's deluge of blog posts dedicated to Windows Live Writer (which I'm trying out for the first time, with this post) is Blogger's announcement of a new beta version that supports categories. Blogger will be gradually rolling out invitations to try out the beta, but you can create a new account by using your Google account.

Digital Inspiration has posted a great review, with screenshots.

I haven't tried it out yet; I'll wait -- with baited breath -- for an invitation. This is definitely a great development for Blogger users.


Web site review: Imagining the Tenth Dimension

Web site reviewed
Imagining the Tenth DimensionImagining the Tenth Dimension

Should you visit this site?
If you're even the slightest bit geeky, then yes! Narration and sound effects are an essential part of this site, so you'll need speakers or headphones.

My review

A Flash-based tutorial that quickly and effectively explains how to envision dimenions beyond the third.

Ever since I saw my abysmally low scores on the spatial reasoning portion of school standardized tests, I've known that this isn't really one of my strong areas. But I've always been fascinated by discussions of dimensions. I've vaguely understood that the 4th dimension is time, but beyond that, I usually get lost in the space-bending discussions of Möbius strips and the like.

And so, it was with great pleasure that I watched the Flash-based tutorial on the Imagining the Tenth Dimension site, which I came across via Bad Language. It's an amazing example of a succinct, well-designed tutorial that breaks down a complex (for me, anyway) topic into easily understandable information. As one StumbleUpon reviewer comments: "Great information and great design, combined. Now that's rare."

Anyone who has read Flatlandwill recognize parts of the descriptions of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd dimensions. The "zero-th" dimension is a point, the 1st is a line, the 2nd a plane, and the 3rd is space -- which is like one giant point. So in a sense, the 3rd dimension repeats the "zero-th."

Donnie DarkoThe tutorial then builds up to subsequent dimensions by repeating this point-line-plane cycle. The 4th dimension is a line (time) that connects 3-dimensional "points." I loved how the tutorial describes the 4th dimension as a "long, undulating snake," replete with eerie sound effects. Imagine your embryonic self at one tip of the snake and your (hopefully) old self down at the other. This brought to mind the scenes from Donnie Darko that show the wormlike timelines stretching out of characters' chests.

The tutorial works up from there: the 5th dimension is a plane of time, with an infinity of possible futures stretching forth from the current moment. The 6th dimension adds "depth" to the 5th-dimensional plane by including all possible timelines that may have occurred at any point in the history of our universe. This infinity of possible timelines shrinks to a single "point" in the 7th dimension, which is a line of 6th dimensional points (different universes). I won't attempt to explain the 8th through the 10th dimensions -- check out the tutorial!

Also quite interesting is the fact that this site, designed by OH! Media, is essentially a marketing vehicle for a book of the same name. This type of marketing -- online destinations that are effective educational tools of their own merit -- is great stuff.

I'd like to see more such sites. If you know of any, please add a comment!


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Blog of the week: Aidal Ad Reviews

This week, my blog tenant is Aidal Ad Reviews. This blog evaluates ads (some current, some historical) based on four characteristics (awareness, interest, desire, action) and bestows yearly "aidal" awards to the winning ad. It's all done in a very tongue-in-cheek way, and the posts are a lot of fun to read.

Aidal Ad Reviews

My anfractuous employment history

Getting ready to go to Dairy Queen - circa 1990I have had many jobs. So many, in fact, that I've lost count. One might well refer to my employment history as an anfractuosity, and I wouldn't disagree.

Many of these jobs, such as picking strawberries in the summer of '86, and my stint as a Diary Queen employee (pictured, you can see me all ready to head off to Dairy Queen - circa 1990) were "character-building" experiences, to say the least.

But I'll stop right there. I wonder, from looking at my blog, what you, good reader, might infer about the many-chapter'd book that is my job history. Even if you know me in real life -- you don't know every job I've had (I can't even remember, myself).

Try giving the following poll a shot. I'll post the answer, along with some more information about my employment history, on Saturday, August 19.

Which job has Jonathan never worked?
Security officer
Nurse's assistant
Delivery driver
Paperboy customer service
Newspaper technology reporter
Desktop publisher
Software tester
Free polls from

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Linkalicious: health. 8/12/06

It's a sublimely sunny Seattle Saturday afternoon. There's a healthy breeze. The tree leaves sound like a calm ocean, the windchimes are tinkling, and the blinds are swaying back and forth from my open window.

That's what's "new" in my little lazy corner of the world. What's new elsewhere? Let's focus on the world of health and nutrition:

  • The obesity epidemic, much in the news over the past few years, appears to be affecting babies.
  • Speaking of obesity, a San Francisco doctor places the blame squarely on our sugar-packed food supply:
    Breaking the pattern of sugar consumption -- a pattern that Lustig compares to nicotine addiction -- is more than just a matter of willpower. It will take a grassroots effort of doctors, community leaders and consumers to force the government and the food industry to get those sugary foods out of mainstream American diets.
  • Even though Japan has ended import bans against U.S. beef, only 10% of Japanese polled in a recent survey indicated a willingness to buy some.
  • Video game addiction is increasingly being recognized as a problem. Clinics that target this addiction continue to pop up.
    "His parents brought him in for a cocaine problem - he had stolen money to buy some. Then it turned out he was just a gamer, who took cocaine just to stay awake."
  • In the Seattle area, residents have been warned not to harvest shellfish off the local beaches, due to record levels of paralytic shellfish poison.
  • Here are some tips on how airplane travellers can preserve their mental health, in light of current air security rules:
    You bring a book. Because airport bookstores are only carrying Freakonomics (which you read last year) and the latest Dan Brown knockoff.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Classic Television Commercials from 1948

Take a peek at nine entertaining minutes of various television commercials from 1948.

The second commercial -- for "Strips and Spots" Band-aids -- seems suspiciously inspired by a "fun" state of mind. LSD was introduced into the US in 1948. Coincidence?

Via Digg

Teh linkalicious: 8/11/06

Noble readers, I bid you a happy Friday. I proffer you your daily dose of Linkalicious®:

  • Wall street has a big crush right now on green energy. The question is: how much of this interest will dissipate if the price of oil drops? Perhaps that question is moot, and the price of oil will continue to spiral upwards. If that's true, green energy investors will reap big profits.
  • tehHave you been seeing the term teh a lot lately? One blogger sounds off on this trend:
    I tell you this, without hyperbole - walk over my grave, and I shan't blink; slowly draw your nails down a chalkboard and I may shudder, but speak "teh" in my presence, and be cursed with the knowledge that you have, in that moment, shaken my soul to its core in the most unpleasant of ways.
    Perhaps some bloggers might benefit by referencing a grammar guide every now and again.
  • My friend recently posted a list of ten things she hates:
    hummer limos. my god! as if hummers themselves weren't disgusting enough. do they need to be bigger? no! a thousand billion trillion times no!
  • The Green Geek, a Canadian blog that I highly recommend, posted yesterday about an intriguing climate change reversal strategy. It involves seeding the ocean with iron dust, which encourages phytoplankton growth:
    If this were carried out on a large scale, it could have the effect of reducing our atmospheric carbon dioxide outputs by up to 50 percent and locking it up forever as chalk on the ocean floor. This would need to be done very carefully though, as we still know relatively little about deep ocean ecosystems and the sudden influx of large amounts of calcified algae might have unintended side effects. However, compared with the alternative of unrestrained carbon dioxide emissions, this seems like a very good avenue to explore.
  • Is the rise of ADHD a sign of the approach of the singularity? In other words, are our minds becoming more hyperactive to cope with the the exponential explosion of information and technology? Velcro City Tourist Board is skeptical of this hypothesis.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ten time-saving keyboard shortcuts

How many keyboard shortcuts do you use? Other than the basics (CTRL+C, CTRL+V, CTRL+Z, etc.), that is. If you're like most Windows users, you might not be aware that you can use keyboard shortcuts to do everything that your mouse does -- but much more efficiently.

Here are ten of my personal favorites. Yes. I'm a geek.

WordWord shortcuts

  • CTRL+SHIFT+RIGHT ARROW     Selects every character to the right of the insertion point, in the current word. CTRL+SHIFT+LEFT ARROW selects the characters to the left.
  • CTRL+SHIFT+END     Selects all characters to the right of the insertion point, in the entire file. CTRL+SHIFT+HOME selects all characters to the left.
  • ALT+SHIFT+M     Inserts a comment. (As an editor, I use this feature all the time.)
  • F7     Runs the spelling/grammar checker.
  • CTRL+SPACEBAR     Removes all character formatting from the selected text.

ExcelExcel shortcuts
  • CTRL+PAGE UP and CTRL+PAGE DOWN     Moves to the next sheet (left and right, respectively) in a workbook.
  • ALT+ENTER     Starts a new line in the same cell.

OutlookOutlook shortcuts
  • CTRL+SHIFT+I     Go directly to your inbox.
  • CTRL+SHIFT+V     Move an email message (opens the "Move Item" dialog box).

WindowsWindows shortcuts
  • Windows Logo+M     Minimizes all windows. I know, you like to click on the "Desktop" icon to do this. But the keyboard shortcut is quicker.
I could list more -- many more -- but I wanted to keep this list to just ten. Let me ask you: what are your favorite keyboard shorcuts? Which ones do you find yourself using all the time?


Linkalicious: Hosts! 8/10/06

I'd like to show my appreciation to the four blogs that are hosting me this week with reciprocal links. Because bloggers are all about the reciprocal links:

Also, if you haven't yet, do visit my delightful tenant, Bug, who has recently been discussing her birthday goings-on.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Linkalicious: 8/9/2006

Green WiFi

  • Look at some strange statues from around the world. (Via the Slog.)
  • What's wrong with our growing use of air conditioning, and how to address this problem.
  • Have you heard the news? Scientists have found a planet that can support life. Its atmosphere is too hot for year-round habitation, its gases impede breathing, and surface conditions are sometimes fatal. But by constructing a network of sealed facilities, tunnels, and vehicles, humans could survive on this planet for decades and perhaps even centuries.

    The planet is called Earth.
  • Demand for biofuels is driving demand for vegetable oils to historic levels.
  • Wish my tenant a belated happy 21st birthday!
  • Ten reasons why your organization should use blogging for PR and marketing.
  • MuslimSpace? KrishnaFriends? Welcome to the world of religious social networking sites.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Linkalicious: 8/8/2006

Myspace + Google = love

  • Marriage of the titans: MySpace search will be Google-powered.
  • Rubber sidewalks - good for trees and knees.
  • Lonely nation - " various measures -- census figures on one-person households, a new study documenting Americans' shrinking circle of intimate friends -- [loneliness] is worsening."
  • Ten ways to maximize your chances of getting a job. Tip #2: "Use humour sparingly, if at all. 'This job is up my street. Hell no! It’s right next door.' Hmmm."
  • Q&A with a renewable energy marketer - "We're the 'Got Milk' people for wind, solar, and hydro power."

Monday, August 07, 2006

I'm on the cover of Time magazine!

                  Ah ...'tis all a lie, I'm afraid.
                  You can make your own fake magazine cover here:

Collapse: Read this book. Now.

Should you read it?

  My rating

  Explains what caused a variety of past societies to collapse -- and why we can't afford to ignore these historical lessons.


Over the past two months, I listened to the audiobook version of Jared Diamond's Collapse. Unless you have a very long attention span, I don't recommend that you listen to this book. It's a long (and occasionally long-winded) tome. I found that during the hubbub of my daily commute, I was constantly missing important information.

However. I do recommend that you read this book, with your eyes, as soon as you possibly can. It uses our species' history -- which is undeniably fraught with error -- to construct a powerfully compelling argument for the need for environmental sustainability.

My favorite chapter focuses on Easter Island. Its famous stone statues weren't built by aliens, as some have suggested, but by the island's native inhabitants: the Rapa Nui. And how did they accomplish this amazing feat? By using trees for transport. Lots and lots of trees. In an epic competitive quest that spanned centuries, the Rapa Nui chiefs spurred their subjects to carve ever-bigger statues. They were so intent on winning -- on having the biggest stone statue on the island -- that they apparently didn't notice that they were using up all of their trees in the process.

Eventually, they completely deforested their island, and things got really bad. How bad? Their population declined by 90%. Cannibalism became widespread.

At this point in the book, Jared Diamond (pictured at right) poses the question: what were they thinking as they cut down their last tree? Seriously now, how could the priorities of the Rapa Nui been so tragically misaligned? The statues are cool-looking and all -- but certainly they're not worth destroying 90% of your population?

Our contemporary situation bears disturbing similarities. As Barry Lynn aptly explains in End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation (another book I highly recommend), the current tightly-knit global economy poses significant risks. Like the Rapa Nui, we live on a planet that we can't (currently) escape from. And if we don't change things significantly -- by drastically changing our way of life, or via emerging technology -- we're in for some nasty times indeed.

Other points to note in this book:

  • The residents of Iceland originally wreaked havoc on their environment, but they learned from their mistakes and didn't destroy it completely.
  • The Greenland Norse died off completely because they did not adapt to their environment. They tried in vain to replicate a European lifestyle. If they would have followed the example of their Inuit neighbors to the north (who they regarded with complete disdain), they might have survived.
  • The most environmentally responsible societies tend to be those in which the ruling class is not isolated from the masses. Diamond looks at the Netherlands and New Guinea as two interesting examples of this.
So are we going to make it, as a species? Ultimately, Diamond describes himself as a cautious optimist. There's certainly much to be pessimistic about, but he points to encouraging signs. One of our greatest assets is our vast knowledge of our own history. The failures and the successes are there, and it's up to us to ignore them or pay attention.

The only reason that I didn't give Collapse a 10/10 rating was the fact that it's a bit long. The section on Montana, for instance, tends to drone on a bit. Perhaps I would have had a different reaction, however, if I wouldn't have gone the audiobook route. All in all, it's an outstanding book, and I've been talking it up to my friends. Everybody should read it.

And, given the increasing contemporary awareness of sustainability issues, it's no surprise that Collapse is now in its fifth straight month on BusinessWeek's paperback bestseller list (pdf, opens in new window). I'm definitely encouraged to see so much interest in this book right now.