Friday, December 30, 2005

What will you do with your extra second this year?

Because the world is running down we need to adjust our clocks to keep pace with the Earth. It turns out that atomic clocks are more accurate than the earth is. Though if your intention in using the clock is to know what time of the day it is, then you must synchronize your clock with the earth's motion. This slowing down of the earth is the source of the clever sign on the convenience store in one Futurama episode that says "Open 28 hours".

On New Year's Eve this year those of us in the Eastern Time Zone get an extra second just before 7pm. The clocks will read 6:59:59, then 6:59:60, before moving on to 7pm. I am going to take an extra heartbeat or one twelth of a breath with my extra second.

The best part is that the leap second will be inserted just before 12:00 midnight for the Greenwich time zone. Which will have Londoners at their New Year's Eve party counting down - 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... 1...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My Best Christmas Present - first official Honest Hypocrite T-shirt!

My favorite Christmas present this year is the first official T-shirt for the Honest Hypocrite, given to me by a big fan of the blog. I especially like the Truth is Out There font.

I am thinking about a line of t-shirts for my blog and this one has inspired me further, anybody out there interested? Designs are in progress.

Blinded by the (LED Christmas) lights!

We went to enjoy the Christmas Lights at Longwood Gardens last week. They had one tree with the new LED Christmas Light technology, and boy did those lights look like they were strobing at me at 60 Hz. It was painful and it hurt my eyes.

I am not alone in my concern, Andrew comments on the same thing in his Dec 3rd entry. Planet Christmas, way back in October, suggests that the time has come for these LED lights. I hope not, because then Christmas will become the season of headaches, migraine auras and latent epileptic seizures due to these strobing lights. A Slashdot commenter sees the possibility of harnessing the strobing and suggests using the LED Christmas lights as an emitter for a build your own optical data link.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Wrapping How To: A book box from a shirt box

Books are sacred objects to me, you should always treat them right. I once had a bad experience when giving a book as a gift. I had just wrapped the book by itself and when it was opened the recipient ripped the book jacket as well as the wrapping paper, oops! So to avoid that I always give my books in a box.

Anyone can easily take a shirt box and with a few cuts and folds, turn it into a book box. I choose to do this because the book would be swimming in a big shirt box and you save on some wrapping paper and wrapping difficulty. The example below is a gift for my mother this year for Christmas (I am not a big Danielle Steele fan, I just hope she doesn't see it in the blog, which is funny on multiple dimensions).

1.) Choose a box lid or bottom into which the book fits crosswise. You will only need one or the other, this is a good way to get rid of mismatched or extra box parts. The other dimension should be a box height more than twice as wide as the book, since we will fold it over in order to make the lid.

2.) Make a cut on each side of the box at the edge of the book. This will allow you to make the first of the two folds that will turn half of the box into a lid for the other half.

3.) Score the box on a line between the two cuts so that it will be easy to fold. Fold the box.

4.) Score the box again along the line shown and then make another cut on each side of the box. This will allow the next fold of the box.

5.) It won't be perfect, only a perfectionist would insist on boxing their books, but you may have some ends on the box that should be cut so they don't pierce the wrapping paper later.

Voila! A book box from leftover shirt boxes to protect your precious written lump of civilization on its way to a lucky loved one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Death of the Ribbon Magnet meme

Once I saw this ribbon for sale at Spencer's, I realized that it is time to write the obituary for the ribbon magnet meme. Satirizing the ribbons has occurred for some time now, but seeing this type of parody of them at Spencer's is like getting your news from the Today Show - you are way behind the curve. This stupid magnet falls in the same category as the "my child beat up your honor student" bumper stickers.

I still hope to review the various strains of this meme in a future post.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Beyond just white roofs and roads

Black roofs vs. White roofs are the topic of discussion over at Worldchanging. Worldchanging has a post about the environmental value of white roofs. Three simple approaches to reducing the cooling needs are plant trees, paint roofs white, use lighter colored pavement.

Treehugger points out that just changing roofs to white could actually have a significant enough effect to cancel out the expected effect of global warming. They use a very simple model to demonstrate this, but the data is enough to warrant using a more exact model to better estimate the impact.

I have always had the idea of taking this approach one step further. What if the surface (roof or pavement) turned black when it was cold outside and white when it was hot? In the summer the surfaces would reflect solar radiation and keep the surface from heating up, saving on cooling costs. In the winter the surface would be cold and remain black, absorbing enough radiation to melt snow or ice. This is especially important for my driveway this time of year.

Since I am an idea man, I just have to suggest the idea not perform the difficult implementation task. However, I do wonder if such a surface would just equilibrate to a grey color as it heated up from cold and black or cooled down from hot and white. Such a static result would lack the dynamic adaptation to temperature to produce the desired effect.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Dystopian 8-bit an appropriate soundtrack for the future

I have been listening to a group called 8-bit, a self-described "robotic old school nintendo rap crew" who "landed on your g**d*** planet in 2002". I first saw these guys as the Friday music act on Attack of the Show (July 28), and knew I had to hear more seeing just one song. The general theme of their music is that they are robots who enjoy the robot thug lifestyle. They appear to be suffering from a severe dissociative disorder and alienation from their own bodies by believing they are robots from another planet. It does make for clever, though filthy mouthed lyrics. Their songs are appropriate for anyone who sometimes feels overwhelmed by the seeming dystopia (dystopia, dystopia, dystopia) brought on by technological acceleration.

The disaffection with reality reminds me of the scene in the Matrix when Agent Smith has captured Morpheus and is trying to torture information from him. Agent Smith longs to leave the simulated reality of the Matrix and his duty to control the humans imprisoned therein. He complains that he has been contaminated by the stink of humanity and reality, much like the feeling one assumes the members of 8-bit have when they perform. In songs like "you ain't no robot" they express their disgust at human physical functions and the very idea of corporeality - they hate the thought of being trapped in "meat". Even breathing is distasteful as related in "oxygen".

In "I-deez", one of my favorites, "robots don't have drivers licenses so they gotta get fake i-deez", mostly in order to continue their debauched existence. Don't let the potential negativity stop you from sampling these songs however, the beats are grooving and the rap lyrics are clever and amusing at times. "Drunk" has a great bass riff yet serves as a cautionary tale about avoiding drinking to excess, mostly by doing the opposite of what the song tells you to do. I suspect the whole robot thug lifestyle act is a gimmick to create a great act, but let's give them credit for their disaffection.

You can find some mp3 downloads of their songs for sampling at their website at Ninja Star Records and at the 8-bit Myspace account. I am declaring these songs R-rated not only because of the corrosive dystopian philosophy they espouse but also because the language in them is something even the older kids should avoid using in the work environment or in front of mom.

Giant Christmas snow globe in the wild and exciting decorations

Careful readers will recall that I was hypnotized by a giant snow globe long before the Christmas season began. I have finally spotted one of these snow globes in the wild in the best of all possible places - at my neighbor's house! I apologize for the quality of the picture (remember my Treo phone camera stinks) but I felt compelled to take a picture for the historical record.

Other exciting Christmas decorations on my block include a lighted train whose wheels blink to produce the illusion of rotation. It is so hypnotic it must be responsible for some accidents at the light on the corner.

This set of decorations seems to have grown almost organically on the lawn. It is just a fun collection of holiday eclectica.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Which file extension are you?

Even considering the extreme geekiness of these types of quizzes, I am still willing to admit to you that I have taken two in as many days and found them amusing for the 30 seconds it took (which is about what the internet is for anyway). The "Which file extension are you?" quiz was at least familiar enough for me to relate to. Enjoy it or not as the mood strikes you.

Given that I have a new iPod nano that I have been filling up and annoying my friends with, I think they would all agree with the conclusion below. I am glad I am not a .pdf, I hate that file type!

You are .mp3 The kids love you.  You get along with just about everybody except the music industry.  You really make yourself heard.
Which File Extension are You?

Ridiculous complaints about distance to polling places for ex-patriot Iraqis - it could be 5000 miles!

It certainly should be that each Iraqi has every opportunity to exercise their newly acquired franchise, but the complaints of the Iraqis in Detroit about hard to find polling places are a little extreme. NPR discussed some difficulties and complaints about how far some voters had to travel to participate in today's Iraq elections. How can there be complaints? The distance to the polling place could be 5000 miles instead of 15 or even 150. The election is in another country! Staying here is convenient no matter how you slice it.

The story misses the point. Turnout for the elections in Iraq is probably going to be higher than turnout in this country, even for those Iraqis that are in this country and can't go back to Iraq to vote. They seem almost jubilant to exercise their right to vote. More power to them!

Americans should be as enthusiastic when it is our turn. No matter who you vote for, vote!

Greedy Wilmington wants more from Verizon for a cell phone tower

I heard on WILM News Radio this morning that Wilmington (Delaware) has postponed renting city owned property near Foulk Rd to Verizon for a new cell phone tower because they don't think they are getting paid enough. The offer was quoted as being about $28,000 a year for 15 years, with a 3% increase a year. The council member interviewed on the radio said that would be alright for the first few years but not for later. The discussion is now postponed until January. I guess city council gets a lot of vacation around the holidays.

I don't know how comfortable I am with this council doing this business negotiation for me. On one hand, they should try to get all the revenue they can for Wilmington and this benefits me as a resident of the city. On the other hand, a cell phone tower on Foulk road would benefit my quality of life much more than any extra revenue that they could get out of Verizon. The tower would be right on my way to work and I am sure that it is close enough to my house to improve reception there anyway. I don't have a view toward the going rate for cell phone tower land leases, so I don't know if the offer is good or not, but the way the council member spoke about it was concerning.

I am looking for a print story about this, but I am unable to find one. There was nothing on either. Please leave a comment if you have more luck finding something.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Loving alphabets and language

I remember learning the Greek alphabet in high school, not because I was on the Classics track (Latin and Greek, Virgil and Homer), but because I wanted to have more ways to represent variables in my physics class. Typical engineer to avoid the humanities but still learn a foreign alphabet so he can calculate. I do remember when I was little, my parents had the Worldbook encyclopedias. Each letter started with the history of that letter and how it had evolved through time. Memorization of the Greek alphabet also came in handy when you join a fraternity. I can recite the Greek alphabet at a pretty quick pace.

Please do click on the link and watch the alphabets evolve from the Phoenician through to the Roman. It is fascinating.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Christmas cookies to the horizon

My brother and I made the traditional Christmas cookies this past weekend. We both have the personalities and sometimes the job responsibilities of engineers to the cookie making is on an assembly line and a lot of thought has gone into making the manufacture very efficient.

Rapid cookie production is only the latest part of the cookie tradition. The recipe comes from my grandmother, and she said that she made these cookies with her mother. That makes this recipe potentially over one hundred years old. The family used to be very conservative about any changes to the recipe or even the manner in which they were prepared. Lately we have realized that instead of rolling out individual ball of dough to make the filled cookie, we have moved to cookie cutters for the round shapes and faster filling equipment. I don't know how my 82 year old grandmother could make them the old fashioned way, because even with all of the modern conveniences my back is usually killing me after a day of baking cookies.

At the end of the process the cookies get covered with confectioners sugar. I remember sneaking into the recipe book to get the recipe so that I could start making them again after my grandmother stopped making them because it was too much work. I wanted to make them for her so that she could correct any errors and the recipe would live on. I am very glad that my brother and I make them together these days, because he has added some great innovation for speed while keeping the recipe true to its roots and the original flavor. This year we made: apple butter filled (triangle), pumkin butter filled (half moon), pineapple preserve filled (fold and fold), apricot filled (fold and fold and cut ends to look like a pinking shear edge), and twists. My brother also made the biscotti type with the sugared fruit in them.

One final word about all of these cookies from the Thinker: Yum!

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Thinker Thinks of Everythink

As part of our free dinner prize for being smart and winning the trivia contest, we each get to hold onto the Thinker trophy for a little while. This is my time. It is just like when you win the Stanley Cup and it passes from player to player through the year, except that nobody has ever heard of the Stanley Cup, while the St. Ann's Trivia Contest is well known. Here the Thinker is at work typing the very post that you are reading. He is quite clever.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The medium (of the universe) is the message

You know we live in a post-modern world when even the serious academic articles start to smack of science fiction.

An article by Stephen Hsu of the University of Oregon and Anthony Zee of the University of California suggests that a putative creator of the universe could have encoded as many as 100,000 bits of information into variations in the cosmic background radiation merely by tuning the starting conditions. The article by Hsu and Zee on goes into much more technical detail. Science has a slightly easier summary blurb as well.

This reminds me of Charles Stross' novel Accelerando where, in one of many delightfully dense throwaway lines he talks about -
"...waves in the cosmic background radiation (which, it is theorized, may be waste heat generated by irreversible computational processes back during the inflationary epoch; the present-day universe being merely the data left behind by a really huge calculation)."
"... the weirdness beyond M31: According to the more conservative cosmologists, an alien superpower -– maybe a collective of Kardashev Type Three galaxy-spanning civilizations -– is running a timing channel attack on the computational ultrastructure of space-time itself, trying to break through to whatever's underneath."
I wonder if he got the idea from these guys or if it is just convergent evolution of cool ideas.

The description of the creator as a physicist hacker or deity or engineer is somewhat like Robert Sawyer's god in Calculating God. Sawyer's god is not omni-anything really, just very powerful, and it was around before the Big Bang of the current cycle. An alien comes to Earth to find evidence for God. One of the supporting arguments is that several planets widely separated in space have gone through mass extinctions at close to the same times over hundreds of millions of years. Sawyer's God is just a really good engineer that survived the last Big Bang to program the universal constants for the current Big Bang cycle to ensure the creation of life.

The way to know that you are living in a science fiction novel or not is this: In the novel scientists would already have discovered and deciphered the message written into the cosmic background radiation.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Happy Delaware Day

On this day (December 7th) in 1787, Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States of America, and now gets to be first in every list of states for all time.

My favorite Delaware facts are that the state bird is the Blue Hen, and the state tree is the American holly. This is why I have one in my garden (the holly tree, not the chicken). There is a longer list of Delaware State facts here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The days of grass and salt.

Just as the Romans sowed the land of the city of Carthage with salt so that nothing could ever grow there again and no new Carthage could ever rise again to challenge Rome's newfound might, so to you can't spread too much salt on the side walk if you want grass on the sides to grow.

1.) One year spread too much salt in the winter and the grass dies and you get this mud patch. It's a good thing there are no streams around. Studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have noted a disturbing trend caused by overuse of road salt. (see From Icy Roads to Salty Streams and Increased Salinization of fresh water in the northeastern United States.)

2.) Spread some seed in the fall the next year so that you can grow grass in the mud patch from last year. Here are some tender young shoots just starting to make there way in the world.

3.) First snow comes and it is time to pile on the salt. There is so much here I might actually slip on the salt instead of the ice it is attempting to prevent.

Also drive your little tractor to carry the salt and plow the inch of snow on the path. Choose one with wheels just wider than the path. Drive through the mud on each side, crushing the new grass in the late fall, before it has time to get established, even if it would have survived the salt.

4.) Wait until next fall to start all over again. (Don't plant the grass in the spring, you are showing to much forethought.)

Need I point out the Sisyphean nature of this task? Everybody benefits, grass growers and grass seed sellers, snow plowers and salt spreaders, and salt sellers. It's the free market in action. I hope all of this activity gets counted into the GDP.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Smarties celebrate their smartness

Remember when the trivia team won the whole trivia contest? Last night the team and the trophy celebrated at famous Wilmington, nightlife spot, Toscana. We revelled in our own cleverness, but stopped for a moment to have the event recorded for posterity. The trophy, The Thinker, by Rodin is now travelling from team member to team member just like the Stanley Cup. More photos later (when I think of something clever to do with it).

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Christmas Music idea I stole from someone else.

The Slacktavist, in his role as a Christian Fundamentalist spoiler and all around practical guy, has a good post about the quality of Christmas Music and asks his readers to suggest some good Christmas songs. He is suffering with the rest of the Philadelphia radio market is suffering through as Sunny 104.5 plays Christmas music 24-7. The problem is that they play the most insipid Christmas music they can find. His reflections inspired me to look for a few good ones to crib for my Ipod.
  • Have you every listened closely to Jingle Bells? There are no Christmas references in the song whatsoever, it is merely about a sleigh ride in the snow and the horses have bells on. "Making spirits bright" is not necessarily only about the season. I am going to play it til the snow melts!
  • Winter Wonderland is the same as Jingle Bells, it isn't a Christmas song, it is a winter song. My favorite is a real swinging version by Avalon. As pointed out by the Slacktavist, there are a whole bunch of cold weather, snowy winter season songs that are co-opted for Christmas and then don't get played after Jan 1st. It doesn't even snow at Christmas most years.
I have been filling up my Holiday playlist with more eclectic Christmas favorites like the Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping, Wham - Last Christmas, Coldplay - 2000 miles, Sting - Bethlehem Down. I even found Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies on glass harmonica as a free download from Amazon. Follow the recommendations of com"YULE"ation Cleric (Mitch Mirthman), he seems to have scoured all of the holiday downloads to help you avoid 30 second samples and bad music.

What's your favorite holiday song? What is your favorite, most eclectic holiday song? Please comment.

It's not Christmas yet!

Let me point out something to my non-Catholic friends out there (and to some of my Catholic ones as well). Technically speaking, it is not the Christmas season yet. Right now it is Advent, which is the church season where we wait for Jesus to be born. The Christmas season actually starts with the Feast of the Nativity(Dec 25th, so that's what it is called) and ends with the Presentation at the Temple a few weeks after Christmas, and includes the Mary, Mother of God, Holy Innocents and other good stuff. It is hard not to play or listen to any Christmas music before Christmas, but one good carol/hymn is "O Come O Come Emmanuel" which is appropriate for the season, and is a song about Jesus coming not one about him already being here.

All those songs with Christmas in the title or lyrics are for after Dec 25th, although I don't expect anyone to have the discipline to avoid it, except the choir at church.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rosa Parks anniversary fraught with irony

Fifty years ago today Rosa Parks refused to give up here seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama and started a protest that galvanized the civil rights movement in the South. Today cities across the United States are commemorating this date by reserving the front seat of the bus.
"All buses in Montgomery paid tribute to Parks by leaving a seat empty with a display commemorating her act. Other bus systems around the country had similar displays."
Does anyone else see the irony of paying tribute to Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat and her fight against seating restrictions on blacks by not allowing anyone to sit in a seat in the front of a bus?