Tuesday, August 30, 2005

This labor day, ArthurFest. Next year, I'm definitely going to Burning Man.

Burning Man is going on right now, and I'm not there. I know, these days all the cool kids say that Burning Man used to be awesome, but now it's full of posers. But I recently realized that I'm a poser, so it's perfect. Next year, I'm definitely going! (Thank you, recently opened Onion Archives!)

However, if you're like me and stuck in Los Angeles for labor day with nothing else to do, you could head over to enjoy the indie- and alterna- rock at ArthurFest, which features:
Nine-plus hours of non-stop exciting music across three stages (two outdoor, one indoor) each day; good food from local eateries; alcohol, beer, coffee and energy drinks; lawns, trees and shade (no asphalt! no dirt!); a Frank Lloyd Wright building in his "Mayan Revival" style; polite and helpful staff and security; easy parking.... What more could you want?
Sounds promising. I'm going on the day that features Sleater-Kinney and Sonic Youth. I will not be going on the day that features Yoko Ono.

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Monday, August 29, 2005


Despite the fact that it was redonkulously hot Sunday, I managed to start Geocaching. Geocaching is a global game of hide-and-seek treasure hunting: Geocachers create and hide "caches" containing a log book and some trinkets. They then post the GPS coordinates on geocaching.com; anyone with a GPS unit can try to find the caches. When I entered my zip code, the web site found dozens of hidden caches within a few miles of my house.

I entered waypoints for the nearest caches and marched off into the hills behind my house. I found one cache, I was unable to find a second cache, and I spent a lot of time hunting for what I thought was a third cache, but was actually an unrelated waypoint left in my GPS unit from long ago. D'oh! But it was very cool to open the cache I did find, and it's a great way to mix up my hiking a bit. I recommend giving it a try, and I may even place some caches of my own!

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

SLOSH model of Hurricane Betsy (1965)

As I'm writing this, Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans and will hit by dawn. The National Hurricane Center has a computerized model of storm surge heights called SLOSH, "Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes". I was mesmerized by the animated SLOSH output for Hurricane Betsy, which hit New Orleans in 1965. Betsy was was not nearly as strong as Katrina. This looks bad.

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Wild and crazy ideas for Google Talk features.

Engadget had a "How would you change Google Talk?" thread this weekend. Some of the user submitted ideas were good, and some were not. A few people suggested cluttersome "features" that would probably take away from the overall experience. (Why? See "Why Good Programmers Are Lazy and Dumb.")

There were some wild suggestions, but overall, the ideas weren't quite crazy enough for me. Here are some of my wild ideas:
  • Context sensitive links in a little window to the side. If I start talking to my brother about "Burning Man", Talk could auto-search for "burning man" and show the links to both of us. This integrates nicely with the next feature:
  • Ability to use Talk to initiate shared browsing. A discussion could take place half in Google Talk and half through the links we share with each other. Of course, if you're going to allow shared web browsing, you should also allow:
  • Photo sharing in Talk. Google's "Hello" already does that, in an IM-type program, already! I guess it would be nice to see Hello and Talk merge. Integrate with Picasa as much as possible.
  • Google Earth sharing. My dad and my sister looked for hotels in Monterey for a vacation, and they found a great location by loading up Google Earth. They were 2000 miles apart at the time, so they had to describe in words, over the phone, what they were looking at. Why not allow a shared Google Earth session?
  • Web access to Google Talk. A simplified web version, for when I need to chat but I don't have a machine I can install the full Talk client on?
  • More than two users in a "conference call", both in voice and chat. Not such a wild feature, but needed for the next feature...
  • Release easy-to-use libraries and help developers of games integrate Jabber support into their chat systems. Game developers keep coming up with their own in-game chat systems; make it easier to just use Google Talk. Yes, I still want this to happen.
  • Video chat. Actually, that probably just dorks things up, scratch that.
But I have an even wilder idea. I was thinking about the possibility of archiving all conversations that happen in Google Talk. And I mean ALL conversation; not just text, but voice conversations, too. (Yes, this has some privacy issues; we'll get to those below.) The archives wouldn't be that useful unless you could search them, which means you would need the ability to index and search voice conversations.

This might not be as hard as it sounds: computer voice recognition has problems, but maybe you don't have to be dead on to present a list of conversations sorted by "likely match". If the user searches for "Manta Ray" but gets a conversation where he actually said "Monterey", he might tolerate that, especially if it showed up lower on the list of matches. Getting close might be good enough.

Of course this technology would work well with suggesting AdWords results to the topic of a voice conversation as it happens.

"But Mike," you say, "That would require a massive network of computers and massive storage." Google's got it. "But Mike, such a system would also require the ability to do voice recognition, without training, on thousands of simultaneous conversation." As it turns out, Google wouldn't even be the first guys there. The NSA's ECHELON system has been rumored to be doing exactly the type of archiving and voice recognition that I'm suggesting here. "But Mike, that's a little creepy." I can't say I disagree. Maybe the biggest obstacle wouldn't be technical, but would be getting over the feeling that the computer is LISTENING to you.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hike to Simi Peak

Or..."Mike Almost Kills Himself".

I hiked up to Simi Peak today. This was extremely dumb. I intended to go on a 4 mile, 1:30 hour hike NEAR Simi Peak. But I only had a rough map and took a wrong turn. And I left at noon on a day where it got up to 103F. And not only was there a lot of elevation gain (1200 ft) but it was very treacherous in places, with slow ascents and descents. Thus it ended up being a 7 mile, 3:15 mile hike. So I ran out of about two hours in. D'oh!

But Simi Peak itself was beautiful; it may be the only place where you can see Simi Valley, the Conejo Valle, the San Fernando Valley, and even the a little of the Camarillo Valley all from the same vantage point. If you plan better than I did, I highly recommend the hike. (I'm attaching my a Google Earth kmz file containing several hikes; this hike is the one listed on 8/27/2005.)

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Baby got back...packs.

Things I never thought I would live to see: Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" used to sell back-to-school supplies at Target. It's been on TV quite a bit lately, but for those of you with Tivos who have missed it: Go here, click "Launch it now", then "Baby got back...packs".

P.S. If you're looking for images from the video for "Baby Got Back", never, EVER do an image search for "big butts." Sweet Zombie Jesus, that's messed up!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"Yahoo Talk" out soon, too.

Google Talk is nifty, but it seems like it's missing a few obvious features:
  • Search. Google's a search company, but I can't search my conversations?
  • OSX and Linux support. They're working on it, but not yet.
  • Ads. Maybe they'll never do this (it might be a little too annoying) but it seems like ads targeted to the conversation is an obvious step.
While Google Talk is a nice program, it's not obvious how it relates to Google's mission statement, "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." In short, what I'm saying is that they probably have more plans for Talk in the future.

So if they're going to be adding these features in the near future, why release Talk now? To take some the wind out of Yahoo's soon to be released VOIP solution.

With the big guys battling it out, I feel a little sorry for Skype.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Google Talk goes live and I recommend a headset

Google Talk just went live, and it's an integrated IM/VOIP solution. If you're interested in the voice chat, I personally recommend the Sennheiser PC-150 headset: it's very comfortable, and for the price ($40 on Amazon right now) the performance is great. The cheaper headsets I've bought worked ok, but I might as well have clamped a vice around my head for the discomfort they caused.

But back to Google Talk: Any speculation as to whether they'll be adding context-relevant ads?

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Shadow Sculptures and Digital Sundials

A shadow sculpture is a "three-dimensional object in which the shadow, as opposed to the actual form, represent[s] the actual object." Shigeo Fukuda is a sculptor who makes shadow sculptures; make sure to out the quicktime movie for "Lunch With A Helmut On", a seemingly random blob of forks, spoons and knives that casts the shadow of a motorcycle.

This reminded me of an article in Scientific American a few years ago about hypothetical digital sundials. Turns out someone actually makes a digital sundial now. "In the true tradition of all sundials, the device is purely passive - it operates without electricity, and has no moving parts. Instead, the sunlight is cast through two cleverly designed masks in the shape of numbers that show the current time of day." Clever, and only $98. I might have to get one even though I have nowhere to put it. Patent (with a pretty slick explanation), and a video demo.

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Home of the sickest girls on the net!

Crikey, it took me a few minutes to realize this was a joke: Coeds With Colds!

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

I want to be unique! Or: The original IvyMike

My friend recently spent a while trying to think of a name for his blog, but he quickly discovered that it's hard to choose an online username, handle, blog name, or identity. You want it to be cool, but I'm learning it's probably even more difficult to keep it unique, and that problem gets worse all the time.

I feel sorry for the kid born twenty years from now that finds that the only gmail addresses left are random strings of letters and numbers. (Or better yet, Unicode. "Visit my blog, http://www.![ARABIC LETTER ALEF WITH MADDA ABOVE FINAL FORM]! ![PILCROW SIGN]!.com")

Back when I chose "IvyMike", I searched to make sure that it was relatively unique, and at the time, it was. I wanted to keep it that way, so I was fairly aggressive about making sure to sign up on most of the web sites I visited. It never occurred to me to sign up on sites I don't use, though. For example, the IvyMike on Slashdot and DailyKos is me. The IvyMike on FreeRepublic is not.

Since "Ivy Mike" was the name of the first true H-Bomb, I guess I never should have expected uniqueness to last. The photo is of the original Ivy Mike fireball.

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Flash Earth

Flash Earth is one of the best "mashups" of Google Maps and MSN Virtual Earth. It's still no Google Earth, but considering it's flash and runs inside of your web browser, it's got a great interface: the scroll wheel works, and you can rotate the maps by dragging the compass rose. Check out the author's blog, too.

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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Recommendations on del.icio.us

The new recommendations feature on del.icio.us makes me happy. If you use a tag often, the recommendation feature will find similar links. Excellent!

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Random Stunt Kite Videos

Back in May, I uploaded some stunt kite videos to Google Video. The videos aren't anything extraordinary -- I used a digital camera that didn't even have sound, and the kites tricks are interesting but nothing out of the ordinary. But I wanted to post them somewhere, so here goes:
Thanks, Joe and Liz!

I don't think this is the type of media Google Video actually wanted; the signup and submission process asks questions that are targeted towards a video production company, not personal video from random people.

Technical tangent: Is there any way to get a de-cruftified URL to a google video other than editing the URL by hand? You can remove everything but the "docid=" parameter, but it sure would be nice if there was a "link to this video" option similar to that in google maps.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Internet exclusive: The many flavors of Nerds.

Before I get started, I want to confirm that I am in fact an adult. It's just that this information doesn't appear anywhere else on the internet, and I feel the responsible, adult thing to do is let people know all the facts.

I purchased a box of Rainbow Nerds candy, but as I and my coworkers consumed them, we found we couldn't agree on the flavors. We did the responsible thing and searched the internets, but without luck: the internet does not have a comprehensive catalogue of Nerds flavors. Frankly, I was astonished, but after I recovered, I did the responsible thing and contacted the authorities. Here is their response:
Thank you for contacting Nestlé. We welcome questions and comments from our consumers.

The flavors of Nerds are as follows:

Strawberry = Pink
Watermelon = Green
Grape = Purple
Cherry Lemonade = Dark yellow
Punch = White
Blueberry = Blue
Lemonade = Yellow
Peach = Orange
Wildberry = Teal
Apple/Watermelon = Red
Orange = Orange

We appreciate your interest in our products and hope you'll visit our website often for latest information on Nestlé products and promotions.
I believe this information is an internet exclusive, but I challenge you to prove me wrong. Otherwise, I'm proud to be improving the internet one fact at a time.
(Image courtesy "Westfield, Ma" via Flickr.)

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Black toenails

When I went on a long hike a few weeks ago, I was prepared for all sorts of danger: heat stroke, dehydration, Lyme disease, sunburn, rattlesnakes, venomous spiders, mountain lions, poison oak; I was even prepared to defend myself against Deliverance-style rednecks. But nobody ever told me that my toenails might turn black and then fall off. (No pictures at that link. Just horrible, horrible words.)

My friend wanted me to keep a photoblog of the process. You can thank me for not listening to him.

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Things I need invented: Universal Inductive Charging Pad

A4Tech makes a wireless optical mouse that works through "Electromagnetic Induction Technology"; the mouse pad itself is powered and generates a current in the mouse through induction. My toothbrush charges the same way: the base of the unit sits on a sealed copper coil that supplies enough power to the toothbrush to charge it overnight.

Here's what I want: a "Universal Inductive Charging Pad" that can charge all of my portable devices at once, using an industry standard that every device implements. Instead of a clutter of custom chargers, docks, and wires, imagine just throwing your cell phone, pager, ipod, and pda on the universal charging pad. The next day, they're all charged up. I want one. Now go invent it.

(Image thanks to pvera.)

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Forget RFID. Fear DNAID.

Slashdot recently posted an article about Tommy Thompson lobbying for the implanting of RFID chips into, well, just about everyone. This raises obvious privacy concerns as we descend down a slippery slope: first, people with medical conditions get voluntarily chipped. Next, all felons and sex offenders are chipped. Kidnapping fears lead to all children being chipped, and pretty soon the government is tracking everyone, all the time. But I stopped worrying about implanted RFID chips a while ago.

Why? Because the real threat will be the development of rapid DNA identification technology along with ubiquitous DNA sniffers everywhere. Remember, we discovered that DNA is the basis for genetics less than 50 years ago; look how far we've come. And the technology just gets better every year.

In the movie Gattaca, companies took blood samples to do rapid DNA identification of employees, but I don't think there's any reason DNAID machines would need to be so invasive. You're shedding skin cells, hairs, and random bits of genetic material all the time; that's why a bloodhound can track your trail even after several days. (The bloodhound is smelling protein, not your DNA, but the important thing is all the bits you're leaving behind.)

I predict that within 20 years, we will have machines that will be able to "sniff" genetic material out of the air and databases that are able to instantly turn that into an identity. There's no need for anything as crude as a chip implanted under the skin when everyone is already leaving identity tag molecules everywhere they go. I have no answers as to what this will do to society, but I'm not optimistic.

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Messing with the look of the blog.

I've been messing around with the look of this blog. Beside the obvious color tweaking, I've added Technorati tags and my del.icio.us bookmark miniblog over on the right. As much as I'm willing to critique the look of other people's blogs, when it comes time to make my blog look good, I lose all gumtion.

Any comments on the look?

EDIT: I added an animated favicon that annoyed me the instant I put it up. And a sitemeter! I'm pulling out all the stops!