Friday, December 22, 2006

Time Flies

I confess, I rarely have any troubles getting up in the morning and, in fact, usually beat the alarm clock. On those rare occasions when I do "sleep in," the clock-radio is usually set to NPR, and newscaster Carl Kasell always sounds like he's eating something, which makes me hungry enough to get up.

For those who do struggle with consciousness in the morning (and really want to beat an alarm clock), we have two entries in what could very well be the most irritating alarm clocks in the world.

First, Clocky:
If you hit the snooze button, Clocky will roll off of the nightstand, fall to the floor, and run around the room, searching for a place to hide. Making you get your butt out of bed to find it and turn it off.
Second, the Flying Alarm Clock:
This nifty alarm clock literally flies around making an annoying mosquito-like noise until you catch it and return it to its base. So, you are forced to catch the darn thing if not whack it with a bat, and in doing so, forced to wake up. And should you press snooze, the device will just start flying all over again when the alarm goes off.
Regardless of one's attitude toward waking, I can't help but think that these timepieces would last about 30 seconds before being smashed into little time pieces.

Wall of Voodoo

OK then. Via Version 1.0:
[E]lectronics-tinkerer Mike Larsson['s] USB Voodoo Word doll plugs into your computer and, when you stab it with a pin, prompts a great gushing of vicious prose onto the screen.

Oh, I don't know. The same thing happens whenever I use Microsoft Word, which is itself based on voodoo.

Pod Save the Queen

Dig the new breed:
Queen Elizabeth to podcast annual Christmas message

In addition to more traditional terrestrial broadcasting, Her Majesty will be making her annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth at 3:00 pm GMT (that's 10:00 am US Eastern time) on Monday, December 25 available as a podcast to all those who really want to hear her opine away.

Miracle on 34th Street

Well, around the corner on Broadway, actually... I was in NYC a couple weeks ago and heading to midtown from Penn Station. I was surprised, but happy, to see that Macy's was celebrating Cephalopodmas. (Full disclosure: I did not take this photo.)

Kraken Baby

Just in time for Cephalopodmas:
Japanese researchers, the same group that caught the photographs in 2004, have filmed a live giant squid. The research team, led by Tsunemi Kubodera, videotaped the giant squid at the surface as they captured it, on a squid bait, off the Ogasawara Islands south of Tokyo, earlier this month. The squid was a female juvenile of about 24ft this falls shy of the 60ft record.
Watch cool video from Reuters here (short commercial first, alas).

It should be noted though that the mother of all giant squid--the still-elusive Architeuthis dux--is an Atlantic species.

Hall of Shame

Fresh from Japan, a way for you to confess all your shameful deeds (and you know you have some), just in time for New Year's resolution time: the Shameful Confessions Microphone:
a digital voice changing mic with a clear panel attached to censor out your eyes--and tell the world what a scumbag you are while preserving anonymity.

Perfect for karaoke (the very epitome of a shameful deed). It kind of reminds me of Mr. Microphone (remember that?) from the 1970s. In fact, all the people who appeared in that old Mr. Microphone commercial ("Hey, good-lookin', we'll be back to pick you up later!") should definitely switch to the Shameful Confessions microphone.

And that I remember the old Mr. Microphone commercial itself warrants a shameful confession...

I, Toons

A round-up, for all you animation fans, of the 50 Greatest Cartoons ever (as voted by the animation industry itself), complete with YouTube links. I agree with number one heartily.

It was said, back in the [first] Golden Age of Wireless (i.e., radio), that a true intellectual was someone who could listen to "The William Tell Overture" without thinking of The Lone Ranger. Having grown up in the 1970s, I would emend that to state that a true intellectual is someone who could listen to "The Barber of Seville" without thinking of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Alas, by my own logic, I am no intellectual....

The Epic Battle Continues

Via Pharyngula, a timeless Cephalopdmas carol!

I'm Not Like Everybody Else

While I am hardly to the manner (or even manor) born, and the closest I've ever come to the aristocacy was seeing Disney's The Aristo-Cats when I was a kid, that still doesn't mean I can't have a peculiar aristocratic title. As it turns out, mine would be:
My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Duke Richard the Dejected of Piddletrenthide on the Carpet
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Six Squids a-Flailing

Merry Cephalopodmas!

Monday, December 18, 2006

These Shoes Suck

Oh, come now:
[H]ome appliance manufacturer Electrolux has revealed a "vacuum shoe" concept model. In order to accommodate the electric motor -- and store all the crap that you've left on your floor -- the concept design features a rather thick and ugly sole reminiscent of Cosmo Kramer's basketball sneakers, so you probably wouldn't want to do much walking outdoors in them. Seeing as this is just a concept model that's at least a couple of testing stages away from a real product, we wouldn't be surprised if the real model was even more "visually challenged."

Nature Green in Tooth and Claw

Not sure what to get that special someone for Christmas? Why, how about the Carnivorous Plant of the Month Club?

Some people have to fight with their cats and/or dogs while trying to eat dinner. And then, there are those who have to fight with their plants, as viny tendrils slither up the table leg and make off with large pieces of meat. Then again, it could be useful to have plants that can be trained to catch household pests, if only for the entertainment value.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Send Lawyers, Gums, and Money

What is the must-have gift this Christmas season?

Of course.


Oh, let's not start that silliness again...

Anyhoo, next week will be Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory around here at the Blogito Ergo Sum International Headquarters, Cafeteria, and World Domination Showroom, as the impending holidays can only mean getting a million things done before the holidays. Thus, blogging will be fairly light, if existing at all. And, of course, after this week is over, it will be Lucille Ball pitching Vitameatavegamin around here...

So whatever holiday it is you celebrate--Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Tet, Boxing Day, Kickboxing Day, Wrestling Day, Cephalopodmas, Festivus, Robot Overlord Appreciation/Supplication Day, Antarctican Penguin Licking Day, the Xorlon Hrunkon Festival of Omicron Persei VIII, etc.--have a happy and healthy one.

Red Christmas

When you think about the toys today that are pulled from shelves because they are safety hazards, you can't help but think what wusses kids are these days. Back in the good old days, there were some seriously dangerous toys, and here is a list of the 10 most egregious offenders. Perfect Christmas gifts for those kids you don't like all that much.

I seem to recall having something like the Thing Maker--superheated plastic glop on a hotplate on which it was remarkably easy to burn yourself.

My favorite from this list (which I did not have, I hasten to add) is:

Snack-Time Cabbage Patch Doll
[T]he adorable lineup of Cabbage Patch snack-dolls appeared at first to be harmless. They merely wanted a nibble—a carrot perhaps, or maybe some yummy pudding. They would stop chewing when snack time was done—they promised.

Then they chomped your child's finger off.

In creating this innovative new toy, the great minds at Mattel devised a motorized mouth that sensed neither pleasure nor pain. It chewed for chewing's sake. With no mechanism to turn off the munching should trouble arise, it was only a matter of time before some cherub's long blonde hair got caught in the doll's rabid jaws. After 35 fingers and ponytails fell victim, the Snacktime Kids were removed from retail shelves forever, and 500,000 customers were offered a full $40 refund.

Dead Trees Rule!

A reminder, via Boing Boing, of why I like printed books (click image for larger view):


I am ashamed to admit that I have only ever read two Thomas Pynchon novels--and the two "easy" ones at that (The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland). So I decided to take the plunge and picked up his mammoth new book Against the Day (and am 400 pages into it--out of a total of 1,100+) and am enjoying it immensely. Granted, Pynchon is not an easy read, or at least not to get started reading, but once you get into the universe, it's a actually a lot of fun. Helping matters is an online Pynchon wiki of annotations I found, plus a discussion blog. (I seem to be progressing through the book faster than either of these two online sources!)

I would describe what the book is about, but that's not an easy thing to do. It is set between the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the onset of World War I and concerns two families--the plutocratic Vibes and the Colorado mining Traverses. The patriarch of the former arranges the murder of the patriarch of the latter (because he is believed to have been dynamiting the mines owned by Vibe), and a son's quest for revenge. There are also subplots involving Nikola Tesla, various quests for something called Iceland spar, or a kind of double-refracting crystal that creates ghost doubles and multidimensional maps for finding lost cities. There is a sublot involving a British group of pre-New Age-y spiritualists called the True Worshippers of the Ineffable Tetractys (or T.W.I.T.--Pynchon is nothing if not a satirist) and everything is connected via the Chums of Chance, a group of teen adventurers out of (a parody of) early-20th-century boys' adventure stories (like Tom Swift) who travel around the world in a high-tech airship called the Inconvenience. Doubles and "evil twins" abound; a couple of competing physicists are named Renfrew and Werfner (check the backward spellings) and there are of course parallels to the present day. I have no idea where all of this is going yet, but it's a fun journey. So far.

Buoyed, I picked up Pynchon's V. and Gravity's Rainbow and added them to my book pile.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I'm Henry VIII I Am

Well, maybe not.

I've never been a big fan of personality profile quizzes, but here's one I can get on board with: which historical lunatic are you?

This would be good for me to put on my resume:

I was hoping for Caligula or perhaps a mad Pope or something, but I guess I'll take what I can get.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Back in Blacker

How evil are you? Take the test and find out.

Yep, as I always figured:

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Back in Black

I have only two things to say about so-called Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The first is, there is no way on Earth I would venture anywhere near a mall (or any store) on Black Friday, as while I am sure I could probably save a few bucks, the resulting psychiatric treatment I would need would handily offset any savings. (I hate shopping to begin with, for any reason.) The second is, can we all agree that "Cyber Monday" is an utterly inane name (almost as bad as "viral markeing," now that I think about it)?
Online merchants may want to rethink their advertising strategies next year for the weekend following Thanksgiving in light of a report released this week by BlueLithium Labs.

The San Jose, Calif. maker of online advertising solutions reported that "click-through" rates -- the rate at which consumers click on Net advertising -- on the Friday and Monday following Turkey Day were below average compared to the rest of the month.

On Black Friday -- so named because the volume of shopping that day can boost a retailer's bottom line for the year from red to black -- click-through rates were 32.3 percent lower than the monthly average, BlueLithium reported, and for Cyber Monday -- a peak day during the year for online shopping -- click-through rates were 12.6 percent lower.

The report also found that conversion rates -- the rate at which a click-through is converted into a sale -- slumped by eight percent on Friday; however, conversions soared by 29.6 percent on Monday.

And, It's Moist

Perhaps the face on Mars has been crying (distraught, perhaps, by the high-res images that showed that, alas, there is no actual face on Mars), but, according to a paper published in the recent issue of Science (via, there may actually be water on Mars:
Michael Malin (Malin Space Science Systems) and four colleagues present compelling evidence that liquid water flowed across the surface of Mars in the past seven years.

The evidence comes from the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which fell silent in early November. This high-resolution imager spotted fresh deposits in images of two crater slopes taken in 2004 and 2005 that did not appear in earlier pictures. "The shapes of these deposits are what you would expect to see if the material were carried by flowing water," says Malin, who is MOC's lead scientist. He argues that liquid water exists underground and collects behind icy dams along crater walls. When those barriers fail, water episodically rushes out, perhaps mixed with salts or other materials, and then flows downhill before evaporating into the thin Martian atmosphere.
If it turns out that there is indeed flowing water on the surface of Mars, it raises the possibility of there being (or having been) life on Mars. That being the case, we may not want to be so gung ho about curing the common cold.

Tongue Lashing

As if bats couldn't become even less appealing. Scientists have found the Gene Simmons of the animal kingdom:
One nectar bat can launch its tongue one and a half times its body length, longer than any other mammal and second only to chameleons among vertebrates, scientists recently discovered.
Even more surprising, Muchhala pointed out, the tube-lipped nectar bat came up with an ingenious way of evolving a longer tongue without the usual drawbacks. Just like humans, in bats the tongue begins at the base of the mouth, so the only way to stretch tongue length would be to grow an equally long snout. Tongue length correlated with snout length for 10 other nectar species, the researchers found.

That’s not the case for the tube-lipped bat. “Instead of evolving a longer jaw, it pushed the base of the tongue back and into the rib cage,” Muchhala told LiveScience. Its tongue gets stowed between the heart and sternum.
Let's hope this thing isn't what I heard in the wall a couple weeks ago. However, since I don't live in Ecuador, that does seem unlikely.
Still, it would be less freakish than to have Gene Simmons scrabbling in the walls.


In the spirit of the USB slippers (that keep your feet warm), comes...wait for it...the USB eye-warmer.
It plugs into the USB port of your PC or Mac and helps relieve stress and tension associated with staring at computer monitors all day. There's a temperature control so you don't end up scorching your eyes when all you wanted to so was feel some warm sensations.


While we can speculate (but not for too long) about the psychological health of anyone who would buy a Hummer--if only because it has all the aesthetic appeal of a Brinks' truck--or, indeed, raise the sociopathic implications of driving around in what is basically the automotive equivalent of a giant middle finger, we can all generally agree that it takes a special kind of lunacy to trick one out with a fireplace.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cruel Shoes

Via Pharyngula, a terribly amusing new pseudoscience that I have no doubt will sweep Saratoga Springs by storm before very long:
The heretofore unknown science of “earthing”, patented by Clint Ober, is that your body needs to be earthed so that you can have the earth’s antioxidizing flow of free electrons to go through your body and extinguish free radicals.

Earthing Axiom:

The earth’s infinite supply of free electrons will neutralize free radicals in your body and will thus help to stave off disease and aging. YOUR BODY WAS DESIGNED TO BE IN CONTACT WITH THE EARTH FOR MANY HOURS PER DAY.

Being connected via our barefeet to the earth appears destined to provide us with many far-reaching health benefits, which when coupled with modern medical prowess and optimum nutrition will offer mankind the best opportunity for health and longevity possible.
Wait..."patented"? How do you patent not wearing shoes? (Ah; see below.) As for this whole "earthing" thing, well, despite the thick chowder of non-sequiturs and gobbledygook, on a more pragmatic level, it's 20 degree outside right now and snowed this morning. I can't think of any health benefits in going out barefoot, unless frostbite is actually healthy (or is that theory coming next week?).

The flow of electrons will neutralize free radicals? (Sounds kind of like using a taser on protesters.) So I could stick my toes in a wall socket and achieve even more health benefits. Cool.

As I scroll down this site (which should be issued a citation for font abuse) I see that in those cases where walking barefoot is not possible, you can sleep on a "barefoot pad" (this sounds upsetting):
The patented Barefoot Earthing Bed Pad fits any size bed, occupying the lower 1/3 of the bed where your feet will naturally rest. The soft, comfortable fibers of the pad are specially created to conduct electron flow through your feet. An earthing wire connects the fibers of the pad to the earth outside your home, so that your body’s cells are literally bathed all night with trillions of electrons from mother earth.
Pity; I prefer to sleep hovering five feet above the bed.

This goofy site will provide hours of entertainment.

Monday, December 04, 2006


[Read in another stentorian movie trailer narrator guy's voice]

Thirty-one years ago, Jaws left you hungry for more.

Last October, "shrimp on a treadmill" left you breathless.

Two posts down, "octopus escaping through a one-inch hole" changed you in ways you still don't understand.

Now, prepare, nothing you've seen so far could ever prepare you for...octopus eating a shark.

The horror...the horror...

Having a Lovely Time...Wish You Were Squid

In other hot cephalopod action, via Version 1.0, if you're ever vacationing in Japan, be sure to send your friends and relatives...
Edible squid-flavored postcards
Residents of the coastal town of Susami in Wakayama prefecture love the sea and the post office so much that the town once installed a mailbox on the ocean floor for scuba divers. Now, further evidence of this powerful sea/mail love comes in the form of “Surumail” — edible postcards made from squid.

Produced by the Susami fishing cooperative, Surumail postcards consist of dried surume squid (Todarodes pacificus), the local seafood specialty. The squid jerky is flattened and vacuum-packed into the shape of a postcard, and an adhesive label is included for the postage, delivery address and a short message.
Do you have to write on them using squid ink?

No Bones About It

[Read in stentorian movie trailer narrator guy's voice]

Last October, "shrimp on a treadmill" left you breathless.

Now, prepare yourself, you will never be the same after seeing..."octopus escaping through a one-inch hole."

Octopus macropus. Call him an invertebrate...just don't call him spineless.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Moving Pictures

Today's Times-Union has a nice interview with our boy Derek, managing director of the Saratoga Film Forum. Given his newfound fame, we hope he will remember the little people (Billy Barty, Michael Dunn, Herve Villechaize, etc.).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ten Left Feet

Sure, a dancing robot squid seems harmless first!!

Robot Holocaust Continues: Jeux Sans Frontieres

Doomsday draws ever nigher:
George the robot is playing hide-and-seek with scientist Alan Schultz. George whirrs and hides behind a post until he's found.

Then a bit later, he hunts for and finds Schultz hiding.

What's so impressive about robots playing children's games?
"If looks could kill, they probably will in games without frontiers, war without tears..."
For a robot to actually find a place to hide, and then hunt for its human playmate is a new level of human interaction. The machine must take cues from people and behave accordingly.

This is the beginning of a real robot revolution: giving robots some humanity.

"Robots in the human environment, to me that's the final frontier," said Cynthia Breazeal, robotic life group director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The human environment is as complex as it gets; it pushes the envelope."

Robotics is moving from software and gears operating remotely — Mars, the bottom of the ocean or assembly lines — to finally working with, beside and even on people.

"Robots have to understand people as people," Breazeal said. "Right now, the average robot understands people like a chair: It's something to go around."
Soon, though, the average robot will understand people as "something to destroy."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Deeply Unpleasant Fact of the Day

Bats, did you know, are apparently greasy and dirty by nature and, thus, their presence in the corners and crevasses of one's home can be detected by looking for telltale dark stains on eaves and in attics, rather like the stain someone who uses Brylcream will leave if he lies down on your couch.

This from my Terminix rep, who was here today investigating an unsettling scrabbling noise I heard emanating from the wall Saturday night--happily not bat-related, as it turns out. However, I may festoon the attic with antimacassars just to be on the safe side.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Balloon Man

On Friday, I ventured down to Gotham to see my all-time favorite musician, Robyn Hitchcock, in concert at a venue called the Hiro Ballroom, which I had never actually heard of, but is actually a rather nice performance space in the basement of the Maritime Hotel at 16th and 9th.

For those unfamiliar with Robyn Hitchcock, he is a British singer/songwriter/guitarist whose first band The Soft Boys (1977-1980) was a strange melding of Beatles-esque pop, Captain Beefheart rhythmic strangeness, and Bob Dylan's mid-60s-era flights of lyrical fancy. (This couldn't have been more out-of-step with the British punk movement of the time, but The Soft Boys would influence bands like R,E.M. and The Replacements, to name two.) Propelling it all are Robyn's often surreal lyrics, which typically involve insects, fish, amphibians, and other elements of the biosphere. He's always seemed to me to be best described as "if Gary Larson--of The Far Side comic strip--wrote lyrics for The Beatles". He and his band The Egyptians (1986-1993) were college radio favorites in the mid-1980s (which is where I found him, though certainly not on Syracuse's college radio station, which at the time was devoted to Top 40--bleech), with all his albums from 1986 to 1989 routinely hitting number one on the college album charts. He was picked up by a major label in 1988 and came close to grazing the mainstream in 1991/1992 (at the insistence of his record label with whom he split not long afterward), but has more or been a cult figure (and elder statesman of alternative rock) ever since, and his return to independent record labels (and Internet distribution) has meant that he can follow his muse wherever it takes him. And on Friday it took him to the Hiro Ballroom in New York.

Robyn was playing with a backup band (something he hasn't done in a while, as he has tended to perform solo acoustic shows for the better part of the last 15 years) which he dubbed The Venus 3 (a play on The Minus 5, which also features many of these same musicians), comprising guitarist Peter Buck (R.E.M., and who has appeared on many Hitchcock albums dating back to the mid-1980s), bassist/guitarist Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus 5), and drummer Bill Rieflin (Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, of all things).

It was a very fun show; Robyn was in good spirits, and his between-song narratives were as surreal (and often hysterically funny) as ever, and the band played well together. McCaughey and Hitchcock had a good chemistry and McCaughey knew exactly what to say to get Robyn on one of his long, surreal tangents.

The album the band is touring behind, Olé Tarantula, is arguably Robyn's best since 1989's Queen Elvis (1996's Moss Elixir is up there, though). Unlike the last band album he did (1999's Jewels for Sophia), the songs on Olé Tarantula hang together better and seem more of a piece. It also helps that much of the album was recorded by the same band at about the same time and not compiled from random recordings made over an extended perood of time, which gave JFS rather a "patched-together" feel. They performed a good chunk of the new album (about half of it) as well as some oldies but goodies (reaching back to Robyn's Soft Boys days for 1980's "Queen of Eyes" and "I Wanna Destroy You"). The Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians albums Element of Light (1987) and (my personal favorite album of all time) Globe of Frogs (1988) were also heavily represented (a good thing).

He was even joined by special guest Morris Windsor (drummer for The Soft Boys and the Egyptians) who lent his distinctive vocal harmonies to the last several songs.

I've seen Robyn on every tour he did between 1989 and 1996 (which is easy when you live in New York) but regret that I went a good seven years before seeing him again (two shows at the now-closed Bottom Line in NYC on Halloween, 2003). I have always enjoyed his concerts (obviously). In 1998, Jonathan Demme made a concert film (à la his Stop Making Sense film of Talking Heads) of Robyn called Storefront Hitchcock, which gives a good sense of what a Hitchcock concert is like. It's available on DVD--in fact, I think I'll put it on now.

The set list (in more or less the proper order, as I recall) for Friday night was:

Adventure Rocket Ship
Sally Was a Legend
Olé Tarantula
Somewhere Apart
Queen of Eyes (The Soft Boys)
If You Were a Priest
Jewels for Sophia
Chinese Bones
N.Y. Doll
Underground Sun
Flesh Number One
The Authority Box
Madonna of the Wasps
(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs
Driving Aloud (Radio Storm)

Aw Shit Man (from The Minus 5's latest album)
Eight Miles High (the classic Byrds song)
I Wanna Destroy You (The Soft Boys)

Dragon Their Heels

Hmm... Says the Times of London:
Sausages affected by draconian trade laws

A SPICY sausage known as the Welsh Dragon will have to be renamed after trading standards’ officers warned the manufacturers that they could face prosecution because it does not contain dragon.
The sausages will now have to be labelled Welsh Dragon Pork Sausages to avoid any confusion among customers.
Get it..."draconian trade laws"? Har har har.

I would worry, therefore, about buying anything labeled "baby food."

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Meatier Shower

If you're in the Northeast U.S. (or Europe) and the sky is clear, keep an eye out Saturday night for what is expected to be a more spectacular than usual Leonid meteor shower. Just head outside about 11:45 p.m. (EST). The shower is expected to last about a half hour.
Bundle up warmly, find a dark spot with an open view of the sky, lie back on the ground or in a reclining lawn chair, and just gaze up into the stars. Any Leonids you see will be coming from the northeast. Be patient.
Sky & Telescope has more here.

The Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

This is wonderful news: mix the utter unwatchability of cable television with the Unholy Device From Hell that is the cellphone.
Embracing a technology that has unnerved media and telecommunications companies, a major European wireless provider will let customers watch their home cable TV on a cell phone if they also have a device called the Slingbox back at the house.

3 Group will launch the new service in Britain first, starting Dec. 1, followed by three more of its 11 markets in early 2007, the wireless company announced Thursday.

Two new handsets running on 3's next-generation wireless network will feature the Sling application, which customers can use to watch any channel available on their cable TV at home. The phones also can be used to control a digital video recorder at home, pausing and rewinding live television, playing previously recorded shows, or setting up the DVR to record a program.
I guess my question is, if you're not at home watching television, aren't the chances pretty good that you're doing something you'd rather be doing than staying at home watching television?

Thoughts for Your Penny

Should we abolish the penny? A topic that arises time and time again, taken up in today's WSJ Econoblog. Sure, nothing costs a penny anymore--not even a penny, which costs about 1.23 cents. The debate takes tediousness to stratospheric heights:
The main problem is that pennies waste our valuable time. With American wages averaging over $18 per hour, it takes only two seconds for the typical person to earn one cent. Unfortunately, according to a widely cited study by the National Association of Convenience Stores and the Walgreen's drug store chain, using a penny probably adds slightly more than two seconds to the average retail transaction.

Picture yourself waiting in line to make a purchase. There are, say, three people in front of you and each of them decides to pay in cash and either fumbles around for a penny or receives one in change. If the line's length is constant, each penny use wastes the time of five people. By the time you reach the front of the line this has been multiplied threefold and a half a minute of time has been literally wasted because when you're standing in line you aren't doing what you want to do -- perhaps running back to your own business or getting off your feet at the end of a long day.
I don't know when the last time these economists went shopping, but I can't remember the last time I saw anyone on line anywhere fumbling for pennies. (They usually use debit cards these days.) And receiving a penny is no biggie; shove in your pocket and move on. And anyone who is too busy to spare two (or even 30) seconds of time has bigger problems than pennies, and should probably get a stress test before their heart explodes.

But that's just my two cents. (Doh!)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Robot Holocaust Part [I Don't Remember]: Destroyer, Heal Thyself!

Great. Now our inevitable overlords are just going to be harder to destroy--not that they weren't already:
New Robot Adapts to Injuries

A newly designed robot can sense and recover from unexpected damage, an ability that is sure to prove handy in dangerous terrain, researchers announced today.

Living organisms have the ability to continuously evaluate their abilities and surroundings and adjust their behavior accordingly. If a person twists an ankle, he walks differently so as to not put too much pressure on the injured muscles.

But robots aren’t typically equipped with such capabilities. They are programmed with a rigid model describing them and the surrounding environment. When they become damaged or something unexpected occurs, they are typically unable to adapt, limiting their potential.

Often when exploring new terrain, such as on another a planet, researchers cannot predict what a robot might encounter. So they designed a machine that can improvise in response to unexpected injuries.

Referred to as Starfish, the new four-legged robot creates a model of itself and revises that model to respond and adapt to injury by synthesizing new behaviors.
"Starfish," eh? Sure, it sounds cute and quaint, but think about this: A starfish often feeds on its prey (like a clam) by prying open the clam's shell and forcing its stomach into the clam to digest it "on the half shell." Let's hope our robot predators' relationship with us doesn't come to that.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Egyptian Cream

Take a brilliant songwriter (my favorite), a cool song off the best album he's done since the 1980s, and combine that with some super-cheesy Flash animation and you pretty much get what is apparently the "official" video for "Adventure Rocket Ship." One longs for the days of his stop-motion animation featuring vegetables and lightbulbs.

I Think, Therefore IM

Be sure to check out The Industry Measure blog for my incoherent mutterings on last week's ad:tech show as well as the connection between a 3.3-million-year-old skeleton and multichannel publishing (I sound like James Burke all of a sudden...let me see if I can work James Watt's steam engine into it somehow...).

Nefarious Porpoises

Um, OK:
Scientists have taught dolphins to combine both rhythm and vocalisations to produce music, resulting in an extremely high-pitched, short version of the Batman theme song.

The findings, outlined in two studies, are the first time that nonhuman mammals have demonstrated they can recognise rhythms and reproduce them vocally.
My choice would have been the theme from Flipper, but perhaps that's just me.

Olé Tarantula!

This being the case, my next Cinco de Mayo party will be quite the event:
The burn of hot peppers and the searing pain of a spider bite may have a common cause. New research suggests that molecules in hot peppers and in a certain spider's venom target the same receptor on nerve cells.
The team purchased venoms collected from a variety of spider, scorpion, and snail species known to deliver painful bites. The researchers diluted the venoms and added them to dishes containing human-kidney cells that had been genetically altered to carry various types of channels.

Only the venom of one West Indian tarantula species, Psalmopoeus cambridgei, sent a flood of ions into cells that sported the same receptor that's sent by capsaicin. When the scientists broke down that venom, they identified three component molecules responsible for the rush of ions.

Sing a Song of Six Squid

Mark your calendars--December 22 is Cephalopodmas. And nothing gets one in the Cephalopodmas mood like ambling from door to door enchanting (or perhaps terrifying, as the case may be) your neighbors with Cephalopodmas carols. Wait till you see my tree...

Never heard of this venerable holiday? Well, the science blog Pharyngula feels it's all because of a cutural War on Cephalopodmas. They may have a point.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Green with Envy

Official video for The Decemberists' "O Valencia." For those waiting for the green screen to come alive with some kind of CGI, well, apparently the point was for the viewer to do it him/herself. (I'm not.) The same might also be said for the lip-syncing.

Monday, November 06, 2006

"Under the Boughs Unbowed..."

I drove out to Boston last weekend to see a concert Saturday night at the Orpheum Theater with mi hermano, a band called The Decemberists, who hail from Portland, OR. I discovered them a year and a half ago, following the release of their third album Picaresque, and one of my first blog postings ever was a review of that record, which I believe I described as sounding rather like "pirate folk music" or "if Herman Melville fronted Fairport Convention." Singer/songwriter Colin Meloy's songs are mini-stories (he has a degree in creative writing from some school or other), typically involving doomed lovers or watery deaths, often both. It's a very literate (and literary) style of songwriting that does tend to send the listener running for the dictionary every once in a while ("the curlews carved their arabesques," for example...but "soft as fontanel"? Oh, ick...). Musically, it can be very challenging and eclectic and I have grown to like them rather a lot, and have acquired just about their full discography (which includes only four albums, two EPs, and the odd single).

Anyway, they have a new record out called The Crane Wife (no, not Lilith), with a three-part title track based on a Japanese folk story of the same object lesson about love and greed and all the stuff that makes for a good, rousing folk story. It's a much darker record than Picaresque, with none of the whimsical light-hearted songs like "The Sporting Life," which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In many ways, it hearkens back to their first album, Castaways and Cutouts, which is also a bit on the dark side. It took me a few listens on the drive to and from a Syracuse football game to really get into it (and erase the memory of the wretched performance of the football team--"The Sporting Life" indeed...) and it's one of those records that take a few spins to unlock its charms, but once you do, it becomes a top favorite.

Interestingly, they've expanded their sonic palette by incorporating bits of 1970s progressive rock (at one point they seem to channel Emerson, Lake, and Palmer--but, hey, I like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer). Actually, bits of the new album (especially the 12-minute song suite "The Island") remind me of Thick As a Brick/A Passion Play-era Jethro Tull (1972/73), where they mixed classic English and Celtic folk elements with blues and put it all in a progressive rock context. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it's one I drink down with great relish. Anyway, I must have listened to The Crane Wife about 100 times by now and I still can't get enough of it it (that and Robyn Hitchcock's Olé Tarantula, about which more after I see him in concert in two weeks...).

In concert, The Decemberists are wonderful. There are five regular bandmembers (who are all multinstrumentalists), and they were augmented by an additional violinist/keyboardist who, in that typical "augmented bandmember" way, didn't always have something to do, so at times just kind of stood there looking awkward--or worse, digging out the dreaded tambourine. My brother and I were often challenged by identifying just what it was that lead guitarist Chris Funk was playing--at one point, he had something that was played by turning a metal crank--it kind of looked like a Gatling gun. The credits to the new album indicate that he plays something called a hurdy-gurdy (and it looks like what I would imagine something called a hurdy-gurdy would look like--and Wikipedia confirms my suspicion). They also did an on-the-spot recreation of the Boston Massacre, which we had a hard time seeing from our rather distant vantage point.

Anyway, it was a terrific show and if they ever come to your neck of the woods, do try to check them out. One thing that took me completely by surprise, through, was the crowd--I was (and I am not exaggerating) the oldest person there, and by at least 15-20 years. My brother teased me about this, until I had to point out that, at only four years my junior, he was the second oldest person there. At first, we thought they were college students (I can see how The Decemberists would appeal to English majors, much like Elvis Costello was required listening among English majors back when I was one in the 1980s), but it soon dawned on us that most of them were high school kids. Maybe I underestimate the youth of today, but I really have no idea why this band would appeal to teenagers (the bandmembers themselves are only a couple years younger than me)--and the crowd really went for the obscure stuff, too. On the plus side, there was no line to get beer.... But I have to say, they were probably the best behaved rock audience I've ever seen, certainly better behaved than crowds were when I was their age.

Anyway, for those who are interested, here is a link to a Boston Globe interview with Meloy, published the day of the concert and a positive review of the show published today.

For the record, here is a set list (more or less in order, near as I can remember):

The Crane Wife 1 and 2
The Crane Wife 3
We Both Go Down Together
The Engine Driver
Yankee Bayonet (I Will be Home Then)
The Perfect Crime #2
Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect
O Valencia!
July, July!
Shankill Butchers
The Island (Come and See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel the Drowning)
16 Military Wives
Sons and Daughters

Red Right Ankle
A Cautionary Song
(unidentified song)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Vinyl Frontier

If you're like me (and I know I am) and grew up in a world before MP3s (or even CDs), you have many vinyl records. Many of them date from high school or earlier and thus are best kept in a dark corner of the basement never to be seen or heard again. But then, we still have our favorites. Some records I own and like have yet to appear on CD (like Warren Zevon's The Envoy, for example) and, of course, several years ago I got in an "I refuse to buy crap I already own" mood and thus have not "upgraded" some vinyl oldies to CD. But how then to rip vinyl to MP3 and play those old Tull records (like the appropriately named "Living in the Past") on my iPod? Well, you could do what I did, and run an audio cable from a stereo into a Powerbook and use a very good piece of audio recording shareware called SoundStudio to record vinyl to AIFF files, which can then be burned to an audio CD and subsequently ripped to MP3. (With a little tweaking, skips and pops can be fixed and the result actually sounds better than some of the el cheapo CD releases of old albums.)

Or, you could pick up this new USB turntable:
This belt-driven turntable plugs into the USB port of any computer. Fire up the included Audacity software and begin ripping those fabulous songs that you felt the need to listen to one last time.

Leader of the Pac

Via Boing Boing, a little geek humor sure to amuse those of us who spend too much time making charts in Excel: "Percentage of Chart Which Resembles Pac-Man," represented as a pie-chart, resembling Pac Man.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Everyone's a Critic

Thanks to Amazon, they are. Sci-fi author extraordinaire Charles Stross compiles bad reader reviews of classic literature. My favorites:
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:

goosedog 69 (New York) wrote: "if you don't like reading books with way too much detail than don't buy this book. when i was reading it i couldn't understand anything it said. if you are older maybe you wouldn't think it's boring, or if you like this author's books, but i thought it was very boring and it took me forever and a half to read."

A reader wrote: "I found this book difficult to follow and hard to hold my interest. I am an English teacher so I don't think it's me. I was revved about the book and started it immediately unpon receipt. I didn't even finish it--which is something I can say about few books..."

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:

Son of Sammy wrote: "i just read this book. everybody like always talks about how great it is and everything. but i don't think so. like, it's been done before, right?? soooo cliched. omg."

The Evilution of Technology

Think technology is evil? Sure, we all do. There is no doubt that the cellphone is the work of Satan (I was nearly rear-ended again yesterday by another cellphone zombie driver--I tell you, these clowns are making agoraphobia sound more and more appealing).

Anyway, Wired looks at the history of evil and technology:
Early last century, the Mark of the Beast was your Social Security card, which presumably was encoded into the Computer Punch Card of the Beast and fed into Satan's Mainframe.

After that, the Mark of the Beast was your credit card, and in the '70s the UPC symbol was the new Mark, presumably because of the passage in Revelations stating, "And the mark was placed upon the Wonder Bread, both white and the kind they call wheat, even though it's basically a slightly more tan version of the white stuff."

Now, of course, the Mark of the Beast is RFID chips. It's not enough that they might get your purchases tracked or your identity stolen, they might also get you booked into the Hotel Inferno for all eternity. Thanks, Wal-Mart! Totally worth it for discount cotton balls!
And, as a public service, they map the very Handbook of Evil (that is, The Book of Revelation) to modern technology and find that St. John was even more Divine than we thought.
"And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind."

This is obviously a reference to file sharing. The "stars" in question are the hard-working entertainers of the world, "falling to earth" because of the "casting" of their works to and fro like figs (figs were the main form of entertainment in the ancient world) by a "mighty wind." A mighty wind? Like a "torrent," perhaps?

"And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains."

Clearly the "hiding" is the anonymity provided by "dens" of personal web spaces like LiveJournal and MySpace. The rocks are friends lists or something, I'm still working that one out. Once the mighty men start joining MySpace, we're screwed. Don't do it, mighty men!

"And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."

Frankly, I can't think of anyone more bitter than political bloggers. The "waters" are the blogosphere, and Wormwood is probably a misreading of WordPress. They have several of the same letters!

"And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them."

That's pretty much how I feel after a few minutes looking at homemade music videos on YouTube.
Personally, I think these passages foretell the looming Robot Holocaust, but I could be wrong. Though I'm not.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Space Ghost

Via Ken, an appropriate image today from the Astronomy Picture of the Day: A Spooky Nebula.
The dark nebula SH2-136 appears to be celebrating Halloween all of the time. The complex process of star formation create dust clouds of many shapes and sizes -- it is human perception that might identify a ghoulish creature, on the right of the above image, chasing humans. Halloween's modern celebration retains historic roots in dressing to scare away the spirits of the dead. Since the fifth century BC, Halloween has been celebrated as a cross-quarter day, a day halfway between an equinox (equal day / equal night) and a solstice (minimum day / maximum night in the northern hemisphere). With our modern calendar, however, the real cross-quarter day will occur next week. Other cross-quarter markers include Groundhog Day and Walpurgis Night.

Poor Circulation

Uh oh. Says the New York Times:
Circulation at the nation’s largest newspapers plunged over the last six months, according to figures released today. The decline, one of the steepest on record, adds to the woes of a mature industry beset by layoffs and the possible sale of some of its flagships.

Overall, average daily circulation for 770 newspapers was 2.8 percent lower in the six-month period ending Sept. 30 than in the comparable period last year, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported. Circulation for 619 Sunday papers fell by 3.4 percent.

But some papers fared much worse. The Los Angeles Times lost 8 percent of its daily circulation, and 6 percent on Sunday. The Boston Globe, owned by The New York Times Company, lost 6.7 percent of its daily circulation and almost 10 percent on Sunday.

The New York Times, one of the few major papers whose circulation held steady over the last few reporting periods, did not emerge unscathed this time: its daily and Sunday circulation each fell 3.5 percent. The Washington Post suffered similar declines.

The Wall Street Journal’s new Weekend Edition, just over a year old, lost 6.7 of its circulation from a year ago.
Remember, this is not a new phenomenon. According to Newspaper Association of America data, newspaper circulation peaked in the early 1980s and has been declining ever since, a process set in motion by the advent of 24-hour cable news. The effect of the Internet is only hastening a trend set in motion some years earlier.

Still, some people just don't get it:
Newspaper executives attribute some of the latest losses to intentional cutbacks in the number of copies that are paid for in bulk by third parties, for example to be distributed to hotel guests. These count as paid circulation but are of less interest to advertisers than copies paid for directly by readers.
Well, actually, they do have a point. Still, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it may not be an oncoming train:
Still, the association said, when newspaper Web sites are taken into account, the number of readers its members reach is up very sharply. Revenues from Web sites are rising quickly as well, but they account for only a small portion of overall revenues, and it could be decades before Internet revenues exceed those from the printed editions of major newspapers.
Newspaper readership--at least in print--is in for some big-time generational changes.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Icon Tact

I bought this Braun hand blender (er, I mean, handheld blender) and I was looking through the impenetrable instruction book and came across the greatest warning icon I have ever seen:

It wouldn't be unreasonable to place this little warning sign on just about every object in my house...

Radio, Radio

Today they're called podcasts, but back in the Golden Age of Radio, they were called radio shows.

For those who love old-time radio dramas, here is a link to 100 horror dramas from the good ol' days, including "The Phantom of the Opera," "Sorry, Wrong Number," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "The Dummy," "Buried Alive," "Donovan's Brain," "Frankenstein," and "Jack Benny Throws a Hallowe'en Party."

Needless to say, Vincent Price is all over the place. And that's a good thing.

Last Class Mail

On the subject of the mail, when I receive letters from my bank or credit card company that say "Important Information About Your Account" on the envelope, it really irks me when I open it to discover it is another stupid credit card offer. I have seen data that indicate that printing lines to that effect on the envelope stimulate recipients to open them three times faster, but I have to say it makes me stuff them into the paper shredder 50 times faster.

Prize Patrol

So I get this card in the mail today that reads, in part:
You are an official prizewinner in our new Mercedes, BMW,
Porsche, or $40,000 cash promotion. We have been unable to contact you...
Now, granted, I always ignore notices telling me that I have won contests I never actually entered, but this scam would be a tad more compelling if the last three people who lived at this address didn't receive the exact same card on the exact same day.

The Great Pumpkin

For those who need a heavy dose of cute, herewith the niece, Lucy Bee, 9 months and growing (tempus fugit!), dressed up as the Human Pumpkin Girl. I bear at least some of the responsibility for the pumpkin costume....
As it turns out, I will be on jury duty on Halloween, and they say to dress in a manner that is respectful of the court. I was thinking of a similar pumpkin outfit. Or, better yet, a Starfleet uniform, like that juror in the Clinton trial back in the 90s....

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Soul of Wit brevity, of course. And in today's attention-deficit-disorder-based world, the briefer the better. So Wired magazine recently asked a bunch of writers to come up with short stories that are only six words long. Some of my favorites:
Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.
- William Shatner [jeez, he's everywhere!]

Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.
- Joss Whedon

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
- Margaret Atwood

Internet “wakes up?” Ridicu -
no carrier.
- Charles Stross

Epitaph: Foolish humans, never escaped Earth.
- Vernor Vinge

We kissed. She melted. Mop please!
- James Patrick Kelly

The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card

Kirby had never eaten toes before.
- Kevin Smith

Starlet sex scandal. Giant squid involved.
- Margaret Atwood

Bulleted Text

Yes, I'm with Gizmodo: perhaps this is a sign of the apocalypse:
An Oklahoma retired veteran and state school superintendent candidate is campaigning to have bullet-proof textbooks. Bill Crozier tested traditional textbooks to see what, if any kind of bullets a textbook would stop. The traditional textbooks were able to stop handgun bullets, but not rifle bullets.
Whew! Saved by trigonometry!

Sort of like that old proverb about the bible in the breast pocket...

I can think of a few textbooks I've wanted to put some bullets through (like that one I had in Advanced Chemistry freshman year in college...).

There is no truth to the rumor, though, that certain literary enclaves (like Yaddo here in Saratoga) are toying witth the idea of making protective vests out of textbooks. (Insert own metaphor here.)

Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers

Uh, OK:
The sonic bed is a king-size bed with 12-channel surround sound. It may look like a wooden tank from the outside, but inside its got enough speakers to dwarf any home theater set up. Created by Kaffe Matthews as a museum exhibit (no plans for retail as of yet), the bed requires 220 volts of electricity and covers every inch of your body in sound.
I guess this is perfect for those who don't have enough of an insomnia problem.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


What could possibly be more unpleasant than blundering into a bar on karaoke night? Why, having Griffin's iKaraoke, of course:
Karaoke sends the music from your iPod to your stereo minus the lead vocals, so you can step up to the mic and sing the lead in your favorite tunes.
Well, maybe I was wrong. Perhaps a karaoke-singing robot would be more unpleasant. It's certainly more disturbing, and will almost certainly be one of the elements of the impending robot holocaust.

Shrimp Scampering

From the "Uh, OK" file, here is a link to a video of a shrimp on a treadmill. (You have to sit through an ad first.) No, that's not an un-PC statement. It's an actual shrimp (i.e., the crustacean). Why would there be a shrimp on a treadmill? Perhaps it was referred to as a "jumbo shrimp" once too often and got self-conscious. Actually, though:
Researchers measure activity of an exercising shrimp by time, speed and oxygen level.
Ah, of course. Poor thing. He's just a prawn in someone else's game...

Cursors, Foiled Again!

Looking for that special Christmas gift? Via Boing Boing, try the Cursors That Kill T-shirt.

I think we've all been there at one time or other...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Burnin' for You--Not

Gizmodo, of all places, has a post about the Coca-Cola Company's new Enviga green tea soft drink that is apparently supposed to "burn calories." Uh huh. (I confess I had never heard of it, but I don't quite get the physics or the chemistry behind a soft drink that can burn calories unless you drink it while running on a treadmill, perhaps out of one of those hamster-cage bottle things.) The Consumerist rightly throws the BS flag on this one.

Lying in Bait

Do you want to sleep on raw fish? Sure, we all do! Perfect for your bed of rice: sushi pillows:

Friday, October 13, 2006

For Want of a Snail

Uh, OK...
RealSnailMail is a performance art piece in which the artists create snail mail with real snails. The intent is to harness the power of gastropods to deliver email messages across short distances using special waterproof RFID tags glued to their shells.

In the project, messenger snails are 'chipped' by using a waterproof glue to affix an RFID tag to its shell. The project will focus on a suitable snail environment (like a fish tank) with several RFID readers installed at different spots.

The project begins with a web site that accepts short messages from people on the Internet. These messages are placed into a queue for snail mail delivery.
Kind of like Roadrunner some days...

Prison Cells

Yes, but:
YouMail is a free service that lets you change your cellphone's voicemail greeting according to who's calling. You could record a separate personalized voicemail announcement for every entry in your phonebook.
Whilst I like this idea in theory, perhaps it's just me, but when people call my cellphone, no one ever leaves voice mail. I don't know if anyone bothers listening to the outgoing message or just gives up if I don't answer after two rings--which I never do because, well, cell reception in the house is virtually non-existent (why is why I had to get a landline), plus I hate talking on cellphones in public (it's rude and obnoxious, plus I get self-conscious) and of course I refuse to talk while driving (hey, someone's got to stay alert out there, given how idiotically everyone seems to be driving lately--lanes? what are they?).

OK, I'm better now.

Since incoming calls come out of my cell minutes (and I don't have a first-minute-free plan), I also rely on caller ID. I'm always amused when the same unknown people call over and over, obstinately refusing to leave a message. I always return messages (sometimes even promptly), should anyone ever actually leave one, but don't see any reason to maintain 24/7 telephonic availability--especially to "unknown" callers (who are usually only going to ask me for money).

Gross Domestic Product

Definitely the grossest I've seen (since, perhaps, the chocolate chip pancake-and-sausage-on-a-stick): deep-fried Coca-Cola. I kid you not:
There are fried Twinkies and even fried candy bars.
Now, vendor Abel Gonzales Jr. has come up with a new artery-clogging concoction for the State Fair of Texas. It's fried Coke.
Gonzales deep-fries Coca-Cola-flavored batter. He then drizzles Coke fountain syrup on it. The fried Coke is topped with whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry. Gonzales said the fried Coke came about just from thinking aloud.
I think I'd rather take my chances with E. coli-infused spinach.

Introducng the Fall Collection

Get it now, just in time for the 31st. If you have a couple of grand to drop on your Halloween festoonery, be sure to visit this online catalog of haunted furniture. Personally, I'd use this stuff all year round, especially the chair that has a ghoul intermittently spring out of it. (The flailing "exorcist bed" is also kind of cool, but could get messy.) Breaks the ice at parties.

I Can't Believe It's Butter

With so much going on in today's high-tech world of iPods, cellphones, PlayStations, Google and YouTube, etc. etc. etc., we often lose sight of the fact that butter-spreading technology has also been proceeding apace.

For example, via mi hermano, the "One-Click Butter Cutter" for those who don't trust themselves alone with a full stick of butter. Now you can just squeeze out a small, healthy pat.
You can also squeeze the butter pats right into your mouth, if you're into that.

And, via Marginal Revolution's link to a slideshow of strange Japanese inventions, the spreadable butter stick:

Word of advice: if you have this butter stick, as well as a glue stick and/or any of those stain-removing sticks, you might not want to keep them all in the same drawer.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Battle of the Bands

Via Boing Boing and courtesy of "GooTube," an inspired bit of Terry Gilliam-esque animation featuring an all-out war among classic rock album covers. One of the funniest things I've seen in a while.

You know, some people just have way too much time on their hands.


Some of you may recall a link to a video of a wry British guy--named Dr. Ashen, as it turns out--reviewing (quite hysterically) a piece of shite MP4 player. Now he's back with a look at a green laser pointer.

Back to the Future

So what was life like in the year 2000? Or, I should say, what did they predict life in the year 2000 would be like 50 years ago? This article from the February 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics, written by the then-science editor of the New York Times, does a spectacularly bad job of forecasting the future--but some things ultimately came to pass, although in a somewhat different way than had been envisioned. The article discusses the hypothetical Dobson family of 2000, living in their ultramodern city of Tottenville.

Some choice excerpts:
Tottenville [is] a hypothetical metropolitan suburb of 100,000....Tottenville is as clean as a whistle and quiet. It is a crime to burn raw coal and pollute air with smoke and soot. In the homes electricity is used to warm walls and to cook. Factories all burn gas, which is generated in sealed mines. The tars are removed and sold to the chemical industry for their values, and the gas thus laundered is piped to a thousand communities.

The highways that radiate from Tottenville are much like those of today, except that they are broader with hardly any curves. In some of the older cities, difficult to change because of the immense investment in real estate and buildings, the highways are double-decked. The upper deck is for fast nonstop traffic; the lower deck is much like our avenues, with brightly illuminated shops. Beneath the lower deck is the level reserved entirely for business vehicles.
It is a cheap house. With all its furnishings, Joe Dobson paid only $5000 for it. Though it is galeproof and weatherproof, it is built to last only about 25 years. Nobody in 2000 sees any sense in building a house that will last a century.
They've got a point, there...
Everything about the Dobson house is synthetic in the best chemical sense of the term. When Joe Dobson awakens in the morning he uses a depilatory. No soap or safety razor for him. It takes him no longer than a minute to apply the chemical, wipe it off with the bristles and wash his face in plain water.

There are no dish washing machines...because dishes are thrown away after they have been used once, or rather put into a sink where they are dissolved by superheated water. Two dozen soluble plastic plates cost a dollar. They dissolve at about 250 degrees Fahrenheit, so that boiling-hot soup and stews can be served in them without inviting a catastrophe.
I like this next idea...
When Jane Dobson cleans house she simply turns the hose on everything. Why not? Furniture (upholstery included), rugs, draperies, unscratchable floors — all are made of synthetic fabric or waterproof plastic. After the water has run down a drain in the middle of the floor (later concealed by a rug of synthetic fiber) Jane turns on a blast of hot air and dries everything. A detergent in the water dissolves any resistant dirt. Tablecloths and napkins are made of woven paper yarn so fine that the untutored eye mistakes it for linen. Jane Dobson throws soiled “linen” into the incinerator. Bed sheets are of more substantial stuff, but Jane Dobson has only to hang them up and wash them down with a hose when she puts the bedroom in order.

Cooking as an art is only a memory in the minds of old people. A few die-hards still broil a chicken or roast a leg of lamb, but the experts have developed ways of deep-freezing partially baked cuts of meat. Even soup and milk are delivered in the form of frozen bricks.

This expansion of the frozen-food industry and the changing gastronomic habits of the nation have made it necessary to install in every home the electronic industrial stove which came out of World War II. Jane Dobson has one of these electronic stoves. In eight seconds a half-grilled frozen steak is thawed; in two minutes more it is ready to serve. It never takes Jane Dobson more than half an hour to prepare what Tottenville considers an elaborate meal of several courses.
Microwave ovens, anyone? And how about a big "oh, yuck" for this next bit:
By 2000, a vast amount of research has been conducted to exploit principles that were embryonic in the first quarter of the 20th century. Thus sawdust and wood pulp are converted into sugary foods. Discarded paper table “linen” and rayon underwear are bought by chemical factories to be converted into candy.
However, does this next bit sound familiar?
Of course the Dobsons have a television set. But it is connected with the telephones as well as with the radio receiver, so that when Joe Dobson and a friend in a distant city talk over the telephone they also see each other. Businessmen have television conferences. Each man is surrounded by half a dozen television screens on which he sees those taking part in the discussion. Documents are held up for examination; samples of goods are displayed. In fact, Jane Dobson does much of her shopping by television. Department stores obligingly hold up for her inspection bolts of fabric or show her new styles of clothing.
Anyway, go read the whole thing. Some of it will sound eerily prescient, some wishful thinking, some downright bizarre.

Of course, we shouldn't mock too much. As Ray Kurzweil has explained on numerous occasions, one of the hallmarks of the coming "singularity" is the fact that technological chnge that takes place exponentially will ultimately reach a point where progress happens faster than our ability to forecast it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Delusions of Adequacy

For all those insultants (rather than consultants) out there, here is a link to a blog that collects famous insults. My favorites:
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."
Winston Churchill

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."
Groucho Marx

"He had delusions of adequacy."
Walter Kerr
And perhaps the most relevant in my line of work:
"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts...for support rather than illumination."
Andrew Lang

Friday, October 06, 2006

Be Kind...

Via Version 1.0, useful as a gag gift or an accessory for the truly gullible:
DVD Rewinder

Too many DVDs, and CDs and not enough time to rewind? Are your DVDs running a bit too slow? The DVD rewinder is the perfect solution! This novelty rewinder comes with the exclusive Centriptal Velocity Spindle providing the world’s fastest DVD rewind!

The idea of a "Centriptal Velocity Spindle" may have been (marginally) more convincing if they had spelled it correctly. You can bet, though, that there were some high-level meetings at Blockbuster about how they could charge people for un-rewound DVDs....

Monday, October 02, 2006

To Serve Man

Sure, this seems harmless enough:
In Japan...[r]esearchers at NEC System Technologies and Mie University have designed a robot that can taste — an electromechanical sommelier able to identify dozens of different wines, cheeses and hors d'oeuvres.
Last month, they unveiled the fruits of their two-year effort — a green-and-white prototype with eyes, a head that swivels and a mouth that lights up whenever the robot talks.

The "tasting" is done elsewhere, however.

At the end of the robot's left arm is an infrared spectrometer. When objects are placed up against the sensor, the robot fires off a beam of infrared light. The reflected light is then analyzed in real time to determine the object's chemical composition.
But, uh oh:
When a reporter's hand was placed against the robot's taste sensor, it was identified as prosciutto. A cameraman was mistaken for bacon.
It's a cookbook!!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Go Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean

Just when I thought that the Dominos' "brownies with chocolate dipping sauce" sounded like the most repulsive thing that could be consumed (aside from Dominos' pizza), if not the perfect way to end up in a diabetic coma, this new product from Jimmy Dean takes the cake (as it were): Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick.
As if sausage and pancakes on a stick weren't bad enough, it's the chocolate chips that make it art. I can feel my waistline expanding just looking at the box. I'm waiting for the new Unhealthy Choice soup, Beef Bullion With Deep-Fried Lard Cubes and M&Ms.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Seeing Double

Perhaps it was all the red wine, but sorry for the double post. Blogger has gone insane.

Red Red Wine

Here's some more good news from the world of health:
A new study finds that moderate red wine consumption, specifically Cabernet Sauvignon, might help reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's disease.
The emphasis, of course, is on "moderate." But then with excessive red wine consumption you'll just not remember things anwyay.

Bugged By Google

Perhaps I have been wrong all along in my belief that humanity's end will come at the hands of evil robots, since there appears to be concrete proof that a giant, 120-foot-long insect is rampaging across Germany as we speak:
A giant bug of an unknown type was discovered in a field in Germany during a recent Google Maps survey. The bug, which measures over 120 feet, was spotted in a field northeast of Arlesberg, halfway between Stuttgart and Numberg, and it is assumed that the bug intends to slowly devour all the people living in the nearby small towns.
Or it could be that the "giant" insect is actually of normal size and was merely caught on the scanner during the imaging process. (I know all software has its bugs, but really!)

Then again, it could be a giant, evil robotic insect, which is a good compromise for resolving a variety of conflicting paranoid delusions.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Going to the Dogs

I think we're going to start seeing even more stories like this:
Dog starts car after eating chip

A breakdown patrol man who came to the rescue of a woman motorist has managed to get her car started using her dog.

Juliette Piesley, 39, had changed the battery in her electronic key fob but was then unable to start her car.

When AA patrolman Kevin Gorman arrived at the scene in Addlestone, Surrey, he found its immobiliser chip was missing.

Ms Piesley said her dog George had eaten something, and realising it was the chip, he put the dog in the front seat and started the car with the key.

Mr Gorman said: "I was glad to get the car started for the member.

"They will now have to take George [the dog] with them in the car until things take their natural course.

"It is the first time that I have had to get a dog to help me to start a car."

Friday, September 22, 2006

The O.C.[D.]

While, on an aesthetic level, I am quite fond of this SquidSoap soap dispenser:
I wonder if the point of it might not go a long way toward creating the next generation of obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers:
SquidSoap is a fun soap dispenser designed for teaching children healthy hand washing habits.

SquidSoap works by applying a small ink mark on a person's hand when they press the pump to dispense the soap. The ink is designed to wash off after the hands are washed for about15-20 seconds, which is the time recommended by most doctors.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Measure for Measure

Those of you who have some vague idea of what it is that I do for a living--and I would probably have to put myself in that category--may know that, among other things, I am a writer and analyst for TrendWatch Graphic Arts (TWGA), which conducts regular market research into the graphic arts industry. Well, TWGA has now changed its name (to The Industry Measure) and some of its basic focus. The Web site can now be found at

If you've wondered why I rarely post on this blog anymore about media, print, communications, etc., well...the new IM site now has a blog, for which I will be the primary poster. So I have been holding all my "real" blog postings for The Industry Measure, so as not to have to end up writing about the same things twice (well, blog-wise, anyway). So be sure to visit here for my (hopefully) daily blog postings about the state of media and communications.

Blogito Ergo Sum will continue to provide news (or whatever you want to call it), jokes, puns, sarcastic remarks, general silliness, and other random comments about dorky new technologies and silly new gadgets, our imminent doom from rampaging robots, the ways that that society is going to hell in a hula hoop (i.e., cellphones), books and music, and other more creative approaches to blogging.

Fish Out of Water

This is odd:
This Blood Parrot fish rolls the contraption around just by swimming around in its bowl. The sensors and the onboard computer detects [sic] which direction the fish is swimming in, then directs the wheels accordingly.
Put some weapons on it, and the family fish can finally give the cat a little quid pro quo.

Kind of reminds me of Professor Wernstrom's "walking fish suit" from Futurama.

Watch This

Via Gizmodo, we can now all emulate Dick Tracy:
This GSM cellphone wrist watch has a 1-inch OLED screen, and does triband GSM after you drop a SIM card inside. The phone has room for 99 speed dials, and has 40 ringtones built in. Its batteries will last for 80 minutes of standard calls, but the phone has SMS capabilities, and even has Bluetooth for a headset.
Sure, it's dorky, but no dorkier than any other cellphone.

Charge of the Light Brigade

Now this is pretty cool, a giant anglepoise lamp:
To Celebrate the 70th Birthday of the Original 1227 Anglepoise Lamp we have created a three times life size version of the lamp which is handmade in England.
A bit pricey at 275 quid, though.

It reminds me of a Peter Gabriel concert I went to in 1986 where, at one point, as part of the stage show, Gabriel was attacked by what looked like a bunch of giant desk lamps. I don't remember what song it was--although it may even have been "I Don't Remember."

And let's not forget the 1979 Soft Boys song "(I Want to Be an) Anglepoise Lamp."

"No Wire Hangers!"

Maybe Joan Crawford was ahead of her time. Via Boing Boing:
How-To: Build a Robot from a Coat Hanger
In this project, we'll build a little critter out of surprisingly simple, minimal parts. We'll even make use of one of those coat hangers that seem to breed in the bedroom closet. This project is an ingenious little hardware hack dreamt up by a Canadian BEAM enthusiast named Jérôme Demers. It wonderfully illustrates a number of principles of bottom-up, BEAM-friendly robotics.
And the problem with coathanger-based robots is that they can rise up against us--while wearing our own clothes! Insidious, eh?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Genius in France?

From the "please kill me" file (via Gizmodo):
These French cases for your iPod may look like Domokun, but they're definitely French in origin. The felt cases are handmade, and retail for $40 to $50, but who can put a price on cuteness?
Oh, I think I could.