Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How to Survive a Zombie Attack

Some timely advice on surviving the next zombie apocalypse from the fine folks at Common Craft.

More good advice can be found at the Zombie Survival and Defense Wiki.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Roxanne, Don't Put on the Redshirt Tonight...

Redshirt Deaths

Anyone with the least bit of geek in their blood knows that the reason you're given a red shirt, if your a member of the starship Enterprise, is because it's easier for the ship's laundry to disguise the bloodstains. This factoid has become so well known, in fact, that it has become a cliché.

True geekery looks beyond the cliché. True geekery analyzes the data, which is precisely what The Inside Track has done. Their report tells us, for instance, that if you happen to be a redshirt, your odds for survival improve immensely if you can manage to get the captain laid.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Unstructured Jack O' Lanterns


We're approaching Halloween here in the United States which, in the traditions of our culture, is the time of year when we sell our souls to Satan and ritually sacrifice our least wanted children.

One part of the pagan festivities involves the carving of pumpkins (known as Jack O' Lanterns by way of a vaguely menacing threat to the Irish that we'll carve them, too, if they get uppity).

Here's a gallery of some especially cool carvings that are well beyond your ability to manage. Pumpkins carved by real people generally look like they've been hacked at by some sort of savant weasel. If you suffer delusions of competence, here's a site that promises to turn you into an actual pumpkin artist.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Top 10 Excuses for Not Turning in Math Homework

Equations10. It's Isaac Newton's birthday.
9. I couldn't decide whether i is the square root of -1 or i are the square root of -1.
8. I accidently divided by 0 and my paper burst into flames.
7. It's stuck inside a Klein bottle.
6. I could only get arbitrarily close to my textbook.
5. I had too much π and got sick.
4. Someone already published it, so I didn't bother to write it up.
3. A four-dimensional dog ate it.
2. I have a solar calculator and it was cloudy.
1. There wasn't enough room to write it in the margin.

Attribution unknown. Photo by dullhunk.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tricky English

I've seen this in a number of places and, sadly, haven't been able to identity the author of it. That said, it's a very clever set of examples for why English is such a tricky and difficult language for non-native speakers to learn.

We polish Polish furniture.

He could lead if he got the lead out.

A farm can produce produce.

The dump was so full, it had to refuse refuse.

The soldier decided to desert in the desert.

The present is a good time to present the present.

At the Army base, a bass was painted on a bass drum.

A dove dove into the bushes.

I didn’t object to the object.

The insurance for the invalid was invalid.

The bandage was wound around the wound.

There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

The two were too close to the door to close it.

The buck does funny things when does are present.

They sent a sewer down to stitch a tear in the sewer line.

To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

After a number of Novocain injections, my lips got number.

I shed a tear over a tear in my shirt.

I had to subject the subject to a number of tests.

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friends?

I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Unstructured Wildfire

California Wildfires from ISS

This is a photograph of the recent wildfires in Southern California taken from the International Space Station. Click here for a larger image.

NASA also have a rather cool satellite picture.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Grand Central

I'm on the beta for, which is a Google-owned business that has a service where they give you a central phone number which can then dial multiple phones (i.e. work, cell, home, etc) according to various criteria (family, friends, etc) and which also has an online voice mail system.

I have up to ten invites that I can hand out to the beta. If you are interested in checking it out, email me a request and I'll send you an invite.

First come, first serve.

Unstructured Phallic Symbol

Phallic Sign

I snapped this sign and logo on a building near my office.

Sometimes a phallic symbol is just a phallic symbol... even if it is a bit stunted.

Stupid Microsoft Trick: Word

Here's something to do if you have a copy of Microsoft Word and you're feeling bored.

Open up a new Word document and type:

=rand (200, 98)

and then press return.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Etiquette Training

The evolution of etiquette... Japanese style.



Rodentologists have confirmed
That mice have religion

Pipsqueak polytheists
Who pray for warmth and food
For clean nests and large litters

And to be delivered from the Snapping Thing
that breaks their backs

The gods are mostly mousy beings:
Bead-eyed, bewhiskered,
Soft and wise

But at the apex of their pantheon
Sits a Cat whose name
Is Judgement

Mouse photo courtest of Sean Dreilinger

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Polly Wants a UL Rating

Here's the real reason that pirates had parrots.

An Alphabetic History

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I would I could give proper attribution to this animated history of the alphabet. Unfortunately, I've seen it in a number of places and none of them seem to be the origin. Given that, I wanted to make sure that you folks had a chance to see it as well.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Unstructured Duchamp

Bicycle WheelMarcel Duchamp was one of the pioneers of the Dada movement, which was an artistic movement that strove to transcend conventional notions of art, via absurdist rejections of the norm, which pushed the boundaries of what was and was not art.

Duchamp is perhaps best remembered for the abstract Nude Descending a Staircase but my personal favorite is Bicycle Wheel (pictured to the right).

(I'm also amused by the title of his mustachioed Mona Lisa, L.H.O.O.Q., which, in French, basically sounds like "She is hot in the ass").

Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp is an excellent interactive timeline of his work.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Unstructured Web Design

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

As someone who's done enough amateur web design, I have nothing but respect for people who actually do it for a living.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Unstructured Outing

Old and busted: Snape kills Dumbledore.

New hotness: Dumbledore is gay.

Unstructured Violin

A very cool duet for violin and turntable.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Unstructured Hand Shadows

Turkey Hand Shadow

I was never very good at hand shadows. Perhaps if I had had access to the Ashley's Shadows site, I could have spent hours distracting myself from my lonely, lonely geek childhood.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Unstructured Globes

Globe Picture

WorldProcessor is a site that neatly converges two of my interests: maps and creative visualizations.

The site features a collection of large pictures of globes. Some of the globes -- as the one, above, which depicts national debts as literal mountains -- convey information while others, such as a transparent globe with a goldfish in it, are more whimsical.

Sadly, some of the graphics on the site are broken (I wonder what the "Chernobyl Cloud" globe looked like) but the overall site is still worth a visit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Run Away!

There is a mythology to hacking. The public's idea of what a hacker is comes from a mixture of bad movie stereotypes and alarmist news reports. In the mind of the average person, a hacker can destroy your credit rating and steal your bank account merely by thinking hard. Given this, it's not surprising that many people are afraid of hackers.

To be sure, there are hackers who do bad things but, in truth, your average hacker is simply someone who is a) technologically savvy and b) deeping interested in understanding how things work. Hackers love to take apart systems and security systems are a favorite of hackers simply because they pose the best challenges.

In truth, most hackers aren't malicious and the the bulk of the danger on the internet isn't from hackers. Right now, the biggest online threat that the average person faces is identity theft, but most identity thieves rely on fairly low-tech cons (such as phishing for information) that require a level of skill that any decent hacker would consider to be beneath him.

Those hackers that are into thievery are usually more interested in bigger targets such as sensitive corporate data; however, your average hacker would rather be employed by security firms than risking their freedom by breaking federal laws.

Be that as it may, the media loves a story that can scare their audience and what's more scary to a technologically illiterate viewer than an entire convention of hackers? Thus, Dateline NBC decided to send an undercover agent to DEFCON 2007.

DEFCON is a convention of hackers. It should be emphasized that this isn't some sort of secret convention. DEFCON is well publicized and the organizers offer press badges to any reporting who would like to cover the event. It is also no secret that federal agents like to attend, too... so that they can talk to the attendees and learn what sort of cutting edge security risks have been exposed by them.

Dateline wasn't satisfied with this. They were sure that if they send a reporter in with a hidden camera, they'd be able to get some of the attendees to say things that were incriminating (or, at the very least, "scary"). Now the thing about hackers is that they aren't stupid. These are very smart people who think very hard about security. They aren't the sort of folks who are going to be fooled by weak attempts to sneak a camera into their convention.

Naturally, the organizers figured out what was going on and decided to have a bit of fun. They announced a contest to "spot the undercover reporter". The goal was simply to show her than her antics weren't going to be tolerated. They gave the audience the option of having her escorted out or of giving her a press pass so that should could continue to report on the convention, only without any illusions that she was going to trick anyone into exposing themselves. The audience opted to have her escorted out but, even then, the organizers said that she could return once she had obtained a press pass. She quickly exited the hall, followed by about a hundred and fifty people videotaping her and mocking her.

I want to be clear about this: I think that undercover investigation has a legitimate place in journalism and I've been dismayed by the fact that the courts have decided that corporations can claim violations of their right to privacy when reporters use hidden cameras in their investigations. However, at the same time, I think that sensationalism hurts the cause of legitimate journalism. Dateline wasn't trying to expose a legitimate threat to the public; they were trying to appeal to the technophobia of their audience. As such, I am glad that the tables were turned, especially given that the only damage that was done to the reporter was a bit of public embarrassment (and, to be sure, I think that the people following her and taunting her were being more than a bit childish).

Here is a video of the incident.



The engine of the world
Has seized up

We've had to pull the planet
Of to the side of its orbit

We've called the mechanic
But he's backed up, right now

There's been some kind of mash up
Out in the Oort

So sit back and relax
Have a smoke, or a toke
(If that's your thing)

The planet isn't going to be going
Anywhere today

Engine photo courtesy of "macwagen"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Google Earth Oddities

Parked JetGoogle Earth is one of those killer apps that you just can't put down. The first thing you do with it, of course, is to find your home and then other places that are significant to you, such as your old high school. Eventually, though, you find yourself just wandering the globe as a virtual eye-in-the-sky tourist looking for interesting things and oddities.

This is a slide show of some of the more curious things that people have found including a jet fighter that's apparently been parked in a residential neighborhood, a really huge bunny rabbit, and a picture of Oprah Winfrey embossed into a corn field.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Unstructured Monads


In theology, a monad is part of a theory of God pertaining to the unity of the deity with the natural world.

In ancient philosophy, a monad was a hypothesized unit of matter that was a precursor the the concept of the atom.

In mathematics, monads refer to a type of "functor" used in Category Theory.

The concept of monads also shows up in computer science.

It was thus, with some puzzlement, that Natalie and I contemplated a sign advertising "frozlemonad". What sort of monad is a frozle monad? It sounds like something that the Frobozz Applied Theology Company might have been working on.

Eventually we surmized that the sign was actually advertising frozen lemonade.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Unstructured Twirling

DancerI'm always on the look out for cool optical illusions. I was forwarded a link to article which features a spinning silhouette of a dancer.

The article claims that the figure indicates whether you are right or left brain dominant depending on whether you see her spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise. I'm skeptical of the scientific accuracy of that but the illusion is, never the less, very interesting.

I initially saw her spinning clockwise and had a very hard time convincing my brain to perceive her spinning the other way. I found that once my mind saw it as a three dimensional figure, it was very hard to do the usual sort of left/right flip that is typical of these illusions. In my case, the trick is to concentrate on the shadow of her foot which is my easier to flip around.

Thanks to Sarah Fry for the article link.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Unstructured Surrealism

Surreal Painting

A common complaint about representational art is that it lacks creativity whereas a common complaint about abstract art is that it's so abstract that it can mask a simple lack of technical skill.

My own position is that Surrealism neatly straddles the divide. A surrealist must demonstrate the technical proficiency of representationalism while transcending the bounds of mere photographic duplication. A good surrealist must be creative as well as expressive.

Here is a lovely collection of some very beautiful surrealist art.

Friday, October 12, 2007


When I first saw this video I was positive that it had to be a clever hoax but, I'll be damned, the Pistol Shrimp really does exist!

And here's a link to the science behind it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pants Runner

You've probably come across the Star Wars gag where you substitute one word of dialog with the word pants. I decided to see what I could do with my personal favorite SF movie: Blade Runner.

"They don't advertise for pants in the newspaper. That was my profession. Ex-cop. Ex-pants runner."

"You look down and see pants, Leon. They're crawling toward you.."

"Fiery the pants fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shores... burning with the fires of Orc."

"Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about your pants."

"I just do pants... just pants.... You Nexus, huh? I design your pants."

"Gosh, you've really got some nice pants here."

"I don't know why he saved my pants. Maybe in those last moments he loved pants more than he ever had before. Not just his pants, anybody's pants, my pants."

"Quite an experience to live in pants, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."

"Do you like our pants?"
"They're artificial? "
"Of course they are."
"Must be expensive."

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Pants on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched pants glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."

"Pants are like any other machine - they're either a benefit or a hazard. If they're a benefit, it's not my problem."

"Must get lonely here, J.F."
"Not really. I make friends. They're pants. My friends are pants. I make them. It's a hobby."

"I've done... questionable things."
"Nothing the god of pants wouldn't let you in heaven for."

"Did you get your precious pants?"
"Someone was there."

"We're not pants, Sebastian, we're physical."

"Christ, Deckard. You look almost as bad as those pants you left on the sidewalk."

"This announcement is brought to you by the Shimato Dominguez Corporation - helping America into the new pants."

Thanks to IMDB for the quotes.

Ten Reasons to Oppose Gay Marriage

  1. Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
  2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
  3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
  4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
  5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
  6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.
  7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.
  8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.
  9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.
  10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Attribution unknown.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Do not try this at home, kids.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Uber-Geek Song of the Interval

Frosty the photon
Escaped from a black hole,
Then he used his spin
To find his kin,
Near the ends of a dipole.
Frosty the photon
With momentum h-bar-k
Though he had the right
To be known as light,
He was called a gamma ray.

The Breakfast of the Gods

Breakfast of the Gods

The primary function of a commercial mascot is fairly base: sell product. And yet, a given mascot can take on a life of its own; a life that transcends the merely corporate to become part of the larger culture.

The cartoon cereal mascots are certainly part of that broader cultural heritage. As we grew up, exposed to the antics of Snap, Crackle and Pop, Tony the Tiger, Cap'n Crunch, et al, we find ourselves wondering about the lives the characters lead when they aren't shilling astonishingly anti-nutritious food that's always "part of a balanced breakfast" (by which they mean that it's next to the parts that are actually good for you).

The Breakfast of the Gods
web comic offers one interpretation of that. In the story, the characters take on a much more mature role. Count Chochula is an actual vampire, and quite evil. Cap'n Crunch is seen as a wise and benevolent leader who has to make difficult choices. Super Sugar Bear is a creature haunted by the demons of his own addiction.

This isn't to say that the story is without whimsy or, more importantly, respect for its source material. This isn't the kind of story that simply tramples on our childhood memories in order to be edgy and "mature". Rather, the story takes the ideas of the characters at face value and deepens them in order to tell a story that is genuinely engaging and often poignant.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Unstructured 3-Day Vacation

Natalie decided to surprise me and fly out here for her birthday (a fact that she managed to accomplish with immense amounts of stealthy and conspiratorial planning with my co-workers). Given that she's out here, I'm going to be taking the next three days off from blogging.

Enjoy your weekend and, if you're lucky enough to be a government employee, enjoy your 3-day holiday.

The Muppet Show

YouTube is a curious thing: it's a 21st century technology that allows us to instantly and effortlessly feed our nostalgia for the 20th century.

Enjoy this intro to The Muppet Show.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Unstructured Prognostication

Futurology is a suckers game. The reason for this is that history is a turbulent system that doesn't lend itself to prediction; however, every so often you'll come across a prediction that seems eerily prescient in retrospect. Even though the shotgun nature of prognostication guarantees that will always be a few hits and some spectacularly close near misses, it's difficult to not feel a shiver when you come across one that turned out to be on or near the mark.

Paul Otlet was a Belgian who lived in the first half of the 20th Century. He was a scholar of the theory of knowledge and information. Among his ideas was something that he called the "radiated library". As you can see from this clip, from a documentary about him, his ideas is very much akin to the modern web (although his concept was based on a far more centralized paradigm and relied on humans to do the information searches).

At the time that Otlet was developing his theories, they garnered a reasonable amount of attention. Sadly, Otlet's work was truncated by the second world war and fell into obscurity thereafter in part, ironically, because they appeared antiquated by post-war developments in information theory and computer science.

Unstructured Furoshiki

FuroshikiI have always sucked when it's come to trend spotting. I started sipping Chai about a month after the entire population of Omaha, Nebraska had fallen in love with it. I was the guy who learned about Doom from Dateline NBC. I started saying "All your base are belong to us" right about the time when most people were ready to cockpunch the next mofo who injected the meme into a conversation.

Given this, you should regard any pop-culture prognostication from me with a hefty grain of salt. That said, if I had to make a guess, furoshiki seems like it could be a contender.

Strictly speaking, furoshiki is a Japanese term for a special kind of cloth used to wrap up various objects. More informally, it's the technique used to wrap the objects. As you can see from the chart, below, there's a lot of techniques. Although I'm not sure if you'll ever get the good folks in Branson to take it up, I can see this sort of thing appealing to Upper Eastsiders who are started to get bored by Feng Shui, especially given that there's an environmentally friendly pitch to using furoshiki over disposable materials.

Furoshiki techniques

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Morning Cup of Snark

The Today is That Day website has a list of "8 Tips on How to Get Out of Bed even When You Don’t Want To". Here are the tips along with my take on them.

1) Give yourself a mental command before you go to sleep.

That seems a bit too authoritarian for my tastes. How about a politely worded mental suggestion?

2) Think of your one definite burning desire as soon as you wake up.

That would be more sleep. Am I missing something?

3) Smile

I'm not sure that baring my teeth in anger at the morning light really qualifies as a smile, but I'll see what I can do.

4) Think of your "want to do" list.

Number 1: Hit the Snooze Alarm
Number 2: Sleep
Number 3: See Number 1

5) Think of the benefits that come from getting up and getting your day started.

Any task with the word "think" in it, before I've had my morning coffee, is a phenomenological oxymoron.

6) Plan your first "reward".

Fifteen more minutes under the covers. Thank you, may I have another?

7) Make a commitment to other people a part of your morning routine.

I hereby commit that I shan't snap my girlfriend's head off first thing in the morning. This is best accomplished by the judicious deployment of the snooze alarm.

8) Put yourself on a schedule that is non-negotiable.

Trust me, getting a few more minutes of sleep is highly non-negotiable. I'll be sure to pencil it in.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Unstructured Ahmadinejad

This is wrong on so many levels.

Circuit Snacks

Circuit Board Snack

The next time you're planning to throw a party for some Electrical Engineers (and really, who can party like a double-E?), you might want to think about making snacks in the shape of circuitry.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Unstructured Garfield

Random Garfield Strip

Some very clever guy noticed that Garfield comics are just about as funny as they normally would be if you just took a bunch of panels and slapped them together at random.

Here's a utility where you can see the results for yourself.

Unstructured Gorey

C is for Clara who wasted away

My first exposure to the art of Edward Gorey was in the old animated introduction to the P.B.S. series Mystery. He's got a very distinctive, and macabre, style of line art that's impossible to mistake for anyone else's.

I especially like The Gashlycrumb Tinies, which is a sort of grim alphabet featuring various tykes dying alphabetically of various situations and conditions.

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