Archive for the 'general' Category
A recent editorial in the Central Connecticut State University Recorder Online has a surprising and sad analysis of the hybrid Toyota Prius. Apparently when you take into account the overall environmental footprint of the car, especially the multiple batteries required for the hybrid engine, the Prius is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The nickel produced by this disastrous plant is shipped via massive container ship to the largest nickel refinery in Europe. From there, the nickel hops over to China to produce ‘nickel foam.’ From there, it goes to Japan. Finally, the completed batteries are shipped to the United States, finalizing the around-the-world trip required to produce a single Prius battery. Are these not sounding less and less like environmentally sound cars and more like a farce?
UPDATE: A more thorough analysis of the Prius lifecycle and additional background on the editorial above can be found in the April 16 article Prius Versus HUMMER: Exploding the Myth on The Car Connection. The article may raise more questions than it answers, but it is definitely a more thorough analysis than the editorial I originally pointed to.
I just finished watching a documentary called “The Power of Community – How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.” It details Cuba’s energy crisis in the 1990’s that resulted from the fall of the Soviet Union and the continued U.S. embargo. The documentary ignores most of the politics of Cuba and focuses on how the Cuban people dealt with the shortage of oil and all that goes along with it (manufacturing collapse, food shortages, transportation crisis, etc.). It’s an inspiring look at how everyday people adapted, largely by changing their way of thinking about energy and by coming together as a community.
The documentary focuses largely on the switch from agribusiness farming to small organic community gardens. According to the video, in addition to the decrease in pesticide polution, individual and cooperatively run gardens proved to be more productive per acre than large government run farms.
Unlike a lot of the political documentaries that have been coming out lately, this documentary is more likely to leave you feeling inspired and optimistic, rather than depressed. I highly recommend it.
This is one of the best music videos I’ve seen in a while (found on fugufish frog via populicio.us). The song is “Here It Goes Again,” by a band called OK Go. Their website is one of the better band sites I’ve seen too.
Check out YouTube for higher resolution version of the video.
A New York Times article entitled Rogue Giants at Sea discusses findings about giant ocean waves called rogue waves. Until recently, some scientists had dismissed the idea of such waves, but research has been able to confirm and record them.
By one definition, the titans of the sea rise to heights of at least 25 meters, or 82 feet, about the size of an eight-story building. Scientists have calculated their theoretical maximum at 198 feet — higher than the Statue of Liberty or the Capitol rotunda in Washington. So far, however, they have documented nothing that big. Large rogues seem to average around 100 feet.
I ran across an interesting article via populicio.us recently about the mathematics of evaluating options and making optimal decisions. The article offers the following handy heuristic and details the math used to derive it:
At the British Psychological Society’s conference in April 1997, on Dr Peter Todd, of the Max Planck Institute in Munich, spoke about the best (optimal) strategy for finding a partner. He also drew a parallel with the employer trying to find a suitable new employee from a range of applicants, and quoted the 37% rule. Once you have seen 37% of the application forms, “a coherent picture of the ideal employee is built up and the next person to fulfil these criteria gets the job”.
Michael Michalko has written some great books on creativity. His book Thinkertoys contains a chapter on a technique called Brutethink, where random words are used to generate ideas by forcing you to associate the words with the problem at hand. Thinkertoys includes a three page list of words (pp. 169-171) intended to be used in generating ideas.
When I read the book a while back, I thought the word list might be handy to have to refer to, so I OCRed it and converted it to text. It came to mind when I ran across tagged photos on Flickr. It was fun to plug in the various words to explore interesting photography.
After seeing Mike Matas’ post about creating a Life Poster, I decided to create a poster to use for a visual spin on “Brutethink” problem solving. Since Flickr has a great stock of photos licensed under the Creative Commons, there was a lot of source material to pull from.
I searched Flickr for photos tagged with some of the terms from Michalko’s Thinkertoys list and compiled them into a single poster-sized image. Not all the photos will necessarily evoke the words that got me to them, but I think the end product will still prove useful for generating ideas. There are also a couple of words duplicated, in cases where I couldn’t decide between photos I liked.
The beauty of Creative Commons is that I can make the poster available for download from Flickr under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. To access the full sized version, click on the “All Sizes” button towards the top of the page. Many thanks to all the photographers who made their work available via Creative Commons.
After some price comparison searching, I decided to go with P-e-photo to print the resulting poster. With shipping, a 30″x40″ poster comes to a little under $30. I’ll update this post to include a photo of the final product, once the poster arrives in the mail.
If $30 is too much for you, an 18″x24″ print would be significantly cheaper and wouldn’t require cropping. Also, the resulting montage makes for an interesting—though busy—desktop background.
Keep in mind, the same idea can be applied using a variety of random stimuli. Some other sources to seed ideas include:
I just finished up my last day of SXSW Interactive. Unfortunately, I’ll be missing the last day of the conference. Of the panels and presentations I made it to, my favorites were:
- Daniel Gilbert’s How to Do Precisely the Right Thing at All Possible Times
- DIY Now More Than Ever
- Roll Your Own Web Conference
- What People Are Really Doing on the Web
I wish I’d taken better notes, especially in that last one—What People Are Really Doing on the Web. I’d be especially interested if anyone wrote down the three trends Michele Madansky mentioned at the end of the Q&A. I remember the first one was something along the lines of personalizing media. My brain was a bit fried by the end of the day though and I missed the other two.
I would have included the Ambient Findability in my list of favorites, but I think Peter Morville needed a good dose of Presentation Zen. He certainly wasn’t the only one, but his slides were the most information dense I ran across during the conference. He had great photos and illustrations to back up his talk, but many of the slides were text-heavy to the point of distraction.
I ran across a new site called similicio.us that allows you to search for groups of similar websites, using data from del.icio.us and EasyUtil. So far, the results seem much better than Google’s similar pages search or others that I’ve tried.
To make it even easier to search similicio.us, I created a search similicio.us bookmarklet. If you’re not already familiar with bookmarklets, Lifehacker’s article “Ten Must-Have Bookmarklets” provides a good introduction.
Tonight I stumbled across Malcolm Gladwell’s new blog:
In the past year I have often been asked why I don’t have a blog. My answer was always that I write so much, already, that I don’t have time to write anything else. But, as should be obvious, I’ve now changed my mind. I have come (belatedly) to the conclusion that a blog can be a very valuable supplement to my books and the writing I do for the New Yorker. What I think I’d like to do is to use this forum to elaborate and comment on and correct and amend things that I have already written. If you look on my website, on the “Blink” page, you’ll see an expanded notes and bibliography, which mostly consists of copies of emails sent to me by readers. Well, I think I’d like to start posting reader comments for everything I write, and this is a perfect place for that.
There are also times when I think I’ve made mistakes, or oversights, and I’d like to use this space to explain myself and set things right.
Gladwell is an author and regular writer for the New Yorker magazine. He’s one of my favorite non-fiction writers, as he has a knack for explaining things about the world in ways I hadn’t previsously considered. I’m interested to see what makes it onto his blog. Check out Gladwell’s main site to sample even more of his writing.
One of my favorite blogs, Creating Passionate Users, has a great post and discussion going on about using music to increase performance. When trying to be productive, I’m partial to up-beat or electronic music that is either instrumental or in a foreign language. Some favorites include:
Check out the comments and trackbacks for lots of pointers to good music from others.
I first read about check washing in Frank W. Abagnale’s book The Art of the Steal. Thieves use solvents to remove the ink from checks. They cover the signature with tape to preseve it and can then rewrite the payee and amounts. I just found a web page demonstrating check washing techniques. The article concludes with mostly obvious precautions of not leaving checks in your mailbox, shreding old checks, and checking statements. Less obviously, it also recommends using gel-based pens because their ink is the hardest to remove.
The QWERTY keyboard cannot be said to constitute evidence of any systematic tendency for markets to err. Very simply, no competing keyboard has offered enough advantage to warrant a change. The story of Dvorak’s superiority is a myth or, perhaps more properly, a hoax.
What made the article interesting to me is how much related information it ties in—science, economics, academics, and more.
While on the subject of articles I enjoyed reading, the Freakonomics website has a copy of the “What the Bagel Man Saw” article, which is also included as part of the book. If you haven’t already read the book, the article will give you a taste of its thought provoking writing.
Considering how much time is spent teaching students about the history of war, it is sad how little time is spent teaching peace. I’m always on the lookout for resources to help learn about the philosophy and practice of non-violence.
I ran across Stanford on iTunes online recently. In browsing the offerings, I found a great series of lectures hosted by the university’s Aurora Forum entitled “Waging Peace: Practical Approaches to a Violent World.” If you have iTunes installed, you can download the lectures for free. If not, the lectures are also available in streaming real audio via Bill Warters’ Campus-adr blog. I’m only a little over half-way through listening to them all, but the lecture by Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, was especially interesting and thought provoking.
On a related note, a series of lectures by the Dalai Lama is also available on the Stanford section of iTunes, as well as on the Stanford website. This makes me wonder what other universities make their guest lectures available online. I saw Alex Halley, Kurt Vonnegut, and Douglas Adams back when I was a student at the University of Texas at Austin and recently saw Madeleine Albright at St. Edward’s University. It would be nice to find more lectures like those available online.
I just finished reading a book on project management called Making it Happen. It’s written as a novel that details the story of a project management novice who is suddenly asked to manage the rollout of a new boat design. Though the story wouldn’t keep my interest on its own, it made learning the basics of project management more engaging. I’ve added my notes on the book to my wiki page of book notes.
Structure of an Assignment
- DESIGN (describes the final product in enough detail so that you could produce it)
- EXECUTION PLAN (Project)
- (Review of Design)
- (Review of Execution Plan and Execution)
- (Review of Genesis)
I ran across this funny story by a lady who found Chris Rock’s cell phone:
CALLER: Is Chris there?
LAURA: [Puzzled, with curiosity piqued] Uh, Chris… who?
CALLER: Chris Rock.
LAURA: [Incredulously] Chris Rock!? As in, the Chris Rock?
Coincidentally, it reminded me of the time I saw Chris Rock. . . in Prague. I had only been in the city for a day or two. I was walking around in the touristy area, not far from the clock tower. I passed by a guy walking in the opposite direction who looked exactly like Chris Rock. I did a double-take, but it still took a few seconds for the possibility to register that it actually could be the Chris Rock. It was hard to believe, since the guy was walking around by himself, with no entourage.
I found out later that Chris Rock was in fact in Prague filming a movie with Anthony Hopkins. I even saw some of the exterior shots being filmed. Bad Company has been out on DVD for a while, but I still haven’t gotten around to watching it.
In my opinion, bookmarklets are underappreciated. I decided to collect some of my favorites here and describe why I think they are useful. I have probably 75+ bookmarklets in my bookmark file, but these are my favorites.
Most of these bookmarklets are not my creations. If I’ve mis-credited any of the originators, please let me know. Do follow the links, since most of the sites feature lots more bookmarklets than I’ve included here.
Sure, there are plenty of Firefox extensions now and they too have their place, but bookmarklets are easier to install–simply drag the links below to your bookmark toolbar. Another plus is that you don’t usually have to worry about compatibility with newer versions of Firefox.
These may not work with all browsers, but they all definitely do work in Firefox.
- Dup – This creates a separate window or tab containing the same contents as the current one. It’s handy for backtracking in a new tab or window, without having to lose your place. (originally from WorldTimZone)
- Frmget – Changes any forms on a page from push to get. This is especially handy for the purposes of bookmarking and emailing URLs to specific pages. (originally by Jesse Ruderman)
- Google Cache Viewer – Prompts for a URL and then takes you to a Google Cache version of the page. It’s useful for quickly viewing the contents of PDF and Word document URLs. (adapted from WorldTimZone)
- Go Wayback – Similar to the Google Cache Viewer above, this one can bring up archived pages from the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine.” It’s great for seeing how a site has changed over the years or for tracking down the info from a now defunct bookmark. (originally from Fagan Finder)
- Go to Referrer – If you use tabbed browsing and open links in background tabs, this tool can be handy for backtracking to find out why you opened a particular link. (originally by Jesse Ruderman)
- Linearize – Reformats a page so that the entire contents is in a single column. It’s great when you want to copy a lot of text from a page. I use it to more easily grab text from long articles with complex layouts, which I sometimes dump into a text-to-speech reader when my eyes are tired. (originally by Jesse Ruderman)
- PurpleSlurple – Adds faint purple numbers throughout a page which represent anchors. Purple numbers make it easier to link to a particular section within documents, even if the original document doesn’t include anchors. It’s another one that can be useful when emailing a URL to someone, if you want to point out a particular sub-section of a page. (originally from Matthew A. Schneider)
- Sort Table – This one adds links to table columns to make them sortable. Until sortable tables catch on, this is a very handy hack. (originally by Jesse Ruderman)
- Google Search & Amazon Search – These should be self-explanatory, but be aware that they can both prompt for a search term or automatically search for the terms highlighted when clicked. They aren’t as fancy as some of the other bookmarklets above, but I use them all the time.
- Also check out the two variations of the Make My Search bookmarklets, which allow you to create your own customized bookmarklets for just about any site that allows searching.
The most useful bookmarklets are probably the ones you make yourself. I used the Bookmarklet Builder and LibraryLookup Project to create my own customized library + price search bookmarklet. Clicking on the bookmarklet from a book page on Amazon.com or BarnesAndNoble.com, will open three search windows, including the two library systems that I have access to, plus the AddALL price comparison site.
Feel free to leave a comment, if you’d like to let others know about your favorites.
Merlin Mann recently linked to the Mentat Wiki on 43 Folders and specifically mentioned the Dominic System. While the Mentat Wiki page has much more in-depth information about the system, I thought it would be a good opportunity to plug my own Dominic System wiki page, which includes multiple entries for many numbers, in case it might help someone else create their own customized version before committing it to memory.
It’s also a good opportunity to point out another set of wiki pages by Ron Hale-Evans, Games to the Rescue, which I think is a great project.
With my odd work schedule, plus going to school at the same time, I haven’t watched a lot of TV lately. However, I did happen to catch Douglas Rushkoff’s excellent Frontline episode, called The Persuaders. The entire program can now be viewed online, though the available clips are quite small, so it’s better caught on TV.
I had just recently read George Lakoff’s manifesto on ChangeThis.com about the framing of political debate, so the part on Frank Luntz was particularly interesting. Luntz is a consultant to the Republican party who specializes in choosing the ideal language to sway public opinion.
I had to write up a ~20 word bio recently to be included with an article I wrote for Juggle magazine about JuggleStay. In the process of checking my spelling, I learned that fiancé is the word used for a man and fiancée for a woman, though the pronunciation is the same.
Here’s the bio I came up with, “Matt Vance is a longtime memeber of the Texas Juggling Society and enjoys traveling the world with his fiancée, Amanda Mason.”