Adding Shadow

I just discovered shadow.com, which is even cooler than del.icio.us.



Widgets are little programs that sit on your desktop and deliver information. From Thompson-Peterson's blog:

This morning I downloaded Konfabulator, and within minutes tiny little widgets appeared on my XP desktop - a clock, a window showing pictures from one of my folders, a Yahoo search input box, a battery level indicator, a WiFi signal level indicator, and the weather in Palo Alto. Soon I downloaded and fired up Digg Digger, a widget that displays top stories from Digg, a technology news website.

When I downloaded Combarss, the possibilities started to click. Combarss is an RSS feed-reading widget that combines the headlines from several feeds into a single "river of news” (Dave Winer’s term). I quickly added several of my favorite feeds: feeds from Sinkingships.net, Eduweb, Collegewebeditor, and Marc Canter. Now, without firing up my news reader, I can glance at my desktop and see the titles of the latest posts from these blogs.

Personally, I don't want a bunch of extra programs paratisizing my CPU, but there are thousands of widgets out there.


This May Sting

Science News reports that standard 3 cm needles are often not long enough for shots in the rear to women and obese men, causing an injection failure rate of 92% for women and 44% for men. The solution? Longer needles, of course, especially for women. [Science News vol 168 no 25, pp 398]


Some Cool Stuff

Here's my Christmas present to you:

Meebo, a Web 2.0 IM interface; Pluck, an RSS client; Delicious, a cool way to organize and save links; Flickr, a photo sharing and archiving service; Blogger, for creating your own blogs; Technorati, for searching blogs; Skype, for making FREE phone calls; Millsberry, a cool VR world for kids; OpenRPG, for role-playing online; Instant Rails, for the web developers. All of this stuff is free to get off the web.

You can leave yours by posting a comment if you want.

VR Crimes and Punishment

In a virtual reality gameworld called EVE Online, a group of players managed to 'steal' massive amounts of virtual assets from another player:

What is fascinating about this incident and others like it is not just the morality of such a through betrayal (they spent a year building their credibility and good graces) but where does the line between the artificial reality of the game and the real-world value coincide? The real-world value of the stolen virtual items was roughly $16,000 (estimated according to auction prices on eBay and the Forums). Could the aggrieved party charge the perpetrators with theft? Or because it was within the confines of an artificial reality that all the parties agreed to participate in, is it something else entirely - a legitimate game opportunity? Interestingly the EVE rules permit such open-ended skullduggery. [source: blogcritcs.org]

You can read the whole story here (click on the pictures of the pages). Note that the $16,000 figure is estimate real worth of the virtual goods in US dollars.


On the Psychological Impact of Delayed Gratification

Have you ever noticed that many soda machines have a peculiar--one might say pregnant--pause between the time you make your selection and the time the drink thumps down the chute? If you're like me, you stalk your prey a while before springing and committing 55 cents. You wait for some other sucker to try the machine first so you can see if it works. But sometimes you're in a hurry and there's no time. You have to take the risk yourself. You know what I mean. The road to that sugar rush is paved with uncertainties. Do I have enough change? Will it accept the coins, or somehow believe in its tiny brain that I'm trying to foist off Canadian money on it? What if it takes one quarter but not the other? Will I get the quarter back? Does the machine even have the type of soda I want?

Okay, I don't really obsess about these things , but such can thoughts tickle at the back edges of one's mind. The big bugaboo is, of course, whether or not the machine will keep its end of the bargain. It SAYS there's a Coke in there, it TAKES your money, but does it GIVE you the Coke? Because sometimes it doesn't.

My theory is that it's all intentional. They build the machines to aggravate people with the chance of lost money/no Coke. You probably think me daft. Why on earth would they intentionally build faulty machines? Surely the few extra coins they'd get from stealing money this way wouldn't make up for all the bad will, complaints, service calls, hate mail, etc.

My evidence is the pregnant pause. In this world of high-tech gagetry, computerized breast implants (well, silicon anyway), Wi-Fi everything, don't you think they could build a machine that didn't wait for two seconds after you press the Coke button before it works its mechanical mandibles and DROPS the thing? My old 80286 ran at 12 megahertz back in the '90s -- what possible excuse could they have today?

Here's why I think they do it. Think about your state of mind when you press the button. There's no "click" or snap to tell you the transaction is complete, only these wimpy buttons that feel like a marshmallow when you press them. No transaction satisfaction there. So you hold it in that extra second to make sure, right? And you're waiting for that sweet sound of live machinery doing your bidding. And you wait. And you become anxious. Your fears build the anticipation to a fever pitch, and THUNK the lovely can spanks in to the dispenser! You're so relieved that you almost weep for joy!

Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit. But the relief you feel at having given birth to a shiny new Coke bonds you to the product. You forget all the anxiety and rejoice in the brand you have selected. You can't buy that kind of emotional attachment to a brand. I bet some smart marketting guy thought of this.

I had to swear off the stuff. I couldn't bring myself to actually open the can, what with all we'd been through. So I got this little refrigerator to keep him cold. I'm trying to pick out a name if you have any ideas.

Existential Rumination

A quote from Adelheid, who's reading Why Literature Matters in the Twenty-First Century:

We truly understand who we are when we have been that person.

That is, we can only evaluate historical events retrospectively; wouldn't the same be true of our own selves?


Just a Little Typo

The Economist (Dec.17-23) reports that a trader at Japan's largest bank, Mizuho, intended to sell one share of JCom for 610,000 yen, rather than what he actually keyed in: 610,000 shares at one yen each! Apparently you can't just yell "DO OVER" on their stock exchange, so the order went through as written. The bank frantically tried to buy back the shares (which it didn't own, and in fact constituted four times the number of shares that actually existed), but will likely be out a hundred million dollars or so.

Thinking Big
In the same issue they report that Bill Gates, when asked to do a sound check prior to giving a talk in India, rather than saying "one, two, three" into the microphone recited instead "one billion, two billion, three billion."

The New Farmers
Finally, in an article Worlds without end on virtual worlds like SecondLife or Project Entropia, The Economist notes that there are real functioning economies. Here's the kicker:

Companies in China pay thousands of people, known as "farmers", to play [these games] all day, and then profit from selling the in-game goods they generate to other players for real money.

One economist estimated that the "per capita GNP" of Everquest was $2,000, higher than many nations.


New logo

Okay, the cheezy h1 text at the top has to go. Here's the new logo. Also check out the flash animation on the sidebar at the bottom.


Survival of the Cutest

There are some things that you know as soon as you've done them that you'll regret it. I have a whole theory about this I won't bore you with, but last night was a good example. Krista's room was a good example of maximum entropy--puzzles spilled out on the floor along with little paper bits of Barbie 'pet food', books willy-nilly atop anything they could perch on, paper EVERYWHERE. A mess. Her version of cleaning up is to throw everything into the corner and pile it as high as possible. I got a box.

First into the box were the scraps of paper--a salad of leftover corners and odd curves that weren't the pumpkin or Santa. Although a few pumpkins and Santas didn't make the cut either, and also went into the box.

These things have their own momentum, your honor. Once you start pitching stuff it's hard to stop. Anything on the floor has discard stamped on it. So that's why the old GameBoy went into the box. Normally it wouldn't have happened. Duress, you see.

No, no, I knew what I was doing. I left it there, where it stayed under the cardboard, dried up markers, broken things and unknowns, as I carried the big box out to the trash can in the garage. The box was too big to fit inside, so I set it on top. When I set it down, the GameBoy started singing. Somehow it had turned itself on.

I drowned the sound out with my own loud thoughts and raced back inside. I locked the door and checked to make sure I could see the bolt going into the door. I listened. Nothing.

In the morning, running late as usual, I hauled Krista's backpack and lunch box out to the car. As soon as I opened the door to the garage, the music could be heard, tinny and plaintiff. I knew if Krista heard it there would be trouble, so I swished my coat loudly and banged the door on the way out. I got away with it.

But later, after I had forgotten, I went to go for a bike ride. Still the music played! It was like the Telltale Heart updated to the 21st century. I rode hard until I was exhausted.

When I returned, the cries of the dispossessed machine still begged for attention. I could stand it no more. I dug through the junk in the box until I found it, turned it off, and returned it to Krista's room. At least until the next time I have to clean it.

An Ontological Allegory

Sam was an ice cube. He was born on February 11, and that was of course his birthday, but he had 19 other brothers born the same day. They were identical except for their ears. They each had one ear, where they had been attached to the center of the rotating ice cube tray. When they broke free to fall into the ice bucket, some of the ears came out longer than others, and that’s how they could tell each other apart. They actually weren’t cubes at all, but rather crescent-shaped, but it would sound silly to call them “ice crescents”, wouldn’t it?

Sam's life in the ice bucket mostly consisted of long conversations with his brothers, but it was livened up by the 'Mixer-Upper', a silver armed god that turned on occasion and moved the ice cubes around in the bucket.

One day Sam found himself in the middle of other cubes who were discussing the nature of their world.

"The Mixer-Upper is there so we don't get bored," said one.

"But who made the Mixer-Upper?" asked another.

"Blasphemy..." whispered a tiny voice from the bottom of the bucket, but it was ignored

"Well, you may as well ask who made US!"

"So you think the Icemaker has designed our world to keep us entertained?"

Sam thought about this for a while as the others continued the discussion. In fact, by the time he thought of a question, they had wondered off into an argument over which way was in fact UP, and did it really matter.

Sam said "I wonder about something."

"It speaks," said another. "Wait, wait, Sam has something to say." It was not a nice tone of voice.

Sam's voice cracked as usual, for that's how ice cubes speak to each other, "How is it that newly born ice cubes can fall into the bucket at all?"

"If they didn't we wouldn't be here to argue about it," said one smugly, "therefore it MUST be that way."

"But," said Sam, "if ice cubes keep falling, why doesn't the bucket ever fill up all the way to the top?"

That was something no ice cube had every thought of before. They were stunned into silence for a few moments.

"I have it," said one finally. "It's well known that ice cubes shrink when they get old. Do any of you know Stinky? He's been here forever, and he's about one third our size."

The others agreed. Sam wasn't so sure.

"But then there should be a LOT of little tiny ice cubes around. I know Stinky, but he seems to be pretty alone, stuck to the bottom of the bucket as he is."

"True." The originator of the theory seemed as puzzled as the rest.

"What if…" Sam said, "…what if the Mixer-Upper does more than just rearrange us?"

"How so?"

"Well, the only time we ever move is when the Mixer-Upper does its job. If an ice cube were going to leave the bucket, that would be the time."

The other cubes almost cracked up over that.

"Leave the bucket! You're losing it Sam. No one ever leaves the bucket."

"I'm just saying that could explain it. What if the mixer upper takes cubes out of the bucket and then dumps them back in the top as new ones?"

"You know better than that. The newly born cubes are flawless. Not old, beat up relics, which they would be if they were recycled like you suggest."

"Well maybe they get new bodies."

"I don't know how we'd test that theory, Sam. How would you know The difference? Unless you're suggesting we all have memories of leaving the bucket and being reborn over and over."

"What if we forget?"

"Sam, Sam. If we have new bodies and new minds, what of US is left?" But the question would go unanswered.

The Mixer-Upper began its long grinding noise. Sam felt himself lifted up, and suddenly he and three of this neighbors were dumped down a chute into a smaller bucket. As he was drenched in Whiskey, Sam realized that the world was much bigger than he'd ever suspected. His last act was to yell this fact as loud as he could, in hopes that some in the big ice bucket might hear him. He cracked and popped as loudly as he could, until the warm liquid consumed him.


Virtual U

At The College we are experiencing pressure from online courses, especially for evening (adult learner) programs. I discovered Second Life the other day, after reading about it in Newsweek. I tried to find the article to link it here, but their search engine is terrible. Anyway, the basic account is free, so I signed up to try it out.

It looks like the future, folks. You can own land and build on it, and make a living developing it. You can make a living designing clothes for the citizens (according to Newsweek). I saw a wedding--okay I crashed it, but I didn't know I was supposed to have an invitation--and snapped the photo above. Unfortunately I had dressed in blue for this gothic ceremony and stood out like a guy dressed in blue at a wedding where everyone else is wearing black. There's a cool scripting language that can be used to animate objects and such. I made a large donut, stuck it in my head, and programmed it to bless anyone who touched it. My attempt to create a butterfly was risible, however--I couldn't shrink the thing after I spent 20 minutes building it, so it was WAY too big. It would be really cool if you could do genetic programming on it so they could breed and create new kinds of butterflies...

Anyway, the point of all of this is that there doesn't seem to be a school yet in SL. Why not? SLU is already taken, however. Maybe 2LU? Sounds more techie anyway.

Walking the dog

For any of you out there with small kids, I discovered a wonderful way out of the parents' dilemna about pets. You know what I mean-the kid begs and begs for one, and then it's YOUR problem to clean up after and take out every day at lunch. We've been through this with Krista for a couple of years now, but two nights ago inspiration and serindipty struck. I'll share the secret with you at NO CHARGE.

It was dark. Too dark to play ball-I learned that the hard way last year when I almost lost a nose to a line drive. It was also too cool for spiders, the kind that somehow jump dozens of feet to build their homes between the trees in the front yard. Not much fun to run into one of those bulby, fangy guys while playing tag.

Anyway, the problem with tag is that Krista stays on base the whole time.

On impulse I grabbed a laser pointer on the way out. On the driveway, I shined the red dot on the ground and pretended like it was a dog. It chased its tail, jumped up on Krista ("Bad dog! Get down!"), and yanked me down the driveway as it chased after a cat. I ran along, hanging on for dear life and dragging Krista by the hand. She loved it. So we walked on down the street, pausing as the dog stopped at each mailbox and tree to do his business. At one point the mutt smelled a squirrel and chased the thing right up a tree! I've never seen a dog run straight up a pine tree, but it got at least 20 feet off the ground before jumping back into Krista's arms. She had dog all over her for a moment there.

In the end we both got our exercise. The dog didn't run out of battery power, and was still raring to go afterwards. Last night we repeated the performance, adding to our bag of tricks as the dog played tag with us in the front yard. I even let Krista have the leash for a while.

So this morning I came proudly into the office and announced to my co-workers that we had a new dog.

"Oh yeah, what kind did you get?"
"A pointer," I said.

And of course when it came to naming our new pet, there was an obvious choice: Spot.

What's in a name?

True story. The guy on the other end of the Bell South welcome call wasn't too experienced yet. Or so I surmise. "What name do you want it under?" he asks, meaning my new phone listing. "What if I don't want it listed?" He quotes me the price. It costs extra if you don't want it listed--how perverse is that? "Do I have to use my real name?" This is where he departs from the script they gave him in tele-support 101. "No," he says hesitantly, "I guess not." I was home free! "Great--use my nom de plume Stanislaw Z.z.a." I had to spell it, of course. The proper way to pronounce Z.z.a is exactly like a pig snort. There aren't letters for it, really. I figured I could just tell people I was the last listing in the book. Which I became.

Unfortunately, the name attracted unwanted attention. There are apparently trolls around who call up people with foreign-sounding names and harass them. So I started getting messages on my answering machine from drunk-sounding rednecks who said that all Mexicans should go home. Yeah. Not very well-traveled ones I figure.

But that doesn't answer the Stanislaw part. That's easy--Stanislaw Lem is one of my very favorite authors. Go read The Cyberiad and see if you don't agree.