31 May 2006

Apple NYC creates new display: iCustomers

Ryan over at Ranex photoblogged about his friends getting trapped in the Apple NYC store's glass elevator for 45 minutes. The photo reminds me of Logan's Run; I think they were on their way to Carousel.


Originally uploaded by osbock.
via FlickrBlog

30 May 2006

O'Reilly: How to deal with miscommunication

Last week, O'Reilly conference partner CMP sent a cease and desist nastygram to IT@Cork, the organizers of a non-profit conference in Ireland that had "Web 2.0" in its name. Tim O'Reilly was out of town and off the net, but his company made a reasonable pass addressing the problem. However, the problem still existed and the blogosphere erupted, mostly in condemnation of O'Reilly sending a C&D letter for such a generic term.

Lost in most of the on-line discussion was that: a) O'Reilly, Inc. apologized for not just sending an email to the conference organizers, b) it was CMP, not O'Reilly, that sent the letter, and c) O'Reilly really did come up with the term "Web 2.0" and registered it (in the context of conferences) before they held the first Web 2.0 conference.

Today, Tim O'Reilly was back on the net and posted a well thought out and constructive response to the controversy. Other companies should follow his example and engage the community directly to head off further miscommunication.

Dorodango - shiny mud balls

This reminds me of some tech projects.

Web Japan: Shiny Mud Balls

At elementary schools, kindergartens, and preschools all across Japan, kids are losing themselves making hikaru dorodango, or balls of mud that shine. Behind this boom is Professor Fumio Kayo of the Kyoto University of Education. Kayo is a psychologist who researches children's play, and he first came across these glistening dorodango at a nursery school in Kyoto two years ago.

How to Make Shiny Dorodango

  1. Pack some mud into your hand, and squeeze out the water while forming a sphere.
  2. Add some dry dirt to the outside and continue to gently shape the mud into a sphere.
  3. When the mass dries, pack it solid with your hands, and rub the surface until a smooth film begins to appear.
  4. Rub your hands against the ground, patting and rubbing the fine, powdery dirt onto the sphere. Continue this for two hours.
  5. Seal the ball in a plastic bag for three or four hours. Upon removing the sphere, repeat step 4, and then once again seal the sphere in a plastic bag.
  6. Remove the ball from the bag, and if it is no longer wet, polish it with a cloth until it shines.
via Metafilter

Personal finance - useful spreadsheets

A collection of spreadsheets useful for personal finance, from "Get Rich Slowly."

read more 

26 May 2006

If you're going to run a laptop scam on eBay ...

If you're going to run a laptop scam on eBay, you just might want to erase the hard drive first.

Here's an excerpt from the fake home page the scammed buyer created in honor of the seller.

"Hello. My name is Amir ... and i live in Barnet. I'm 19 but pretend to be a lot older and like to pretend that I'm a big businessman when I'm not actually that clever. on 29th November 2005 I sold a laptop on eBay. You can view the auction below. (Do you like the picture of me I took with my webcam?).

Although the buyer paid the £375 total within a few days, it took me nearly two months before i bothered to post the laptop. What the buyer didn't know was that it differed slightly from its description on ebay. Rather than having 2Gb of RAM, it only had 512Mb. It also didnt have a DVD-RW as described. Perhaps most importantly of all, the laptop didn't actually work! haha genius! Selling a 'working' laptop that doesn't work! Despite polite requests from the seller, I denied anything was wrong and refused to refund his money, then i agreed to but of course didn't. Then I claimed to have moved to Dubai and hoped he'd forget about it.

But he didn't forget about it. He took the hard disk out and behold! one laptop crammed with pictures that I really should have deleted before trying to sell it!...."

25 May 2006

The Norman Rockwell Code

There are far too few references to Barney Fife on the web.

Five minutes of own goals

On the internet, there's a video for every subject. In this case, five minutes of soccer own goals (where a team scores against itself). What other medium could do this -- TV show viewers don't have the attention span. By minute two, I found myself thinking "no-o-o-o-o" as I could see disaster in advance. By minute four, I felt like I was a PhD in self-inflicted soccer pain.

Peter Norvig: Solving Every Sudoku Puzzle

Peter Norvig wrote up a nice Sodoku solver in Python. Here's an excerpt:

Setting Up the Problem

First we have to agree on some notation. After looking at a few Sudoku sites I notice that there is not universal agreement, but the majority favor labeling the rows A-I, the columns 1-9, and calling a collection of nine squares (either a row, a column, or a box) a unit, and calling the other squares in a unit that square's peers. We can implement this in the programming language Python as follows:

rows = 'ABCDEFGHI'
cols = '123456789'
digits = '123456789'
squares = [r+c for r in rows for c in cols]
unitlist = ([[r+c for r in rows] for c in cols] +
[[r+c for c in cols] for r in rows] +
[[rows[r+dr]+cols[c+dc] for dr in (0,1,2) for dc in (0,1,2)]
for r in (0,3,6) for c in (0,3,6)])
units = dict((s, [u for u in unitlist if s in u])
for s in squares)
peers = dict((s, set(s2 for u in units[s] for s2 in u if s2 != s))
for s in squares)

What I like about his post is that shows a clean analysis and solution to the problem, and manages to teach a bit of CS and engineering at the same time.

Read more on Peter's site: Solving Every Sudoku Puzzle

24 May 2006


The New Yorker reports on the dealings of the Shelter Island Bridge and Tunnel Authority's (SIBTA) website and its unauthorized use of the E-ZPass trademark. The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town got this quote from an E-ZPass official: “It’s an insult to the Port Authority, quite frankly.”

Unfortunately, no one at E-ZPass realized before firing off the nastygram that Shelter Island has neither bridges nor tunnels, and SIBTA was just a prank created by some locals.

via W.A.S.T.E.

First photos of MIT's $100 laptop

1st working model (OLPC)
Originally uploaded by Pete Barr-Watson.
Here are the first photos I've seen of a working model of MIT's $100 laptop. They're creating these for students in developing nations. They'll be selling these for $300 in the US, with $200 going to sponsor two machines for poor students in other countries.

The machines run Fedora Linux. Hardware specs here.

Dominos and game engine physics

You know the apocalypse is approaching when people do domino tricks in Half-Life 2 and Oblivion.

Then, there's just plain Rube Goldberg insanity in Half-Life:

It could be sillier, however. People could be doing re-enactments of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Battlefield 1942.

If you liked this story, please let me know by clicking on the "Digg it" link below.

Durex: Enjoy the other side

AdArena has copies of a Durex ad campaign for gel lubricant. The theme? "Enjoy the other side." More pictures here on AdArena.

thanks to JD for the tip

19 May 2006

She blinded me with science

The Consumerist reports on the story of contact lens maker Bausch & Lomb and the eye-eating fungus.

read more | digg story

The 1 Second Film

The 1 Second Film's gimmick -- donate $1 or more and get listed as the producer. The film, shot in 70mm, will feature one minute (24 frames) of animation consisting of two frames each of 12 images. The images will be created by an expected 100+ participants who will gather the night before the shoot. The rest of the movie? 90 minutes of credits.

The real goal of this is to raise money for a charity, The Global Fund for Women.

It's a clever use of the internet -- reaching thousands of people and giving them an inexpensive way to get something fun -- producer credit in IMDB!

read more | digg story

18 May 2006

Ultimate home video arcade

This site shows Peter Hirschberg's complete conversion of his home's basement to a 1980s-style video arcade. There are two things I'm certain of: 1) Peter Hirschberg loves Atari, and 2) he has a very, very understanding S.O.

read more | digg story

17 May 2006

Gliding Suit

This video shows a man jumping off of a cliff and gliding using a "gliding suit" that makes him look like an angel and allows him to travel a fair distance before he opens a parachute and lands.

Via: VideoSift

16 May 2006

Bay Bridge rough cut

Bay Bridge rough cut is a quicktime movie of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, assembled from over 10,000 individual still photos.

13 May 2006

MIDAS: Multifunction In-Dorm Automation System

MIT students build insta-rave system. I especially like the industrial big red button that fires it up.

In a comment on this post, Lisa pointed out the similarity to Neal Stephenon's The Big U.

Via: VideoSift

12 May 2006

Flickr rolling out some major improvements

George Oates, a Flickr staff member, just announced that Flickr is getting some major upgrades. The biggest one is boolean search. They're also unifying and improving a bunch of navigation elements.


New Navigation
We've rationalized the site's navigation, cleaned it up and (hopefully) made it much easier for both new users and experienced users. The new system breaks down into: You, Your Contacts, Your Groups & The World (aka Explore).

New Search
Search has been greatly improved (with full booleans and multiple tags, you'll be AND, OR, NOT and +ing and -ing your heart out), We've also added a search box to the top of every page and redesigned the results pages, so you can search for anything from anywhere.

Read more on Flickr Blog.

11 May 2006

The future of personal transportation

The future is coming, and it will be very, very silly.

Google Co-op: tagged search results

Yesterday, Google launched a service called Co-op that lets people tag (Google calls it "label") sites and make them more visible in the results page.

One of the first areas Google is working on is health-related queries. For example, here's the result for "psoriasis." You can refine the result by clicking on labels such as "treatment," "symptoms," and "from medical authorities." Clicking on the latter modifies the results page.

For each entry in the new refined result there's an extra line, "labeled" showing tags for each result. Some of these are also liked to an authorititative souce. The first result from the page has the tags "for patients" and "for professionals" and the authorities CDC and UCSF. Clicking on UCSF leads to a Google Co-Op page for that source.

Google Blogoscoped has the best summary I've seen of the new program.

Thanks to JH and JD for the tips

08 May 2006

SGI chapter 11 -- long time coming

SGI files for Chapter 11 protection according to CNet. It was a long time coming. I looked at SGIs financials a few years ago, and it looked grim even then -- many quarters of consecutive losses with no new markets in sight, and (I was guessing at the time) only service contracts to existing customers (government?) keeping them afloat.

I hope SGI comes out of Chapter 11 as a compelling company. In 1995, they had the machines -- 16-processer Onyxs with amazing graphics, back when the PC was a 100MHz Pentium. The first ISP, world.std.com, used an Onyx as one of their servers.

But the days when SGI could make large sales dwindled as Sun, Microsoft, and Linux dominated the server market, Macs took the graphics workstation market, and Linux renderfarms eventually took over in Hollywood.

Now, besides OpenGL and devices like Linksys's wireless access points with processors descended from SGI's MIPS, I'd be hard-pressed to say how SGI influences the typical user.

Here's hoping that they can figure this out.

Battlestar Galacticsimpsons

There's a website for every topic, and in this case, the topic is "Battlestar Galactica characters drawn in the style of the Simpsons." See Quirkybird's entry on Pantsketch for the full gallery.

06 May 2006

Mesmerizing sneakers

Mesmerizing sneakers
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
I took this photo of Joshua Schachter's mesmerizing sneakers at Startup School.

05 May 2006

How to cool down a Macbook Pro

The Macbook Pro runs hotter than some would expect. An intrepid user on the Something Awful forums (warning, Something Awful is rarely work safe) cracked open his Macbook and found huge gobs of thermal paste. Thermal paste is the compound that allows heat to flow smoothly from hot electronics to heatsinks and heatpipes.

But anyone who has built a PC knows that you're supposed to use a very thin layer of paste. The paste is there to fill in the microscopic imperfections in the two surfaces, and no more. Too much paste, and the heat doesn't get transferred.

Apple's service manual says to use an entire tube of paste on each component, which is way too much.

After removing the excess thermal compound and reapplying a reasonable amount, his computer's cooling system became far more efficient, resulting in a much cooler-running laptop.

Apple's response? They've written a nastygram to Something Awful demanding that they take down the excerpt from Apple service manual which gives the incorrect procedure.

read more | digg story

01 May 2006

Paul Graham's advice at Startup School

Paul Graham at Startup School
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Paul Graham gave some advice to would-be startups this weekend at Startup School at Stanford. Here are my notes from his talk. I also have notes for the presentations by : Joshua Schachter (del.icio.us, memepool), Om Malik, and Caterina Fake (Flickr).

Here are my notes on Paul's talk:

1. Release early. While users hate bugs, they're ok with a minimal v 1.0 site if there's promise of more.

For example, Reddit has 500k users, and doesn't know who they are. It would have been silly for them to design for users that they don't yet know.

2. Pump out features. Don't just do this for its own sake -- keep coming out with things that make the user's life better.

3. Make users happy. Startups can't force anyone to do anything, they have to persuade. Design your site for casual users. "The median user will arrive at your site with their finger poised on the back button." You need to make them pause and look at your site.

The main job of your site is to convert casual visitors to users. And you need to measure growth to make sure you are doing this.

4. Fear the right things. Disasters are normal for startups: the founder quits, servers crash, you hit insoluable technical problems. These are normal, so don't fear them.

Similarly, don't fear large companies. Sure, Google or Microsoft could do what you're doing, but they aren't as determined to do this as you -- if they fail, they have lots of other options. If you fail, you're dead. So you are far more committed to what you're doing than they are.

What should you fear? Other startups. Startups are like cornered animals -- it's succeed or die. Fear them, not Google.

Other real problems: internal disputes, inertia, and ignoring users.

5. Commitment is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's not about intelligence, it's about determination. Invest in grad students, not professors.

What motivates VCs is not the hope of returns, but the fear of missing out.

Commitment means people pay attention to you. If you're committed, VCs will worry that they will miss out on your successs, because they know you will be around. A company that isn't committed does not inspire these feelings in potential investors, because the investors can see that you are not likely to pursue your idea.

In short, committment means people pay attention to you, because they know you'll be around later.

6. There's always room. No matter how locked up an area seems, there is always room for improvement. Look at Google -- do we really think search 20 years from now will look like this, and that it will come from them?

7. Don't get your hopes up. Treat optimism like the core of a nuclear reactor: as a source of power, and also as something that can burn you.

Be optimistic about what you can do, but shield yourself by being pessimistic about machines and other people. Assume the deal won't happen. This is not to save you from being disappointed, it's to prevent you from leaning your company against something that could fall over.

Deals are usually dynamic. There are a lot of subsidiary questions to be cleared up after the handshake. If the other side senses weakness, they will be tempted to screw you over. "20k dollars, we thought that was 20k lira!" VCs are trained negotiators. While they're often nice guys, they can't help it. Don't even try to bluff them. Instead, when you hear "we want to invest in you" think "don't get your hopes up." This puts you in a stronger position without having to negotiate or bluff.


Startups are stressful. Economically, a startup is about working fast instead of working forever. Making money isn't grand, what's important is the speed -- getting the chore of a career done quickly "to show respect for life."

Update: Paul Graham has put his talk online.