Archive for the ‘cool’ Category

I found out about a super cool company a few days ago – CivChoice.

The basic gist is that you create an account with CivChoice, put money into it (which is a one-way street: it’s a “donation” to CivChoice), and from there you divvy it out to the charities of your choice.

You get a single receipt for tax purposes, rather than a dozen small ones from around the country.

And you can use it to quasi-anonymize donations in a workplace donation program – instead of Personnel or Accounting knowing (or choosing) where you donate via paycheck deductions, it all goes to CivChoice, and then you direct it from there.

deadline by mira grant

I read Feed (review) a few weeks ago, and just finished the 2d installment in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, Deadline. The frenetic pace of book 1 was upped a level in book 2 (along with some more language).

Mira is a fantastic author, and I cannot wait to read Blackout (it’s on my library queue).

“You know why corporate espionage keeps happening, no matter how bad they make the penalties for getting caught? … People stop caring. Once you reach the point where you’re working with more people than can comfortably go for drinks together, folks stop giving as much of a shit.”

“There’s always been something nasty waiting around the corner to kill us, but … [t]his constant ‘stay inside and let yourself be protected’ mentality has gotten more people killed than all the accidental exposures in the world. It’s like we’re addicted to being afraid.”

“It never pays to insult computers that are smart enough to form sentences. Not when they’re in control of the locks, and especially not when they have the capacity to boil you in bleach”

krakatoa: the day the world exploded, august 27 1883 by simon winchester

I have been interested in volcanoes for a long time. I first wrote about them for a college essay in 1999, but my attraction to them began far earlier. Most likely it was triggered by hearing from my mom that her wedding day was the first time she’d ever really had allergies – just 6 days after Mt St Helens exploded, the cloud o’ crud had wafted its way across the North American Continent, and helped trigger lots of folks’ allergies, including my mom’s.

I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that read, “Save The Volcanoes!”

It was quite the conversation starter. (And short satirical essay fodder.)

My dad thought it would be brilliant to dump most of our trash into Kīlauea or Mauna Loa – what better place to incinerate garbage than a pool of liquid rock? (Side benefit: no need to use fuel to burn it, just to transport it!)

I remember Pinatubo exploding in 1991. It ejected about 2.4 cubic miles of crud into the atmosphere. That was 10x more than Mt St Helens burped.

But only half of what Krakatau did in 1883. Krakatoa (the spelling forever etched in world memory, through the typo of a Times of London editor) chucked about 6 cubic miles. It is claimed that it is the loudest sound ever recorded in modern history, and the air-borne pressure wave of the explosion was measured around the world on barographs, as many as 7 times.

(Tambora in 1815 was even bigger (estimated at up to 38 cubic miles), but it was in a relatively unknown (to “modern man”) part of the world, and certainly did not capture the attention of the world they way Krakatoa did 68 years later after the advent of near-instant global communication (the telegraph) and pop culture’s attention to “science”.)

It was this eruption that helped set the stage for a variety of modern scientific fields of inquiry and practice, including a better understanding of geology, meteorology (the beginnings of figuring out the jet stream), and plate tectonics (though not formally accepted globally until after WWII).

Simon Winchester did a masterful job in his book, Krakatoa: the Day the World Exploded, August 27 1883. It is one of the few books I have read as an adult in which my reading was slowed due to vocabulary. Winchester’s writing showcases his vast vocabulary, his scientific bent, his Oxford education, and his deep interest in his topic. But he manages to use an extensive lexicon without ever appearing to talk down to his audience – an exceptional gift. He also writes in a very precise manner: every word he uses feels like he meant for it to be there because it truly describes what he wants to say the best.

I take a few minor issues with his worldview, because I do believe in a literal Creation Week 6000-12000 years ago, but excepting his ongoing references to millions and billions of years, I could find nothing in the book to complain about.

Krakatoa provides a deep history of the Indonesian region, both geologically and politically (starting, on the latter, with the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (or Dutch East India Company)) takeover of Portuguese influence in the region) and spans far and wide through a variety of then-unrelated sciences which presciently foreshadowed modern geologic, biologic, meteorologic – even astronomic – advances.

If you are at all intrigued by history, geology, volcanoes, or disaster, you should read Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.

I can’t wait to read several of his other works.

atlas of the year 1000 by john man

It was with great excitement I reserved Atlas of the Year 1000 from my local library.

John Man’s work did not disappoint (excluding the humorous typo of “a a” when only the single article use was intended).

Starting with the Americas, then working Eastward to Europe, the Islamic region, and Asia before moving back west but south to Africa and then finally to Oceania, Atlas of the Year 1000 provides a fantastic glimpse of the state of the world a millennium ago ± 50 years.

From the Introduction on the significance of the year 1000:

[B]y pure coincidence, the year 1000, or thereabouts, marked the first time in human history that it was possible to pass an object, or a message, right around the world. This had, of course, been almost possible for a long time. Although no culture knew what the world looked like, and few had any idea of its size, almost every habitable region had been peopled for thousands of years, and almost every culture had a neighbour or two. Messages and artefacts had been passed between neighbours, across continents and between continents. Such messages – pottery styles, agricultural techniques, new technologies, religions – are the stuff of cultural diffusion.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who is looking for what avenue of historical inquiry they wish to follow next, or to be reminded that nothing happens in isolation – as isolated as some of these cultures were from each other, there were myriad other cultures operating at the same time around the world.

geeks night out

Last week I went to the Geeks’ Night Out at Beerworks in Lexington.

One of the people I met was a junior EE major at UK named Robyn who, along with two of her friends, is looking to start a home automation company (The Unity Box) – but not in the realm of a company like Ambiance (interestingly, a company I was going to start with as a junior developer back in 2001 when the bottom dropped out of the tech bubble – but that’s another story). They want to make a small control device along the lines of a DVR or Roku that would control smart outlets/switches in your home (and be able to learn a la the Nest about your habits (with, of course, manual overrides for non-pattern events)).

Yesterday I found the WeMo from Belkin.

Robyn – looks like you and Belkin should talk: they’ve done the part about the smart outlets :)

gardening efficiently – for fun and profit

I have gardened off and on for most of my life. Back in the 1980s, there was a show called “Square Foot Gardening” on PBS hosted by Mel Bartholomew. Now there is a website. When we lived in Albany, we purchased the book Square Foot Gardening (which has been updated and simplified even further by Mel Bartholomew in the intervening years, and is now titled All New Square Foot Gardening (I reviewed SFG a while back)). I also own a copy of the companion text, CA$H from Square Foot Gardening – though I never put any of the suggestions into practice for personal money-making.

In college, I took a course on the culture of food, and my term paper was entitled, “Eating off the Grid” (intro page and associated diagrams). The basic premise of the paper was that an efficiently-designed, efficiently-grown, and strategically-planned small garden can provide for individuals, families, or even whole neighborhoods – all with minimal up-front investment, and reduced on-going care cost and effort.

With a recent rise on the popularity of “locavore” eating, and the relative increase in observed popularity of canning, farmer’s markets, etc, it seems that for many people, growing at least some of their own food should be a “no brainer”.

My wife and I have had a small (6×6) garden in our backyard for a couple years. Out of that space, we [typically] get not only a substantially better harvest than her dad does using a 50×100 plot in “garden farming” (aka, the “traditional” method of gardening, wherein folks try to grow miniaturized farms instead of scaling-up window gardens) – just a small example, the dozen or so hand melon vines he had took 1/4 of the total ground space of his garden … which is nuts!

I love making salsa, for example – this past summer out of just 4 plants, I got 4x more serrano peppers than I could use … and I can use a lot of serrano peppers :)

The basics of SFG are easy – build a 4’x4′ box at least 6″ deep (full plans and kits are available in the books and on the website – or you can see the end of the paper I wrote). The soil mix is also easy – peat moss, compost (which you will be able to create on your own going forward once you start gardening, if you have a small space in the back part of your yard), and vermiculite. Everything is organic, and because the individual plots are so small, keeping-up with weeds is a cinch.

I’m not going to replicate everything in the books here – they’re just too chock-full to do full justice in a blog post, and they’re so accessible without being condescending, that I can’t give a higher recommendation to read and own them.

thanks, {redacted}

A friend and coworker owns a cabin in the Smoky Mountains, and invited my wife and I to spend part-to-all of a week with him and his wife there at the beginning of March – doing a “WFC1” week instead of being ‘merely’ WFH2 (like we normally are)..

He arrived Saturday morning with his wife, and my wife and I arrived that evening.

Sadly, he had to leave early, and couldn’t stay the whole week – but my wife and I were able to enjoy all the way through the middle of the week before we also needed to leave to get back to “the real world”.

So, thanks, {redacted} for letting us crash with you, and then stay after you :)

1 work from cabin
2 work from home

bursts by albert-lászló barabási

Albert-László Barabási’s book “Bursts: The Hidden Patterns Behind Everything We Do, from Your E-mail to Bloody Crusades” is fascinating. In the same overall genre as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (review) – pop psychology and pop science – Bursts is a great read: bringing highly technical and dense topics to the masses in a manner that [apparently] doesn’t dumb it down, and never condescends to the reader.

The author is a professional researcher with deep experience in the fields he writes about – a huge plus. If you can wade through all the Hungarian names in a couple of the stories (it’s not that hard), you’ll find this a fantastic, enlightening read.

Reading this makes me want to go buy his other book, Linked. – schedule social media posts

I learned about this week – finally a way to not overload Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc with posts – and put them in relevant venues easily.

Thanks, Passive Panda.

some great finds – it’s sorta like Visio, but free, and web-based. – like webex, including conference calling and file and screen sharing.

Qama – a calculator that doesn’t give an answer until you provide a “reasonable” guess.

Udacity – a free computer science program.

Urbanchickens – dedicated to raising chickens in “non-traditional” environments (like cities).