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April


Space news
Don't try this at home
Home-made weapons are dangerous. Even including the words home-made weapons twice on your Web page will get you in trouble these days. (Welcome to everybody finding me in the search engines now.) This knowledge is the most powerful kind, cause it kills people quite often, usually the builders. However I got to point to these guys from MIT building a railgun because their design and production process is fascinating. This is no pipe-bomb experiment, they had to figure out some heavy-duty physics. A railgun shoots its projectile using an enormous magnetic field and they have to solve some interesting problems.
via kottke



The Universe is Flat
When Einstein proposed that the fabric of the universe may be curved, we started to worry about the "Big Crunch", the theory that a universe with a positive curvature will gradually stop expanding and begin to shrink finally imploding into itself. But luckily for us who may be around for more than a few hundred billion years, recent studies in Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation have proven the universe to be flat. Read the BBC article on the experiment that provided the data, then the science update story, then read more about cosmic microwave background, and what it tells us about the universe.


"Selfish Gene" theory flawed?
Richard Dawkins' "Selfish Gene" theory of evolution may be fatally flawed if expressed in mathematical form.
via honeyguide.

The Edge of the World's Knowledge
The tagline of Edge.org reads "To arrive at the Edge of the World's Knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking each themselves". Great stuff here, including the World Question Center which asks 100 of the world's top thinkers: "what is today's most important unreported story?" Everything on this page should be read. Stories include The Gradual The Growth of a Prosperous Middle Class in China and in India, The Rise of Organic Farming in Europe, Quality Pigs and The Immortalization of Humanity.




Sorry, you're going to have to do the reading
I'm unable to set aside the time to read and judge everything I find for a few weeks, but rather then retire or go on hiatus, I'm going to resort to just mentioning links until things have slowed down enough to go back to my usual style of posting. Here's some links:
  • A design review of the human eye Even Atheist-Evolutionists can get a bit preachy, but Den Beste's essay is a great analysis of the vertebrates' vision system from an engineers point of view. If I had the time, I'd find another more medical description of how eyes work to either back-up or refute his analysis. Found on Stuffed Dog.
  • Error in Genome Done on the Fly Human genetic information mixed with that of the fruit fly in a public database. Its apparently not a big deal but doesn't it make you want to go "heeeeellllppp meeee!!!!!"?
  • Somebody asked me how to do translucent web graphics, but I forgot who.
  • Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox tells us that The Web would be a happier place if virtually all Reset buttons were removed.
  • For a minute I thought Charlie Rose was going to interview Elián González Monday night (April 24). (I promise that will be my last Elián post ever) (If all you Webloggers are so concerned about him why not give him the accent he deserves? Give the boy a couple of á's to show him your support.



Weekend reading
It's the weekend again which is the only time I get to catch up on the heaping piles of knowledge cluttering up my bookmarks. Here's a sample of some of it:

Jason showed me (no, it isn't on his page he actually showed me) Visibone's Color Lab, a cool tool for checking web safe colors, with RGB and CMYK values, but best of all it shows you what colored type will look like over your selected colors.




Cabinet heads
Bubble Chamber found this patent for a device for perfusing an animal head. This device can be used to supply a discorped head with oxygenated blood and nutrients, by means of tubes connected to arteries which pass through the neck. The name of the company who filed the Patent is The Dis Corporation (get it?). I'm going to try to transcribe some of the severed head experiments found in an old copy of Scientific American I have. Check out some more Weird Patents.


Planetary alignment and DOOM
Some say the Planetary Conjunction coming May 5, will reck havoc upon the Earth. Phil Plait takes a stand against Bad Astronomy. He explains why we're safe with math. If you still don't feel safe read Truman Colliin's conclusion that the tidal forces exerted on Earth from the five planets on the other side of the Sun are vastly smaller than those exerted by the Moon or the Sun.


Auroras and asteroids
A few interesting things found at Sky and Telescope News: The NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) images and articles. And the hourly Auroral Activity Report This new plot estimates the VISIBILITY of auroral activity from any location in the northern hemisphere, assuming a dark moonless sky and low light pollution. It is updated every 5 minutes with the latest solar wind data.




Everest-Lhotse
Italian climber Simone Moro, will attempt an enchainment of Everest and Lhotse - summiting both by crossing the South Col that bridges both peaks without returning to base camp -and if that wasn't hard enough - without oxygen. Stretching the range of human possibilities, this attempt will mean Moro will spend at least 48 hours without oxygen above 8000 meters, in a place aptly called "the death zone," where biological and physical vital functions degenerate and where no kind of permanent life can be sustained.


Reading assignments
I'm a bit too busy to be reading anything but DHTML tutorials this week but here's what I'd read if I had a computer I could read in bed:
  • An account of the escape of the Karmapa from Tibet (the next Dalai Lama) by William Meyers. The Karmapa had been guarded closely since he was of inestimable importance to the Chinese occupiers of Tibet. He legitimized their authority, having received official approval as a reincarnate tulku (the newly minted karmic imprint of a deceased high lama) from President Jiang Zemin himself as well as spiritual confirmation by the Dalai Lama. As such, he served the Chinese as another control handle on the Tibetan people, who love their lamas and value their opinions and follow their advice. But, like the Dalai Lama himself 40 years before, the Karmapa seems to have been a precious jewel so tightly clutched that he finally slipped right out of his keepers' hands.
  • Several other articles at newstrolls.com
  • Lycaeum's online library


Jamestown just like Jonestown?
Jamestown settlers may have been poisoned. Only 60 of the 504 colonists remained after 1609 and circumstantial evidence points to arsenic poisoning, maybe not accidental.


Javascript
I've had to resort to alot of "code borrowing" lately to get some Web site demos to work. I've recently mentioned the Cross Browser DHTML page and there's lots of good DHTML ideas in the code of Assembler.org, but there's lots of cut 'n paste free javascripts at The JavaScript Source. Which coincidentally offers a script that prevents visitors from right-clicking to steal an image or source code (it's not fool-proof and doesn't stop Mac users (nah-nah-na-nah!)). The script that everyone should be using: an email address protector It's only a few lines of code and it prevents email address collecting "robots" from grabbing your email address while still making your address available and visible to your visitors. There are many other more complicated ways to mess with "spambots".

Soft toy history
Strange Brew pointed me to the history of Play Doh. If all the Play-Doh Compound made since 1956 was extruded through the Fun Factory®, it would make a "snake" that would wrap around the world nearly 300 times.Just imagine, a big thick Play Doh Equator. Also on that site is the history of Mr. Potato Head. I am much more interested in the history of Silly Putty (click on the timeline), which as we all know is a much more useful product. Silly Putty is a dilatant compound, which means it reacts differently to hard, fast pressure than it does to slow, even pressure. When pressure is applied quickly, Silly Putty acts like a solid and holds its shape. When pressure is applied slowly, it acts more like a liquid and can be molded easily.



Understanding America
Understanding America is a visual demonstration of questions and answers leading to understanding. Understanding information is power. As we all know from reading kiplog, understanding information is knowledge and knowledge is power. It's chock full of nice infographics and answers to questions like "how many wars have been waged in countires with at least 1 McDonalds franchise? Zero". There's lots of good stuff here but the Web presentation is poor and you would need to download the PDF's of each chapter if you want to read the sources. Because all the information and text are coverted into graphics, there's no searching or indexing, and it makes the statistics very vulernable to being obsolete since it will be close to impossible to update any of the data. I was waiting for this to debut, but forgot about it 'til slave reminded me.

Blogs
Looksmart has compilied a list of Weblogs, (I've linked to the K's for obvious reasons) and it looks like their editors have done a fairly good job describing each blog but its far from complete. I don't know if Dan's Lake Effect contains "slapstick humor" and Wetlog's listing doesn't mention Neale's humor at all, seemingly missing the point when it mentions his cookie master. Found in my referrer log which is full of K12 (school domains) this week.



State Legislature
Guest Post by GR - "The Illinois Legislature's official website. It lists all of the official business that transpires day to day during the legislative sessions. Just by the sheer volume of information already posted (it only covers the 1999 and 2000 legislative sessions) makes you wonder how they ever get anything meaningful done. Pretty mindboggling stuff." It just began posting posting floor roll calls, journals of floor and committee actions this week. Floor debate transcripts will be available later this spring. Real time audio is in the planning stages.

I noticed the Illiinois Constitution's preamble is a bit of a prayer - We, the People of the State of Illinois - grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which He has permitted us to enjoy and seeking His blessing upon our endeavors - I didn't know that God permitted religious liberty.

Humor
From the makers of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" comes the online humor magazine, TimmyBigHands. It features essays, poetry (Death is steak, cooked through till it's dark - Death is wonderful, horrible, like clowns in a park.) and pancake syrup ads.

Browsers
Reviews are mixed on the two new browsers: MSIE5 for Mac and Netscape 6. Keeping up with what browsers do what, is an important part of what Web designers do. (What a horribly formed sentence.) To bad I don't even have the time to download them, never mind test 'em. This week's A List Apart discusses what both browsers will mean to the Web. Explorer solves the Mac/PC font size difference by setting the default setting to Windows 96 dpi resolution and Netscape's Gecko is rumored to do the same.

Information seeking
Information Seeking on the Web: An Integrated Model of Browsing and Searching studies how knowledge workers use the Web to find external information. Behaviors for viewing and searching are broken down.

Why Online Searching Stinks explains why using an on-site search engine actually reduces the chances of success a user has in finding information. Overall, users found the correct answer in 42% of the tests. When they used an on-site search engine (we did not study Internet search engines), their success rate was only 30%. In tasks where they used only links, however, users succeeded 53% of the time.

Earning Online Trust discusses how we conduct online searches, and questions why we expect the Web to search 100% of the world's online content and why we assume that everything is always available. Effective searching requires the user to know search logic and information design, to recognize and use interactivity, to grasp context and scope instantly -- and never to give up. via Webword.


Weblog notes
I've decided I really need an iBook. Why? Mainly because I want to be able to work and catch up on learning Web skills while in bed. Sick huh? I've considered the cheaper option of a real comfortable work chair at home but I still haven't found one I really like at any price - one with real padded, fluffy arms and fully adjustable. Besides, I sit in a chair all day, the idea is to be able to lie around and get stuff done. I've always thought of a laptop as a complete luxury, but if it actually increases the time I can spend learning, its a necessity.



Weblog notes
I should mention CHIxLM - the Chicago Webloggers meeting/summit/dinner/get-together I went to last night. Dan has some minutes. Although he did fail to mention that our waitress liked us. Andrew has a list of attendees. We discussed our favorite blogs and tools, but mostly we got an idea of what we all do for a living. I'm still not sure how anybody has time for this sort of thing. I should happily mention that the word "meta" was not used during the night, but we did discuss metallurgy.

I didn't get to much of my weekend reading assignments in - the Cross Browser DHTML page was the only one I was able to get through because I needed some help on some draggable layers scripts for a demo.



Weekend reading assignments
Here's a list of stuff I want to ingest this weekend, if I get the time. I'm going to try to do this each week. This way I can list a bunch of stuff and not have to pretend I understand it before I post it. I think that's enough since I've got about four Web sites that need coding, a race to watch (Terry Labonte got the pole in his home state) and a Chicago bloggers gathering to go to.


Playthings
Soda's Constructor animates and edits two dimensional models made out of masses and springs. Try out the different models and use the wave tool to make their muscles move them around. Soda's Home page has a unique animated solar system-style Site map.



Root Beer
I had a conversation about root beer last night. I always have considered myself a root beer connoisseur, but realized I didn't really know what was in it since they can't use sassafrass anymore (it was declared a carcinogen in the 1960's). This root beer history (with links to an extensive tasting report) explains it all. For more on the creamy stuff check us these root beer links. My personal favorites are Sprecher, who also make an awesome cream soda and great real beer, Dog n' Suds and Stewart's, my childhood favorite.



Aerial Photos
Earth From Above has some beautiful aerial photography by Yann Arthus-Betrand, including some Flash 4 movies and some downloadable photos for your desktop. Pictures of islands, rivers etc. I love this kind of stuff. You'll need Flash and a current browser, cause the light version has some annoying javascript errors (at least on my Mac Netscape). Thanks to the retiring Subterranean Notes, who will be sorely missed.



Important reading
Some of you may know the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as the home of the Doomsday Clock which has marked nuclear danger since 1947, and was last changed to nine minutes to midnight when India and Pakistan each test a series of nuclear devices. But the Bulletin has lots of other interesting articles on Echelon, a covert x-radar station in Norway, and spy satellite photos of a missile site in North Korea.



Heraldry Terms
This Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry describes just about every thing that could be found on an English family Coat of Arms. This is yet another example of a massive body of information that most of us wouldn't have the slightest use for, but it's good to know it's there. Embellished with a 1,000 illustrations.
While primarily the object of the work, as has been said, is to describe and explain terms used in Heraldry, and more especially in the blazon of Coats of Arms, the practical side of Heraldry has not been overlooked. Under such articles as Marshalling, Arms, Achievements, and the like, several of the rule of Heraldry are introduced. Also the various Titles of Nobility, &c.; Orders of Knights; Heralds, &c., will all be found in the Glossary, with such information given in a condensed form as it is thought will be of use to those students of Heraldry who pursue the subject otherwise than as an adjunct of Genealogical and ArchŠological enquiry.



Fuel Cells
A saw a CTA bus spewing out steam the other day. It turns out they're operating three of the first fuel cell powered buses in the world. They combine hydrogen and oxygen in a chemical reaction to produce electricity. Nature Science Update has more about fuel cell technology, and the emerging technology needed to produce the hydrogen including using algae in Iceland.






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