June 30, 2005

Strange but True: Artillery Fungus

Been reading up on landscaping in preparation for some yard work. Found a great article extolling the virtues of good old black plastic over the new geotex woven mulches, that also warned of the evil artillery fungus...

Great stuff from the Penn State Dept. of Horticulture: How to Control Weeds

The one fungus associated with organic mulches that does cause a serious problem is the artillery fungus. It produces a fruiting body that forcibly ejects a black, sticky spore mass. The fruiting body is phototropic, meaning it orients itself towards light, or bright, shiny surfaces that reflect light. These include windows, white siding, and shiny automobiles. The spore masses can be shot up to eight feet, but with an assist from wind can reach the top of two story homes. The glue with which the spore masses attach to surfaces is extremely effective. After it has dried, the spore masses are very difficult to remove, and even when removed, leave a dark stain behind. Clients have sued landscape managers for the cost of having their siding replaced or automobiles repainted. This problem is not uncommon anymore, and there is no good solution for it at this time.

Ok, this is going to sound really geeky, but isn't this reminiscent of that Star Trek (Classic, not NG or Voyager or whatever) episode where Spock gets hit with those plant spores and becomes a freaky 60's love child dude?

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June 29, 2005

Premptive Clear Cache?

So when browsing a company's home page, I got 404 errors when trying to access a couple of pages from their drop-down menu. I emailed the company through their "info" id and this was their response:

I would say the user needs to refresh his browser (i.e., close browser and reopen) to see if the browser is loading a cached version from his local machine. The user may also need to change their browser settings if the old nav continues to show up. If the browser is IE, then they need to make sure their Temporary Internet files settings is not set to “Never” - “Check for newer versions of stored pages” ; if so, they need to change it to allow for newer versions to be displayed.

Clearing Firefox's cache pulled a new version from their server and all was well. So yes, this was a fix.

But what should you do, as a Web designer, to prempt this kind of problem? What if I was a VC or some high-level mucky-muck who wouldn't know how to clear my cache, other than to drop a big wad of it in Vegas?

This is probably a more involved problem than you'd think. You could do an autorefresh, for example. Or use Pragma. Or Expires. Or check a cookie that you've set on the local machine.

But this is a company's home page. Which you'd want to load super-fast.

I think the best way would be on the server-side, something like tweaking the Last-Modified header so that user agents don't look in cache but pull a new file. Gotta investigate this one a bit more.

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June 21, 2005

Ashton Kucher an Engineer?

A few posts ago, I commented on ThomasNet.com's outing of famous people as engineers. You know, the usual suspects, like Cindy Crawford.

Now I find out that Ashton Kucher was a biomedical engineering student at the University of Iowa before hitting the big time (hooking up with Demi Moore should be considered "the big time", shouldn't it?).

You know, lots of folks have the wrong idea about how to get fame and fortune--you really should just enroll in engineering school. Look what happened to William Hung.

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June 17, 2005

Batman Needs to Learn Kung Fu

Just got out of "Batman Begins". Great movie, faithful to the psycho nut case aspect of the mythos, but martial arts that just plain suck.

Batman carrying Katie Holmes as asst. DA Rachel DobsonWhat, were Yuen Woo Ping or Sammo Hung busy on some other project or something?

Even George Lucas caught on to the new sophistication of the motion picture audience--since everyone has seen "Crouching Tiger" and Jet Li is finally now a mainstream movie star, he had the Jedi training for the past 3 years and learning some better moves. Hiring a wushu guy to kick things off (groan) as Darth Maul didn't hurt either.

But Batman is just a brawler, or at least Chris Nolan just directs fight scenes that way. Frank Miller's Batman got a lot of the unarmed fighting sensibility right--how does a guy--just some ordinary guy (ok, being a billionaire isn't that ordinary, but meaning no superpowers) defeat bad guys bigger and stronger than himself? Little things like strikes to arm nerve centers (dim mak, anybody?), the kind of stuff you read about in Black Belt magazine, that sort of thing.

We see Bruce Wayne training at the elite ninja academy on the side of some Himalayan mountain (so that's where Sho Kosugi has been all these years!) but don't really get a sense of his martial ability anywhere in the movie.

At least Qui-Gon (er, Liam Neeson in his role as senpai Henri Ducard) hasn't lost his touch with a sword.

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June 16, 2005

Time Value of Money

The latest DWR Newsletter profiles designer Jens Risom, who helped bring the Danish design aesthetic to the uncouth US. DWR's interview with Risom had some interesting economic tidbits:

JR: I wanted to be doing furniture design, but I started doing textile design for Dan Cooper. That was fine, but Hans Knoll offered me a job that paid more than $45 a week, which was my salary at that time, so I went to work with Hans.

RF: I guess your furniture cost less at that time as well.

JR: Well, the chair that you are selling was sold for $21 in 1942.

Ok. $21 in 1942 dollars is $263.51 in 2005 dollars, thanks to the wonderful Inflation Calculator. But the aforementioned chair is priced in DWR's catalog at $632.

Ouch! That's some gross margins. Or is it the "intrinsic value of design" that we keep hearing about? How Apple can charge so much more for those elegant white polycarbonate boxes than some mom and pop storefront slamming Intel chips into a Taiwan OEM barebones case?

Oh yeah. Apple's gone over to Intel too. What is the world coming to?

(parked this post in Design as it stems from a DWR newsletter, but it's really about Economics...)

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June 15, 2005

Cooper Comments on Martial Arts

Guru says:

Now it appears that some curious group in England has decided that too many people are getting stabbed, and that therefore long, pointy kitchen knives should be banned. Apparently they think that kitchen knives with blunt points would lessen the incidents of stabbing. Hoplophobes being what they are, it does not occur to them that they might reduce their problems by making armed assault illegal. Of course if they did that, they would find it necessary to do something about unarmed assault, and presently we would be called upon to eradicate boxing, wrestling and kendo.

Some folks tried this before, right? And so the martial artists became "dancers" and resorted to including drummers in their practice sessions, and the result was capoiera.

If I was a rapper I could could switch to 52 Blocks.

RZA: "I ain't have to quickdraw Mcgraw ya, I could Fifty Two Block ya Switch my stance up Southpaw, drop ya ..."

Time for me to practice my "Filipino Stick Dance". Ahem.

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June 14, 2005

Whatever happened to... Jaron Lanier?

Most of my other "Whatever happened to..." articles are about long lost movie stars, like Jim "Kung Fu Jim" Kelly ("...Nice move. My momma uses it against the local gangbangers every day") or Sho Kosugi. But what about forgotten techie stars?

Like Jaron Lanier. Cover of Scientific American in 1984--the geek's equivalent of being Playmate of the Month. White dreadlocked boy genius invents Virtual Reality and all that. What happened to him?

Remember when VR was the big thing? Remember what VRML stands for? Flashback to 1996: Netscape had just bought Paper Software, and I remember a slightly awkward Mike McCue being shown around the building by three gorgeous marketing/PR types.

But it turns out that Lanier is still alive and well, and doing more music than coding these days, at least according to his News page. And VR? Lanier's "Top Eleven Reasons VR has not yet become commonplace explains it all.

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June 13, 2005

Lessons from the Street

My best friend and I were discussing how things were when we were growing up as compared to now, where we both live in calm suburbs where crime is rare rather than rampant.

I wrote about this paranoia awareness when discussing Jeff Cooper's Color Code--how growing up in the big city taught me to be aware of my surroundings and prepared to act in case of a threat. Little things--like using the reflective glass of a storefront window to watch my back, or how to sense body posture of people walking by to see if they're going to jump me, or proactively moving my body to shield my kid and protect my weapon side.

Would we be better off if we hadn't had such "training"? Or are we doomed in a weird way to be less trusting of others? To be always wary?

And how do we teach our kids the same skills, now that they will grow up (thankfully) in a much better, safer environment than the one we knew?

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June 09, 2005

Nukes are Back?

Forbes had a cover article a while ago proclaiming that "Nukes are Back". Key premise: the current energy crisis is making people more tolerant of nuclear power, and thus the stocks of nuclear power plant manufacturers, turbine producers, and the like are going up.

Case in point: SiberLogic's Webpage. Having an image of a nuclear power plant (especially one that looks reminiscent of Three Mile Island) used to be a branding no-no--akin to having a swastika in your logo or The Grim Reaper as your corporate spokesman (Philip Morris, anybody?). But now you see it on corporate home pages.
Love the old school page-as-image map design too--at least they sliced the image for the bandwidth-challenged.
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June 07, 2005

Outing Famous Engineers

Thomas.Net outs famous people you might've not known were...engineers. Gotta come out of the (wiring) closet sometime, I suppose.

Guess Who Is an Engineer

But they forgot a few people who would've really put a different face on the industry:

 Cindy Crawford was a Chemical Engineering major at Northwestern (on scholarship!) before getting into modeling. She was valedictorian of her high school too. Man, they must've had the most popular Chess Club of any high school in the world...

Teri Hatcher grew up in Sunnyvale, here in the middle of Silicon Valley, and was planning to go into engineering like her mom and dad. Now she's just a desparate housewife. The Merc interviewed her, now that she's famous:

"At the time, my father told me he wouldn't pay for me to go to college to study anything other than mathematics -- something he's now endlessly regretful for," says Hatcher. "He's apologized I can't tell you how many times."

Still, when Hatcher graduated from Fremont (High School) in 1982 -- her class voted her "Most Likely to Become a Solid Gold Dancer" -- she enrolled at De Anza College with the aim of following her parents' wishes and getting a degree in math and electrical engineering.

Then there are some sports types, like the following:

David Robinson, aka "The Admiral" who played for the San Antonio Spurs (NBA)--engineering graduate of the US Naval Academy.

Lee Labrada, pro bodybuilder.

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June 06, 2005

Wallet Survival Kit, Part 2

Back in January I mused about keeping survival tools on my person at all times. That post was prompted by the case of a day hiker who got lost in one of our verdant parks (one of the great things about the Bay Area is the closeness of nature to the urban centers) and had to sit outside for a couple of days.

When day hiking, I usually have a day pack with the Ten Essentials, plus all sorts of goodies. But what if I went on an impromptu hike and didn't bother with a day pack? What could I do with what I have on my person?

I never get dressed without my Spyderco, so I'd be able to make tools, cordage, etc with a sharp knife. But what else could I carry around with me on a daily basis?

I added a Fox 40 whistle to my keychain. That'll be the extent of my on-board signalling capability. I already had the Streamlight KeyMate and a Victorinox Signature II Lite on the car keys, and a Leatherman Micra on the main keyring. Pretty soon I'll need one of those retractable chain holders like elementary school janitors.

Photo of ToolLogic Ice Companion showing knife and other tools I put a ToolLogic Credit Card Companion in my wallet. That added a magnifying glass (firestarter), compass (direction), an itsy-bitsy knife (hate to have to use this on anything/anyone, but better than nothing), tweezers, and can opener. You can never have too many knives, I always say. Oh yeah, a SwissKey is on the keyring too, but it looks so much like a key I forget it's there.

What's really lacking is a better Warmth function. The Boy Scout Metal Match is kind of bulky, but I'll probably add one to my keychain soon.

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June 03, 2005

Reading List Thus Far

Finished up Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I liked this book a lot--on audiobook with the great George Guidall voicing Mr. Wednesday and Easter and all the fantastic characters, you could really see things as Gaiman pictures them. Of course, this being Gaiman, this would've been really, really better in comic form, but I guess he's all "grown up now".

Next up: Without Remorse by Tom Clancy. This just about finishes up my run through the Clancy fiction stable--that guy better get crackin' on the sequel to Teeth of the Tiger before I run out of tapes...

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June 01, 2005

Woz, and is, a Good Guy

I'm always inspired by Steve Wozniak. Like that other Steve connected with that "fruit company", he changed the world with his inventiveness. But he seems to be truly a good guy--still humble and down-to-earth despite his fame and fortune.

In the new article from San Jose Magazine, Woz talks about how he gave most of his wealth away; how he really wanted to just teach and be an engineer, and he seems truly happy about how things worked out. He isn't the Silicon Valley robber baron that the other Steve is, and he wouldn't want to be.

During the boom you'd meet all these paper millionaires who were, for lack of a better term, just real assholes. But only occasionally did you ever meet such people who had character and integrity.

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