Saturday, January 29, 2011

F. Lee Bailey Needs to Assure Us That The O.J. Verdict Was Correct

Have you heard?  F. Lee Bailey's gonna write a book about People v Orenthal James Simpson.  He's gonna show us that O.J. is truly innocent of the crimes with which he was charged.  And he's released a three-part teaser on his web site.  (I'm not going to cite the URL - you'll have to Google it yourself.)

I was able to read all three parts in about an hour or so.  Other than rehashing evidence you would've seen had you watched the trial on TV and pissing on police officers in general, it seems that Bailey's ace in the hole is a witness never called during the trial "who may well have seen the killers or their confederates."  Truly that's about all there is to Bailey's teaser.  Unless you want to count the five pages on the legal definition of evidence with which he begins the book.  Holy Christ, after suffering through that I probably wouldn't have cared even if he had a photograph of the crime in progress.

I fully understand and appreciate the vital role played by defense attorneys in our legal system.  I do not despise Bailey and the rest of the defense team simply because they represented O.J.  But I'm baffled as to what motivated Bailey to foist this turd on the public.  Is this his "No, really!" moment to explain his involvement?  Is he feeling guilty in his old age?  Has he gone slightly senile?

The Above the Law web site wrote something about this that made me laugh: the headline for this story should be "F. Lee Bailey Evades Caretakers, Gets to Internet Before Somebody Stops Him."

I was able to watch virtually all of the TV coverage of the trial and the only book on the subject that I've read is the one by the two police detectives.  I  believe that O.J. is guilty. And I'll add the obligatory disclaimer that I also believe Mark Fuhrman is a stupid ass.  And F. Lee Bailey's book is gonna suck.

P.S. Next time you put a PDF of your book online, don't use a crappy OCR scan that can't even properly resolve the name O.J.

Wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone...

Open this link to Robert Fripp's Soundscapes Live 2010 in another tab, start the music, and let that be the soundtrack while you read.  I'll wait...

Personality insight #6 - I laughed so hard my eyes hurt when I watched this video of funny talking animals.  (Wait for the Spanish bit toward the end.)  Not funny, just cool: computer graphic animation of DNA.

Social media - this blog excepted - rewards the brain.  Or you can believe this sociologist who claims social media is a modern form of madness.  Bloggers beware.  Of the top 10 free WordPress themes you find via a Google search, 8 contain some sort of malware and 1 is kinda iffy.  You just can't trust people.  Need a shorter word for your Tweet?  Find it at Thsrs.

 Stuart Williams' Luminous Earth Grid

Here's a variation on last week's tip to not check your email first thing in the morning: dedicate the first 90 minutes of each day to something important.

All you typography fanbois will love this video of a 1960s (?) calligraphy demonstration by Hermann Zapf.  I especially like the punched-tape computer at the 18:00 minute mark.

Reason #32 that nature is best kept outside.  Frazil Ice is not a spin-off off the Muppets but rather a phenomenon in Yosemite National Park where ice crystals formed in waterfalls turn rivers into a slurry - basically a giant white slurpee.

Interesting study of studying.  Taking a test is a better study skill than studying.

I don't get Foursquare, but Syracuse University is now only the third college to get its own Foursquare badge.   On the other end of the publicity spectrum, some question whether my alma mater is the worst college for free speech.

No, this is not from an illustrated how-to guide to the Kama Sutra.  It's some of the icons from GestureWorks' open source gesture library.

If you've ever wondered what video games can tell us about our society, head over to Berlin's Museum of Computer Games and try them for yourself.
Some background on the USAF's need for a new, nuclear-capable, penetrating bomber.  (Or else my grandchildren may be piloting B-52s.)  If you like things getting blowed up, here are videos of an undersea nuclear detonation and Britain's first H-bomb detonation.  I love the typical British understatement ""Gosh, that was loud."

My scotch drinking friends (you know who you are) should rush out today to buy gourmet ice.   This commercial for Sapporo Beer has been called the most beautiful ever.

A friend just sent me a link to this video while I was preparing this week's post.  Man V Food visits my home town Cleveland where Adam tries to eat a 3 pound, 14 variety, grilled cheese sandwich.  Another native Clevelander will appreciate another sandwich type - the pierogi filled Parmageddon.  Speaking of food from Ohio, did you know you can order Skyline Chili online?  If you're not sure whether that's a good thing watch their new "3-way" commercial (not what you think).  I am so hungry right now.

It makes perfect sense if you don't think about it too much: a bacon rocket.

Not Animated.  Headache, however, quite real.

Sarah Parmenter offers her insights into speaking at conferences.  Her starting point is handwritten notes.  For me its a bunch of electronic files of various types (old PowerPoint, new images, bookmarked web sites) that I rearrange like fabric swatches in one of my wife's quilts.  Regarding starting the talk, she recommends not beginning with your bio and I wholeheartedly agree.  Begin with the reason you're there - the audience.  On the topic of practice, she's amazed by the number of speakers who don't practice.  While I never do a dress rehearsal style of practice, I do find myself doing the presentation in the car during my commute.  During the talk the main idea is to get the words right so the topics flow without sounding too practiced while also trying to avoid your personal verbal crutches (ah, um, so, OK).

Looking for chat software to use at work?  Have you considered Yammer, tibbr, and Chatter?  I don't know what to think of this blog post and comments about cracking software.

I have a set of Buckyballs, those little round rare earth magnets you use to form different shapes.  My Buckyball skills are similar to my PlayDoh skills - I can make a snake (cigar, hot dog, baton) and a roughly shaped ball.  Dimitri, on the other hand, has mad skillz.

What are CEOs thinking?  Quoting directly:
  • Today’s complexity is only expected to rise, and more than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage it.
  • Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs.
  • The most successful organizations co-create products and services with customers, and integrated customers into core processes.
  • Better performers manage complexity on behalf of their organizations, customers and partners.
You don't have to wait for the Winter Olympics.  The excitement of curling can be yours year 'round at the Grand Slam of Curling.

Mapapalooza! Nat Geo offers this map of surname distribution in the USofA.  This next one has more or less become an internet meme: map of the US with states denoted by some factoid (what they're best at, famous food, etc.)  So here are the states matched to foreign countries' economies (Texas = Russia).  And finally, the frequency of swearing in the US.

Meanwhile, in Japan.
(I actually worked in a building with the guy on the right.  Also noted: two streams?)

The opening of Ed Ruscha's exhibit at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth led me to this review of two modern painters, Amy Sillman and Tom McGrath.  While McGrath's work was the target of that search (because he shares with Ruscha the automotive theme), Sillman's abstractions really caught my attention, mostly because of her palette.

Composition is such an important part of Sillman's and McGrath's work that this series of articles on composition and layout (for animation) is a nice resource.  This quote by artist Chuck Close is also great: "Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work."

No need to rework this title: Padded Underwear for Men Gives Booty More Bounce.  And while we're on the topic of undergarments, click if you dare: Skid-B-Gon.  According to the illustrated guide to facial hair I'm "definitely high right now." 

From the Hard to Believe Department, the original, 500 pound prop of the Nostromo spacecraft from Alien sat in someone's driveway under a tarp for 20 years.

April gets its name from the Latin word aperit meaning "to open" - from how the months got their names.

In this review of Stanley Fish's How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One we find damnation.  In current writing "there is a flaccidity and casualness of style that has come from writing habits born out of e-mail and social media." I suppose if my writing were more erect, I'd be a novelist not a blogger.

Your mental palate cleanser - do nothing for 2 minutes.

...always sounds like foolishness. ~Hermann Hesse  (This explains a lot about raising teenagers.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste...

When you arrive at work in the morning, work on something important for an hour before checking your email.   This tip is from a list of 7 reasons you should never check email first thing in the morning.  (Guilty as charged.)

 Did Picasso influence the Mac Finder icon?

Why wake up to your alarm clock's beep beep beep when you can be lured awake by sizzling bacon with the Wake n' Bacon.
  • Tecplot's CFD visualization software helps in the quest for alternative fuels.
  • Kenneth Wong weighs in on Altair's acquisition of CFD software developer ACUSIM quoting an Altair VP as saying it "fills a void in our portfolio."
  • Rhino's SDK is now open source.
  • FloEFD won the Design News Golden Mousetrap Award for best product.
  • CAE blogger Jeff Waters is dumping Twitter, changing jobs, and taking several months off from blogging.
If you're into marketing and want to add 42 blogs to your blogroll here are the top content marketing blogs for 2011 as compiled by Junta42.  Do you take into account a product's future plans, its roadmap, when making a purchasing decision?  PTC thinks it's important which is why they're spelling out the future of their new Creo product line.

Hey Canadians.  Check out this guy who during 2011 "will only buy Canadian products, eat Canadian food and consume Canadian media."  Good luck, eh.

Interesting opinion piece by the president and CEO of Campbell's Soup on how to stop being victimized by your own life.  Example: not all fires are equal and you don't have to put them all out yourself.  (Factoid: Campbell's is headquartered in Camden, NJ.)

Copyblogger warns us about the 5 mistakes that kill landing pages on web sites.  #2 is using your regular site design.  Instead, lose the clutter and get focused on converting the prospect into a customer.

 If I wore t-shirts more often, I might wear this one: Groverfield.  (I recommend the movie Cloverfield, just take your Dramamine first unless the camera work isn't as disorienting on the small screen.)

We try to make our customers very happy but sometimes we fail, or as this blog post about How to Save a Disgruntled Customer says, we suck.  From my own experience, I recall this one customer for whom we could do nothing right - missed deadlines, lost shipments, simple misstatements.  The first thing to do is call and dig deeper to fully understand where you went wrong - and stop trying to sell.

You have all probably seen the hilarious parody of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as mangled in PowerPoint.  Now someone's done the same thing for Martin Luther King Jr's I Have an Action Item.  "Coordination of interethnic actors needs to be improved."

Last week it was MaximumPC, this week Deloitte makes their technology predictions for 2011.  There's a lot of focus on TV.  After all, 4.5 trillion hours of TV were watched worldwide in 2010.  That's a helluva lot of toddlers in tiaras, real housewives, and Snooki.  But I think the really important comment is at the end of the article.  "Batteries will probably become the biggest single limiting factor in the growth and penetration of smart mobile devices."

Two places to enjoy a fine beer: The Pour House and The Ginger Man.  (Note: I have not personally been to either of these places but am simply parroting what my beer guru told me.  Last night I had Buds with buds at B-Dubs.  My beer guru probably hates that.)

Someone took extensive notes at the Startup Lessons Learned Conference last year.  It's gonna take some time to read through all of these.  From the notes: "entrepreneurship is not the best way to make money.  Entrepreneurship's goals are to change the world, build an organization of lasting value, and make customers' lives better."  That sounds gallant, but somewhere there has to be a profit motive.

Fortune has ranked the 100 best companies to work for.  Notable: #4 Google, #6 Zappos, #12 Scottrade, #44 Intuit, #72 Microsoft, #87 Men's Wearhouse.  Here are 10 simple truths that smart people forget.  #6 Every mistake you make is progress.  I've made a lot of progress!

This list of classic texts in visualization surprisingly does not include anything by Edward Tufte.  But How NOT to Lie with Visualization sounds interesting.

My current reading backlog.

How to cross a moat, the animated series.  Dentophobia, the fear of dentists, requires a sympathetic ear.  Indeed.

Now I know why all you Zimmermans are impulse buyers.  Research shows that people with last names at the end of the alphabet tend to buy items much more quickly than those with last names at the front of the alphabet.

Not sure I see the need: tinySrc sizes your graphics for mobile screens.  Software Carpentry provides freely available tools and resources for learning about software development.  What do basking sharks have to do with hydro power generation?  Check out this shark-inspired turbine.

From the How Low Can We Go department, a TV commercial for Luv's diapers features a toddler pooping contest.  I certainly hope that Proctor & Gamble doesn't take this same approach to marketing their line of feminine hygiene products.

...that they hurry past it.  ~Kierkegaard

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Comments on New Software Models

The January 2011 issue of Desktop Engineering magazine includes a commentary by Jeff Ray, CEO of Dassault Systemes SolidWorks Corporation, titled Open to New Software Models in which he advocates the open-source/social business model to software vendors.  Keep in mind that in 2010 Dassault introduced DraftSight, free software for working with DWG files.  While Ray doesn't advocate making the source code freely available, he does promote other aspects of the open/social paradigm.  Quoting directly from the article, these aspects are:

  • no-charge software product,
  • widely accessible product that enables viral distribution,
  • grassroots product specification,
  • constant upgrades,
  • optional paid support.

Who doesn't like free stuff?  When it comes to free software, people love being able to download and try new stuff without any hassle.  If it solves their problems (see the other bullet points) so much the better.  One might argue that the software product I work with is kinda free - at least in China where it has been hacked and cracked mercilessly.  Seriously, a free product removes a large barrier to adoption and can get you a large user base very quickly and those users learn about you (hopefully good things).  As a business, however, giving away the fruits of your labors is counterproductive.  As the old joke goes, you have to make up for it with volume.

I don't understand the call to provide a "widely accessible product that enables viral distribution."  To me this simply says that once you've decided to give the software away for free make sure it's prominently displayed on your web site so people can find it (i.e. don't put a bushel over a lamp.)

SolidWorks has created an online, Facebook-style community to encourage and sustain users' dialogs about the product including self-help and collection of feedback.  Certainly this contributes to collecting what Ray calls a "grassroots product specification."  But other than using a social media style forum, this is what good software companies should be doing anyway - being market driven.  By listening to this open dialog among and between users the software company can also learn a lot about the market that can guide future product plans.  Excellent idea.

I'd also opine that "constant upgrades" are something else that should be expected of a software company.  Ray says that if you have a public beta and 1 of your 10 new features fails, you need to have the courage to be taken to task publicly.  On the other hand, it is beta.  One might say that if a feature fails in beta the software company should expect a large volume of richly detailed feedback from the community.

"Optional paid support" finally brings us back to the profit motive which is a good thing for any business.  For open-source or no-charge distribution the "freemium" model is one that's been adopted by many and is a good balance the benefits of free with income.  Ray does say that their marketing budget for DraftSight is "zero" but I think he's being a little tongue-in-cheek - after all, someone had to write this article and get it placed.  Besides, why wouldn't you want to market the availability of a cool, new, useful, community-driven, and free product?

Overall I agree with Ray.  Engineers can be a pretty stodgy bunch and adopting some of the ideas of modern software distribution and support can be a good thing.

P.S. These are just my opinions and you should not infer that our software will be distributed according to this model anytime soon.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Don't tell me the moon is shining...

Let's dispense with this right up front.  In Slate magazine Farhad Manjoo writes about why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period.  With all due respect and apologies to everyone at work who edits extra spaces out of my writing, he's wrong.  The typewriting class I took in high school (they call it keyboarding these days) taught me to put two spaces after the period at the end of a sentence and because I've gotten more mileage out of that class that perhaps any other I will continue to space space.  It's such a natural part of my typing I can't imagine changing.  It'd be like learning to write left-handed.  Typography, mono-spacing, aesthetics, anachronism, blah, blah.  Maybe Manjoo should not end his name with two "o"s.  (Yes, when your argument is weak all that's left is to make fun of the other person's name.)

Read my lips.  No new hams.

The Siemens PLM blog asked some prominent folks in the CAD biz what they enjoyed reading in 2010 and asked us to resolve to read one of those books in 2011.  Fair enough.  But I was distressed by the number of people who don't, won't, or can't read books.

Sign me up: 1,000 cores on a single CPU.  How bad in your software's user interface?  Let's just hope it doesn't end up in this Flickr set of user interface insults.

The clock in my office (Thanks, Randy!) ticks about as loudly as this metronome

Probably the biggest news in the CFD world this month will be Altair's acquisition of ACUSIM.

The list of the 15 most hated companies of 2010 includes American Airlines, Best Buy, Charter, Citigroup, AT&T, and Dell - all of which I use.  The only one about which I have strong feelings is AT&T who IMO deserves to be on this list.  Can their customer service get any worse?

If you wanted to build a company like Hubspot, here are the key elements: leadership, vision, talent, marketing, and innovation.  If you're a technical person who founded a company, one thing you may have trouble with is deciding when to stop coding.  "My job as a founder is to find a repeatable business model that will make money."

Topologies is a video art installation that illustrates what unstructured meshes might sound like.  Worth watching, especially for my science friends.

Not to be left out, here's an artistic example of structured grids in the art world.  Guaranteed to mesmerize: Dylan Fisher's animated GIFs - they remind me of grids.

Without the "e", email is still mail and the primary form of business communication.  These 10 rules for effective email are good ones to follow.  My addition for rule #11 would be "Keep your signature short."  Nothing's more annoying than a 20 line email signature with name, title, email, phone, fax, address, a pithy quote, and ASCII art - especially when the body of the email is 2 lines long.

Breaking my own rule about infographics, here's Evolution of the Batmobile.  Of course, my favorite is the classic 1966 version from the TV show.  Those flames from the exhaust were boss.

Hadn't heard about this before but the Dept. of Commerce is proceeding with plans to provide each American with a unique online identity.

Fluid dynamics pr0n: high speed video of the Leidenfrost effect (like when you drop water into a hot pan and the bubbles dance around the pan but don't evaporate right away).

Science proves you should pour your champagne like a beer.

Where has all the sp@m gone?  Global sp@m levels dropped by a factor of 4 from August 2010 to year's end.  Another interesting factoid: a single botnet was responsible for almost half of all sp@m.

What is sleep deprivation costing U.S. industry?  In a survey of only four large companies the cost was $54 million a year.

This could be good.  Return to Forever's fourth incarnation (Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Jean-Luc Ponty, Frank Gambale) is going to be touring in 2011.  Why do we love music?  Because it causes your brain to release dopamine, just like enjoying a fine meal.

All too often, list-based articles read like common sense.  It's like Maslow's hierarchy of needs all over again.  One might say that about the top 10 things that all customers want.  For example, "satisfaction" - they want to be satisfied with their purchase knowing that it solves their problem.  FWIW, my top 2 from that list are honesty and courtesy (I take satisfaction as a given).

Here's the first in a series of articles on Are You The Boss You Need To Be?  What got my attention was their cautionary note: don't mistake comfort for real competence.

Lockheed Martin is upgrading tenfold our nation's ability to track orbital debris, from cataloging 20,000 objects to hundreds of thousands of objects.   Be sure to watch the video about the Space Fence.  (Certainly they could've come up with a better name.)

I hear you Vince.

Just say no to clip art.  Here are some ideas about how to use imagery in your presentations.  Here's an example of what not to do with PowerPoint.

Why follow a company on Facebook?  The top motivator (40%) is to get discounts.  Next is to show support (37%).

Nobody get any ideas: some guy hasn't use soap or shampoo in a year.  Massive beef fat spill clogs Houston ship channel.  The best joke I could come up with: this is what the tub looks like when I'm done.  Valentine's Day is coming.  How about a nice jar of Fat Girl Scrub?

Sweet science: for millions of years, unimaginably hot molten rock fell from the sky onto the infant Earth.

Here are 25 ways to improve your web site's calls to action for increased sales.

From the Just Plain Wrong department, someone's editing Huck Finn to replace the N-word with slave.  (Note: this has nothing to do with race and everything to do with literature.)  What's next?  Editing Faulkner?  Fig leaf for David?  Bras for most every painting by Rubens?

Speaking of nude photography, Tactile Mind is a book of nude photography for the blind.  The site has many images of the naughty bits so be careful around small children or big bosses.

I haven't even purchased my floor washing robot and they've already come out with a window washing robot.  On the other hand, I'm not so excited about the dog dung vacuum.

I think the author of Everyone Poops are about 25% misleading.  Apples and other plants don't poop.

Holy shit! Plants may indeed poop: sea slug is part animal, part plant.  The Kama Pootra offers 52 "mind blowing" ways to poop.  Mom said if you're blowing your mind it means you're straining.  Don't do that.  Know what your toilet paper is saying.  Business name fail. Not for the sensitive: From the annals of internal medicine we present In Through the Out Door: X-rays of odd things found in butts.  It's the salad tongs that made me LOL.

Why eyewitnesses can't be trusted: this video demonstrates how motion can hide color changes.  Another case of fooling your senses is the Shepard tone, a sound that seems to be ascending or descending in pitch but yet doesn't actually get higher or lower.

Perfect use of the internet #11: Letterheady is a photo archive of letterhead including examples from MAD Magazine, Dr. Seuss, Harry Houdini and many more.  Not to be outdone, here's a collection of sand.

An auction worth bidding on: NASA is auctioning space memorabilia including this SR-71 wing fragment (current bid $324).

I'm not all that interested in iPhones but this article about e-Cycle, a company that securely recycles your old iPhone (9 million per year), caught my eye because it's based in Hilliard, Ohio.  Hilliard was a sleepy farm community of about 800 people when my father was born and raised there.  Turn your iPhone into a 3D scanner with Trimensional.

Here's a nice short talk by artist Robert Bechtle on one of his influences, Richard Diebenkorn, and specifically Diebenkorn's painting Coffee, 1959.  Bechtle talks about Diebenkorn's sense of composition but also references Diebenkorn's Notes to myself on beginning a painting which is in itself priceless.  I love #10 - Be careful only in a perverse way.

Meanwhile in China, their J-20 stealth fighter is flying.

How croissants are made?  I'd rather know how croissants are pronounced.

MaximumPC magazine offers this list of 12 technologies on the brink of extinction.  First, the 6 on their way out.
  1. Pre-recorded physical media.  I still buy my music on compact disc.  I sound like one of those farts who still prefer vinyl over CD but MP3s have such horribly limited audio quality.  I suppose that's OK if you're listening through ear buds or tiny desktop speakers but a home system?
  2. Stereoscopic (with glasses) 3D TV.  With or without the glasses I don't get it.
  3. eBook readers.  Apparently the authors see multi-function devices (e.g. iPad) as the future.
  4. Consumer-level hard drives.  I can see this happening, a move to solid state disks in laptops and home PCs.
  5. Keys.  Apparently the authors lose their keys, have them stolen, and get holes in their pants from them.  Hardly what I'd call a mandate.  I don't see this happening anytime soon.  Coincidentally, a friend who just got a new car with push-button start said his young daughter made fun of him for being lazy and not using the key.
  6. Handheld gaming consoles.  Again, the authors love their multi-function devices.
Now the 6 that might hang on.
  1. Digital music/media players.  OK, apparently multi-function devices aren't all that.  Or maybe the authors really like their iPod but not so much the Kindle or PSP.
  2. Landline phone.  
  3. Internal combustion automobile engine.  Nobody ain't got a better idea.
  4. The PC, keyboard, and mouse. 
A video map of how Tweets lit up the world on New Year's Eve.

More map pr0n: United Van Lines provides this map of where people are moving from and too.  (Poor Ohio.)  Speaking of Ohio and maps, check out this map of foods by state and note that Ohio's food is Cincinnati-style chili.  I'm hoping it's a bowl of Skyline Chili, a 3-way (over spaghetti and covered with shredded cheddar) with two cheese coneys (hot dogs) on the side.  God I'm hungry.

Why so much Mona Lisa in the news lately?  First, the background location has been determined to be the Italian city of Bobbio.  Second, da Vinci may have been influenced by the writings of Horace and Petrarch. And third, watch her jump.

The angry traveler's guide to obscene gestures.  It all makes sense now. me the glint of light on broken glass.  ~Anton Chekhov

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Energy, Chocolate, and Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering magazine has been on a roll lately with articles that I think are pretty damn interesting.  I read them but also feel compelled to share them with you here.  Such is the case with their January 2011 issue.

In Myth vs. Fact, two folks from MIT's Sloan School of Management try to separate myth from fact when it comes to energy policy.  They write "Before we can embrace appropriate energy policies, we have to face the hard truths about the technologies available to us."  So here I'll just repeat their headlines verbatim for you to deliberate, discuss, and debate.

  • Truth: Without significantly higher energy prices, energy demand will continue to grow - especially in developing countries. 
  • Myth: The world is running out of fossil fuels.
  • Myth: Renewable energy generation technologies are free from environmental concerns.
  • Truth: Continued reliance on fossil fuels is altering Earth's energy balance.  The risks of extreme temperature changes and subsequent impacts will grow substantially unless concrete actions are taken.
  • Myth: Getting started on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require transformative technologies.
  • Truth: There are opportunities to greatly reduce energy intensity through gains in efficiency.  These gains could be made by both technological advances and price-induced substitution.
  • Myth: There is little room for improvement on fossil energy technologies - fossil fuel extraction, internal combustion engines, and so on.  Therefore, only small advances are needed before alternative energy technologies are competitive.
  • Myth: Explosive growth in renewable fuels in recent years is evidence that these alternatives are economically competitive with traditional fossil fuels.
  • Truth: Subsidizing renewable energy generation doesn't lower the cost of alternative energy; we simply pay the cost in other ways - and at the expense of cost-effective market-based policies.
  • Truth: The true costs and benefits of available alternative technologies are highly uncertain.  Therefore we should all be careful about predicting technology winners.

The same issue provides dessert in the form of a great article on the high-tech challenges involved in making chocolate, Engineering Taste, authored by researchers at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.

The complexity here is based in the fact that molten chocolate is a non-Newtonian fluid whose viscosity changes with applied shear force.  What's important is to solidify this liquid in one of its six stable solid forms, one of which is preferred from the standpoint of mouth feel (melts at body temperature) and visual appeal (glossy).  Unfortunately, this solid form isn't stable and often the result is a less desirable solid form that looks funny and tastes gritty.  (I recognize this taste as a brand that begins with "H".)

One key to achieving the correct solid form is the cooling rate.  One method uses a very slow cooling of 1 or 2 degrees Celsius per minute.  But another technique called the "frozen cone" method chills the chocolate in 3 seconds using a cone plunger at -20 degrees Celsius.  Obviously, this works well for creating thin chocolate shells.

So now we have some insight into the science behind the fluid dynamics of something we're all familiar with but have probably not thought much about.  In addition to mouth feel and taste, another area interest for these researchers is the nutrition and digestion of this manufactured food.  My parting chocolate advice is to stay away from the "kiss" - that little pointy tip always breaks off and leaves tiny brown stains on your shirt.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner

As promised, I read a second book by Tom Zoellner.  After his thoughtful comments on my review of his Uranium I purchased and read The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.

I enjoyed The Heartless Stone more than Uranium for one simple reason: he interwove his diamond research with the personal tale of his rejected engagement and the ring it left behind.  His personal insight into the emotional content stored in that blue velvet box carried the otherwise harsh probing into how diamonds get from the ground and onto someone's finger.

Diamonds are also easier to relate to personally as we all have some experience with either buying or wearing jewelry.  Of course, you might argue that the threat of nuclear annihilation as discussed in Uranium is also a personal matter but it's just a bit more abstract.

Zoellner's research makes it clear that the diamond as a gem has a price far in excess of its mineral value.  Diamonds are fairly common geologically worldwide and it's only through business practices that they cost what they do.  The perceived value of diamonds comes from the story behind them, whether that story is romantic baggage as embodied in slogans like A Diamond is Forever or the tales of misery behind blood diamonds.  We also have to question whether a diamond's role in romance is manufactured and whether it really matters if the answer to that question is yes. 

The tales told of uranium and diamond mining are very similar.  The folks with the shovels get the shaft while some corporation gets rich.  Things are vastly better in the developed nations (e.g. Canada) than in developing countries (e.g.  Angola) where in the former it's more about care for the environment while in the latter it's more about not getting killed.  I began to wonder whether other industries could be looked at in this light.  For example, you could look at corn farming in the U.S. and question the policies of big farming corporations, genetic manipulation of plants, chemical issues associated with fertilizers and pesticides, and the profitability for the family farmer who gets their hands dirty.  (For more on this I suggest Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.)  The whole issue of exploitation of third world countries and native peoples is repeated.  What does it mean that a ton of ore has to be crushed to yield a carat of diamonds?  I'm not sure where all this rhetorical questioning is going but I suspect Zoellner may have achieved one of his goals - to inspire critical thinking about common everyday [correction] objects.

One surprising fact revealed in The Heartless Stone is that (at the time of writing, 2006) 92% of the world's diamonds are processed in India.

I will not repeat the sexual innuendos that pepper this book as well as Uranium.  But trust me, they're there.  OK, I'll repeat one, the first one I encountered that made me smile based on my previous exchanges with Zoellner.  Diamonds, as most of us know, are formed by vast compression and heating of carbon beneath the earth's crust.  They, along with magma, are ejected onto the earth's surface through volcanoes but that ejection has to be just right or the diamonds vaporize at the lower pressure.  As Zoellner writes "What we wear on our fingers and around our necks are the lucky survivors, the sperm who won the race." [page 26]

You can learn more about Tom Zoellner and his work at his web site,  My review of Zoellner's Uranium can be read here.

[I received no compensation for this review.]

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes...

From the Lost and Found department, 17 lost minutes from 2001: A Space Odyssey have been found.  This footage was cut from the film by Kubrick after its premier to improve pacing.  Here is an awesome collection of title screens from movies.

Damn.  Big.  Ego.  Post the three words you think describe me at Three Words Me.
I seem to recall posting this before but it's an infographic I actually like - the many varieties of beer.

Stephen Wolfe's When Bad Things Happen to Good CAD Users goes into quite a bit of background about how problems occur in 3D CAD geometry.  You may have heard the quote about the annual cost of CAD interoperability problems exceeding the market capitalization of all CAD companies combined.  Even though this article appears to be a pitch for the CAD/IQ product (which helps find errors in CAD models) it does a pretty good job of explaining many of the issues involved.  In the big scheme of things, the 3D spatial reasoning required to determine whether a geometric feature is junk or real is quite difficult.

PTC's Creo blog offers 4 CAD trends for 2011 including PLM, social, mobile, and customization.  Personally, I don't see mobile being that big of a deal but they're concerned about security issues related to design data on personal mobile devices.

The American Dialect Society has voted app as Word of the Year for 2010.  More interesting to me is the selection of nom (as in om nom nom) as Most Useful Word. 

In What it Takes to be a Great Employer, we learn that only 20% of a company's employees are fully engaged, 40% are "enrolled", and the remaining 40% are disenchanted.   The author cites a person's four core needs (physical, emtional, mental, physical) and describes how employers might address them.  With respect to the physical, the author rhetorically asks "How crazy is it that companies are willing to invest in preventative maintenance on fixed assets such as their machinery, but typically won't make a comparable investment to enhance and sustain the health and well-being of their employees?"  Let me take a shot at that one.  One might take the position that employees are mature adults for whom health is their own responsibility.  An analogy is public schools and what one might call their obsession with giving children (achievement-free) self esteem.  Isn't that the parents' job?  And engineering colleges that are required to teach an ethics class.  Isn't that the family's job?  The author's other points are less controversial IMO.

Some questions are best left unanswered: Are you a good boss?

The Chinese have themselves a stealth fighter - the J-20.  [Addition: Bigger photo here.]

One might argue that turnabout is fair play, that we did this to the Russians so why shouldn't someone do it to us.  But I have a problem with the Chinese aiding the Taliban.

What are 5 enemies of business?  (#1 Uncertainty.  "Even just the threat of increased regulation causes us to wait. We won't make decisions until we know what we are up against. Once the regulation is set in motion, we must try to understand and comply, in spite of the usual lack of clear instructions.")
I think we've all been there at one time or another but this past December there was a special conference in London: Boring 2010.

Old data can still be interesting. The number of taxpayers using health savings accounts (HSAs) increased 41% from 2007 to 2008 and the average balance increased 4.4% to $2,210 during the same period.  Given what has happened since (the Great Recession and health care reform), I'd like to know what the current stats are.

Here are 5 reasons your web site isn't generating any leads.   (#5 There's no point of differentiation.)  Not a fan of Google Analytics?  Here are 8 alternatives for web site analytics.  I hear that a lot of people like Paint.NET, free software for photo editing.  I use GIMP.  A video series: Vim from novice to professional.

Ever wonder what the Dow Jones Industrial Average sounds like?

Science meets vittles in this restaurant's periodic table menu.

Researchers say that our standard body temperature of 98.6 degrees is the perfect balance between warding off fungi and having to eat continuously.  But the problem is that other researchers have shown that the actual range of standard body temperatures tends to fluctuate.
    From the Only In California department: spas now offer vaginal steam baths.

    And finally, in a moment of feigned humility and obvious self promotion, I am honored that this blog was named "Best New-to-Me Fort Worth Blog" in Food and Fort Worth's Best of Fort Worth 2010 post.

    ...but in having new eyes.  ~Marcel Proust

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Mashup Roundup for 2010

    I forgot to post two musical links yesterday, both from the wonderful world of mashups.

    DJ Earworm released his annual United State of Pop 2010 (Don't Stop the Pop), a 5 minute mashup of Billboard's top 25 songs of 2010.  If you listen to only one mashup a year, this should be it.  There's a video too.

    In another salute to pop music mashups, A+D have compiled the Best of Bootie 2010, twenty-three tracks (total time 80 minutes) from DJs around the world (and 10 bonus tracks).  If the idea of mixing Katy Perry with Van Halen interests you, give this a listen.  (A streaming version is available on the site.)


    [Note: Some lyrics NSFW]