Archive for the ‘technology’ Category
By this time next Friday, Adam and I will be on a short shakedown bike tour before our longer ride this summer. It’s still early in the season, so our routing choices for next week’s bike tour were based partly on which campgrounds would be open by then. We have the option of camping at the free hiker/biker campsites along the C&O Canal, which are open year-round, but don’t want to do the entire ride on gravel.
Our tentative plan to get a good mix of experience – and test the gear we’re carrying – is as follows:
Day 1: Say hello to Friday Coffee Club, then set off towards Frederick, Maryland.
Day 2: Ride to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, then camp at Caledonia State Park in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania.
Day 3: Head towards Falling Waters, West Virginia (near the C&O Canal).
Day 4: Take the C&O Canal trail to Brunswick, Maryland.
Day 5: Back to Washington, DC – likely not via the C&O.
Works out to about 250 miles total. We will be going at a casual pace, considering our bikes will be loaded up with gear: camping and cooking stuff, food, and bike tools. Feel free to join for part of the ride if you have time. It’ll be a good test run if you’re interested in getting into bike touring! I’ll also recap what we learn from the ride when we get back.
Note: We will also be testing out the TrackMyTour iPhone app on this ride. It looks like an easy way to let family and friends know where you are. Let me know if you’ve tried this app or any similar ones, and how it’s worked out for you. Along with the manual waypoints through TrackMyTour, I’ll be using Strava to record our rides as usual.
Projects abound these last few weeks. I keep forgetting it’s nearing that time to stop and take a break.
8: There are a variety of ways that allergists test for allergies. Allergy specialists use skin tests or blood tests to test the patient against suspected allergens, and several are usually tested at the same time.
9: Vacation photos of hotels can often be misleading. Check out Oyster’s Photo Fakeouts for some particularly exaggerated ones.
10: Random Hacks of Kindness is a hackathon devoted to creating software solutions focused on disaster risk and response. Programmers assemble in groups all over the world to work on projects like raising awareness of emergency hydrants in San Francisco or this analysis of health facilities distribution in Haiti.
11: Google has a product called Fusion Tables that allows you to import your data and map it fairly quickly. Somehow I missed when this came out, even though I’m a geek about making maps. I’ve played around with the sample and though Fusion Tables isn’t what I’d call a great product yet (it’s still in beta), it’s certainly nice to see the act of mapping data simplified and opened up to the masses. See examples here.
12: In September 2006, the mayor of São Paulo banned all outdoor advertising in the city – to include billboards, flyers, ads on buses, and other forms of “visual pollution.” This Clean City law was a move intended to wash away all the garish adverts that covered virtually every surface and increase quality of life for those in São Paulo. For some thoughts on how effective this has been, see the responses on Quora.
13: The Cupertino effect is a widespread error in texts of a certain time period that originated with spell-checking software. When the word “cooperation” (without a dash between “co” and “operation”) was typed on an older computer, the word would auto-correct to “Cupertino”, a word that was commonly found in the spell-checker’s dictionary.
14: A talk by Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice, always an entertaining topic. ”The way in which we value things depends on what we compare them to.”
15: The LuminAID is a solar-powered inflatable LED light designed by two Columbia University graduates, Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta. It’s lightweight and waterproof, making it ideal for disaster relief. They also position the LuminAID as “a cheaper, safer alternative to kerosene lamps.”
16: Apparently there’s a language fad among female college students called vocal fry, a kind of “creaky” sounding voice. Hear an example here. But be warned, this is one of those things where once you hear it, you’ll start to hear it everywhere.
17: Read “The Movie Set That Ate Itself” and just try not to think about The Truman Show. Director Ilya Khrzhanovsky began a mock town inside of Kharkov, Ukraine, placing cameras all around this set and making it home to over 210,000 cast and crew members for six years. They’re recorded 24 hours a day, living out their roles. This is for his film Dau, and filming is scheduled to end in 2012. If anything, it’s an undertaking.
18: Composting your food waste has benefits for the environment, because less organic matter that ends up in landfills means less methane gas produced by the landfill. Currently about 98% of America’s food waste goes to landfills according to the EPA. Reduction of food waste is even more essential, as America wastes 27% of the food available for consumption – around 30 million tons of food each year.
19: An amazing story from a researcher conducting ethnographic fieldwork in China: Street Vendor Life in China.
20: Get geeky with these 3D pixelated animals by artist Shawn Smith. He uses balsa wood which he cuts to length and paints, arranging each ‘pixel’ to form these striking figures.
“For the past few years, I have been creating a series of ‘Re-things.’ These whimsical sculptures represent pixelated animals and objects of nature. I am specifically interested in subjects that I have never seen in real life.” (via Colossal)
21: Though I am planning a round-up of great end-of-year lists, The Atlantic’s In Focus series of photos from 2011 is especially noteworthy: The Year in Photos (Part 1 of 3)
Preserving the world’s historic places is no mean feat. It is inevitable that buildings will fall, statues will be destroyed, and the structures of entire civilizations past will be mere memories. Buildings will erode, be reimagined and rebuilt in a new form. However, technologies such as digital photography are playing an increasing role in cataloguing and recording the world’s historically significant sites. With the advent of new methods of digitizing these places, our histories are better shared and the fabric of our cultures are better recorded.
Ben Kacyra is the inventor of a 3D scanning system that has been used to visualize historic sites. The projects of the CyArk archive use this system to collect millions of data points for each heritage site, capturing the sites in point clouds that together form a precise 3D model. You can browse the public online archive to see a point cloud, a 3D model, a Google Earth representation, and various photos of each site that has been digitally preserved so far. Also see his inspiring TED talk, “Ancient Wonders Captured in 3D.”
Our heritage is much more than our collective memory, it is our collective treasure. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren, and the generations we will never meet to keep it safe and pass it along.
In a way, the immense efforts of the Google Street View team are also a piecemeal digital cultural preservation of our highways and byways (as well as the life lived around these paths). Camera-mounted vehicles have driven across more than 30 countries, documenting the view from the streets. Small moments are taken out of time.
Those images above are just two of my finds this evening, but especially interesting Google Street View finds can be found at Jon Rafman’s project 9-eyes.com. There you’ll see a wild slice of life as caught by these roaming photo cars: passersby waving, police officer pat-downs, caribou traveling down the highway, chaotic urban scenes and, every once in awhile, bits of serene bliss.
A lot of moving and shaking this month. Let’s make things happen and learn something new every day. Here’s what I’ve learned on each day of the first week of October.
1: East African elephants are terrified of bees, and will emit a rumble as an alarm call in response to the sound of the African bees. Science Magazine reports that this is the known finding of an alarm call amongst elephants.
2: Who knew watching paint dry could be this entertaining? Watch Pipe Plant by Sasha Aleksandrov.
3: China is absolutely riddled with what are known as ghost cities – entire cities devoid of residents – which if occupied could house over 200 million people. Some photos from Quora user Brian Roemmele help drive this point home. Nevertheless, China continues to build at the rate of something like 16 new cities per year, many of which lack the most essential resource to a city: its people.
4: HTML microdata is information about a web page that can be added to reduce ambiguity by providing semantic meaning to online search results. Schema.org provides guidelines on how to markup your web content using microdata. The benefit to doing this is that it indexes your web pages more accurately by the major search engines, like Google and Bing.
5: Because of the way English bulldogs been bred to select for certain traits, such as their wide shoulders and narrow hips, they are unable to reproduce naturally. They require artificial insemination and a cesarean section to give birth. This intensive breeding process also makes them expensive dogs to purchase.
6: You can sign documents electronically. It’s likely that I knew vaguely that this was possible, but I’ve never e-signed a document before and it was exciting to see how simple the process is. They’re legally treated the same as regular signatures in the U.S.
7: Pasta carbonara involves a specific process of cooking with an egg. I assumed it referred to a type of sauce, but real carbonara involves a raw egg that needs to be handled in a way as not to clump up or overcook when it’s added. The egg is added after the pasta is cooked and drained – it’s cooked by the residual heat of the pasta. After looking through a few recipes, I’ll try my hand at making this soon.
Somehow these last couple of weeks have been even busier than the week before! Sorry for the delay in posting – here are the things I’ve learned every day for the past two weeks. Any cool new knowledge you’ve picked up lately?
16: In many places, we’re pumping groundwater faster than it can be replenished – in certain parts of the Ogallala Aquifer, for example, groundwater is being pumped 20x faster than the aquifer can be replenished. This can result in a lower elevation of the ground surface in the surrounding area.
17: The penny-farthing bicycle was named for this early bike’s resemblance to two coins sitting side by side – the larger penny and the smaller farthing, which was worth 1/4 of a penny or 1/960th of a pound sterling. (Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling by Christopher Koelle)
18: The Kyopo Project by artist CYJO, on exhibit until October 14, 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery in DC, explores the variety of experiences of Korean-Americans. The term ‘kyopo’ refers to a Korean who grew up outside of Korea. Well worth visiting!
19: At one point in time, you could send children through the post. Unbelievable? Well, there are stories of at least a couple of instances…
20: We’re primed to spend more when we go shopping through a number of psychological techniques that aren’t immediately obvious to most of us. Martin Lindstrom explains a few of these with the example of the Whole Foods grocery stores. Those flowers by the front entrance? Unconscious to you, their presence plants the thought of freshness in your mind, since they are so short-lived and perishable. The drops of water continually misted onto the fruits and veggies? They also call up the idea of freshness, though the extra water causes the fruits and vegetables to go bad more quickly. Lindstrom is the author of a book called Brandwashed that discusses more of these techniques of manipulation that marketers employ so effectively.
21: In New Orleans, all-day parties called boucheries are held in backyards and will often involve cooking up an entire pig – every part, including the blood, as Anthony Bourdain discovered on No Reservations.
22: Don’t wear herringbones, houndstooth or small plaids on-air. These patterns don’t capture well on TV cameras: they appear to ‘dance’ around because of the moiré effect.
23: This is probably an obvious fact to many, but South Korea has the fastest Internet speeds in the world - averaging 17.62 Mbps. The United States is in 26th place, with an average speed of 4.93 Mbps. (From a study by Pando Networks)
24: Steeling is the process of re-aligning the edge of your kitchen knife to keep it sharp. Honing steels are the steel rods that are used to hone the blade edge, and ideally, this should be done every time you use the knife.
25: Here’s a neat website called Inconspicuous Consumption - recommended for those interested in sociology, consumer culture, or product design.
26: Mosquitoes can be attracted to you by many cues, including the carbon dioxide in your breath, skin chemicals such as lactic acid, or body temperature. Basically, if you’re a breathing and sweating human being, you’re a target – though certain people seem to naturally attract more mosquitoes than others. Personally, I’ve been eaten alive by mosquitoes lately and wouldn’t mind if autumn settled in quickly.
27: Science explains: how a riderless bicycle can steer itself! Hint: it’s physics. However, the research of Andy Ruina and Jim Papadopoulos on gyroscopic torques and trail has found that these are not required to have a self-steering bicycle, as was commonly believed.
28: Eating three meals a day didn’t become the norm in the United States until as late as the 20th century. Dinner used to be the meal served at home around the early afternoon, but was moved into the evening as cities grew and more people worked further from home; the lighter mid-day meal then became known as lunch.
29: Incredible photos from the mass games in North Korea by Sam Gellman. Via Wikipedia: “Today, mass games are regularly performed only in North Korea, where they take place to celebrate national holidays such as the birthdays of rulers Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.”
30: We’re not the only office who decided to put our geekiness on display to the world around us with Post-It Space Invaders and Mario scenes on our windows. Check out Post-It War, a project out of France.
It’s been a busy week. Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past few days.
08: Specific to Washington, DC… DCist explains ghost buses! Ghost buses are those ones that seem to disappear off the NextBus online tracker (which uses GPS data for Metrobuses). The explanation is that not all of the buses are GPS-enabled, therefore some of the NextBus ‘tracked’ buses are simply predictions. There may be a specific bus that was scheduled for that time, but for whatever reason it never ran. So then there’s you, wondering why you’re standing at the bus stop with a prediction for “Arriving” with no bus in sight.
09: Here is probably the most plain-language explanation of your health plan: Health Savings Plans: Making Sense of HSAs, HRAs, and FSAs Unless, of course, you’re part of the 16.7% of Americans who are uninsured.
10: Go read this long-form story, On Change in India by Siddhartha Deb. It’s hard to point to a “lesson” here.
11: David Choe has a very entertaining documentary called Thumbs Up! about his adventures hitchhiking. He explores a lot of desolate places, plays a tiny travel drum set, and meets many people along the way.
12: Jiang Pengyi makes miniature stills of the demolition and urbanization in Beijing. See image at left; click to see more.
13: Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. It explains why many buildings don’t have a 13th floor (by name), instead numbering their floors from 1-12, skipping 13, then 14 on. This is true of many residential buildings and of my office building. Also, interesting to note that the 13th floor of hospitals is usually mechanical.
14: There’s a WiFi-free zone in the mountains of West Virginia, where people who have a debilitating fear of electromagnetic radiation go to live, as wireless technology is banned by law there. Here is an excerpt from the article:
The wireless association, CTIA, says that scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that wireless devices, with the limits established by government regulators, do not pose a public health risk or cause any adverse health effects.
And the World Health Organization, while acknowledging that the symptoms are genuine and can be severe, says: “EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem.” (BBC News)
15: The biggest dam removal project in history, on the Elwha River in Washington, begins this week. Via Matador Network.
01: Your senses are delayed by about 80 milliseconds. Your brain can align inputs from simultaneous sensations (traveling from different distances through your body) so they’re experienced in sync – in a way, your brain waits before registering the information it has gathered from your body.
02: According to a recent CDC report, 5% of Americans drink over 550 calories of sweetened drinks daily. Teenage boys drink the most of the sugary stuff.
03: Caleb Chung, the creator of the Furby, wanted to improve upon the electronic pet idea (like the Tamagotchi and Giga Pet – very popular in the 90s) by creating a toy that could appear to be responsive and emulate machine learning. The more you played with a Furby, the more its vocabulary seemed to grow. It was programmed to gradually move from an unintelligible “Furbish” language to the English language, though the toy itself couldn’t actually hear or understand anything that was said to it. The Furby’s emotional expression are tracked to its ears – essentially serving as both its eyebrows and its arms. (Radiolab)
04: Pickling cucumbers doesn’t require many ingredients: cucumbers, water, vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, and dill. I haven’t tried making them myself but hope to soon!
05: Verbal overshadowing is a term used to describe the strange effect studied by Jonathan Schooler: those who wrote down a description of a bank robber immediately after a staged crime actually had a harder time remembering the details later than those who didn’t describe the person right afterward. But his data began to regress towards the mean… (This one’s fascinating. Listen to the whole story here.)
06: The first Piggly Wiggly supermarket opened in Memphis, TN on this day in 1916. It was the first of its kind: a fully self-serve grocery store, in which customers could pick their items off the shelves without having to write an order to the clerk. According to the commemorative plaque at that site, “shoppers presented their orders to clerks who fetched goods, ground coffee beans, measured flour and sugar, and then added the bills in pencil on the back of sacks.”
07: An interesting analysis of China’s dependence on tobacco:
Smoking in China remains a highly gendered behavior with 57.4% of men and 3% of women smoking, respectively (WHO, 2010). The concentration of smoking among men reflects advertising and marketing strategies that have linked tobacco to traditional notions of masculine identity (nanzihan - 男子汉), political leadership (imagery of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping smoking) and expressions of nationalism and patriotism (cigarette brands such as Zhonghua – 中华). Anthropologists such as Matthew Kohrman have described how exchanging cigarettes forms the currency of male networking and friendship in rural and urban China (Kohrman, 2007).
23: Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology takes spoken natural language and converts it to text. It’s important technology for many human-machine interfaces today. The concept of ASR has been imagined for almost as long as typewriters and call centers have been around, and is present in pop culture references such as HAL of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
24: Latest estimates state that there are around 8.7 million species on Earth today and 80% of these are still undiscovered. (Nature News)
25: A street team is a kind of promotional group that goes out “on the streets” to create hype around a new album, band, or other product. This grassroots marketing tactic has its roots in the rap music labels of the 90s in response to the prevalence of monopolies in the record industry. It has since bled into the broader world of marketing: Zipcar is one company that employs people on their ‘street’ sales force (like hiring students to sell memberships on college campuses); the t-shirt company Threadless also has a so-called street team, though it’s more a digital street team, that earns points towards free merch with online referrals.
26: That little hole on the outside of elevator doors is in case the doors need to be opened in emergency situations, with an unlocking rod that can be inserted into the hole to force the exterior doors open.
27: The concept of bluescreens and greenscreens in photo and film is called chroma key compositing. And I’m told bluescreen came before greenscreen. Greenscreen is more popular these days because digital camera sensors are most receptive to green.
28: Via Colossal, an artist named Rosemary Laing photographed these striking skeletons of buildings embedded in the landscape:
29: Too much about quantum physics to even try to wrap my head around now.
30: A special treat to any Infinite Jest fans out there: an Eschaton music video by the Decemberists. Worth a view if you’re a fan of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, or indie rock, or both.
31: For drivers and cyclists both: What’s a sharrow?
This list of things I’ve learned appears to have a food focus this week. Enjoy!
15: Hong Kong’s transit system, the Mass Transit Railway (MRT), makes a huge profit – over USD $1 billion per year. The daily ridership is almost 4 million. According to the Infrastructurist, this is because Hong Kong’s MTR also takes part in developing residences, offices, and retail in the immediate vicinities of its rail stations. Jaffe writes: “This side business generates a huge amount of revenue that can be recycled back into the system itself.” Thus resulting in more profits – a kind of recycling, of sorts!
16: In certain countries, upwards of 40% of an average household’s income is spent on food. Rising food prices have a much greater effect on well-being in poorer countries, where this is the case. See this infographic by Natalie Jones: How Much of Our Spending Goes Toward Food?
17: The documentary Thirst (2004) is a film about the global water supply and a look into the battles around the rights to water. In one of the main focal points of the documentary, the residents of Stockton, CA fight the privatization of their water by OMI/Thames Water. Since the documentary’s filming, there have been a number of updates as well.
18: The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is used as an economic indicator of inflation. It tracks the prices of certain common goods and services over time, helping to reach an estimated cost of living which is used to adjust salaries and wages.
19: Ceviche is a Central and South American dish made with fish and citrus juice. It’s served cold and is ‘cooked’ by the citrus. No heat is applied in the preparation of the dish: the proteins in the fish or seafood become denatured by the citric acid.
20: Lobsters can grow to 40 pounds or more in size because they hardly show signs of losing function as they age. Even very old lobsters have the equivalent appetite, sex drive, energy, and metabolism of a young lobster. The best indication of the age of a lobster is its size.
Also, eating lobster used to be a mark of poverty in colonial times:
“Prior to the 1880s, it was unusual to see lobster on menus at all except in bargain-priced lobster salad,” said Glenn Jones, of Texas A&M University, who led the research. “It was considered a trash fish — it was not something you’d want to be seen eating. In colonial America servants negotiated agreements that they would not be forced to eat lobster more than twice a week.”(‘How lobster went up in the world’)
21: Less a “self-driving car” and more a “self-driving shuttle”, these futuristic ULTra pods in Heathrow airport may be headed to other locations, including Tysons Corner, VA:
22: For a look into stem cell research, go see the documentary Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita. I can’t articulate the arguments as well as they’re made by those in the film, but it’s worth watching. And it’s also available streaming on Netflix (I’ve been a bit ill so I’ve been watching more movies than usual).
11: William “Bill” James Sidis was the youngest person to graduate Harvard at age 16. In one of the lectures Bill gave at age 11, he explained four-dimensional space as “a speculative realm of incomprehensibly involved relationships.” At age 3, Bill taught himself to read Latin, learned nine languages before the age of 8, and throughout his childhood proved himself to be exceptionally smart. But he got burnt out at an early age following his early graduation from Harvard, trying to hide away from the constant storm of reporters by moving around and working menial jobs under false identities. Later in life, he wrote a number of books under an alias, including an extensive study of streetcar transfer tickets… (via The Memory Palace)
12: What helps keep people together in relationships may be the misattribution of arousal. For example, when we have breathtaking, novel experiences such as riding a roller-coaster with a person, we often partially attribute that heightened level of excitement to being with that person. Our minds aren’t great at distinguishing between the causes, and sometimes we aren’t aware of all the environmental or physical factors involved. There have been many experiments to explore this. Another example is an experiment in which the subjects are placed either in a cold room or a warm room. The subjects who were talking to another person in the cold room were less likely than the others to rate the conversation (or the conversation partner) positively. So it might mean you’re likely to stay with a person with whom you often have these exciting experiences – your terrifying skydiving trip gets your system pumping with adrenaline, which you attribute (partially) to your attraction to your date. This makes me wonder if maybe terms like “heartthrob” and “sweetheart” are more insightful than you’d think. (More here)
13: Over 15% of Singapore households are millionaires. I know Singapore’s a city-state, but still – unbelievable. (A million millionaires)
14: “Complete streets” are liveable, safer streets that recognize the needs of both drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, making it easier to share the road. The widening of U St’s narrow sidewalks, for example, is one related plan in DC that focuses on making the street safer, not just more accessible to vehicles. (Discussion with David Alpert of GGW on the Kojo Nnamdi Show)
15: A SnorriCam is the name for a video camera mounted on an actor’s body, facing them, so that it stably records face-on while the background moves. This was named for the Icelandic directors, with last names Snorri and Snorri, who despite their shared names weren’t related by blood.
16: Modern night vision devices as used in the U.S. Army were invented by Professor William Spicer. The technology behind night vision may be attributed to several different sources, however.
17: Lake Tahoe is the 2nd-deepest lake in the United States, after Crater Lake in Oregon. Just another one of those debates that pop up between friends on long drives.
18: Honey shouldn’t be given to babies until they reach at least 2 years of age, because of the risk of infant botulism. Botulism is caused by bacterial spores that are sometimes present in canned foods (especially self-canned foods) and are commonly associated with honey. Because infants have weak immune systems, they are at greater risk of botulism poisoning.