« March 2005 | Main | May 2005 »

April 25, 2005

Your Digital Library

Your Digital Library

A great way to organize your library of books, music, and other media.

I think it would be great if they also included an option to read bar codes from digital pictures. For users that don't want to spend the money on an iSight or bar code scanner, but would rather not type in bar codes by hand, snapping digital pictures would be a great alternative. I'm guessing, but I'm sure most of the image processing logic being used by the iSight to read the bar codes could be adapted for reading digital pictures.

April 22, 2005

It's a Whole New Internet

It's a Whole New Internet

Great article on the rebirth of rapid innovation on the Internet.

April 20, 2005

Your tax dollars well spent

Your tax dollars well spent

If this isn't design by committee I don't know what is. The entire graphic is a joke. When you need a separate page just to explain it, it's trying to be too abstract.

April 18, 2005


Amir D. Aczel's book “Pendulum” traces the history of the pendulum and its place in helping prove that the Earth rotated. The book is about twice as long as it needs to be. The second half is very repetitive and many of the tangential stories and characters, while intriguing, sometimes stray too far from the main character and topic. I also felt the book didn't go into as much detail on some of the scientific material as I would have liked. While aimed at a general audience a more through appendix could have been used to expand on the pendulum and frame of reference concepts.

Recurring themes in books I've read recently include the advantages of being multidisciplinary, the role of simplicity, and having an outside perspective. The author contends that since Foucault wasn't a traditional scientist and dabbled in multiple fields, his multidisciplinary helped him to conceptualize and realize the pendulum experiment. Other scientists of the time had theories about the concept, but none took it to the logical conclusion. This ties into the simplicity of the experiment. While constructing an apparatus to let the pendulum swing in any direction with almost no friction required trial and error along with working with metal, the concept behind the experiment can be easily explained. Simplicity allows the results to be easily verified and reproduced which is vital given that the results varied by latitude. Lastly, Foucault and his experiment were initially shunned by the elite scientists of his time because he was an outsider and the experiment was so simple. Those scientists couldn't believe that they had missed it. Thankfully for Foucault others noticed the achievement and he eventually got due recognition.

1: The experiment took place in 1851.
2: His full name was Jean Bernard Leon Foucault.
9: The results of the experiment effected society, culture, and especially religion and science.
20: Kepler's Law: planets move in ellipses.
34: Newton's giant quotes referred to: Descartes, Kepler, and Galileo.
46: Foucault was both a builder and an observer.
63: Foucault was a general scientist.
81: Meter defined as a set fraction of the distance light travels in one second.
100: While the scientists of the time had the equations, none had created such a simple experiment.
103: Foucault's sine law: T = 24/sin(l), T = time to complete a circle, l = latitude.
156: Foucault had a gift of being able to explain science in layman's terms.
206: The plane of oscillation and frame of reference are still tricky topics to explain.
223: Louis-Napoleon worked to champion Foucault's work after his death.

April 16, 2005

To Engineer Is Human

I'm thinking that while I'm posting comments about these books, I'm not really going into depth. It's seems to act more as an outline of what I'd want to talk about with someone after I'd read the book. Since most of the books that I've been writing up came from the Museum of Science Book Club, that discussion has been taking place, just not in an electronic format. I think I tried to summarize one of those discussions, but felt it was just reduced to sounds bites.

If nothing else, I find that by putting these comments together I have a better chance of actually remembering what the book was about and hopefully recalling some of the details. It is amazing that for all that I read, I usually don't assimilate that much of it consciously, it instead filters in and sometime in the future it begins to make sense if I come back to it. I'm particularly finding that to be the case with my current book. I read an entire chapter today over lunch and knew that I would have to read it again to understand what it was trying to get at. Now onto this book:

“To Engineer Is Human” by Henry Petroski focuses on the need for failure in engineering to keep innovation in check and provide a basis for new ways of thinking about safety and maintenance. Innovation requires risk, it is the job of the engineer to think about those risks and ask the right questions [201,222]. If all engineers played it safe the rate of innovation would slow to a snails pace or the cost would remain too high. The risks are controllable if they are within reasonable bounds of existing experience [5,201]. The book covers many examples of well known failures, the failures being well known since they are the anomaly [106]. The failures discussed include the walkway collapse in the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the AA DC-10 crash.

Some of the main points from the book:

vii: Engineering is about design which is creating something that hasn't existed before.
viii: Failures in engineering lead to greater safety margins and new periods of success.
5: The risks of technology are controllable. After the DC-10 crash 10 million flights carrying over half a billion people flew without incident.
19: The three little pigs in an analogy of structural failure in the face of adverse conditions.
25: The original Speak & Spell had a defective keyboard that broke after awhile. However, since all the users loved the machine many worked around the problem.
27: More thought of safety is given to devices that have a higher consequence of failure.
34: It is important that we learn from the mistakes of others.
45: Engineering success is one of high probability, not certainty.
48: For new designs to succeed the ideas need to be extrapolated instead of copied since what makes a design work for one situation may not apply to another.
56: Success in the past was more trial and error instead of actively thinking about what could and couldn't fail. In general the cathedrals where most likely build using pre-rational structural engineering.
61: The definition of an engineer used to be related to designing, but was muddled when those same people also started driving railroad engines.
62: Many structural failures, are failures of the mind to consider what could have caused it to fail.
62: While it would be great to remove failure, it would be impossible to go beyond the state of the art without it.

April 7, 2005

What do you want to do with your life?

What do you want to do with your life?

Being between jobs and relaxing by doing almost nothing has given me time to think and find my ideal rhythm. I probably won't blog on just what that is since it would require too much thinking :) I do offer up this link as a way to plan what you want to do.

April 6, 2005

More Fake Food

More Fake Food

Food Companies Test Flavorings That Can Mimic Sugar, Salt or MSG.

While I'm sure that the product is safe, it's just scary what companies are doing to food these days.