Category: Geek

Good Design

While cleaning the tub yesterday — an American Standard whirlpool tub — it looked like it was time to clean the whirlpool intake cover. After cleaning it I went to put it back on & discovered an ingenious little detail designed into the cover.
The cover attaches with two screws, but underneath there are six holes on bosses that stand out from the intake into which the screws could fit.
The outside diameter of the cover is larger than outside ring of the intake port, and the center of the cover mates together with the center of the port. At first I thought that it might be difficult to get the screw holes to line up, but then I noticed the tiny tabs on the inside of the two screw holes…
All it takes is to place the cover over the the intake port, rotate it a few degrees clockwise until those tabs bump up against the bosses for the screw holes. The holes in the cover are then aligned perfectly with the holes in the intake port. Perfectly. It’s totally ingenious.

I remember one of my marketing professors saying that good design doesn’t cost any more than bad design; so very true. It would’ve been so easy for the person/team responsible for designing these two pieces to have made them to fit together differently — many lesser outfits would’ve done things differently, but they thought of the assembly process and what would eventually go into cleaning the tub, and put a little bit of thought into making the parts fit together easily and well. Attention to detail like this always impresses me. That something as seemingly obscure as aligning the screw holes when replacing a cover that might come off once in a year (if that) for cleaning would be like this tells me that there are probably lots of other little things deeper inside the workings of this tub that are just as well designed. Put American Standard on my list of products I will buy again.

Intellectual Phase-Locking

Intellectual Phase-Locking: A condition that results when dogmatic assumptions inhibit inquiry.

I could listen to this guy, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, all day long. His classic British accent & professorial manner make listening to him almost a pleasure. It doesn’t hurt a bit that what he has to say makes so much sense. In this first video he puts to words many of the things about modern science that have bothered me for ages. I think he’s my new hero.

… modern science is based on the principal of ‘Give us one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest.’ The one free miracle is the appearance of all the matter and energy in the universe, and all the laws that govern it from nothing in a single instant.

Sheldrake gave the talk in the video above in January, 2013. TED posted it on its website, but in subsequent months TED received some complaints about some of the things he had to say, and pulled the video off of its main site (or as Dr. Sheldrake put it, “put in the bad little boys section of the TED website.”) It’s still available, not really “banned” as some say, just more difficult to find. Reading through the complaints brought against him and his responses makes it look like he hit some tender nerves, and might be onto something. It’s easy to see why more traditional scientists would have a problem with what he says; if he’s right, then they are very wrong on a lot of fronts. (Makes me wonder what my old buddy TF would think of him… Pretty sure I don’t even have to ask!)

Some of what he talks about, like “morphic resonance” I’ve never heard of before, and I don’t know how much evidence there is behind it, but it sounds interesting. And if there’s any truth to it, the implications it would have on scientific thought would be profound. For many years I’ve questioned the belief that instinctive behaviors in the animal kingdom came about by trial and error with one line that tends to do something a little bit better than another line and passes that tendency on to its offspring. Behaviors seem to be far too complex for that to be plausible, no matter how many billions of years it might have taken.

Even if one dismisses the belief that animal behavior & physical traits came about through evolutionary selection, instead believes that those traits were designed by an outside intelligence (God), it’s still difficult to accept that the behaviors & traits are genetically encoded. A collective consciousness that spans space and time and does not exist at the genetic level starts to make sense.

And the possibility of thought happening somewhere outside of the physical brain lends credence to the idea of a soul living on after the body is dead and decayed. But of course, proving any of that to those who subscribe to a more classical view of science will be more than just a bit difficult, so I predict Sheldrake will continue to be a pariah. I’m not very familiar with Sheldrake’s work and thought, so I’m not sure whether he considers himself a Christian or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he is. Continue reading

A Tardis Murphy Bed

What a great idea; a Murphy bed dressed up to look like a Tardis! The Murphy bed has been around for a long time, but this is just a neat adaptation of that concept.


Although it doesn’t look bigger on the inside than on the outside, it does make the room it’s in feel bigger when it’s tucked away.


It’s kinda cool reading through her build and seeing the photos; she mentions building it for her “house”, but it looks like she could very well have done the work in an apartment or condo; right there in the living space. No workshop, no garage, just a power saw on a patio (and complaints from her HOA!) and sawhorses in the living room. I often wish for more space in my garage or my workshop to build furniture, but here is someone who brought an idea for a furniture piece to life without even the luxuries of space that I have and complain about being too little. I’ve considered building a Murphy bed in the past, but one of the things that kept me from doing it was thinking I’d need one of the expensive hardware kits to make it work; she did without it, and I’m sure it works just fine. More than a little humbling to see this!

Hat tip to Neatorama

Happy Birthday Dr. Who, Plus A Bunch Of Jokes Really Fast

In commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first airing of Dr. Who, here is a goofy Dalek joke from the Vlog brothers, mixed in with a bunch of other goofy jokes. I was too busy laughing (at some of them) to pay attention to the count… I’ll take his word for it there are 53. And some are quite good.

Also, gotta love Google’s Dr. Who doodle for today:

More Vlog Brothers’ Joke Videos: 31 Jokes for Nerds, 50 More Jokes, 50 Jokes in 4 Minutes and 50 Jokes.

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Lunar Lander

Ian and I were watching 2001: A Space Odyssey just now, and the scene where the ship lands on the Moon reminded me of the old Atari Lunar Lander game I used to play (and play and play) at the arcades. (strangely, I seem to remember playing the game in my early high school years, but according to the Wikipedia article above, it didn’t come out until 1979. Hmmm…)

But after playing the online version on Atari’s site I wonder why I have such fond memories of it; it’s not easy. And the games are over pretty quickly. Back in the day you’d be plugging a quarter in it for every play, and you only start out with enough fuel for one or two landings. Maybe I liked it because I had so much invested in it. Or maybe it’s just my memory on its way out.

Much easier to enjoy now that there’s a Flash version online that’s free to play. And there are lots of other spin-offs from it as well, like this one from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Cool stuff.

Any chance I can have my quarters back?

It’s The Geeks’ Fault

At least in Italy anyway…

Italian government officials have accused the country’s top seismologist of manslaughter, after failing to predict a natural disaster that struck Italy in 2009, a massive devastating earthquake that killed 308 people.

Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), will face trial along with six other scientists and technicians, after failing to predict the future and the impending disaster.

The seven scientists were placed under investigation almost a year ago, according to a news story on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — the world’s largest general-science society and a leading voice for the interests of scientists worldwide.

Alan Leschner, chief executive of AAAS, said his group wrote a letter to the Italian government last year — clearly, to no avail.

“Whoever made these accusations misunderstands the nature of science, the nature of the discipline and how difficult it is to predict anything with the surety they expect,” Leschner told

The case could have a “chilling effect” on scientists, he noted.

“It reflects a lack of understanding about what science can and can’t do,” he said. “And frankly, it will have an effect of intimidating scientists … This just feels like either scapegoating or an attempt to intimidate a community. This really seems inappropriate.”

Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella said that the seven defendants had supplied “imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information,” in a press conference following a meeting held by the committee 6 days before the quake, reported the Italian daily Corriere della Sera

In doing so, they “thwarted the activities designed to protect the public,” the judge said.

Can these people be serious? Do these government officials be so clueless as to think that the field of seismology is precise enough to predict accurately when major natural events like earthquakes will happen? Seismology, like much of science, is more of an exercise in observation and hypothetical correlation; watching what the earth does and making guesses as to what made it do what it just did. I would think that if the technology existed to predict earthquakes, wouldn’t it have been used in an earthquake-prone place like Japan?

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Yet Another Reason Windows Blows

The PC users at work are pretty much standardized on Windows XP, but a couple of people use applications that are slated to be upgraded soon, and one of the requirements with that upcoming new version is Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate. I had zero seat time on Win7, so to prepare for that upgrade I installed it on my computer a few months back. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to XP just yet, so I thought I’d be smart & set it up to dual-boot between XP and 7. That process went pretty smoothly — so much so that I don’t even recall how exactly I did it. After a few initial glitches, playing with testing 7 went pretty well, and it’s now been a long time since I’ve needed to jump back to XP. I’m finding that 7 is much more stable and user-friendly than XP (go figure… I’m even liking some features, like the one-key jump to the Search Programs & Files thing, which is very similar to QuickSilver’s app launching feature on the Mac) so it’s here to stay on my desktop.

Last week I ordered a couple of new Dell machines to replace some older hardware elsewhere in the building, and both of them arrived with Win7 already installed. Both had more horsepower than my (then) current desktop machine, so I decided exercise my prerogative as Preventer of Information Services to shuffle my year-old desktop down to one of the other users and drop one of the new machines on my own desk. Migrating my stuff over to the new machine — Windows 7 to Windows 7 — was pretty slick (another nice Win7 feature, but what about moving apps?), but when I set about ridding the machine of the dual-boot situation, I ran into a snag…

When I set up the XP/7 dual boot, I installed 7 on a second hard drive, thinking that when I decided to either go back to XP or stay with 7 I could just pull the other drive and sail along on my happy way. After all, it’s worked that way with the Mac OS since about forever… (must’ve been lulled into thinking the guys at Redmond had made some legitimate advancements to the Windows platform.) I shut down, pulled out the XP disk, and the computer refused to boot. Fantabulous.

So to Google I goed, and found lots of help to get me where I needed to be, but it was far from easy… The short of it is, I had to boot up in XP, copy the boot record files from the XP drive/partition over to the Win7 drive/partition, boot up with the Win7 installer disk, go into the Repair mode, jump into the command line and enter some magical incantations, and finally it would boot up from the Win7 drive. Of course it took me quite a while to actually get there… The video below was the best set of instructions I found to get the job done, but because that tutorial deals with a dual-boot setup on one disk and deleting the XP partition, I had to make several adjustments along the way. Plus, setting this computer up was one of those peripheral tasks I was doing while doing a couple of other things, so it was more of a minor annoyance; I was about this close to just nuking the disk and reinstalling from scratch when the planets aligned and everything came together. All’s well that ends well, I guess.

Windows 7 is definitely an improvement over XP, but it’s still no Mac OS X.

“It’s Precision Technology!”

Here’s something fun; a ‘manual’ straight from Haynes on Wallace & Gromit’s Cracking Contraptions!

I’ve probably enjoyed the Wallace & Gromit claymation movies more than the kids; Gromit is probably the most entertaining of the pair, even though he never speaks a word.

A few favorites from YouTube
The Tellyscope
The Bully-Proof Vest
And The Turbo Diner“That’s 300 horsepower of pure suck! Not bad, eh?”

Gawker FAIL!

Gawker Media is the 500lb gorilla of the blogosphere, owning a pile of very popular websites. One of my favorite websites — Jalopnik — belongs to them. I’ve followed Jalopnik since long before they were swallowed up by Gawker, and while the format has become a little too… Gawker-ish in recent years, I still visit once in a while. The commenting system now used on Jalopnik is part of the Gawker family commenting system, and it absolutely bites, and is the target of many complaints by the Jalopnik crowd, but it is what it is, and I put up with it.

Sometime last weekend the Gawker commenting system got hacked and their user information was “compromised.” So every time you go to a Gawker website you see dire warnings about the problem and that you need to reset your password right frickin away! Being the good netizen that I am, I did that. Or at least I tried to did that. But in order to change your password you first need to enter your old password, and since I cookied mine long, long ago, I don’t remember what I entered as a password.

The password change dialog has a reset password button, but when I hit that & entered my email — the one that I originally associated with my Jalopnik account — I would get a new password, but the login name differed from the one I had originally set up; it was the same as the first part of my email address. And when I would log in with that name, it was a brand new account with zero comment history and zero friends and zero everything. Great.

Subsequent password reset requests were entered, but they all pointed back to that new account that I wanted to forget instead of my comfortable old account. I wasn’t happy. I got really unhappy when I hit the log-out button then tried logging back in to reset the password; now I was apparently locked out of my account and couldn’t get back in.

I read through the Gawker apology a number of times trying to figure out where I went wrong, and in the end I figured it out on my own. It turned out the problem was that my account had been grandfathered-in from the old Jalopnik system, and didn’t have my email address on file. Thankfully, even though I had logged out a few days ago, when I went back to Jalopnik today it showed that I was indeed logged in! And my work computer was apparently set to log me in automatically too, so that was another gateway I had to my original account.

What I did to fix it is this…

  1. Went into the new account (using Firefox instead of Safari) and changed the email address to something other than what I wanted to use on the real account.
  2. Went into the real account and set my email address — that field was empty — to the address I wanted in there.
  3. Clicked on the Password button in the real account,
  4. Clicked on the Password Reset button; that triggered an email to be sent out with a new password and my old login name!
  5. With that fresh password, I was able to go in & set my password to what I wanted.
  6. Whew!

I guess I need to take some responsibility in this; how long has my account been without an email address? That’s something I probably should have checked right away. But isn’t the missing email address something that the Gawker overlords could have easily picked up on? And how easy would it have been for them to narrow down which accounts were missing the email address and alert those account owners on their next visit to a Gawker-owned site?

So if you’re having problems getting your Gawker password changed, click Edit Profile on your account to see if there is a password there; if not, put one in there. And if you’ve already tried changing your password and ended up with a worthless new account, do the same with that account and give it a different email address. But if you’ve managed to lock yourself out of your account, and can’t get back in… I’ve got nothing but sympathy for you as you try to get back in. Good luck!