Tuesday, September 12

Over Understatement

Posting a personals classified ad with negative exaggerations would be quite refreshing. Instead of the predictable routine of adding inches to height, inflating physical attractiveness, etc., the ad would deliberately go in the opposite direction. Substract height by two or more inches, bump handsomeness/beauty down a notch or two, add 20 pounds of flab (or substract 20 pounds of muscle), and set your education back a degree or more. The fun can continue by dulling your personality, or by amplifying turning minor quirks and flaws into full-blown pathological problems. The fun might end, however, when people start responding to your ad. What kind of questionable people would want to meet this version of yourself?

Thursday, September 7

Subtle Revenge

The worst thing about apartment living is that often you have an upstairs neighbor, such that his floor is your ceiling. Of course, most people who happen to be upstairs neighbors also happen to stomp around as if they wore cement slippers, and tend to play bass-heavy music on their large floor-mounted stereos. A few ways to return the favor of irritation:
  • Send a quick, strong pulse of EMF through the floor into the neighbor's stereo or other electronic equipment. They'll never have a clue what hit them.
  • Use an internet fax scheduling service to send them a fax at 2:30am while you're sound asleep.
  • If they've got a dog, blast a dog whistle up into their apartment at strategic times, such as early in the morning, while they're eating dinner, or when you can hear them lovemaking. (Yes, they tend to do that noisely as well.)

Friday, July 28

Concrete Datastructures

Every young computer science student knows the importance of several classic datastructures. Among the most notable are the stack, the tree, and the queue. Most every student also knows the olde story about the stack being based on old cafeteria tray dispensers. The tree and queue also have obvious concrete, real-world inspirations. Many other datastructures can be derived from the real world. Just a few examples:
  • The knapsack. This one has limited random access, and is composed of one large container and several smaller ones. Data tends to be slightly corrupted when the load is full.
  • The rat's nest. Random access is supported, but data tends to quickly change location. That is, ratsNest.put(i, data) rarely guarantees ratsNest.get(i) == data. Capacity is quite large.
  • The junk drawer. Fixed capacity, limited random access, and large objects tend to make their way to the top.

Thursday, July 13

The Limits of Skin

How many square centimeters of skin can the typical human body regenerate? If a little 1cm x 1cm square of skin was removed from your arm, you could grow it back, no problem. What about 10 cm? Are the regeneration limits of skin simply a function of time (and hygiene), or is there a set limit to the regeneration ability?

Friday, June 23

The Reduced Diet

If someone had to reduce his daily diet down to three simple foods, what set of foods would be the best choice? Note that by "simple foods" we mean foods that are not composed of multiple foods from different sources. To avoid nutritional deficiancy, the diet should include a good balance of vitamins, minerals, protein, fat, and carbohydrates. My diet would probably be:
  • Salmon (protein, healthy fats)
  • Quinoa (carbohydrates, some protein, some fats)
  • Spinach (vitamins, minerals)

It's possible that even just one simple food is enough. Many decades ago an anthropologist, in an effort to prove the viability of the limited eskimo wintertime diet, subsisted entirely on rare steak for at least several months.

Friday, June 9

Trail Trailer

The long-distance backpacker only has a few solutions to the problem of maintaining an adequate food supply. Two common solutions are maildrops and intermittent grocery shopping, but both solutions require hiking in an area that is relatively close to a town with a post office and a decent grocery store. A third option is to haul all the food in one's pack, but the extra weight tends to reduce the overall enjoyment of the hike. A fourth option, is to, of course, live off the land, but few people are skilled enough to succeed at hunting and gathering while backpacking. A fifth and hypothetical option is a little personal trailer. Similar to artic trekkers who haul sleds of supplies, a long-distance backpacker could pull a small trailer filled with food stuffs. The trailer would be about as wide as the average person, and have two or three rugged wheels. With 100 lb. capacity, the trailer could store enough food for at least two months. Now, hauling the trailer across level terrain or down inclines doesn't require much effort, but going up hills is going to be a serious issue. The best solution is to give the trailer a motor, and to let the hiker engage the motor as desired. Some motor options:

  1. Solar powered electric motor. Effective only in sunny areas/seasons. Like hybrid cars, going downhill helps charge the battery for the motor.
  2. Flywheel. Going downhill makes the internal flywheel spin faster.
  3. Combustion engine. Probably not practical, but worth considering.
  4. Pressure-driven motor. The hiker periodically pumps the motor to increase internal fluid or air pressure. When released, the motor provides a brief amount of torque.
  5. Stirling engine. Might be feasible.

Monday, June 5

The Wrist-top Box

One electronic gadget I'd like to see is a low cost wristwatch computer. The watch would have a tiny 1.4" touch sensitive display, an SD card slot for RAM, and, ideally, bluetooth capability. Most importantly, the watch would be an open platform, so new apps can be installed easily via a USB or bluetooth connection. I'm not a gadget freak, but I'd buy one, especially if it only cost $20 or so. The Fossil PDA watch is technically almost acceptable, but the price is a deal breaker. Also, I'd rather have a little Linux-based OS than PalmOS.