Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Career options

I was up late last night and felt for sure I'd stumbled on my new career - doing late night quiz shows for money. It seems easy enough - ring a number - pay 55 cents per call (more from mobiles) - whether you get through or not - and get randomly selected by the computer for the chance of winning money. For answering the cross-word last night, I could have won $50 instantly (for a short period), or $1,000 or $3,000 plus a bonus $10,000 if I got through, answered the puzzle correctly, and then was able to correctly identify the 3-digit code to open the vault - and then ... I can't remember what the next thing was ... by that stage it was all getting a bit hard. Even the puzzle, which could have seemed easy enough but which was harder than it looked - even though "you don't have to be Einstein to work it out" and "it's an English word" and "it's in the Macquarie dictionary" but it had to be the one word they had selected before the program (hmmm - and how do we know they don't change it to another word when someone gives the correct response?). Well, let me tell you, it could have been any number of words. I worked out (thanks to my Aard crossword/anagram program on Palm) that the first letter was either g i j or l (as in *amb); the second a e i o or u (d*b), the third c d e h l m o p r t w (*ater) and the fourth a e l n r s (be*t). So I sat there for a moment (or more - it was pretty late by that stage) wondering how many possible combinations there were for this "simple, four-letter word" and whether it would be worthwhile to try ($3,000 to gain, by "x" 55c calls). Then I thought about whether it would be possible to write a short story using only words made from those letter configurations - because it seemed like that would totally be possible - and then my brain started hurting and I went to bed - despite the female co-hosts enticing me to "make that call" because it was just "one word" and there could be "only one winner". But I can't help wondering how many combinations there actually are or whether there's a computer program or site on the web that could provide the answer ... and, if not, whether it's worth learning to program so I could sell it to other people who sit up late at night and ...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dream come true

Now ... remember back to when you were a child ... and no fibbing now, did you ever wish you could take the springs out of the couch, strap them to your feet and go bouncing around the countryside? (You don't have to play if you are too young to remember that couches uses to have springs!) Well, you couldn't then - just like you'd have to have hundreds of helium-filled party balloons to be able to "fly". But you can now with "Powerbocks" which are, according to Wikipedia, elastic-like spring-loaded stilts. They were originally patented on 2 July 2003 by Alexander Bock who had called them PowerSkips. They will set you back about $1000 a pair -but well, worth it, don't you think? [This reminds me of the double-amputee runner who was disqualified from the Olympics because his carbon-fiber, prosthetic feet made him too fast to compete with other (able-bodied) runners. Oscar Pistorius' case was considered, and rejected, by the International Association of Athletics Federations, because the devices appeared to give him an "unnatural" (my word) advantage - up to 30% mechanical advantage and using 25% less energy.]

Snake tales

A recent Snopes (debunking urban legends) entry talked about snakes - specifically reports where people had woken to find their pet snake in bed with them - but, uncharacteristically, stretched out straight rather than coiled. Other odd behaviour noted - said snake has been off its food for a while. A vet is able to provide the answer - the snake is getting ready for a "large" meal ... and that would be you. The vet knows that because the being in bed next to you is where the snake is measuring you up to see if you'll fit. I know, unlikely story (and False), and that's what Snopes is all about.

TED talks

The first of the podcasts from the 2008 TED Conference has started to be released. I've only seen one so far - on the World Wide ... Wait for it ... Telescope, and that knocked my socks off. (I can't say the same for T who thought it was perhaps as make-believe as some people thought man landing on the moon was). World Wide Telescope is a Microsoft project which is doing the same for the universe as Google did for Earth by putting together high resolution images of the universe and making them available to the public. The pod included a demonstration of one of the tours which shows dramatic images of some very spectacular space features (as opposed to space creatures which are more the domain of Hollywood studios). The WWT won't come only until next year, but when it does, access will be free and, may, as the speaker suggested, change the way we think about the universe.I haven't seen the other one I'm interested in yet ... or read in full about it ... but it's presented by the same psychologist (Zimbardo) who conceived of and ran the Stanford Prison Experiment (note the capitals) which plucked university students unannounced from their homes and randomly assigned them as either prisoners or warders in a prison environment - and then sat back and watched as human nature kicked in and people began to "be" their roles - regardless of their underlying personalities. Well, that's how I remember it anyway. His TED 2008 - How Good People Turn Evil, From Stanford to Abu Ghraib.

They were wrong

It used to be that people said that War was God's way of teaching geography to Americans. Well, if this clip is anything to go by, it seems "they" were wrong. (Thanks for the link, O.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Painting a (very) different picture?

I read an article a while back about a US congressional candidate who drew some criticism for having an "enhanced" photo in his campaign material. It was "enhanced" in that it was his head attached to an image of a different body - which made him look thinner. At the time, I didn't think much of it ... until I was seduced into playing with a friend's child's Wii (and as I wrote that I was aware of how not very good that could sound!) and she insisted I construct my "avatar" aka online personality. Well, you know, I found myself with a slightly different physique, hair colour and skin tone. And who in the real world wouldn't do that? Or want it to be done to them? Well, okay, maybe US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama may have cause to object if the Clinton Publicity Machine did "doctor its TV Ad to make him blacker" as per a recent headline in Wired where it raised Daily Kos diarist's charge that Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign fiddled with debate footage for an attack ad, making Sen. Barack Obama look darker. (Mmmm ... darker - as in broody and mysterious - no, perhaps not.)

Old dogs

I was wondering this morning about a member of last Olympic's female rowing team - Sally something - who had caused some excitement when she laid down in the "boat" before the race finished. Sally is vying for a spot on the Australian team at this year's Beijing Olympics and her progress often makes the front part of the "news" paper ... but not today. Ah, if only there was a part of the paper that covered sports-related stories ... but wait! Apparently there is -and it seems like a whole 'nother (or would that be "nether") world with football, soccer, tennis, car racing - plus lots, lots more. Alas, still no word of Sally. I can feel a Google coming on.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Letter of the (f)Law

The T-shirt carried a familiar message - almost. "Global vision. Local Herpes." The stuff of heroes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Got it nailed

It was a bit of innovative thinking. How to tell identical triplets apart? Bring out the nail polish - a different colour for each of them - and hopefully a colour chart so you knew which was which of Logan, Eli and Collin Penn - in-vitro identical triplets - born last week in NY - in an event so rare it was estimated it might happen once in 200 million births.

Because "they" say so

It could just be me but I thought the seven deadly sins had their origin somewhere in the Bible. Imagine my surprise then when reading in The Daily Telegraph this morning that the familiar lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride have just been added to by the Vatican. (I've named them because even though you are supposed to be able to remember "seven" things, I always have trouble remembering these!) New to the list - to cope with "the age of globalisation" are taking or dealing drugs, polluting the environment, and engaging in "manipulative genetic science". Also joining the list - paedophilia (does this mean the Catholic Church will finally feel empowered to do something about it's own history and instances of child sexual abuse), abortion (no surprise here ... ) and social injustices that cause poverty (possibly including the act of the Catholic Church naming abortion as a mortal sin?).
According to The Daily Telegraph's report, part of the push for the "new" mortal sins was the Pope's concern over the "decreasing sense of sin" and falling rates of Roman Catholics (not just all Catholics?) confession. Obviously the latter is not seen as a Catholic avoidance of the "old" sins which would somewhat negate the need for confession.
It's a sin if the Vatican say so .... hmmm. Like: it's not news if there's an embargo on it. Also in today's paper was "news" of an apology by Australian magazine New Idea which broke the story of Prince Harry (third in line to Britain's Royal Throne) serving on the front line in Afghanistan. The story went largely unnoticed, for the better part of a month, until picked up by US web-based news service The Drudge Report. Then within hours, there was massive media coverage including on-the-ground footage of Prince Harry and his unit in Afghanistan - which looked suspiciously like it had been shot BEFORE the news broke. Now, it could just be wrong-thinking on my part, but one could think this coverage may have been more dangerous to the Prince and his compatriots ("hey look, they're filming something over there ... must be important") than the New Idea report. Not exactly sure of their circulation details, but chances are New Idea don't distribute in Afghanistan. Does make one wonder though what other "news" is out there that we don't find out about because (a) it's covered by an embargo, or (b) it's covered by a D (?) Notice (not to be released in the national interest).

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Anatomy training

Most everyone has heard of "brain training" where you can do a series of puzzles on a computer or mobile computing device to strengthen or train your brain. I've downloaded some programs and they haven't helped yet but I'm hoping with practice and perseverence the benefits will start to accrue. Of course it is possible to train other bits of the body to get desired results, but alas it is also possible to train bits of the body and get undesirable results. Like those car trips where your parents tell you to "go" before you leave - even if you don't need to. According to the Dr Karl podcast I caught up with today (I have been a little tardy in my listening) this behaviour could result in "small bladder" training where you are ecstatic to subscribe to websites which list all public conveniences along your intended route. Without going into details you would have to think that children with parents who declare "we're not stopping" as you're about to set off on a 10-hour car trip might have something to answer for in the wider scheme of things. (Which reminds me ... Happy birthday Dad!)

Alien hand syndrome

I read a script once - and maybe even saw the rushes - for a short film about a person who receives hands transplanted from a serial killer. The hands grotesquely seem to have a mind/life of their own and start to drive the unwitting recipient to commit murders. So it was intriguing to read today about something called Alien Hand
Syndrome. It would not be a good thing to have - although for the first while it could be intriguing, unpredictable and perhaps even just a little fun (amazing how attractive the "other" can seem). So what is Alien Hand Syndrome? Well, it's where one of your hands can have a mind/life of its own so you can wake up in the morning to find your Alien Hand throttling you. [Is it possible to strangle a person with only one hand? The question was raised in "To Kill A Mockingbird" when Tom - with only one good arm - is accused of rape and assault including trying to strangle a girl - and the lack of two good arms is raised as a defence of sorts (not successful).] But where was I? Alien Hand doing things by itself ... even trying to stop your other "good" hand from doing what you want it to do. Don't believe me? Check it out at the website.

Why Fi?

The problem with having a device that uses WiFi for internet access is that you spend some time looking for hotspots to connect from. Alas you may also find yourself looking for unsecured hotspots (read "free" or perhaps "information able to be accessed by anyone"). The main problem with these hotspots is that use of them is technically illegal unless it is a free public hotspots - and will usually be labelled as such - rather than just be lacking a lock icon when it appears in the list of available networks which appears on your device. Ah the dilemma - to go online and break the law (and I think I read somewhere last year or the year before that someone in the US has been successfully prosecuted for bandwidth theft) or remain offline and out of the communications loop. Just another of life's little challenges.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Service and product placement

Within cooee of the airport the other day, the taxi driver pointed out the new-ish Mercedes Benz car dealership and service centre. How convenient ... buy a car and drive it home rather than having someone pick you up, take the train, or use other modes of transport.
But, the driver suggested, what they really want you to do (besides buy a new car) is drop your Merc at the dealership and let them service it while you're away. They probably even give you lifts to the terrminal, he said. Well, if that's not what they're doing - perhaps they ought to. (Interesting concept though - service dealerships a short drive from the airport, doing any make or model of car. Don't know how they would not charge parking fees though - because that would be part of the attraction - you park the car at the service centre rather than in a (paid) parking station.)

War fare

Listening to a podcast the other day - on a global satellite system to defend earth against the attack of a rogue asteroid - mention was made of the annual cost if this program was introduced - $US1 billion. Which really does look like peanuts against the $US7 billion America is reportedly spending each MONTH in Iraq.

Seeing stars

Reading my stars in today's The Daily Telegraph, I was intrigued to read "You will soon be helped to let go of an obsession". This may have worried me if I didn't know that horoscopes in newspapers are sometimes done by people other than astrologers. But in this case it seems "The zodiac wth Jonathan Cainer" is legit - and a bit more worrisome on a person level because it led off with "One minute, an item is on a shop shelf. The next it has been through the checkout and is yours". That certainly sounds familiar - particularly when it comes to electronics. Here's hoping that's not the obsession soon to be on the chopping block!

Face (note) book

"From today, your face is your password" - so reads part of the ad for Lenovo's new IdeaPad Y510 notebook computer which is "introducing a revolutionary idea" - "face recognition security". Fingerprint security has been around a while ... I use it on one of my computers - which is how I know that with fingerprint security, you have to scan two fingerprints into the system. It would be interesting to know how the face recognition component works ... because it seems unlikely that you will have to rub your face over a scanner or that anyone has two (real) faces! In the interest of politeness, I'm not even going to speculate on what would happen if someone wanted to gain access at some place where you were not - we've all seen the movies (and heard about it happening in real life) where the necessary appendage for access is removed from its rightful owner, stored on ice, and then used to "break in". We know the medicos can now do successful face transplants (yes, I know it doesn't make the user look like the donor).
My interest is sufficiently piqued to find out more about this "face recognition" stuff because I know I could certainly use some of it - but in real life, not on my computer!