Do you want fries with that?


A restaurant owner in Kingston, Ont., has created a hamburger big enough to feed about two dozen people, in the hopes of breaking a world record.

Ian Sarfin of Ian's Kitchen and Soda Shoppe said his burger took more than three hours to cook Thursday morning and weighs almost 10 kilograms. It's 38-centimetres across and five-centimetres high.

"There's a pound of cheese, there's a pound of onion ... a pound of pickles, there's two pounds of tomatoes and five cups of sauce," said Sarfin.

Sarfin wants to beat the Guinness World Record held currently by a Pennsylvania pub, which unveiled a 6.75-kilogram burger in early May.

Sarfin compared his gigantic hamburger to the equivalent of 100 Quarter Pounders from McDonald's.

He's sent off the paperwork to the publishers of the Guinness World Records book and expects to hear from them in a few weeks.

Hoping to cash in on his creation, Sarfin said he plans to make it an item on the menu for $99.99, with 48-hour's notice. It will also be available for delivery.


NB: 1 Kg = 2.2 lbs, 2.5 cm = 1 in.

See also: File Under "That's Attractive!"


clock Posted Thu Jun 30th, 2005 - 11:42pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Putin walks off with Super Bowl ring


June 29, 2005|Associated Press

Boston — Russian President Vladimir Putin walked off with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's diamond-encrusted 2005 Super Bowl ring, but was it a generous gift or a very expensive international misunderstanding?

Following a meeting of Putin and American business executives at Konstantinovsky Palace near St. Petersburg on Saturday, Kraft showed the ring to Putin — who tried it on, put it in his pocket and left, according to Russian reports.

It isn't clear yet if Kraft, whose business interests also include paper and packaging companies and venture capital investments, intended that Putin keep the ring.

Patriots spokesman Stacey James said Wednesday that Kraft was travelling and he hadn't talked to him in four or five days, despite e-mails and calls. "He's still overseas, I can't even tell you where. . . . He's not due back until next week."

"It's an incredible story. I just haven't been able to talk to Robert Kraft to confirm the story," James told The Associated Press.

However, a Kremlin official who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of compromising his position said the ring was a present. "Such a present

was made," the official said.

He said Putin had given the ring to the Kremlin library where other foreign gifts are kept.

James said the ring's worth was "substantially more" than $15,000 (U.S.), as the value had been reported. He refused to be specific, but noted that the ring has 124 diamonds.

Kraft handed out Super Bowl rings to players and coaches at his home two weeks ago.

The Patriots have won three of the last four Super Bowls.

clock Posted Wed Jun 29th, 2005 - 9:32pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Vintage circus sideshow poster gallery

This is a spectacular gallery of vintage European circus posters -- dwarves, limbless people, hairy, tall, fat and thin people -- with gorgeous artwork and lettering. You can order prints, too. Link (via We Make Money Not Art)
gratuitously lifted from Boing Boing
clock Posted Tue Jun 28th, 2005 - 10:32am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Robo-Lobster and Packbot

CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- A robotic lobster and an android that not only smiles, frowns and blinks but also recognizes people and talks back are two of the spookier entries on show at a high-tech carnival in Chicago.

Wired Magazine's annual "NextFest" showcases futuristic, sometimes uncannily lifelike technology.

"The difference between animals and robots is robots get stuck while animals squirm their way through," said inventor-engineer Joseph Ayers of Boston's Northeastern University.

His robo-lobsters, designed to roam the sea floor and find undersea mines, are equipped with "neurons" that allow them to work their way around clutter much as real lobsters would.

Employing sequenced mechanical muscles made from the same metal mesh material used to make the stents implanted in heart patients, Ayers said his work might some day lead to more lifelike prostheses. He hopes to shrink the mechanics behind the robot's movements onto a computer chip.

Also on display at "NextFest" were a combination submersible dolphin-like jet-ski (Full story), a virtual air hockey game, and corporate entries such as General Motors' hydrogen-powered vehicles and General Electric's technologies to generate energy and make drinking water out of sea water.

Another robot that resembles a small tank on its hind legs was admired by Maj. Jeff Stone, who was taking a break from the Army's nearby exhibit.

"Our soldiers love these things," Stone said, referring to iRobot's Packbot, a hundred of which are in Iraq defusing and exploding bombs. U.S. soldiers assigned to operate the $100,000 robots have even given them affectionate names.

"Drop some C-4 (plastic explosive) right on the weapon, and you don't have to worry about it" hurting anyone, Stone said.

Packbot manufacturer iRobot also promoted its automated vacuum cleaner line at NextFest. At $329, the costliest versions can be programmed to do their work while the homeowner is away.

Nearby, a black-clad soldier, Sgt. Robert Atkinson, explained the features of his future warrior's suit designed at the Army's workshop in Natick, Massachusetts.

"This right here," he said, motioning to the computer screen on his wrist, "is the concept of a flexible monitor that shows your heart rate and breathing rate, and projects images from a drone flying overhead."

The suit, which may hit the battlefield in 20 years, is also equipped with artificial muscles that contract to help a soldier pick up a wounded comrade.

The most lifelike robot on display was one depicting the late science fiction writer Philip K. Dick created by Dallas start-up Hanson Robotics. Founder David Hanson formerly worked at Disney.


Seated naturally on a sofa, the figure's face contorted into human expressions -- frowning, blinking, smiling -- and replied to visitors' comments using a software program that chose from among 10,000 pages of Dick's writings. Cameras behind its eyes could "recognize" acquaintances.

Initially a likely museum piece or fancy toy, the androids could one day become companions for the elderly, the company's Steve Prilliman said.

Genuine life was represented by a cloned Bengal cat and its "parent."

One man asked if a clone of the cloned cat could be possible, or if the clone could be bred. Told the answer was yes on both counts, he told a friend: "You're next, dude."


clock Posted Mon Jun 27th, 2005 - 5:47pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


New U.S. ambassador to Canada plays it safe

Sunday | Canadian Press

Washington — South Carolina politician David Wilkins, who starts this week as the new U.S. ambassador to Canada, seems determined to avoid the pitfalls of his predecessor.

Where Paul Cellucci fast developed a reputation as a blunt advocate for President George W. Bush, jumping smack in the middle of bilateral rifts like Canada's defence capabilities and its position on the Iraq war, Mr. Wilkins is playing it safe.

Keenly aware of his reputation for knowing little about Canada, a country he visited just once in the 1970s, Mr. Wilkins is steering clear for now.

“Listen — that's what I plan to do initially,” he said in a recent interview. “I plan to travel extensively and meet as many Canadians as possible. Then we'll formulate specific strategies.”

Mr. Wilkins, 58, presents his credentials Wednesday to Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson and meets with Prime Minister Paul Martin.

After two weeks of diplomatic training this month, he spent last week in briefings on key trade and security issues.

“Everything I've learned just reinforces the fact that I'm honoured to be going to Canada,” said Mr. Wilkins, who was sworn in at the State Department last week. “The more I learn, the more I'm impressed with it.”

Mr. Wilkins is facing a host of irritants like the mad cow crisis and Canada's attempts to delay a water diversion project in North Dakota for fear it will pollute Manitoba waters.

And although relations have been smoother of late under Martin, surveys suggest Canadians are becoming more negative about the United States and Americans.

“I hope I'll have a positive impact on the view Canadians have towards the United States, if it needs improving,” said Mr. Wilkins, who is close to Mr. Bush and ran both of his successful election campaigns in South Carolina.

“I represent the president. But part of my job is public diplomacy. I want to have a presence. I obviously want to have an impact.”

Mr. Wilkins, who served in the state legislature for about 25 years including more than a decade as speaker, is a religious conservative who raised some eyebrows in Canada when he noted in a farewell speech that God sent him a sign to take the Ottawa job.

“I did make reference to my faith,” he said. “I don't apologize for that. I don't wear it on my sleeve.”

Mr. Wilkins, with his folksy, thick southern drawl, careful public persona and a reputation for building consensus, has been praised by U.S. senators as just the kind of upbeat force required to ease strained relations.

He's named security and trade as his top priorities and carefully highlights Canada's hospitality toward American airline passengers stranded after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and Ottawa's continuing role in Afghanistan.

“I emphasize the positive,” he said. “Any trade disputes we have represent only five per cent of the total trade.”

Canadians, he said, are in for a dose of good old southern hospitality after he and wife Susan arrive in Ottawa.

“Susan and I will just be ourselves. I'm sure we'll develop a lot of friends there.”


clock Posted Sun Jun 26th, 2005 - 6:44pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



The Internet transforms modern life

By Steve Almasy | CNN

(CNN) -- In 1994, people had to call the bank to check their balances. Or inquire in person, or wait for a paper statement to arrive in the mail. Baseball box scores were found in the newspaper. Weather forecasts came over the phone from the weather bureau, or on TV.

Back then, most Americans still had to lick a stamp to send mail.

Then along came the Internet, and an experimental browser called Mosaic, followed by an improved browser from Netscape. And if you had a computer, you discovered a new way to this cool, new thing called the World Wide Web. Mosaic and Netscape were the first popular connection to what came to be called the information superhighway.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, less than one in five Americans were online in 1995. Today, the majority of Americans are surfing the Web, exchanging e-mail, reading bank statements and ball scores, checking the weather. Today, Pew says, two out of every three Americans spend time online.

The World Wide Web has transformed the way people live, work and play. People can play travel agent and book all the elements of a vacation online. They can arrange for their bills to be paid automatically while they are gone. They can put a hold on mail delivery, find directions to tourist attractions and get a long-term weather forecast before they pack.

Even on vacation, they can log onto the Web to keep up with news from their hometown paper or TV station, and stay connected with friends and family. In its first decade, the Internet altered the pace of popular culture. It made distance less daunting, rendered information instantly accessible and revolutionized communication.

Googling and blogging In the mid-1990s, the top three Web sites were AOL, Netscape and WebCrawler (which was owned by AOL) -- two Internet service providers and a search engine -- according to Internet research measurement company comScore Media Metrix. Each had an audience of 4 million to 6 million people per month.

Today, the audience numbers in the billions.

"People are being much more customized in the type of content that they want to see and consume [online]," said Peter Daboll, president of comScore Media Metrix. "Also, there are the communication advances where it is easier to communicate and stay online. And they are just having more of their needs filled, whether it's travel, shopping and all these other activities that didn't exist to the same degree in the early days of the Web."

The Web has added plenty of words to our lexicon, although some have yet to make the dictionary. If you had talked about Googling or blogging 10 years ago, you might have had a lot of listeners scratching their heads.

But like any youngster, the Web still has some growing to do. For all its uses, most people still go to the Internet primarily for e-mail. According to Pew surveys, 58 million Americans sent e-mail each day in December 2004, while 35 million used the Web to get news.

Many of those online users are irked by spam -- unsolicited offers for everything from lower mortgage rates to pornography, pharmaceuticals and pitches to help a Nigerian launder millions of dollars.

Congress passed an antispam law in November 2003, with the backing of several of the biggest Internet companies. Spammers seem undeterred and San Francisco-based Ferris Research estimates the time lost by employees dodging spam will cost U.S. businesses $17 billion in 2005.

Another e-mail problem is phishing, the fake e-mail that looks like it is from a legitimate source. The bogus e-mail is designed to get the reader to divulge personal information, often a credit card number.

Broadband 'has changed everything' E-mail is a one-way media; you send an e-mail and wait for a response. Steve Outing, a senior editor at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and an interactive media columnist for Editor and Publisher, says the Web has evolved into an interactive forum where users can converse through chat rooms and instant messaging. It has also become participatory through the advent of blogs -- online journals or columns -- he said.

"We've come a long ways, but we still have a ways to go," he said.

In the early days of the Web, many news sites were little more than a collection of links to stories by The Associated Press and a few pieces of content repurposed from the newspaper or TV station. If you were lucky, there might be a photo in the story. With so many people using the Web today for news, TV networks, newspapers and magazines have been increasing the types of content they make available on the Web.

"Rich media and multimedia content are much more popular," Outing said. "Media companies are more willing to put in the money to produce it. They recognize that people can now use it."

Some media companies have been slow embrace the Web, he said, and in the meantime, they have found themselves facing increased competition from entrepreneurial sites, like, which is a popular bulletin board featuring free classifieds.

The biggest change has been effected by broadband, Outing said.

"In the past four or five years, the penetration of broadband has changed everything," he said. "The computer is always on and the information is always there."

There are 10 times more broadband users today than there were in June 2000, according to Pew.

The Internet generation Daboll, of Media Matrix, said broadband outnumbers dial-up as the connection of choice among people who log on from home.

Just a few years ago, the move from a 28.8k modem to 56k was enough to make many users ecstatic. These days many DSL and cable connections are up to 70 times faster than the old dial-up. The faster Web makes it much easier for people to watch audio, listen to video and share files.

The Web is changing the way people communicate, Daboll said. He pointed to the "Internet generation," teenagers who have grown as the Web as grown. One of their favorite tools is instant messaging, he said.

But the Internet isn't an orderly environment for the person who wants to pay bills, watch the latest music or take a virtual college class. It also can be a tempest. There are bad people out there -- hackers, pedophiles and thieves.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 1 in 25 adults was a victim of identity theft in 2003 and the number of people affected online continues to increase.

But the Web can also help combat ID theft. An FTC booklet with tips to prevent or deal with ID theft is accessible on the department's Web site. The agency says it has received more than 1.8 million visits.

And there's plain old fraud. The FTC said slightly more than half of the fraud-related claims it received in 2004 were Internet related, and many of the deceptions involved individuals or companies that used e-mail or a Web site.

Internet users are also vulnerable to spyware, computer viruses and annoying forms of advertising.

Advertisers are changing, too, trying to figure out how to best use the Web. JupiterResearch projects that Internet advertising will grow 27 percent, to $10.7 billion, in 2005.

The increase in demands of the Web has even affected the way Media Matrix serves its clients, generally companies looking to best place their advertisements.

"The nature of what we do has changed from ratings and ranking to more broadly covering what goes on the Web," Daboll said. "Looking at actual number or searches and looking at actual expenditures by household by category -- for instance money spent on travel sites versus retail sites."

A decade from now, who knows what statistics and functions they'll be measuring.

After all, 10 years ago, few people imagined it wouldn't be long before you'd be able get a satellite picture of a city a continent away or read the local news from three time zones away or even order pizza without talking to the folks a few blocks away.


clock Posted Sat Jun 27th, 2005 - 9:57pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



The surprising spectrum of U.S. evangelicals


PHILADELPHIA (June 19, 2005)--The only bumper sticker on the Rev. Ted Haggard's red pickup truck proclaims: Vote for Pedro.

Haggard, founder and senior minister of the 11,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, is president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Pedro is Pedro Sanchez, the inscrutable candidate for class president in the screwball comedy movie Napoleon Dynamite.

This is not the politics usually associated with evangelical Christians.

Frequently portrayed as uniformly reactionary or fundamentalist, evangelicals - drawing increased attention because of their pivotal role in the 2004 election - are actually an amalgam of unpredictable, sometimes contradictory, strains of Christianity across a broad spectrum of the nation.

And many evangelicals are interested in far more than the hot-button issues of abortion and homosexual marriage often used to define them. Evangelicals have been active in seeking increased aid for Africa, fighting poverty, battling the traffic in sex slaves, and supporting efforts to reduce global warming.

Evangelicals are not just Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and George W. Bush. They are also Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And Haggard. And the Rev. Rick Warren, the California preacher who wrote The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold 23 million copies since 2002. And Ron Sider, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action in Wynnewood.

"Evangelical does not mean any specific political ideology," said Haggard, a conservative who talks regularly with President Bush and met earlier this month in Washington with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"I think the power base is shifting," said Haggard, who sees a new generation of leaders less bombastic and more socially active than televangelists such as Falwell and Robertson. "We think differently than the previous generation, the 1980s Moral Majority crowd."

Most Americans consider religion an important part of their lives (83 percent say it is "very" or "fairly" important). But there is no consensus, even among evangelicals, on how to translate faith into action.

"The vast majority in the evangelical center are regularly embarrassed by what Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson say, but they don't go around issuing press releases attacking them," said Sider, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 30 million evangelicals, last year adopted a new manifesto for social engagement, For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility, cowritten by Sider. In it, the group spells out a broad agenda: "To protect the vulnerable and poor, to guard the sanctity of human life, to further racial reconciliation and justice, to renew the family, to care for creation, and to promote justice, freedom and peace."

"God measures societies by how they treat the people at the bottom," the document states.

Broadly defined, evangelicals are Christians who have had a personal or "born-again" religious conversion, believe the Bible is the word of God, and believe in spreading their faith. (The term comes from Greek; to "evangelize" means to preach the gospel.) The term is typically applied to Protestants.

Millions of Americans fit the definition, although estimates vary on exactly how many. Forty-two percent of Americans described themselves as evangelical Christians in a Gallup poll in April, while 22 percent said they met all three measures in a Gallup survey in May. The National Association of Evangelicals says about 25 percent of adult Americans are evangelicals. Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College, puts the figure about 33 percent.

"If you're talking about 33 percent of the population, they're not this 'other.' They're your next-door neighbor," Eskridge said.

And, like many neighbors, evangelicals can be maddeningly difficult to categorize.

They are Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and other mainline Protestants, as well as Southern Baptists and members of nondenominational mega-churches. Without a uniform theology, they vary widely in interpretations of the Bible and its application to their lives and nation.

With these and other strands of evangelical Christianity, "sometimes the most visible and those who shout the loudest are considered the core," said Bishop C. Milton Grannum, minister of New Covenant Church of Philadelphia, most of whose 3,000 members are African American. "But there are thousands of African American and Hispanic churches that are evangelical, and they should not feel threatened by the fact that they are not as visible."

Black evangelicals are often "charismatics," a trait shared with Pentecostals and many other evangelicals. Charismatics believe the active influence of the Holy Spirit is evident in such practices as faith healing and speaking in tongues.

Despite a common ground of Scripture and tradition, various evangelical congregations often inhabit parallel universes, with different priorities, experiences and politics.

"There's a difference in the way we identify politically because there is a difference in the way we identify, period," said Grannum of black evangelicals. "We have had totally different experiences... . The church reflects the larger community."

Edmund Gibbs, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said the popularity of right-wing politics is overstated.

"Many of us who consider ourselves to be evangelical Christians would want to distance ourselves from that kind of alignment," said Gibbs, an Episcopalian. "And it is very much an American thing; most evangelicals in Europe would distance themselves from the politics associated with evangelicals in the United States."

Haggard said his mission is to broaden the movement's base and its vision.

"My role is to help the various members of the body to respect each other and work together... to make life better for everybody."


Many Faces of Evangelicalism

Fundamentalists: They reject the theory of evolution, believe in the literal accuracy of the Bible, regard Catholics as non-Christians, and believe in separating themselves from the secular world. They do not seek to change the culture through legislation. The number of fundamentalists "is very small," said Jonathan Pait, spokesman for Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist college in Greenville, S.C. Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College, estimates the number at "several million."

Traditionalists: They are characterized by efforts to maintain traditional beliefs and practices in the face of a changing society. Predominantly Republican (70 percent, compared with 10 percent independent and 20 percent Democrat), this group of white Protestants, with well-developed conservative political connections and ambitions, is closest to the popular notion of the "religious right." They represent about 12.6 percent of the population, or about 28 million adults, according to last year's National Survey of Religion and Politics by the Bliss Institute of the University of Akron.

Centrists and modernists: They are less tradition-oriented and more willing to adapt their beliefs and practices. They are more likely to identify themselves as Democrats or independents than as Republicans. They represent about 13.7 percent of the population, according to the Bliss survey, about 30 million people.

Black evangelicals: Most of the nation's 21 million black Protestants fit the evangelical definition, but their politics are the reverse of the white traditionalists: 71 percent identify themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans, according to the Bliss survey.

Hispanic evangelicals: Many of the six million Hispanic Protestants are converts from Catholicism, and they skew slightly toward Democratic politics.

Catholic evangelicals: This counterintuitive term identifies Roman Catholics who embrace much of the public-witness style of evangelical Protestants. "They have the fire and zeal usually associated with evangelicals," said William Portier, a religious studies professor at the University of Dayton and the author of the recent essay, "Here Come the Evangelical Catholics." Portier estimates the number of evangelical Catholics at 10 percent to 20 percent of the under-40 Catholic population.


clock Posted Thu Jun 23rd, 2005 - 10:44am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



Haute couture

PARIS From The Economist print edition

A new aeroplane has been designed entirely in virtual reality

THIS week, on a Paris runway, the latest designs were on display—of aircraft, that is, rather than clothes. Sleek models, such as Gulfstream's G450 business jet, jostled for attention alongside the latest in plus-size aviation fashion, the curvaceous Airbus A380. But when it comes to attention to detail, this year's most exceptional debut was the Falcon 7X, which made its first public flight. Designed and built by Dassault, a French aviation company based in Paris, the 7X lays claim to being the first fly-by-wire business jet, as well as the first aircraft to be designed entirely in a virtual environment. This latter claim bears some dissection as it hardly comes as a surprise to learn that a new aeroplane was developed using computer-aided design, or that its various possible wing shapes had been simulated to predict airflow and performance before the craft had so much as a sniff at a wind-tunnel test.

The makers of the 7X, however, say that its digital design process went beyond anything that has been done before. Every aspect of the aircraft was modelled in three dimensions, as you would expect, but everything from construction to refuelling and maintenance was also included in the simulation. A single database was used to define the aircraft's design, including all 40,000 of its parts and 200,000 fasteners. This database was shared between workers at the 30 or so firms which contributed different parts of the plane. Before a single piece of metal was cut, everyone involved, from hydraulics specialists to electrical engineers, could walk around the plane in virtual reality and iron out conflicts over what went where. The design extended to the robots that would create the tools to fit the parts of the plane together, and to the aeroplane's maintenance in later years. Can a mechanic actually reach a particular component to replace it, and is it physically possible to turn the spanner? Nothing was left to chance.

As a result, the first plane to be constructed was perfect: there was no physical prototype. All the parts were manufactured and put together, and then the plane was flown—its first, private flight took place just over a month ago. This also means that the first plane off the production line will be identical to the 100th. In aviation, the first few dozen aircraft of a particular design are normally tweaked as unanticipated problems arise. In the past, for example, wires would turn out not to be in quite the right place and would have to be moved, says Olivier Villa of Dassault. Although the design phase took longer than expected, Dassault found that manufacturing time and tool costs were cut in half. These costs can account for 25% of the overall cost of a new aircraft, says Mr Villa.

Another benefit is that Dassault can produce customised versions of the 7X in three months rather than six. Snazzy software will let prospective buyers of the eight-passenger corporate jet walk around their chosen design before they buy. The 7X is already selling well, even though it costs an eye-watering $40m and is still over a year away from being certified to fly. Virtual reality may be removing the art from aeroplane design, but Jean-Paul Gaultier would surely be impressed.

clock Posted Wed Jun 22nd, 2005 - 9:29am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



Golden-Age Comic Book Covers

Ben's comic book cover collection.  Fun!
Excerpt and description that goes along with this cover from 1948:
An absolutely classic cover that's always a favorite with collectors! This one has it all: A beautiful bound girl, a robot, a spaceman with raygun... I guess the only thing missing is a tentacled alien. Without a doubt, this is one of Alex Schomburg's greatest airbrush covers. It's got beautiful composition, color and execution - and I just love the delicate pink mountain range in the background. I could go on and on, but I won't; Just enjoy the artwork!!!
clock Posted Tue Jun 21st, 2005 - 12:13am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



A Wireless World, Bound To Sockets

Consumers Crave Better Batteries for Gadgets

By Yuki Noguchi | Washington Post Staff Writer

Here's the paradox of the portable age: The electronic devices that free people to go anywhere but never lose touch also keep them bound by cords and plugs to electric sockets. Sophisticated devices with color screens, video and gaming features demand more of the batteries that power them and, without steady recharging, their users plunge from being in touch to feeling impotent.

"I usually have to recharge it at two-hour intervals," salesman Joe Kammerer said of his laptop computer. "Then it starts complaining that it needs food. . . . It stresses me out."

So Kammerer learned the art of socket-seeking. "I sit strategically in the corner of a conference room," which is close enough to a wall to use a plug, the Washington resident said. "Sit on the floor at the airport? I totally do that."

So do his fellow travelers. "I've gotten, 'Are you going to be long?' and I say, 'Sorry. I just got here.'"

The cycle of renewing battery life has introduced new rituals around the modern trough -- a power strip -- where devices are hooked up to charge overnight like animals watering in a stable. Handhelds and cell phones go in their cradles before bed. Bookcases and beds shift to make way for bulky chargers that cover both sockets, leaving the bedside lamp without power. The laptop, digital camera and iPod play musical chairs on the wall. Drive time becomes critical charge time.

The cycle is irksome for some. Darcy Travlos, a senior analyst for the research firm CreditSights, said she keeps her devices charged in the kitchen, where the toaster and coffee maker take a back seat to the cell phone and iPod. On the road, it's less predictable. "You're a well-dressed professional, and you end up sitting on the floor next to whatever is needing to be charged," she said.

"It's the most important and least-talked-about issue in consumer electronics," said Travlos, who carries a bag full of chargers when she travels. "Everybody's working on battery life."

Each year, batteries become more powerful and circuitry improvements make devices more energy-efficient. Still, batteries can't keep up with of rising expectations for longer life.

Thousands of consumers settled with Apple Inc. this month, after owners of early versions of the iPod complained about its built-in battery.

PalmOne Inc., Intel Corp., Motorola Inc. and many others are putting muscle behind making batteries last longer. In the past few years, Intel started investing in small companies that work on prolonging or preserving battery life, and now has five such investments. Motorola Ventures, Motorola's investment unit, funded A123 Systems, a company developing more-efficient lithium-ion batteries.

Venture-capital companies are getting more interested in battery-power-related investments, said R. Philip Herget, a partner in Alexandria-based Columbia Capital LLC. The company invested in a start-up called Enpirion that manages power in devices, he said, and is looking at other companies. "Power management is critical," he said.

"Battery life is one of the most important things for our customers," said Raj Doshi, product line manager for handhelds at PalmOne Inc., which in April released the Tungsten E2 handheld, lighter and with double the battery life of the previous version. The new handheld is 4.7 ounces, compared with its five-ounce predecessor. "I tell the engineers I want the most battery in a smaller battery size," Doshi said, but that simple request requires huge technological advances.

Scientists are getting better at mixing the right chemicals to get more power out of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, but there are cost and physical limitations on how much energy can go into a small cell. Intel is testing battery technology and working with hardware manufacturers to introduce laptops usable for roughly eight hours without external power. Those computers could be on the market by 2008.

Today, people are still locked in a power struggle. David Wochner, a lawyer in Washington, last week called the tech department at his firm because his BlackBerry appeared not to be taking a charge. "I'm now down to two bars and I'm getting really nervous," he said. "The fact that you have to keep track of charging and making sure you're getting it done is a pain. The phone is driving me bananas."

In technology circles, experts sing about the promise of convergence -- phone, computing, e-mail, television, gaming and photography on one device -- yet most people still carry separate gadgets for each function. And that requires a host of different chargers.

"I have so many chargers, can I just tell you?" Kammerer said, rattling off the list: Two laptop chargers -- one at work, one in the briefcase. Another for the iPod, "although the cord is too short, so you can't plug it in and put it on the table, so it mostly stays on the floor."

He has more than a dozen chargers for his cell phone. There's one in the bedroom, where he puts his spare change, so that he won't forget to stick the phone in his pocket each morning. "I leave one in my suitcase in the front pocket. It kind of lives there" so he won't forget it when he travels. He remembers running to stores between meetings to replace forgotten chargers, or bumming one off of a client. Kammerer has "a charger graveyard" of a dozen or more spares he bought on business trips.

"If you switch [cell phone] brands, it won't work," Kammerer said of his many chargers. "I wish they were standardized. My briefcase gets heavy."

Manufacturers argue that providing their own chargers ensures the quality of the service, said Jeff Joseph, a spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association. Also, at $30 to $50 for a charger, "it's an important revenue source."

There is a new universal power adapter called iGo that comes with specialized tips, each about the size of a bottle cap, that can be exchanged to fit different devices -- iPods, almost any cell phone, laptops, BlackBerrys. It can also charge several devices at once.

"The average consumer carries 5.5 power devices," said Charles R. Mollo, president and chief executive of Mobility Electronics Inc., which makes the iGo. "The key problem we solve is to make life easier."

All griping about battery power aside, many users agree that today's mobile devices are an improvement on what came before. Remember the days of 20-pound "portable" computers and breadbox-size boomboxes weighted down with D-size batteries?

"There's no way I'd ever be willing to go back to the way it used to be," Wochner said.

clock Posted Mon Jun 20th, 2005 - 8:13am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



The Payphone Project

Here's a website I first came across more than 10 years ago -- it contains stories, pictures, phone numbers and news from payphones and public telephony. 

When's the last time you used a payphone?


Photo on left depicts a phone graveyard  in NYC.


clock Posted Sun Jun 19th, 2005 - 5:13pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



Paper Plate Education

Would you like to teach someone how to create a telescopic view of a starfield using a tempera paint that reacts with a foam plate and compare a with Hubble Space Telescope image?  How about a simple way to show someone how to make/use a Platisphere to depict the seasonal variations of the Big Dipper's aspect as seen by slaves traveling north on the Underground Railroad?  You can do this and more with ordinary paper plates.


clock Posted Sat Jun 18th, 2005 - 8:13pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



Dancing Paul

From the guy who gave the world Build Your Own Band, and SpinART , comes Dancing Paul (no relation).
clock Posted Fri Jun 17th, 2005 - 9:55am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



Taxidermy Decanter


Talented taxidermy artist Sarina Brewer (of Custom Creature Taxidermy Arts) created this wonderful Squirrel Liquor Decanter.  At $US 325, it's the perfect gift for Father's Day.

If the decanter is not to your liking, there's lots of other stuff (ha!) to choose from.

C'est non pas à ton gout?   Try the pickled pets.


clock Posted Thu Jun 16th, 2005 - 8:13am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page



Pac-Man chomps up milestone

(AP) -- For a video game, Pac-Man is getting downright old. The ghost-wary hero with an insatiable appetite for dots turns 25 this month.

From the early 1980s "Pac-Mania" to today's endless sequels and rip-offs, the original master of maze management remains a bright yellow circle on the cultural radar.

But there was more to Pac-Man's broad appeal than eating dots and dodging on-screen archrivals Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde.

"This was the first time a player took on a persona in the game. Instead of controlling inanimate objects like tanks, paddles and missile bases, players now controlled a 'living' creature," says Leonard Herman, author of "Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of Videogames." "It was something that people could identify, like a hero."

It all began in Japan, when Toru Iwatani, a young designer at Namco, caught inspiration from a pizza that was missing a slice. Puck-Man, as it was originally called, was born. Because of obvious similarities to a certain four-letter profanity, "Puck" became "Pac" when it debuted in the U.S. in 1980.

Its success spawned a romantic interest (Ms. Pac-Man), a child (Junior Pac-Man), a cartoon show and hundreds of licensed products. The phenomenon even reached the pop music charts when "Pac-Man Fever" by Buckner & Garcia drove us all crazy in 1982.

Billy Mitchell, the first and only person known to play a perfect game of Pac-Man (he racked up a score of 3,333,360 after clearing all 256 levels in more than six hours in 1999, according to video game record keepers Twin Galaxies) says Pac's popularity was in its nonviolent simplicity.

"The fact that it's cute, it's almost like a hero running around the board from bad guys. It's not an appeal based on violence," the 39-year-old from Hollywood, Florida, said. "Whether it was an 80-year-old lady or a kid, everyone could adapt to the Pac-Man world."

Billions of quarters later, Pac-Man's influence continues.

As part of a final project for a class in New York University's Interactive Telecommunications graduate program last year, students with cell phones and Wi-Fi Internet connections mimicked the game, tracking their movements on a grid spanning several city blocks.

They called this analog re-enactment, where four people dressed as ghosts searched for Pac-Man on the streets around New York's Washington Square Park, Pac-Manhattan.

"We never had anyone clear the entire board," said Frank Lantz, a game designer who taught the course.

Namco, which can't offer an exact date for Pac-Man's birth, sold 293,822 of the arcade machines between 1980 and '87. It shows no signs of giving up on the franchise.

The company has several new games this year, including "Pac-Mania 3D," "Pac-Man World 3," Pac-Pix" and "Pac-Man Pinball." It even began making a special 25th anniversary edition of the old arcade machine.

"People say, 'Who buys Pac-Man?' It's one of the few games where the answer is, 'Everyone,"' said Scott Rubin, general manager of Namco America.

Herman said Pac-Man's place in video game history is forever secure, saying: "It was a milestone of video game history."

clock Posted Wed Jun 15th, 2005 - 4:13pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Binary Manicure

This is so 0111001101110111011001010110010101110100; spells the wearer's name in binary code.

Link to a post about this on on Warren Ellis' blog.


see also: My Right Hand

clock Posted Tue Jun 14th, 2005 - 8:32am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Two Week Wait for Wife # 12?

MBABANE, Swaziland (Reuters) -- Swaziland's King Mswati III took an 18-year-old former Miss Teen Swaziland finalist as his 12th wife during the weekend, barely two weeks after marrying his 11th, media in the tiny African kingdom said.

Nothando Dube was selected as Mswati's fiancee after last year's Reed Dance, an event where thousands of maidens dance bare breasted in honor of the Queen Mother and where Mswati has chosen wives in the past.

The Times of Swaziland's Sunday edition quoted Mswati's traditional prime minister, Jim Gama, as saying that Dube's nuptials had been concluded Saturday night.

Palace officials were unavailable for confirmation on Monday, when Mswati was due to leave on an overseas trip.

In late May, Mswati married his 11th wife, 20-year-old Nolichwa Ntenesa, who was also selected during a Reed Dance.

Mswati, 37, has drawn criticism for spending money on luxury cars while many of his 1.1 million subjects struggle by on food aid, ravaged by the world's highest rate of HIV/AIDS which affects around two in every five adults.

Mswati early in June said he was not sub-Saharan Africa's only absolute monarch, contending that although political parties were banned in Swaziland, he only made decisions after consulting with the people.

In 1973 Mswati's father, Sobhuza, whose authorized biography says he had 45 official wives, tore up the constitution of the former British protectorate, sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique.

Mswati's officials are drafting a new constitution, which is set to uphold the ban on political parties.


clock Posted Mon Jun 13th, 2005 - 9:44am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

OK, all I can say is "wow!!". 

Just saw the trailer to the upcoming (December 2005) Chronicles of Narnia.



clock Posted Sun Jun 12th, 2005 - 11:42am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Howl's Moving Castle

I have got to see this ASAP!  The trailer looks amazing, and by visuals alone - this promises to be the best animated feature in some time!

Based on Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Howl's Moving Castle follows the story of young Sophie Hatter, a bookworm, the eldest of three daughters, a girl doomed to an uninteresting life as a hat maker. Sophie resigns herself to her boring fate, but fate has other plans for her. Cursed by the Witch of the Waste with the body of a 90-year-old woman, she finds her way to the moving castle inhabited by the wizard Howl, said by all to eat the souls of young girls.

Howl has been cursed by the Witch as well, and is seeking the love of young girl to help him break the curse. The book has enchanted readers of all ages for nearly 20 years, and the film was released on November 20, 2004 in Toho theaters across Japan, and is about to be released across North America through Disney.

The screenplay for the film was written by Hayao Miyazaki, who also directed the film. Katsuya KONDOU (Kiki's Delivery Service) was the Animation Director.


update: see this at NPR

clock Posted Sat Jun 11th, 2005 - 7:32am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Cool Things to Do with Google

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Tracking sexual predators in Florida. Guiding travelers to the cheapest gas nationwide. Pinpointing $1,500 studio apartments for rent in Manhattan.

Geeks, tinkerers and innovators are crashing the Google party, having discovered how to tinker with the search engine's mapping service to graphically illustrate vital information that might otherwise be ignored, overlooked or not perceived as clearly.

"It's such a beautiful way to look at what could be a dense amount of information," said Tara Calishain, editor of Research Buzz and co-author of "Google Hacks," a book that offers tips on how to get the most out of the Web's most popular search engine.

Yahoo and other sites also offer maps, but Google's four-month-old mapping service is more easily accessible and manipulated by outsiders, the tinkerers say.

As it turns out, Google charts each point on its maps by latitude and longitude -- that's how Google can produce driving directions to practically anywhere in the nation. Seasoned developers have figured out how to match these points with locations from outside databases that can contain vast amounts of information -- anything from police blotters to real estate listings.

Thanks to Adrian Holovaty, 24, who overlayed Chicago Police Department crime statistics on a Google map, house-hunters in the Albany Park neighborhood can pinpoint all the sexual assaults in the district between May 19 and April 19 on a single map. With each crime marked by a virtual pushpin, Chicagoans can quickly learn what dangerous train stations, pool rooms and alleys to avoid.

Holovaty hopes to make the maps more current by persuading Chicago police to provide the data directly, rather than forcing him to glean it from the department's Web site. Police seem amenable -- he's got a meeting with them next week. But community activist James Cappleman is already impressed with Holovaty's -- no longer do citizens have to trust politicians crowing about safer streets.

"We've never been able to track trends before," Cappleman said. "Now, when we tell police there is a problem, we'll know what we're talking about."

Visitors to, which combines Google Maps with data on convicted sex offenders, can call up maps of their communities and click on the pushpins to see the name, last known address and mug shot of each offender.

Home buyers can pinpoint the locations of houses in their price range at And renters can turn to, which melds the technologies of Craigslist and Google, to spot available housing in 29 cities including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

All these sites are operating without Google's permission, clearly violating the company's user agreement. But none charges any fees, and Mountain View-based Google, which declined to comment through a spokesman, has made no effort to shut them down.

"Why would they?" asks Kenneth Tan, who works for a Chicago-based media research firm and is relying on to find a new place in New York. "This is fantastic publicity for the company."

Before launched in March, Tan spent up to 30 minutes a day reading through Craigslist postings in his price range, trying to figure out if any were located where he wants to live.

On, the listings he wants are represented on a single map, marked by either a red or yellow pushpin symbol. Yellow come with apartment photographs; red have none. A click on a yellow pin sends Tan directly into the Craigslist posting on the street where he hopes to live.

"It takes two seconds to glance at the map to see if there is anything for me that day," Tan said.

Computer animation engineer Paul Rademacher developed shortly after Google Maps launched in February, matching it with all the U.S. apartment listings on Craigslist. He says he was intrigued by Google's technology and began tinkering with it after a long apartment search.

James Brown, founder of, charted the home addresses of every registered sex offender in Florida's Megan's Law database, then wrote a software program that automatically converts addresses to the correct latitude and longitude.

Holovaty requested data from Chicago Police but never heard back, so he wrote a program that automatically retrieves crime location data each time the department's Web site is updated.

Why go to this much trouble?

The site's creators said it was for the love of discovery and a chance to help their communities.

Brown came up with the idea for his site after watching television reports about a kidnapped girl with his father, a former policeman in Ocala, Florida, Rademacher says he wanted to help others avoid painstaking and time-consuming searches for new apartments.

"I figured out a way to do it and I didn't see any reason why I shouldn't share it with everybody," said Rademacher, who lives in Santa Clara.

None said they did it for the money. But their efforts are certainly getting attention.

Several companies have approached Rademacher about setting up other sites that marry data to Google maps. And San Francisco is among cities interested in whether Holovaty can develop crime-mapping sites for them.

"I would be happy to help them set it up," Holovaty said. "The world is a better place whenever you provide more information."


clock Posted Fri Jun 10th, 2005 - 4:07pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


the Monster Engine

Artist Dave Devries does a fantastic job fleshing out the drawings and imaginations of children.

His site, the Monster Engine, serves up a number of drawings done by children and then fully rendered by himself. This not only applies to monsters but to superheroes as well.

A fantastic idea taking a kid’s uncorrupted imagination and working with it in the process paying homage to our younger selves. He even provides an interview with the creator of Big Blok, then 7 year old Brendan Miller. You think Devries’ a fan of muscle cars?


clock Posted Thu Jun 9th, 2005 - 9:50pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


the Jihad to Destroy Barney

The Earth is under attack.

The demon lord B'harne, servant of the malevolent alien High Magus of Lyra, has commenced his assault on the human race. Under the benevolent guise of the children's television host Barney the Dinosaur, B'harne seeks to destroy the minds of children and adults and bind them to his tyrranical will. Once he has made mindless slaves of humanity, B'harne will rule the Earth with an iron talon.

There are those who oppose B'harne. Drawn together by mysterious forces, mad scientists and sorcerors, warriors, scholars and surrealists have banded together into a fighting force capable of standing against B'harne's power and the power of his masters. With the mystic blade of the Barney-Slayer leading the way, these warriors fight a neverending battle against the forces of Evil and Stupidity.

They are the Jihad to Destroy Barney the Purple Dinosaur.


See also:


clock Posted Wed Jun 8th, 2005 - 3:04pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Unusual Cards


Check out these unusual greeting cards created by Frencesca Berrini.


"Unusual Cards is a large selection of amazing blank greeting cards featuring the collage art of Francesca Berrini."


Categories include: Childhood Memories; Land of the Giant Food; Days of the Dinosaurs, and others.



see also : Unfortunate Greeting Cards at Capt'n Wacky's

clock Posted Tue Jun 7th, 2005 - 5:58pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Thinking Inside the Box

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's new Domestic Nuclear Detection Office is being criticized for installing more than 500, $250,000 drive-thru cargo radiation monitors, that "can't tell the difference between highly enriched uranium and naturally occurring radiation in cat litter."


By Mimi Hall | USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The federal government is stepping up efforts to stop terrorists from smuggling nuclear or radiological material into the USA, even as critics fault it for poor planning and outdated equipment. The government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to screen more cargo at the nation's ports, test next-generation radiation detectors and develop intricate plans to track deadly weapons if they are brought across the borders.

Just last week, the departments of Homeland Security and Energy broke ground on a $35 million nuclear and radiological countermeasures center at the Nevada Test Site, northwest of Las Vegas. Scientists will test the latest detectors to improve what's already being used at ports.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff also announced last week that the nation's busiest seaports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, will have enough drive-through radiation monitors to screen every container by year's end.

Still, members of Congress and nuclear specialists say some of the efforts — including creation of a new Domestic Nuclear Detection Office — suffer from misplaced priorities and rely on detectors so primitive that they can't tell the difference between highly enriched uranium and naturally occurring radiation in cat litter.

Homeland security expert Randall Larsen, a former National War College faculty member, says that by buying flawed technology the government is "wasting money with good intentions."

White House science adviser John Marburger says the government must proceed with costly plans to thwart an attack with a nuclear bomb. Although it has long been considered unlikely, it would be "the most catastrophic thing that could happen to us."

To better prepare the nation, President Bush this year instructed the Homeland Security Department to set up the nuclear prevention office. He asked Congress for $227 million to finance the office. It will deploy detection equipment at ports, border crossings, major transportation routes and in cities, and oversee research to build better detectors.

Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security, says the office is a good idea. But he slashed $100 million from Bush's budget request last month because he complained the department didn't provide a solid plan for how the office would spend the full $227 million.

Homeland Security also is buying hundreds of radiation detectors to screen 26,000 cargo containers from abroad as they are unloaded at 314 ports each day. More than 500 of the $250,000 machines are at ports around the country. The monitors are notorious for false alarms, set off by innocuous products.

clock Posted Mon Jun 6th, 2005 - 1:58pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


See No Evil

Cloaked in myopic self-righteousness, the Bush administration is trying to make its gulag problem disappear by attacking Amnesty International. This isn't just blind and arrogant, it's harming the U.S. national interest.

by Sidney Blumenthol |

President Bush's press conference on Tuesday, at which he denounced Amnesty International's annual report containing allegations of torture by the United States as "absurd" and dismissed all such allegations as inspired by terrorists, was the crescendo of a concerted administration campaign to stifle the rising clamor on its torture policy.

Amnesty International released its report on human rights on May 25. Among other findings, it documents that some 500 detainees are being held at the Guantánamo military base. The Supreme Court ruled six months ago in Rasul vs. Bush that they are entitled to legal counsel and due process, but Amnesty noted that the detainees have not been provided with lawyers in secret administrative reviews to determine if they are "enemy combatants." And the more than 50,000 detainees being held in 25 prisons in Afghanistan and 17 prisons in Iraq are "routinely denied access to lawyers and families." An unknown number of people have disappeared into secret prisons -- having been "rendered" to U.S. allies like Uzbekistan, where torture is routine. The Amnesty report called this shrouded network "the gulag of our time," and concluded that the administration's methods are counterproductive: "The 'war on terror' appeared more effective in eroding international human rights principles than in countering international 'terrorism.'"

The Amnesty report followed on the heels of the Bush administration's blame casting at Newsweek magazine for provoking anti-American riots in Afghanistan that resulted in 17 deaths by its publication of a story that a Quran had been flushed down a toilet at Guantánamo. After the anonymous Pentagon source for the item hesitated about his certainty, the Defense Department, through its spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, demanded that Newsweek apologize, and editor Mark Whitaker abased himself elaborately for its error. But a week afterward the Pentagon disclosed that there had indeed been five incidents involving abuse of the Quran, though not a toilet flushing. (Some further clarification may be helpful on this fine point: As it happens, the detainees don't have flush toilets but buckets.) At a press conference on the same day the Amnesty report was issued, Di Rita was asked, in light of the acknowledged Quran abuses and the apology he had insisted that Newsweek make, "Mr. Di Rita, as the Department of Defense, are you going to present your apologies to the Arab world?" Di Rita replied: "For what?" ...

read the rest here
see also: Shame on Us
clock Posted Sat Jun 4th, 2005 - 11:55am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Passionate Visionary

I came across Passionate Visionary: Leadership Lessons From the Apostle Paul, by Rickard Ascough and Charles Cotton - and have decided to add this to my Summer reading list.

Leadership is a popular topic, yet the curious and consistent omission among all the biographies, testimonials and training manuals is Paul of Tarsus - the apostle who 'founded' the Christian church. The Apostle Paul was a transformational genius. With nothing but faith and passion he took a new and struggling vision of religious practice out into the world. Paul built and sustained a fragile network by coaching, cajoling and inspiring hesitant followers. Almost two thousand years later the heritage of the communities he founded continues in the faith communities of the Christian tradition. The details of Paul's life offer remarkable insights for present day leadership. Passionate Visionary applies the authors' expertise in scripture studies and leadership principles to Paul's life and letters. Together they paint a portrait of Paul as a leader of compassionate concern who made a singular contribution to the idea of nurturing communities of practice. The discussion of Paul's leadership wisdom is organized into four parts, each capturing essential aspects of Paul's approach to transforming the lives and outlooks of those who formed the earliest Christian communities.
See the review here.
clock Posted Fri Jun 3rd, 2005 - 11:59am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Wise enough to play the fool?

The Economist print edition

In praise of lovable bunglers

IT IS a universal dilemma. What to do with the jerk at work, the person who is so disliked by their colleagues that no one wants to work with them? The traditional answer is to tolerate them if they are at least half-competent—on the grounds that competent jerks can be trained to be otherwise, while much-loved bunglers cannot.

An article in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review suggests that such an approach seriously underestimates the value of being liked. In a study of over 10,000 work relationships at five very different organisations, Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo, academics at Harvard Business School and the Fuqua School of Business respectively, found that (given the choice) people consistently and overwhelmingly prefer to work with a “lovable fool” than with a competent jerk.

The authors suggest that as well as training jerks to be more charming—although “sadly there are people who are disliked because they are socially incompetent, and probably never will be truly charming”—companies should also “leverage the likeable”. Amiable folk should be turned into “affective hubs”, people who can bridge gaps “between diverse groups that might not otherwise interact”.

Re-evaluating jolly types who spend long hours hanging round water-coolers is currently fashionable. Ronald Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago and a leading proponent of “social capital”—an explanation of “how people do better because they are somehow better connected with other people”—has written a book (“Brokerage and Closure”, to be published by the Oxford University Press later this summer) in which he describes the “clusters” and “bridges” that are typical of organisations' informal networks. Mr Burt calls the people who form bridges between clusters “brokers”; they resemble Ms Casciaro's and Mr Sousa Lobo's affective hubs. In practice, Mr Burt has found that brokers do better than people without the social skills to cross the spaces between clusters.

A book published in English this week, but already a cause célèbre in France, portrays most employees as fools—lovable or otherwise. Corinne Maier's “Bonjour Laziness” (Pantheon Books) is a worm's-eye view of a corporate world where only three creatures exist: sheep (“weak and inoffensive”); pests (“poisoning the general atmosphere”); and loafers (“their only aim is to do as little as possible”). In the view of Ms Maier, a practising psychoanalyst as well as a part-time employee of EDF, a French power firm, pests (ie, jerks) rule the corporate world. (So does being a jerk give you the skills needed to get to the top? And only in France?) The rest can only hope to lie low and await their pension. Les Misérables! But, assuming you are lovable, far better, surely, to follow the Burt route: head straight for the water-cooler.


clock Posted Fri Jun 3rd, 2005 - 10:17am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


Das Keyboard

I'm pretty sure this isn't a hoax because it's possible to place an order for it. However, it still seems extremely odd to me. It's a keyboard marketed to 'ubergeeks' under the brand name 'Das Keyboard'. This is the part that gets me:

Das Keyboard is an enhanced 104-key USB PC keyboard equipped with 100% blank keys mounted on precision and individually weighted key switches... Since there is no key to look at when typing, your brain will quickly adapt and memorize the key positions and you will find yourself typing a lot faster with more accuracy in no time. It is amazing how slow typers almost double their speed and quick typers become blazing fast!

So it's basically a keyboard with all symbols removed from the keys. I can type over 100 wpm, and I don't normally look at the keys -- but occasionally one needs to. I would find it very annoying to never be able to look at them, and I find it hard to believe that anyone would want this as a feature.

clock Posted Thu Jun 2nd, 2005 - 10:06am by CPC  Return to home page Top of page


A Machine that Can Copy Anything

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A revolutionary machine that can copy itself and manufacture everyday objects quickly and cheaply could transform industry in the developing world, according to its creator.

The "self-replicating rapid prototyper," or "RepRap" is the brainchild of Dr. Adrian Bowyer, a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bath in the UK.

It is based on rapid prototyping technology commonly used to manufacturer plastic components in industry from computer-generated blueprints -- effectively a form of 3D printer.

But Bowyer told CNN the RepRap's ability to copy itself could put rapid prototyping technology within reach of the world's poorest communities by alleviating the need for the sort of large-scale industrial infrastructure common across the developed world.

"People can start manufacturing goods at a low price," said Bowyer. "All one needs is a computer and a machine that can copy itself. It can spread without enormous expenditure of capital and labor costs are low.

"It is the first technology that we can have that can simultaneously make people more wealthy while reducing the need for industrial production."

Prototyping machines currently cost around $45,000 but Bowyer believes that price could drop to a few hundred dollars as the number of self-replicating models increases exponentially.

"It makes industry a little more like agriculture," said Bowyer, who specializes in biomimetics, the study and application of natural processes in technologies such as engineering, design and computing.

"Farmers have been dealing with self-replicating products for years."

Rapid prototyping machines work by building a succession of layers, either bonded by a laser or held together by alternating layers of glue.

The key feature of the RepRap is its ability to print electrical circuits by squirting a metal alloy with a low-melting point from a heated nozzle.

The machine could build items ranging in size from a few millimeters to around 30 centimeters, such as plates, dishes, combs and musical instruments.

Larger or more complicated items could be assembled from smaller parts, and by adding extra parts such as screws and microchips.

Bowyer said the target of the project was to create a range of devices that could be assembled for around $500 using additional components commonly and cheaply available in hardware stores.

He also said that the technology could help solve some of the recycling issues commonly associated with plastics: "If the machine can copy itself, it can make its own recycler. When you break something you can just feed it into the recycler and break it down to its raw materials and re-build it.

"The key ecological point is that it cuts down on the transportation necessary both to manufacture products and to dispose of them. Every household would have its own recycling set-up.

"This is recycling heaven rather than recycling hell."

The concept of self-replicating machines dates back to the work of mathematician John von Neumann, who proposed the idea of a "Universal Constructor" that could copy itself in the 1950s.

Von Neumann suggested that the generational development of a machine would display similar characteristics to Darwinian evolution as users honed and varied its design to suit their needs.

To encourage that development, Bowyer plans to make the design of the RepRap available online and free to use, in the same way as open source software such as the Linux operating system or Mozilla's Firefox browser.

Anyone with a replicating machine could then start manufacturing copies. Once someone owned the technology they could download other designs, or create their own.

"The most interesting part of this is that we're going to give it away," said Bowyer.

"If these machines take off, it will give individual people the chance to do this themselves, and we are talking about making a lot of our consumer goods. The effect this has on industry and society could be dramatic."


the RepRap Project web site
clock Posted Wed Jun 1st, 2005 - 12:45pm by CPC  Return to home page Top of page