Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar header image 2

Entries Tagged as 'geeky'

Not just because he wants to use my photo…

March 3rd, 2009 · Comments Off on Not just because he wants to use my photo…

Leonardo’s helicopter

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

…of Leonardo’s helicopter — John Graham-Cummings’s The Geek Atlas sounds like a fascinating travel guide. To quote its description at O’Reilly Books:

With this unique traveler’s guide, you’ll learn about 128 destinations around the world where discoveries in science, mathematics, or technology occurred or is happening now. Travel to Munich to see the world’s largest science museum, watch Foucault’s pendulum swinging in Paris, ponder a descendant of Newton’s apple tree at Trinity College, Cambridge, and more. Each site in The Geek Atlas focuses on discoveries or inventions, and includes information about the people and the science behind them.

Woo hoo, sign me up for the entire tour!

Tags: geeky · Science · twitter · Wide wonderful world

The NY Times is doing … what?

January 9th, 2009 · 2 Comments

NYTimes Visualization Lab

Originally uploaded by jijnes

NFL polka dot stats are the least of it.

The old “Gray Lady” New York Times keeps changing her spots in ways that deliver new value–but without creating new profits to replace what got lost in the transition to Web 2.0. Just for example (reverse chronological order; this is a blog, after all) …

January 8, 2009

NY Times rolls out the latest in a series of information-busting-out APIs, this one to track individual voting histories in the US Congress. Business model? They’re free.
December, 2008

NY Times creates free “Widgets” that let bloggers et al. post NYT headlines on their own web pages. Business model? Link back to NYT pages.
August, 2008

NY Times teams up with ManyEyes to create the kinds of data images shown in the polka dots above.
… (lots more stuff …
October, 2003

The NY Times came to Dave Winer’s Bloggercon 1 (via their avatar, editor-in-chief Lenn Apcar) to hear and talk about putting blogging onto news pages.
May, 2003

NY Times letting bloggers create permalinks to articles via their Userland RSS feeds.
2002 sometime

NY Times partners with Userland to deliver news stories via RSS feeds.

The NY Times is no longer (just) my mom’s messy mass of newsprint (see below, ca 1984.) It did a great job at that, but it is now setting out to do great things in a much, much bigger World 2.0. I just hope Web 2.0 finds ways to support them in turn.

BoboNYT: My mom, with her feet up, reading the NY Times.

Tags: Editorial · geeky · Metablogging

Happiness, Hilbert space, and an New Year

January 1st, 2009 · 2 Comments

Happy New Year

Originally uploaded by Stuck in Customs

Pop, bam, fizz! Another New Year arrives, with fresh round of wild ideas from

“What will change everything?” was John Brockman’s question this year. “What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?” He’s now posting responses given by more than 150 wide-angle guessers — people from actor Alan Alda to quantum teleportationist Anton Zeilinger — with Frank Wilczek and Betsy Devine filing separate guesses.
Homesteading in Hilbert space,” predicts Frank Wilczek:

…The quantum world is a New New World far more alien and difficult of access than Columbus’ Old New World. It is also, in a real sense, much bigger… Our fundamental equations do not live in the three-dimensional space of classical physics, but in an (effectively) infinite-dimensional space: Hilbert space. It will take us much more than a century to homestead that New New World, even at today’s much-accelerated pace…

Happiness,” counter-predicts Betsy Devine:

In the next five years, policy-makers around the world will embrace economic theories (e.g. those of Richard Layard) aimed at creating happiness. The Tower of Economic Babble is rubble. Long live the new, improved happiness economics! …

Here are other short samples from just a few more of the best:

“The robotic moment” says Sherry Turkle

I will see the development of robots that people will want to spend time with. Not just a little time, time in which the robots serve as amusements, but enough time and with enough interactivity that the robots will be experienced as companions, each closer to a someone than a something. I think of this as the robotic moment…
“A forebrain for the world mind” says Danny Hillis

…If there is such a thing as a world mind today, then its thoughts are primarily about commerce. It is the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith, deciding the prices, allocating the capital…I call this the hindbrain because it is performing unconscious functions necessary to the organism’s own survival, functions that are so primitive that they predate development of the brain. Included in this hindbrain are the functions of preference and attention that create celebrity, popularity and fashion, all fundamental to the operation of human society. This hindbrain is ancient….
“Molecular manufacturing” says Ed Regis

…Program the assemblers to put together an SUV, a sailboat, or a spacecraft, and they’d do it—automatically, and without human aid or intervention. Further, they’d do it using cheap, readily-available feedstock molecules as raw materials. The idea sounds fatuous in the extreme…until you remember that objects as big and complex as whales, dinosaurs, and sumo wrestlers got built in a moderately analogous fashion…
“We are learning to make phenotypes” says Mark Pagel

…the thing that we think of as “us”,can become separated from our body, or nearly separated anyway. I don’t suggest we will be able to transplant our mind to another body, but we will be able to introduce new body parts into existing bodies with a resident mind. With enough such replacements, we will become potentially immortal: like ancient buildings that exist only because over the centuries each of their many stones has been replaced…
“Malthusian information famine” says Charles Seife

…There seems to be a Malthusian principle at work: information grows exponentially, but useful information grows only linearly. Noise will drown out signal. The moment that we, as a species, finally have the memory to store our every thought, etch our every experience into a digital medium, it will be hard to avoid slipping into a Borgesian nightmare where we are engulfed by our own mental refuse…
The use of nuclear weapons against a civilian population” says Lawrence Krauss

…Having been forced to choose a single game changer, I have turned away from the fascinating scientific developments I might like to see, and will instead focus on the one game changer that I will hopefully never directly witness, but nevertheless expect will occur during my lifetime: the use of nuclear weapons against a civilian population…

I join Lawrence in hoping that his prediction won’t come true.

Tags: Frank Wilczek · geeky · Science · Wide wonderful world · writing

Tilt the wings of your mouse and fly free

November 16th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Virtual reality ride in invisible glider over snowy mountain tops, tilting your wings and/or turning by moving the mouse. Serene and lovely. I am going to bookmark this to cool me off in the next heatwave but it is also an antidote to November’s wet-dead-leaf rain days.

Three Dee Whee!

Tags: geeky

The Shire is upside down? Somebody text Gandalf!

September 8th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Lay of the land

Originally uploaded by Elmazz

Funny but sad, banks are now foreclosing on “The Shire,” a housing development inspired by visions of hobbits who want to buy quirky thatched houses with modern conveniences. Dang, I would have liked to spend time in one of those houses (though maybe not if it meant moving my family out to Bend, Oregon.)

For example, the 3,200-square-foot Butterfly Cottage (says the Bend Bulletin) ,

overlooks an amphitheater, has 26-foot-high ceilings and interior finishes that include bamboo flooring, a Japanese soaking tub and granite countertops. The house has a “hobbit hole” in the backyard for storing garden supplies.

If Gandalf’s not liquid, maybe the Googles could buy this? It would make one heckuva great mega-yurt for group meetings!

Where credit is due: I read about this in the latest edition of Dave Langford’s scifi fanzine Ansible. Bonus quote therefrom, from his long-ongoing saga of fun bits from bad writing:

Tripodal Stability Dept. ‘She crouched on a three-legged stool as if warming herself before the fire, but Will knew her chill would take more melting than that. He knelt down before her. The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the other that his father hadn’t mended in fifteen years gone past.’ (Elizabeth Bear, Ink and Steel, 2008)

Tags: funny · geeky · Wide wonderful world

Old Mac user (me): “What is that funny hole?”

September 3rd, 2008 · 1 Comment

MacPaint (and other) nostalgia: 1

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

‘So what is that funny hole?” I asked my kind young Mac trainer, pointing at the front of a big Mac Pro tower. Natalya, an anthropology major and certified Macintosh genius, speaks fluent customer-ese, and explained that the “hole” was a FireWire 800 port, something I’d seen before but left strictly alone.

To my chagrin (although also to my satisfaction, since I know it now) the FireWire 800 would have been almost twice as fast a way to synch my old Mac laptop* to my new Mac tower, a task that took more than 10 hours with FireWire 400. Which just goes to show that having loved Macintosh computers since 1984 is no guarantee that you can’t learn a lot more about them from somebody who was most likely born after 1984.

Here are some other things I learned in my first hour of Apple’s new One to One store training:

  • What’s the top story right now on CNN? Has anything changed on my Wikipedia watchlist? You can make WebClip widgets from bits of webpages you like, then flash them up onto your desktop using the Dashboard.
  • Want to move from a desktop full of writing projects to a desktop full of scrapbooking projects to a desktop covered with email resources? Leopard has a system preference called Spaces that lets you arrow-key around several different monitor screens, even if you have just one monitor.
  • On a laptop, you can set preferences to “Left Click” by tapping your mousepad with two fingers.
  • A new app called “QuickLook” lets you peek at graphics, Word, Excel files (etc. etc.) without having to open the big clunky program that edits them.

They say you are not old until you stop learning. Lucky for me that I still have so darn much to learn — and that Apple Store genii in Cambridgeside Galleria have so much to teach me.

* I dropped my Mac laptop last week. It still runs, but the funny noise of its fan and the very big ding in its casing suggest that it may not be running for very long into the future.

Tags: Boston · Cambridge · geeky · Useful

Before the Sci Foo deluge

August 8th, 2008 · Comments Off on Before the Sci Foo deluge

Before the Sci Foo deluge

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

The Wild Palms Hotel will be wilder in just a few hours, as scientists, webfolk, and other high-tech high IQs arrive for Science Foo 2008.

Frank and I are not the only people here so early. I am pretty sure I saw Neal Gershenfeld across the patio. In the Sci Foo wiki, he has offered to demo some amazingly techno inventions. If he brought a fabricator, his luggage was hugely heavy!

Astrophysicists Angelica de Oliveira-Costa and Max Tegmark get here later this morning. Fortunately, even astro-visionaries like Max don’t need to pack any universe inside their suitcases to lead a session. The universe just plain follows them around.

Chris Anderson (long tail) and Chris Anderson (TED) will both be here. I remember once sharing a dorm-room with another Betsy and a third girl named Kedzie. Getting phone messages straight was a nightmare that year, and my sympathies go out to those two Chris Andersons.

Looking forward to meeting a lot of great people and hearing a lot of incredible ideas. I see myself here as a technical “enabler”, doing some scientist-to-webpeople match-making. But this Sci Foo (SciFoo?) blogpost is already long enough.

Tags: Frank Wilczek · geeky · Metablogging · Science

Poppygon, Hollygon, and Vanilla Beer Group already gone!

July 12th, 2008 · Comments Off on Poppygon, Hollygon, and Vanilla Beer Group already gone!

Imitation of dot matrix printout from MacPaint
Nothing says geek love quite as tenderly as the virtual gift of a unique, symmetrical object in hyperspace. (Although maybe the d12 Handbag of Holding comes pretty close.)

Hyperspace has an infinite number of symmetries, but Oxford mathematician Marcus du Sautoy has already assigned such choice names as “Hollygon,” “Poppygon,” and “The Vanilla Beer Group.” So do not delay or the name you want may be taken!! Your donation goes to help children in Guatemala through Common Hope.

Thanks to Tingilinde for the link! The image above, btw, has nothing to do with hyperspace and everything to do with nostalgia for the imperfect dot-matrix symmetries of MacPaint.

Tags: funny · geeky

Rubik’s cubic cure for octopus stress

July 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on Rubik’s cubic cure for octopus stress

Octopus with Rubik\'s cube
“Marine experts have given 25 octopuses a Rubik’s Cube each in a study aimed at easing their stress levels in captivity,” says UK’s revered science journal the Daily Mail.

I never found my stress reduced by a Rubik’s cube, but then again I am no octopus. Octopi are Einsteins and Houdinis of Invertebrata. But the goal here is not to keep their giant nerve fibers tuned up — it is to find out if they are “octidextrous” or tend to favor one tentacle over the others. This research is crowdsourced, with aquarium visitors keeping track of which (labeled) tentacle gets used for which objects.

So how does this relate to octopus stress? The plan is to serve them octopus food to the favored side, assuming they have one. Interesting and maybe related fact: although most of us are right-handed, formal dinners feature food served to us from the left. Maybe that’s one reason those can be so darn stressful?

Tags: funny · geeky · Science

A pound of sugar and a pint of beer

May 13th, 2008 · Comments Off on A pound of sugar and a pint of beer

A pound of sugar and a pint of beer

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine,
photo by Amity Wilczek.

That was the daily diet of the wasp colony that built this huge paper nest in 1857.

Before you envy this self-indulgent diet, bear in mind that the wasps got their sugar dissolved in their beer.

This magnificently well-fed colony soon drew the attention of nearby wasps, who abandoned their own nests and moved in to help build the ever-growing mansion. They were welcomed “without the least show of opposition,” says the exhibit label.

So if you plan to write up the history of open-source software or BarCamp, please give appropriate credit to these pioneers.

(For more information, see a closeup of the label.) It’s now on display in Oxford’s Museum of Natural History.

Tags: England · funny · geeky · Metablogging · Science · Wide wonderful world