The Fab Lab and the Unwettables

There are occasional instances when my current employer makes me go ‘cool!’  or ‘I want that!’.  Today both have happened.

Recent research at MIT is codifying the way surfaces repel materials.  Researchers have been refining their understanding of the way thin liquids like oil can be kept from coating or being absorbed into a material.  By examining the way duck feathers resist the higher surface tension of water, scientists were able to come up with a surface that could resist coating by oil and even pentane (a solvent which has the lowest surface tension at atmospheric pressure, and is thus most liable to wet a surface).  They are now completing a list of the ‘rules’ that apply to wetting.  In this future this should mean super-wet-proof materials for consumers.  Cool.

In addition, based on MIT models, a new fabrication lab is being opened in Providence.  It will be an industry-grade lab that’s open to the public for a variety of projects and developments, and is being opened in association with AS220, an arts and technology collaborative.  Since its based on similar labs somewhere around here, it makes me want to go out and fabricate.  I have the ideas, and could possibly have access to the tools, so why not?  I want that.

Ahh, Scientific Investigation!

As mentioned previously, I could use a little help sometimes.  Perhaps Mail Goggles has proven itself not to be that help, but at least it’s a start.  The search continues…

Testing Google’s ‘Drunk E-Mail’ Protector – TIME

I need Goggles!

Ok, some of you may remember that time I sent the common room incident to my entire mailing list – including my TAs and my grandfather.  Other of you may even have been victim to me spazzing and hitting send repeatedly via the world wide web.  Fortunately, Gmial has built me in a little saftey net:

Official Gmail Blog: New in Labs: Stop sending mail you later regret.

I’m excited!  No more late night weekend mass mailings unless my brain can do math!  Yay!

Now, if we could only get this for teh connection between my brain and my mouth….

Let’s just give people money…

Ok, Google is pretty cool.  And, they have a sense of humor (unlike Kia).  But the recently announced Project 10^100th is beyond awesome.  Have a good idea?  Lack the technical expertise to implement it?  We’ll give you money to get the job done and hook you up with the appropriate know-how (we are, after all, a search engine).

I, for one, have about a thousand ideas I need to dust off, spruce up, and submit.  I’m not going to list them all here, because then you’d steal them and win the prizes for yourself.  But, that being said, the spirit of this whole competition is about doing good stuff for the world.  So, if you have your own ideas, please submit them here.  The due date for project submission is October 20th, so get cracking.  And if you do end up working on a project of ultimate coolness as a result, remember the humble blogger who sent you on your way to funding.  Heck, I’d even volunteer for a project of ultimate coolness…

Generational Myth – ChronicleReview.com

Interesting and well thought out – so just read it.

Generational Myth – ChronicleReview.com.

Popcuts? Why not.

I am a music imbecile.  As a young person already worried about descending into her thirties, that’s something of a challenge to admit, but it’s also honest.  I typically just don’t have the spare brainpower to focus on the music scene.  I forget the names of artists and songs, lyrics fly out of my head, and about the only thing I can say about my personal music preference is whether or not I enjoy a song while it’s playing.  Other than that, I am at least proud to be uncategorizable.

As this is the case, I occasionally allow myself to be bombarded with my friend’s music tastes.  This allows me to experience new artists that I would never otherwise discover (Suphala and Regina Spektor have both been good ones), and exposes me to new ways to listen to music (like Pandora).  In fact, I am enough behind in the trend-setting that I even allow CNN to provide me with new musical outlets.

Which brings us to the main focus of this blog ramble – Popcuts.  This is a place where even a bum like me can be a music snob.  It’s a way to dig into new music and something of an investment in that music.  The way it works is that the early purchasers of a specific song get a cut of later purchasers of that song.  Of course it means that those later purchasers end up with the short end of the stick in the sense that they get less out of their purchase.  But everyone still gets the song.  Sure, you could potentially get that same song from a friend for free.  But this system incentivises both the exploration of new music (ie, buying a new song first) and legitimate purchasing (ie, not just giving it away to your friends if you are one of those early purchasers).

While I haven’t actually tried it out myself (yet), it does make me want to say ‘bravo’ for a job well done.  This is the kind of company people need to set up to deal with the realities of modern media and how to capitalize both on its accessibility and changeability.

Chrome and the Wheel

Ok, this is going to be a multi-technology post, but the things i was thinking about were just too similar to segregate.  Plus, for once, I’m going to try and keep it short.

First, Google’s new browser, Chrome.  I don’t know why they call it that, or if they were thinking in line with 50’s retro or modern automaton, but the name is, at least, shiny.  I kinda like it that way.  I started looking at the associated comic, but I got bogged down with information that, while no doubt cool, is never going to apply to me using the product.  Especially as it’s hard realizing you’re dumber than a cartoon man – or at least less knowledgeable than one.  however, I like the open source stuff.  I like the thought that I have the ability to change underlying aspects of my software, even if I never do.  I like the idea of innovation, and quite a bit of what’s going on with Chrome as I understand it makes me go ‘oooohhhh, shiny!’

At the same time, I’m hesitant to embrace Chrome full-speed simply because it is different.  There’s always a learning curve on new sftware.  In this case specifically there’s quite a bit more I could learn if I chose, and I would eventually like to do that.  I’ve been a Firefox user for some time, even at work, and there are occasional issues even with that interface with certificates and such.  Firefox has always been a better browser as far as speed and reliability, but it makes me wonder about possible interface issues with Chrome, in particular issues that might spring up because of user failure once I learn enough to make myself dangerous.  But that’s just me – everyone else should go check things out for themselves.

Another look-see I’ve been wanting to do recently has been with some of the new E Ink book readers.  Of course there’s the Kindle, and I did play a bit with the Sony Reader Digital this weekend.  I must say, E Ink is awesome technology, and the way things are going, integration of everything I want to do is going to be all on one unit – phone, camera, internet, books, computer apps, games, and more.  But still there are disappointing trends for this version of the reader.  First off, as it’s Sony, I’m sure there will be issues with it being compatible with anything. Second, there’s the wheel controller.  I know it’s not really functionally a wheel on this model, but it’s almost a mimicry of the function of an iPod wheel.  I have enough problems with the iPod one – it always yanks up the volume when I want it to move to the next song, or the middle button gets hit three times in a row when i just want a bit less volume, or something.  I happen to have fingernails because I eat healthy and I’m too lazy to clip them every other day, and that makes me not have the same fingerpad directness of your usual nail-biting techno-nerd.  Sorry.  So yeah, when I’m reading, I don’t want to be scrolling with a wheel, or even moving to the next page with a wheel.  Not that I find the keyboard and forward buttons at the bottom of a Kindle better or more refined.

So, what are some other opttions?  A touch screen, a la iPhone?  That conflicts with the whole E Ink technology.  A numeric code, similar to a phone’s, for fewer buttons?  Still seem bulky and odd.  Some other sort of virtual or physical scrolling mechanism?  Seems potentially too difficult to control, but i will leave that to the scions of technology.  I remain wondering at what the future will bring, and unlikely to spend my cold hard cash on the virtual book anytime soon.

Discovery Channel to bring TV glamour to product prototyping | Geek Gestalt – by Daniel Terdiman – CNET News.com

Ok, so not only am I completely excited excited for this new show, but I’m also trying out this new brief ‘press this’ button that WordPress is doing.  Super-quick summary in place of a whole post, here I come!  WHich could potentially mena more totally fun things for all of you…

Discovery Channel to bring TV glamour to product prototyping | Geek Gestalt – by Daniel Terdiman – CNET News.com.

My only remaining question is when do I get to start testing the superhero products?

Ok, one other question – once past prototype, will this show actually do something with its collnesses that (hopefully) work out?

Armchair science.

With the advent of the popularity of science, a variety of amateurs set of into the field to ‘discover’.  Amateur archaeologists destroyed countless cultural sites and shipped relics and bones to home museums.  Amateur biologists drove certain species (dutifully observed and collected) to the verge of extinction.  Amateur medical professionals brought disease more than they cured it.  To combat such errors methods were refined, and as technology marched forward, new more advanced tools were found to take the place of more bumbling human agents.  But despite tremendous technological advances, the world remains reliant on individual error checking and observation.  The human mind is still the most potent weapon we possess to filter and analyze the unknown.

Take the example of Alice Kober and the decipherment of Linear B.  Sure, guesses were made about what the script might be, and that its form might be linked to inflection.  Sure, certain reoccurring sign patterns were noted.  But it took a keen human eye and hundreds of categorical notecards to discern the real patterns of the script.  Kober (a woman, mind you, well-trained but serving as the assistant to another archeologist) was the one who had the time and patience to hunt down and analyze these patterns, without the drama of fieldwork or the assistance of advanced modeling platforms. Here is armchair science as it’s supposed to be – a discerning mind applied to a problem or question, without the need for recognition or success – to investigate the question is enough.

Today astronomy has brought us another example of a ‘real’ armchair scientist int he form of one Hanny van Arkel.  As a part of the Galaxy Zoo project, she has been spending her time and brainpower pouring over old archived photographs of galaxies far, far away.  The purpose of the project was to allow for quick categorization of each galaxy as spiral, elliptical, or something else, and involved amateurs to free time up for the main researchers.  It is the human element to perception (currently better than computer analysis) that allowed van Arkel to pick out an anomaly, currently being called a ‘cosmic ghost’ for lack of a clearer understanding of what we’re looking at, in one of the photos just below a bright galaxy.  They think the ‘ghost’ is a hot cloud of gas illuminated by a long-dead quasar even further away, but more research is to be done in the area.

What does this say for all of us?  As my sister, Shelly, likes to say, ‘use your brain’.  We are, all of us, still able of contributing something to the collective understanding of the world.  The human mind (or brain, if you prefer) is a tremendously complex wonder with an amazing power to analyze, categorize, and intuit.  As such, we are each the best tool possible for making something great, if we but use that power to question for the question’s sake, rather than the answer’s.

My new pen pal.

Occasionally ordinary incidents of the day strike enough of a chord in me that I feel the need to record them.  To others, there may be nothing singular or striking about these events, but I still find they have worth.  I don’t pretend to know the meaning behind each, other than to prove the world of Stacey is a strange place.

Of late, I have been doing some online dating.  When I say ‘online dating’, I mean trolling the internet for people I might actually like.  Usually there are some emails exchanged, and some of them even result in live, real-world dates.  At the moment I am on match.com which has been highly rated by two people I trust, Mike and Gina.  However, I’ve had little success with it.  No one has emailed me out of the blue, and those who I’ve emailed have not responded.  I’ve also been looking at postings on Craigslist, which is where all the actual communication and dating has sprung from.

Even online, there’s no gentle way to let a person down.  Whether you’ve actually met them or not, the final ‘let’s be friends’ death-knell is difficult to give.  I myself have occasionally been prone to the ‘chicken’ method – never emailing or speaking to them again, no matter how many times they call/write.  I just hate to be mean to people, even when I don’t really like them.  I guess it’s because, despite the reasons and even a lack of interest in both parties, rejection stings.

I was pleasantly surprised then by a recent return email from a guy I’d told I would be willing to meet, but only as friends.  He said that he’d been talking to this other girl too where he had quite a bit of interest, so this kinda made the decision for him.  I don’t doubt that, but I do doubt his feelings in that regard were, as he said, ‘good’.  He did also say he didn’t really want to meet as friends, since he had trouble being friends with girls he like and wanting more.  Again, understandable and pretty much what I expected.  But then, he wanted to keep emailing anyway.

While I’m not opposed to the idea in principle (hey, I get bored at work – just look at how often I post in a single day), I don’t get it.  Is he trying to keep communication open in case I realize my mistake or things go horribly wrong for him and this other girl?  Is he really an identity thief on my trail?  Is he a Nightwatchman, a la Special Topics in Calamity Physics, looking to recruit?  Does he just really really like writing emails?  I’m not sure, but I think I find it intriguing enough to keep writing.  Why not?  if nothing else, it will shape up my form for the next online dating dive.

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