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Tulip Garden in August January 30, 2010

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This tulip garden is out at the west end of Golden Gate Park.  You can see the windmill from a long ways off, if you get lost.  The garden is pretty much tended by volunteers, like most of the best gardens in the park.


Click here for the full, lovely panorama.

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Archival Footage of Technical Pioneers January 29, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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The Incredible San Fancisco Artists’ Soapbox Derby, 1975. from Mike Haeg on Vimeo.

In Praise of Stonehenge January 28, 2010

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Doorhenge (it’s Italian; don’t ask me)


A more real Doorhenge




While I was, uh, researching this piece I came across the house in which it may have been conceived:


I know what you are thinking, but it was the refrigerator on the porch that convinced me.




That’s right; Rice Krispiehenge!

Spanish Lessons That Might Take January 28, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words, Japan.
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I have unsuccessfully fought a battle to teach myself Japanese for years, with little success.  It may be that Japanese is just too different for a man of my advanced years (i.e., not a teenager) to master or retain, or maybe I haven’t had enough exposure.  I used to use Paul Pimsleur’s language instruction course for this (available at my local library), but I find I have trouble remembering simple things even now.
This may have changed.  My oldest stepdaughter needs two years of language credit to get into Cal, so I have been looking for ways to cram a lot of Spanish into her head before next year, when she must take the classes she needs.  I stumbled across Spanish With Michel Thomas (Deluxe Language Courses with Michel Thomas) and was impressed by how quickly he could get children to learn several Spanish phrases.  I obtained the recordings and started listening to them during my commute.  I liked what I heard so well I started supplementing that learning with a basic vocabulary text I found on Google, but finally bought on Amazon.

Then I looked into Michel Thomas, and found an interesting story:

He was the sole survivor of not one but three concentration camps in World War II; he talked his way out of being executed by Gestapo chieftain Klaus Barbie; he helped liberate Dachau; he rescued 40 tons of Nazi dossiers on the verge of destruction in Munich; he hobnobbed with princes and seduced starlets; he dropped acid in 1958 as part of a pioneering drug experiment; he beat the slot machines in Monaco.

Oh, and his New York and Beverly Hills language schools can teach anyone a foreign tongue in just three days.”

Yeah.  I don’t necessarily believe it either, but it’s a great story, isn’t it?

What else matters?

Additional 3D Printing News January 28, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Toys.
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In an exciting development, the Foresight Institute is offering a Kartik M. Gada Humanitarian Innovation Prize for Personal Manufacturing.  It’s actually two prizes, one for $20,00 and one for $80,000 for building a machine for building useful stuff (see previous posting, below).  Cribbed from the website:

There will be two Personal Manufacturing prizes, awarded by a panel of judges. The first ‘interim’ prize of up to $20,000 with an award date of December 31, 2012, and the second ‘grand’ prize of up to $80,000 with an award date of December 31, 2015.

Interim Personal Manufacturing prize

The winner of the PM interim prize will be the inventor who can make a 3-D printer that can demonstrate the following:

  • Print at least three different materials, including one that is usefully electrically conductive.
  • The ability to print electronic circuit boards.
  • Print beds† must be of a material which may be reused with minimal refurbishment for at least 20 print cycles.
  • Maintain a total materials and parts cost under $200 and that 90% of the volume of the printer parts be printed. ††
  • Demonstrate a build volume of the printer above 300x300x100mm in order to insure that items daily utility can be printed.
  • The capacity to print a full set of parts for a complete replica of itself within 10 days unattended save for clearing no more than one printer head jam.
  • The ability to print autonomously without a PC attached.
  • Uses no more than 60 watts of electrical power.

†Print beds are flat surfaces onto which parts are printed.

††Print beds are not necessarily a permanent part of the printer and are not figured into either the cost or the volume requirements of a printer.

Given the open-source nature of the RepRap community, the winning entry for the interim prize will have its technology published for the RepRap community to use, and the winning entry for the grand prize will also be published for open use.

Grand Personal Manufacturing Prize

After the entries submitted for the Interim prize are available publicly, the open-source dynamic of the RepRap community will proceed from there.

The current generation of RepRap technology takes up to three weeks to print a full set of parts. 90% of this time is consumed in supporting tasks like positioning and reloading the printer, and replacing print plates, etc. Only 10% of the time is used for actual printing. The Grand Prize would seek to make the technology more rapidly scalable by increasing the productivity of the replication process. As a bonus, the Grand Prize may additionally be helpful in recycling material waste (such as plastics) into material suitable for RepRap use. Plastics such as HDPE and Polypropylene, of which millions of tons exist as waste matter, may be suitable candidates, and recycling of such waste material would be viewed favorably by the judging panel.

There are three parameters that will be used to judge the efforts of the teams participating in the competition.

  • That the cost of the material used for printing does not exceed $4/kilogram.
  • The capacity to print a full set of parts for a complete replica of itself within 7 days, including the time for reloading, and clearing of printer head jams.
  • Maintain a total materials and parts cost under $200 and that 90% of the volume of the printer parts be printed.

The committee envisions a variety of technologies which might be deployed to achieve this end including :

  • Software to drive and manage banks of RepRap printers
  • Hardware and software systems to automatically unload printed parts from RepRap printers
  • Hardware and software systems to sort, clean and package or assemble printed parts
  • Innovations in plastics recycling, and development of a suitable grinder and extruder

The nature of the competition and the requirements for participants are as follows :

  • While teams participating in the competition for the Grand Prize will register at the beginning of the competition, it is not expected that the membership of said teams will necessarily remain static thereafter. Any teams can merge with each other if so desired.
  • Participating teams are expected to regularly publish and make available their technology on an ongoing basis. All technology developed by participating teams becomes open source under a BSD license. Therefore, the winning team will have to have published at least some of their innovations more than 12 months before the deadline.

It is expected that participating teams will borrow each others’ better innovations during the development process. The committee reserves the right to apportion the Grand Prize amongst teams should such borrowed technology comprise a major portion of the winning entry.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to know that other smart folks around the world are FOCUSING on this technology.  Things will start to break very seriously, very soon.

3D Printing in My Future? January 24, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Toys.
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This is just awesome in concept and wretched in execution, unless you are seriously well off.  I have been in love with the idea of printing and assembling anything from just the plans and plastic feedstock…but the devil is truly in the details with this technology.

All the pieces seem to be available, here and now, for this bit of science fiction: control electronics have come very far down in price, stepper motors are a bulk purchase item, 3D plotting software is now FREE and 3D scanning technology is likewise declining in cost.  And the people who are interested in putting this together for the masses have gotten very far in their desire to produce not just a machine to make machines, but a machine which can make other machines, and a copy of itself.

The trouble is, most of this technology is amazingly difficult to implement for anyone with even a pretty good handyman’s abilities, and a degree in chemistry, and lots of computer experience. The cost is daunting and the time required to just assemble the beast is nearly unavailable to a family man with teenagers.  It’s enough to make a guy throw in the towel.

Unless he’s me.

I have been looking into this for some time, and learned a lot.

· I learned that H-P is going to be selling Stratasys’ 3D printer for $15,000.

· I learned that the RepRap-based MakerBot is $950 before shipping and just the component electronics (for the cheap do-it-yourselfer like me) is ~$450.

· I learned that many people on the Net discuss making things from these bots and that not as many people report successes as challenges (perversely, this intrigues me).

· I learned that plastic feedstock for these projects is pricey, and that NOBODY is looking into ways to get it from recycling.  The only plastic I could find a simple method for reusing is Styrofoam, using acetone (that was actually kind of cool.  Look at the video).

RepRap actually makes a bunch of different bots, and possibly some version of their machine could meet my need.  The trouble is, the electronics cost is still crippling, even if the assembling of the platform is pretty easy (see the McWire, below).


Nice, huh?  I find the juxtaposition of the futuristic Lucite platform against the Luddite plumber’s pipe support almost poetic.  Unfortunately, this still has the same costs of electronic control as the latest incarnation, the Mendel (Darwin was the next step after McWire but is already old hat.  They aren’t even working on it anymore):


And let’s not even talk about the difficulty of extruding the plastic; lots of trial and error seems to be called for.  I suppose that’s what a professional system like Stratasys’ draws down the big bucks for; they presumably have taken care of that.  I bet they still charge through the nose for feedstock, though.

So, what is left for me to work on?  I am rather seriously considering making a Mendel, ordering the assembled electronics to make sure I don’t solder something wrong and paying whatever they ask for it.  I would (probably) make one and start experimenting with different deposition heads for it, trying each of the traditional ones in turn (light plastic, heavy plastic, frosting) and then truly experimental ones like a CO2 laser for cutting plywood (must be fun to make a gas laser, I should look into that) or sintering ceramic-metal mixes.  Think of the possibilities:















Then there’s 3D scanning of the objects to copy (is this even legal?  Can I make a copy of the back of my phone if I lose it?  Could I sell it if I did?).  The imported images need serious cleanup and work of other kinds.  Will this technology ever be practical for hobbyists?  Probably not yet, like the 3D printers themselves.  And I haven’t forgotten the problems with feedstock.  Nobody is even looking into that.  Still.

Cory Doctorow has published a book called Makers which kind of follows this thought to its logical conclusion, wherein people are bootlegging designs at home a lot, and the copyright police come down on them pretty heavily, just like the half-million dollar award to the RIAA over some stupid kid who shared thirty songs (judge just reduced it to a mere $60,000. Never let it be said that justice was disproportionately on the side of the very rich).  Sadly, this tech still looks like science fiction to me.

It doesn’t mean I won’t give it a try.

Update: it seems that people are looking for ways to recycle plastics after all for just this sort of thing: http://dev.forums.reprap.org/read.php?171,34188

The Music Man January 14, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words, Video.
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Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man is one of the most cheerful musicals I can think of, full of boisterous cheer and sweet little melodies that stick in your head.  Like a hot Hershey bar.  This little scene is still on YouTube, until whoever owns it complains.  possibly the only musical love letter to a librarian ever made, and certainly the one with the best in-library choreography:

Here’s a local production:

Poetry in motion.

The rousing finish is given a full barbershop treatment here:

I wish I could carry a tune well enough to do this.

Man of La Mancha January 14, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words.
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Man of La Mancha is my favorite musical of all time, possibly because Cyrano! as a musical hasn’t been anywhere near as well done.  This production in 1966 won a boatload of Tony nominations, and made Richard Kiley the star he should have been after Kismet ten years earlier.  I like musicals, but I can only think of a very few that I would recommend to non-musical people.  This is one of them.

This, and the off-Broadway version of Little Shop Of Horrors.  The plant wins in the original, ya know.  The guy who wrote the music for little shop also wrote The Little Mermaid Disney cartoon music.  And also Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted, Beauty and the Beast…notice a trend here?  Besides eight Academy Awards, I mean. This guy may have written more popular music than Rogers and Hammerstein.

The Cutest Trailer You Ever Saw January 13, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys.

While vacationing at Calaveras Big Trees year before last, I met this mother and son (I got their names, but they are lost in the mists of time).

S6300336 Trailer People

The son had acquired the cutest trailer in the known universe, much of which he had built/restored himself.S6300337

The effort was not wasted, and he lavished a good amount of effort on the details, like the luggage boot,


the little carriage lights,


the cozy interior,


the spacious kitchenette, and


the matching handbag.

<KENOX S630  / Samsung S630>

Exciting update:

Er, not really; I just wanted to share a cute picture with the sixty people who read this article every day.  Thanks for visiting:


Hidden Treasure January 10, 2010

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The most beautiful city in the world has many hidden delights, not the least of which are houses.  This little gem is tucked in among the less interesting bits of the Richmond district in which we live, move and have our being. It’s my stepdaughter’s favorite house.


It’s just as cute as she is.

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One of Many Talents January 10, 2010

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My wife is smarter than I am, better organized and able to see the meaning behind things as they happen.  She also is a crafts wizard, making things like this with just ordinary tiedye materials, and an old tablecloth.

S6300656 tie-dye tablecloth

She donated the last one to charity.  It was even nicer than this one.

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Perfect Data, But Not an “A” January 10, 2010

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I’m not sure why my stepdaughter got a B+ on this.  It is correct in all details, and cute besides.

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Oakland’s Paramount Theater January 10, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Photography.
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Though I live in the most beautiful city in the world, the neighboring city of Oakland has lovely architecture, beautiful parks (including a delightful cemetery) and a most pleasant climate.  There’s nothing wrong with Oakland that isn’t caused by the inhabitants.

One of the most attractive features of Oakland is the civic architecture, mostly built during the 1910-1940 period.   One building, though, was not a product of the civic infrastructure, but of private enterprise:  the Paramount Theater.  It’s drop-dead gorgeous:


Beautiful, right? Right.  That’s the bathroom.


This is the mezzanine bar.


This is just a stairwell. 


The hallway of the mezzanine.


Just the lobby.  Looks like a cathedral, except nice. Click on the lobby to go to a lovely panorama view.

What does your local movie house look like?

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Proper Disposal of a Christmas Tree January 6, 2010

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32 Estes model rockets were used.  No reindeer whatsoever.

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Charles Stross January 5, 2010

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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John Varley used to be my favorite science fiction author, but I have had my head banged around by Charles Stross for a little while, now.  Stross has three series of books and a bunch of short stories that have given me much pleasure and a lot to think about.

The first introduction I had to his works was the Laundry series of books, a group of stories about British civil servants who stop Lovecraftian horrors from invading our dimension through the use of computers (and necromancy—did I mention the necromancy?).  Stross makes this unlikely scenario seem matter-of-fact by the irritated commentary of the beleaguered middle-range civil servant who narrates these tales.  The first in the series is The Atrocity Archives and the second The Jennifer Morgue, and I urge you to read them in that order although they can be standalone reads. There is an additional short (a charming Xmas tale) that I read on Tor.com; here is the audio version).  I am certain there will be more, as these are as interesting as Hell.  The next, The Fuller Memorandum, is due in July.

Another, longer series (which also can be read stand-alone, but don’t) is the Family Business series.  Basically, the many troubles of a woman raised in our world who discovers she is from another dimension…which turns out to be one of many.  She and her whole other-worldly family are smugglers, with all the risks that go with it, and terrific troubles otherwise as well (George Bush, Dick Cheney and other, lesser bloodthirsty aristocrats), all in a delicious alternate-history setting.  I salivate waiting for the next installment. The Trade of Queens, is the sixth in the series, is due out in March.

Charles Stross has written a bunch of other books as well, but the one which whacked me on the side of the head most sharply is Singularity Sky and its follow-on companion, Iron Sunrise.  Both are related tales of the singularity which results when poverty is suddenly eliminated entirely by amazingly abundant machine production of goods, services and extra body parts. Another tale (probably) from this same setting is Glasshouse, in which a tank battalion overcomes murderous enforcement of provincial thinking in a future setting.  The tank battalion is understandably upset to be housed in the body of an unwillingly pregnant woman.

Another favorite of mine is a delightful comedic romp in the style of my favorite non-scifi author P.G. Wodehouse. Trunk and Disorderly is a tale of a Bertie Wooster sort of chap who loses his, um, girl to an evil overlord type.  The link goes to a delightful set of MP3s so you can hear it read with the correct fop accent it deserves (I suppose Hugh Laurie is pretty busy these days).