Yep, Too Subtle

The previous post was a visual pun, on:

Feral: of or characteristic of wild animals; ferocious; brutal, as: Feral hogs are an increasing problem to farmers in Georgia.

Ferrule: a ring or cap, usually of metal, put around the end of a post, cane, or the like, to prevent splitting.

Ferrule Pig

Maybe too subtle, what do you think?

[caption id="attachment_353" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Ferrule Pig"]Ferrule Pig[/caption]


How Much Gold Does It Take To Make a Goldrush?

In touring the Dahlonega Gold Museum, they told us that during the Dahlonega Gold Rush (the first major gold rush in the U.S.) three million ounces of gold were mined. But how much is that, really? First, let's get it to kilograms to work with it more. Precious metals are almost measured in Troy ounces, so if we go to Google.com and type in "3,000,000 troy ounces in kilograms" it tells us "93,310.4304 kilograms." (or the hard way, 32.150747 troy ounces per kilogram) We take another unit conversion turn and find it's about 102 short (English) tons. Ok, about 100 tons of gold makes a Gold Rush, but how large a cube would that be?

According to the Internet, the density of gold is 19.32 grams per cubic centimeter, so:

Dropping down to grams: 93,310,430.4 grams x 1 cm3 / 19.32 grams = 4829732.9 cubic centimeters. How long on a side is that? We take the cube root and get 169 centimeters, or 1.69 meters, or about 5 feet, 6 1/2 inches. So all the gold taken from the Dahlonega Gold Rush would form a cube about 5 1/2 feet on a side, that weighs 100 tons.

If you're interested, more information about Gold Rushes. Enjoy!

The Different Types of 'Open' Software

There's been a lot of talk lately about Open Source vs. Open APIs. I've written a wiki page about openness. Hope you enjoy, and it creates some discussion among my geek friends.

Happy Static Electricity Day!

Today, January 9th, is National Static Electricity Day! Brought to you by the National Static Electricity Council who encourages us all to go out there and use more Static Electricity. So rub a balloon on your wool sweater, or shuffle your feet over the carpet, and zap an unsuspecting friend for us all today.

My First Instructible: Fireplace Blower

I just published my first instructible, on how to make a fireplace blower. Hope you enjoy.

Woman's Half-Day

Today the latest issue of Woman's Day arrived. It's getting mighty thin, down to 160 pages. Given the amount of actual content that represents, without the ads, it's more like Woman's Half-Day, or maybe even Woman's Lunch-Hour. Woman's Day is one of what in publishing circles was known as the Seven Sisters. I remember when they used to be more like phone books. Of course, I guess they're still like phones books, since the yellow pages business is drying up as well. What say you about paper publishing? When was the last time you used a paper telephone directory? Yellow pages? How many paper magazines do you subscribe to?

How to Create a His and Hers Blog

I just did a screencast of how to create a his-and-hers side-by-side blog using Google sites. Check out the blog here at http://johnandmarsha.laminack.com. The description and the YouTube screencast are there as well. You might even enjoy the links to a great creative comedian while you're there. Enjoy.

Tablet Computers and Education

Today on Slashdot there were two particular articles, interesting enough by themselves, but moreso in juxtaposition. The first was Do e-readers spell the demise of traditional learning making the case that with unlimited texts available on e-readers, students will need tutors more than the traditional teacher. The other article on Is e-learning a viable option? made the case for banning tablets in the classroom altogether. So which is it? Are teachers or tablets going to be left out? I've seen rumblings for years about the education system needing a major overhaul, like this article. Will e-readers or tablets be the tipping point? What are the back-end systems that will support the new modalities of learning? The current crop of Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, and the like just clearly don't have the structure in place to support tablets and dynamic e-learning. They're built as an internet augmentation to the classic classroom structure, not a new paradigm. What do you think?


Yesterday, once again, I received no mail from the United Stated Postal Service. I really must write the Postmaster General about the declining quality and quantity of the mail I've been receiving.

Against the ebbing tide, I've noticed an odd pattern of late, though. I ordered a microphone a while back from my favorite audio source, Sweetwater. They shipped it by FedEx. All well and good. I happily tracked it along until it got to Atlanta. There, FedEx dropped it in the mail to me and was done with it. The tracking ended and I received the mic a few days later. Really Odd, I thought. Then this week I re-ordered checks. Yes, I'm Neanderthanl. The checks shipped via DHL (didn't know they were still going!) but again, as soon as the package got to Atlanta, DHL handed it off to the USPS, this time with a tracking number. Has anybody else noticed this new hybrid shipping scheme? What's the logistical wrinkle that makes this cost-effective?

Why Open Source Software is Like Jazz

I like Jazz, especially bebop and cool. Jazz is both a style and repertoire. The style sets the rules of the game: the rhythms, chord progressions, etc. The style sets the framework within which improvisation can take place. But sometimes overlooked, but just as important, is the repertoire. Early jazz artists all knew the same core of songs, like Sweet Georgia Brown that they could all play together and improvise around, a common ground where all the players can participate.

Open Source Software is similar. Open Source is both a license and a process. The license, GPLv2 or MIT or whatever, sets the parameters of what can and can't be done. But often overlooked is the process by which open source software gets written: the collaborative, give-and-take of programmers creating small gems of contributions, filling in corners, adding functionality, pushing and stretching the borders of what the software can do. This collaboration is similar to jazz's improvisation around the repertoire. It's the tools, design patterns, language idioms, conventions and collaboration that enable the construction of a larger piece.

Some outfits get one part of Open Source, but not the other. Some companies like SugarCRM or Magento, release their software under an Open Source license, but don't enable others to contribute. This is like a jazz performer playing an original composition. It may fit the Jazz style, but nobody can join in the playing. Others like Salesforce.com have an open development platform, but the license isn't open, so that the rules of the game aren't set by the players. It's like the manager dictating to the band the style of music they can play, e.g. only Hard Bop. If the band's style can't grow and evolve, they feel increasingly constrained, lose enthusiasm and move on.

Recap: just as Jazz is both a style and repertoire, Open Source is both a license and a process. It takes both to be successful.

The Thirty-Year T-Shirt

t-shirt reading 'where experience and informed courage count for much' Way back in 1981, when I got my first Unix system to administer, there was a section of the manual for us SysAdmins to learn from: Section 8. One page titled 'CRASH' contained distilled, helpful advice on what to do when a system crashes. One paragraph addressed 'Repairing Disks' and had the sentence "This is an area where experience and informed courage count for much." I though that was a nice turn of phrase and remarked to my co-worker, Danny Cox, that I'd love to have that on a t-shirt. The years marched by, the computer was sold as scrap, and even the building it was in was torn down. But I kept the manuals. I looked that page up the other day to see if it was as I remembered. Sure enough, my memory ran true. So I finally broke down, went to cafepress.com and constructed my t-shirt. It arrived this week and here's the photo. Yes, I tried to take a photo of me wearing it in the mirror, but I ended up looking like a MySpace refugee.

Moral of the story? I dunno. Maybe that in the Internet age of instant gratification, that waiting 30 years for a t-shirt I wanted shows delayed gratification? or extreme laziness?

More practical moral: the cafepress process is pretty nice, and when you're done with making something for yourself, you can easily set up an onlike 'shop' and offer it to your friends so they can buy one as well.

The Unbrowsable Library

My last post about libraries got me thinking. Libraries are trying to change to adapt to the times, but are all the changes for the better? Here's one example: the new University of Chicago library will have no books that you can browse. When you want a book, you go to a computer terminal, click on the the listing of the book you want, a robotic arm in an underground chamber brings up a metal box that contains the book you want and about a hundred others to the circulation desk. The librarian pulls out the book you want and has it waiting for you at the circulation desk. It should take about five to ten minutes. All very high-tech and wonderful, but it saddens me. For me, part of the joy of going to the library is to browse what's on the shelves. To be looking for a book and find a better one is pure joyous serendipity. To have to know what you're looking for before you find it would for me kill a lot of the joy of the library. Yes, the new U of C library is better for the staff and the books, but is it really better for the patron?