The Future of Communications

Monday, 26 July 2010 17:43 by The Lunatic


I just got back from a one-week excursion to Washington DC. I had two objectives for this trip: buy a car, and find a house to live in (since we are moving back to the USA next month.)

Buying a car and selecting a house to lease in one week is difficult enough – but it’s even more problematic when the rest of your family are on another continent. I needed to keep in contact with my wife and kids three or four times a day as I scouted out different neighborhoods and looked at houses.  To make matters worse, I didn’t have my cell phone with me since my basic calling plan (discussed below) doesn’t have international roaming.

So it was Skype to the rescue!  Calling home to Switzerland on Skype is only 2.1 cents a minute, and if the internet connection is good, the voice quality is indistinguishable from a regular phone call.

The problem, however, is More...

Categories:   Miscellaneous | Science
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How big is a Googol?

Thursday, 3 June 2010 12:00 by The Lunatic


My eleven year old son has been fascinated with large numbers lately.  He’s asking all the typical thought provoking questions that precocious eleven year olds tend to ask, like “how many stars are there in the universe?” and “how long would it take to walk to Alpha Centauri?”

And of course, the number Googol is always a great benchmark, as in “Are there more than a Googol water molecules in the ocean?”

So, how big is a Googol? I came up with the following example to explain to him More...

Categories:   Science
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The Penn & Teller Incident

Sunday, 2 May 2010 02:33 by The Lunatic

I just recently found out that almost all of Penn & Teller’s “audience participation” card tricks involve the three of clubs. It’s some kind of an inside joke that's been going on for years.

It's funny, because I remember that specific card. They had a show in Seattle - on December 18, 2002 - which was SUPPOSED to involve the three of clubs. Unfortunately, the trick was foiled by a certain Half Baked Lunatic dressed in a tuxedo :-)

It was our anniversary, and my wife surprised me with a night out on the town. We started with a nice dinner, accompanied by an expensive bottle of wine. After dinner, she directed me to More...

Categories:   Miscellaneous
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Energy, Efficiency, and the long road to SBSP

Saturday, 3 April 2010 01:29 by The Lunatic

Here’s an old high school physics puzzle, let’s see if you can get the right answer:

You have perfectly insulated room (i.e., no heat can escape).  Inside the room is a refrigerator, plugged in and running – but the refrigerator door is left wide open.

As the refrigerator runs, does the room:
A – get colder
B – get warmer
C – stay the same temperature

Think about it for a minute ... (and yes, I first heard this from my high school science teacher back in the late 70’s)

The answer is ... (drum roll please!) ... More...

Categories:   Economics | Science
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The all natural, all organic, totally healthy blog post

Monday, 29 March 2010 01:04 by The Lunatic

I consider my family to be a fairly “healthy” eaters.  We consume a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and eat very little fast food (only a few times a year). My kids are never allowed to drink soda, except when they are at a party or some function where there are no alternatives.  We eat a lot of fish and pasta.  And although I love beef, lamb, pork, and chicken, we limit our portion sizes and try to stick to lower fat recipes.

However, I have mixed opinions about the “organic” food movement. I admit it’s important to openly discuss better/safer/healthier/environmentally friendly ways of feeding our growing population, and there are many organic products and processes I agree with wholeheartedly – but many of the organic guidelines are based on emotion rather than facts and real data.

The use of synthetic fertilizers, for example, is one of the hottest topics. I liken the use of fertilizers to More...

Categories:   Science | Social Issues
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The Bigger Chill

Saturday, 30 January 2010 12:10 by The Lunatic

The star studded 1983 movie "The Big Chill” was about a weekend reunion of a bunch of old college friends – now in their early 30’s – who all get together for the funeral of Alex, one of their classmates who committed suicide.

The movie is poignant, intelligent, very funny, and somewhat disturbing all the same time. It’s about rekindling old friendships, coping with the shock of their friend Alex’s death, and wondering what happened to the social idealism that they all shared when they attended the University of Michigan in the late 60’s. They were all anti-establishment, idealistic, smart, enthusiastic, with a vocal desire to change the world and make it a better place.

Alex, now deceased, was a charismatic science major. Everyone thought he was the most intelligent one of the bunch – and their mutual friendship really survived through the years because of him. He was the glue that kept them all together, but he was never able to get his own life straightened out.

Now, in 1983, they realize they are becoming the conservative “establishment” that they protested against in college.  More...

My (exceedingly minor) contribution to Avatar’s 3D effects

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 05:54 by The Lunatic


I met with James Cameron a few times when I worked in the Windows Media Division at Microsoft.  Mr. Cameron had just finished the 3D IMAX documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss” and was looking at different technologies to use in an upcoming “big budget 3D production”. This was back in 2003 or so.

In the first meeting, we just provided a broad overview of the technologies that Microsoft was working on, and had a general discussion on what he was looking for.  I must say, I was exceedingly impressed with Jim’s technical knowledge. Most “Writer/Director” types I’ve interacted with are great on the creative side but fairly light on the technical side. I pointed out that the digital camera that they used for the “Ghosts of the Abyss” had a subsampled horizontal resolution, and he jumped right in and told me how they solved that problem ... by tapping into the actual image sensor itself, bypassing the rest of the storage capabilities of the camera, they were able to capture the higher resolution image which the sensor was capable of, and store it directly to hard drives. More...

Categories:   Miscellaneous | Science
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Little Seizures (my lame attempt at comedy)

Saturday, 23 January 2010 23:43 by The Lunatic

I’m tired of dinner at home, so I think we’ll go out to Little Seizures tonight. My kids always have a Petite Mal Seizure. It’s a really good deal and it comes with a small shake.

You get a large shake with the Gran Mal Seizure, but sometimes it’s just too much for me – and one time I ended up biting my tongue. It was closed the last time we went, and the kids had a fit.

We really love that place – there’s just no stopping us when we’re having our Little Seizures!

Categories:   Miscellaneous
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I Want My (Digital) Rights To Be Properly Managed

Thursday, 14 January 2010 07:00 by The Lunatic

I bought my wife the new Kindle, from Amazon, for her birthday last week.  I really love the whole idea of eBooks – the Kindle is quite portable (about the size of a regular book) with a gorgeous high resolution surface that is really easy to read. Plus, you can do cool things like set multiple bookmarks, change font size, store hundreds of books at one time, and download new books wirelessly from almost anywhere in the world. It even has “text to speech” built in so it can read to you! Wow. It really is very, very, very cool technology.

But there’s one thing that still bugs me ... we read a lot, my wife and I both go through a few books a month. So it’s quite likely we could spend a few hundred dollars (or more) on a library of Kindle books over the next couple of years. But what guarantee do we have that we will still be able to read them in ten years?  What happens if our Kindle device breaks, and there is no replacement?  Or what if the best device on the market in ten years happens to be a product from another company, which isn’t compatible with our library of Kindle eBooks?

This isn’t just an issue with the Amazon Kindle, it’s an endemic More...

Want to lose weight? Buy smaller dinner plates.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010 05:14 by The Lunatic

Last summer, as we were moving from Washington DC to Switzerland, our flight was delayed by more than eight hours on the first leg of our journey.  Grrrrr.  Of course, we missed our connection. And we missed every other possible flight from Newark to anywhere in Europe – so we had to spend the night. Ahhhh ... back in wonderful Newark, New Jersey.  I guess I can’t say TOO many bad things about Newark because I have relatives there – but I think most people would agree that it’s not the most appealing place in the world. Let’s say it’s a few notches above Iraq, maybe not quite as nice as Zimbabwe.

After a bit of haranguing, the airline was kind enough to pay for a room at the local Holiday Inn as compensation for the inexcusable delay , and to get me out of their hair and out of the airport they gave us some meal vouchers as well (really, we could have DRIVEN from Washington DC to Newark and we would have made our connecting flight with time to spare!)

So the next morning, we had our last meal in the USA.  Connected to the Holiday Inn is Harold’s New York Deli (don’t let the name fool you, it’s really in Edison, New Jersey) where they claim to have the World’s Largest Pickle Bar. They serve half pound burgers More...

Categories:   Social Issues
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