Odd Things for 2007

Odd Things 2008

Copyright 2010 by Stephen Vermeulen
Last updated: 2010 Oct 20
Patent, Copyright and Trademark Issues

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A collection of odd things of interest that should eventually get filed somewhere else.

See also:


  • 2010-Oct-20: China appears to be building a monopoly on rare-earth metals. More on this in Sept'09, it appears China might be getting serious about restricting, or even eliminating some of its rare-earth exports. The US does have deposits of these too, only no one wants to invest in the construction of the extraction plants. Perhaps the alternate plan is to get this sort of material from Afghanistan. More in searching for alternatives to China's rare earth monopoly. [8069]
  • 2010-Jun-30: quirky.com is a social product development site. [9268]
  • 2010-May-31: The Big Ideas podcast sounds like it might be interesting. [9146]
  • 2010-Apr-22: Programming the Commodore 64, a revisit of R. C. West's great books on the 64. [9091]
  • 2010-Jan-12: Another case of a stolen electronic device turning in its captors. This time the photo backup service of an Android phone delivered photos of the crooks. [8914]
  • 2010-Jan-10: Cannondale is experimenting with real-time control of bicycle suspension systems, using an accelerometer to pre-sense the road surface (in the short time when the tires are reacting to the bump) and a computer controlled valve system to adjust the shock absorber. This way they can give you a firm ride that will still soak up a bad bump. It is also a lot easier to "tune up" this shock absorber for the desired ride characteristics. Downside is that it is currently a heavier system (not to mention it will need battery power), but that will improve with time. [8909]
  • 2010-Jan-09: Some interesting statistics on the safety of air travel. [8905]
  • 2009-Oct-27: Could e-book lending make libraries popular? One thing's for certain, it would make returning books much easier and eliminate overdue fines - just preset the loaned license to expire on the return date. [8677]
  • 2009-Oct-27: So who's flying the plane these days? The case of a Northwest Airlines pilot and his copilot so lost in discussion of "scheduling software" that they went 150 miles off course. [8676]
  • 2009-Oct-23: A really neat clock that writes out the time in words. Naturally its super expensive at about $1600, about time someone used an Arduino to make one. It gets implemented in Javascript here. [8460]
  • 2009-Oct-15: A kilometer-long gun could be used to fire payloads into orbit. [8629]
  • 2009-Oct-09: The influence of race in online dating examined. [8613]
  • 2009-Oct-04: Someone at DARPA has been watching Charlie Jade (hopefully they will fund another season to get some more ideas), and now they are experimenting with remote control of some giant African beetles. [8597]
  • 2009-Sep-28: An assignment in Government 2.0 was to find publicly accessible government data sets. [8572] [1]
  • 2009-Sep-24: The web knows everything, now there's the National Public Toilet Map from Australia. They just need to combine that with the national Pub Map! [8561]
  • 2009-Sep-24: Honda is taking a kick at the electric unicycle idea, looks pretty neat. [8559]
  • 2009-Sep-22: Accidental Haikus may lurk in your programs or web pages. [8555]
  • 2009-Sep-22: 5 sites with free video lectures from top colleges. [8547]
  • 2009-Sep-18: In Utah its TGIT instead of TGIF as they experiment with a 4-day long work week for state workers. So far the program appears to be a success, for workers, management and even customers (complaints are down at the DMV office). And how about a three day work week instead. [8510]
  • 2009-Sep-18: A roach repellent (that apparently we can't easily smell) has been developed, it mimics the smell of a dead roach and also repels other insects. [8522]
  • 2009-Sep-08: Does anyone (who has access to Google) use a phone book anymore? Reading this reminded me that I have used the local yellow pages perhaps once in the past three years and cannot remember the last time I used the white pages. [8491]
  • 2009-Sep-08: Perhaps one day we'll be able to write our own (better) version of a movie or TV show and computer render it. [8490]
  • 2009-Sep-08: StraighterLine is attempting to offer college education by the course for $99 a course and has taken some steps to ensure that other colleges will recognize their courses for credit. [8487]
  • 2009-Sep-05: Attractive women make men temporarily stupid, well that explains a lot! [8475]
  • 2009-Sep-04: There is a way (maybe) to figure out which side of the vehicle the gas tank is filled from (apart from the obvious choice of sticking your head out the window and looking). Apparently the fuel symbol on your dashboard will have a hose on the correct side, or have an arrow that points to the side with the gas cap. Wonder what it looks like for a car with the gas cap located in the middle of the back of the car. [8452]
  • 2009-Aug-13: California has found a number of free digital textbooks for K-12 schools, including a number that are open sourced. [8395]
  • 2009-Jul-24: The SpinVox voice message to text conversion system is often done by real humans. Imagine... Of course, they should really just request a copy of the NSA's transcripts on your behalf to really cut their costs. [8326]
  • 2009-Jul-24: So how much does a computer technology author actually make? The first quarter sales figures for IronPython in Action are discussed here. Roughly about $7.5K on sales of 3000 copies in the first quarter of publication (which might be the largest part of the total sales for the life of the book). [8318]
  • 2009-Jul-20: TeeFury is a T-Shirt printing site that offers a new design each day, and only for a day. They take design submissions and pay the artist $1/shirt for each shirt sold with his design. [8301]
  • 2009-Jul-17: What happens when you cross a clock with a white board and an eraser brush? The Trace of Time clock erases deadlines as they pass. Now if only someone would add a pen to this as well so the clock can write new tasks too. [8298]
  • 2009-Jul-17: Bill Gates (and others) are looking at stopping the formation of hurricanes by cooling the upper waters of the sea. Of course as soon as they do this it probably will have some unintended consequence of great impact, like reversing the Gulf Stream. [8295]
  • 2009-Jul-15: A wooden computer workstation, probably non-functional but some WoodPunk somewhere will make a working one soon. An interesting idea that blurs the line between machine and furniture. Of course the little catalog browsing podiums that Chapters has installed based on Macs with a keyboard that is built into (and is flush with) their desktop surface are quite similar, just made from plastic and metal instead of wood. [8262]
  • 2009-Jul-04: ATT is going live with the TerreStar sat phone service after July'09, this will cover the whole of North America and Mexico with satellite coverage and the phone will switch to an available GSM network to save costs. Might be just the ticket for an emergency phone for those who wander beyond standard GSM coverage. This satellite was successfully launched on July 1st (talk about Canada Day fireworks!) and will be activating soon, it appears that coverage will be limited because of line-of-sight from the ground to the satellite, so it might not work if you are on the wrong side of a mountain (or shielded by a nearby building). [8199]
  • 2009-Jul-02: The LightLane projects lane markers onto the road around cyclists to help drivers avoid them. [8211]
  • 2009-Jun-23: Finally, Alan Ralsky, one of the all-time big spammers, gets a day in court and pleads guilty. [8184]
  • 2009-Jun-20: Some US Senators are looking into the cell phone exclusivity deals that are common in North America between carriers and cell phone manufacturers. Here's hoping they find this to be anti-competitive and monopolistic behavior and then this spills over to Canada. [8173]
  • 2009-Jun-16: Imagine a wall of electrical sockets. Now hook up your home theatre. Oh, but what to do about the UPS? [8153]
  • 2009-Jun-12: The moisture traps from Frank Herbert's Dune may become reality. [8133]
  • 2009-Jun-09: Money for education, perhaps some of it should go to bribing (rewarding) kids to do better? [8110]
  • 2009-Jun-03: HP has developed a new low-power reflective display system. This might become a competitor to e-Ink. [8073]
  • 2009-May-22: Infrared light can be used to detect chemical contaminants in water, this could be used to provide protective monitoring of drinking water. [8013]
  • 2009-May-21: Some technologies for building the city of the future are in use today. [8012]
  • 2009-May-20: DARPA has released a report (discussed here on Slashdot) that describes some of their strategic research programs, there's some neat stuff including a number of projects related to vaccines and first aid. [8003] [1]
  • 2009-May-19: Using a ball and chain to improve a child's study habits, sounds like an idea from the 1800's who's time has come. Of course some kids will just enjoy dragging the ball around the house after them: the sound of it crashing down stairs and grinding across hardwood or tile floors would be quite satisfying. [7999]
  • 2009-May-15: Have sockets run their course, a Slashdot discussion? [7979]
  • 2009-May-11: Tata is building apartments which are to sell for about $10K in Mumbai. Of course they are going to be using real cheap labor for this, but this raises the question why automated construction or prefabrication techniques could not achieve something like this in North America or Europe? [7963]
  • 2009-May-11: A long exposure view of roomba's cleaning path reveals some strange patterns. It would be neat if at some point it took the time to spell out "roomba"... [7961]
  • 2009-Apr-30: Using the Google Maps annotation service to track reports of the spread of swine flu in 2009. [7917]
  • 2009-Apr-27: A trial of the Espresso Book Machine, an automated, one-of book printer and binder is to start in late April'09 at Blackwell's in London. This will be used to print out of publication books for a price similar to those currently in publication. [7912]
  • 2009-Apr-08: The Scarpar is a motorized skateboard with tracks instead of wheels for off-road use. [7842]
  • 2009-Mar-27: Cotton swabs contaminated with the DNA of one worker have caused investigators to think a number of crimes across Europe were committed by the same person. [7799]
  • 2009-Mar-17: From the "truth is stranger than fiction" department comes SkyNet Research purveyors of fine, robotic destruction. [7735]
  • 2009-Feb-03: Why would Great Britain be most like Iran, Iraq and Mexico? This view of population distributions which considers the agglomerations around large cities shows this similarity. [7530]
  • 2009-Jan-25: A set of algorithms for solving the Rubic's Cube. [7486]
  • 2009-Jan-21: Experiments with frozen soap bubbles, if its -20C outside get out the bubble mix, put on your swimsuit and run through the backyard making bubbles! [7473]
  • 2008-Nov-26: DNA databases can be used to find relatives to criminals, perhaps to help identify a suspect who's DNA has been found, but who is not in the database - by flagging near matches as well one can identify likely relatives, and hence, the culprit. [7268]
  • 2008-Nov-21: The Live Piracy Map keeps track of piracy on the high seas, mentioned here. [7250]
  • 2008-Nov-13: An 11000 year old temple has been found in Turkey. [7205]
  • 2008-Nov-11: Various lost nuclear bombs. [7194]
  • 2008-Nov-07: The Honda walking assist machine looks like something that Wallace and Grommet might have invented. [7165]
  • 2008-Nov-05: Some observations on the odd software used for the US Elections, why would anyone make the final "submit your vote" button a big RED button? I bet a few of the missing ballots were due to people thinking that was a "cancel" button. [7154]
  • 2008-Oct-22: The PlantBot walks your plants around the room in search of sun and fun. [7071]
  • 2008-Sep-26: A rather nicely built rubber band gun, constructed from stainless steel, with built in light and laser sight. [6928]
  • 2008-Aug-31: Hi-Tec (who make some good light hiking shoes) have done a deal that gives them access to ion-mask water proofing technology that is supposed to be better than Gore-Tex. Let's just hopes its not as expensive. [6773]
  • 2008-Aug-26: Denis O'Brien has been making a profit at installing cell phones in the third world, usually competing against the government monopoly and in the process helping improve these societies by opening up the lines of communications. Discussed here on Slashdot. [6733]
  • 2008-Aug-11: The Harbor Wing AUSV is a catamaran sail boat that is propelled by a vertical wing that can be rotated to get the best wind power. They are also planning to make this use hydrofoils to increase the top speed. While this is being developed for autonomous or remote control missions the basics of the wing, hydrofoils and wing control should be applicable to make a rather nice pleasure craft. [6664]
  • 2008-Jul-28: This site has a number of free maps, typically in a black and white outline format, that can be useful for a variety of purposes. The EPS format ones will load into Microsoft Publisher, then you can pick a big page size and print a map that covers multiple pages. The maps at the CIA's World Factbook are of better quality, but they are in PDF format which limits the tools you can use to manipulate them. This blog note talks about various sources for free vector maps of the world. [5424]
  • 2008-Jun-20: Has Taser been lying about the safety of their Taser Guns? A Canadian news study of the Taser usage reports that the RCMP keeps, is showing about a third of their victims needed medical attention, while Taser's study claimed few trips to the hospital were needed. [6387]
  • 2008-Jun-17: An inclined floor cushion for using your lap top while lying on your belly, a much better idea than Engadget thinks. [6358]
  • 2008-Jun-12: Slashdot discusses office chairs and their suitability for long computing sessions. Some of the suggestionsL [6331]
  • 2008-Jun-04: A computer book addict talks about the computer book trade and mentions a rather large book store called Powell's (which is actually 5 stores) in Portland Oregon that might be worth a side trip. [6279]
  • 2008-Apr-28: Is television the cause of the downfall of modern society? Is it right to be wasting all that time watching sitcoms? What about the man hours lost to the World of Warcraft? [5984] [1]
  • 2008-Apr-25: The Uno Electric Unicycle, I can't wait to see these in a modern movie about urban jousting. [5972]
  • 2008-Apr-16: Sladhdot discusses the Javabot store-sozed automatic coffee machine. [5823]
  • 2008-Apr-12: How Calgarians caught a car thief by working as a group via the internet (and without GPS tracking too!). The cloud has eyes and they are watching you! [5781] [1]
  • 2008-Apr-11: Using GPS trackers to keep track of posessions, pets and probably children and spouse. [5764]
  • 2008-Apr-04: So far the e-book market is very small, perhaps about 0.1% of the publishing market, but it appears to be growing now. [5541] [1]
  • 2008-Apr-02: Using X-ray Radiography to Reveal Ancient Insects that are trapped in amber. [5373]
  • 2008-Mar-31: WWAOW.com is a low-cost self-publishing service. They price this using a royalty model with an upfront setup fee, the setup fee is the price of 5 copies of your book and after you have paid that they will print and sell the book at the agreed price paying you the agreed royalty without further fees. [5360]
  • 2008-Mar-30: Slashdot discusses on-demand book printing and Amazon's use of it. [5353]

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