Monday, February 28, 2005

Sleep Jerks

Have you ever had a "sleep jerk"? Just as you're starting to fall asleep, your body jerks and you wake yourself up. It's usually a one time deal. Besides waking yourself up, you might also scare the crap out of your spouse. I do that every now and then. Sometimes the jerks are quite strong. I had one of these last night.

These one time sleep jerks are called hypnic jerks -- the fancy medical term that keeps most people from understanding what physicians are talking about. As an aside, I always hear complaints from students about chemistry vocabulary. I call them secret code words that are used to keep the riff-raff out. If you didn't have special terms, anyone could understand what you're talking about and be a chemist. Apparently this sleep jerk phenomenon is more common when you're not getting enough sleep.

No one knows exactly why the body will sleep jerk. There are some theories. One theory is that as your body prepares for sleep, muscles start to relax. When the muscles relax, the brain interprets that as a situation where you might fall. The brain stimulates the muscles to catch you from falling and thereby creates a jerk. That's why these are sometime associated with tripping or falling dreams just as you're falling asleep. That's been my experience when I can remember what I was dreaming about. Sometimes it's hard to remember through all the expletives caused by scaring Dianne.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Foot rubs

What's better after a long, hard day than a foot rub? How about an electrical shock? Maybe I should get Dianne one of these for her birthday.

Sound security?

A recent article at CNN describes a new computer attachment designed to control internet access. The basic idea is to use ultrasound to measure the bone density of the computer user. There are a number of companies such as Sunlight that sell ultrasound equipment for medical use to follow osteoporosis- a low bone density condition.

Presumably someone with low bone density (like a child) would not be allowed to access adult only sites. Conversely, someone with high bone density (like an adult pedaphile) wouldn't have access to a child only chat room. Unfortunately, bone density changes slowly and varies widely. I don't see this as a foolproof security tool. It seems you could defeat it with a simple fake bone (a phantom) that is widely used to calibrate bone density measurements by ultrasound. I could see a kid using a piece of chalk in a thin walled aluminum tube to defeat this thing.

Don't look for this on store shelves anytime soon.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Right Before Your Very Eyes

Now you can watch the image of Elvis or the Virgin Mary appear on your toast. Check out the Sternform site for more pictures.

Expect a toothbrush on the next iPod

I'm sure Apple will be looking at this. You might be getting your next iPod from your dentist.


Sony Erikson did a study on where people get their best ideas. This article gives an overview of the results.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Alternative Energy Option

There is an interesting article in Wired about a project to develop a large scale solar energy source. It's hard to imagine the size given that the CN Tower is a massive structure.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Apologies to Christo

This is a cute take on Christo's latest project in Central Park.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Macy's Wedding Registry

You remember Mary Kay Letourneau -- the married, then mother of 4, grade school teacher who had sex with one of her students. She served 6 months in prison and, when released, was caught with him again. She was sent back to prison. What I didn't realize is that she was released after serving 7 ½ years. How time flies.

As a postscript to the story, Mary Kay had the court overturn the no contact order when she was released. I guess not a big deal now that her former student was over 21. He proposed and the two plan to be married this Spring. If you plan on going to the wedding, you can check out the bridal registry at the Macys site.

Jill Sobule will have to write another song -- or at least add a verse to her Mary Kay song.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Creative Thinking

What's the trick to stimulate creative thinking? If you have a definitive answer to that question you'll make a fortune. Looking around the web or a library you'll see all kinds of suggestions to lead you to the next breakthrough idea.

In the last couple weeks, I've seen two approaches to stimulate creative thinking. I was struck by the similarity between the ideas. They both force you to sit back and take time to think. Both use a deck of cards as a simple tool to bring out your own potential during your thinking time. Although used for different purposes, the basic concept is pretty simple. The first approach suggests using tarot cards and the second uses a set of Genie cards. There is a free on-line Genie that illustrates the use of that deck.

The idea of making time to think and bringing out your own potential also reminds me of rubber ducking.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Viewpoints Research Institute is focused on developing a new computing environment that can be used to help teach kids math and science in a fun, interactive way. They're trying to capture the Montesorri idea of learning through exploration and play in a computer. They will provide the tools for anyone to use as well as provide curriculum content. An ambitious but interesting goal.

Their platform is called Squeak. You can learn more about it at Squeakland. There is also a simple HTML example of a Squeak project -- making and steering a car. I was struck by how they led kids to connect the words "steer's heading" in the steering wheel script to the number they used earlier to characterize a turn as left or right along with the rate of the turn. That connection is described as a visceral flash -- that some text (a variable) represents a number. Although they're targeting K-12, I know several students in my first year chemistry class that haven't had that visceral flash yet!

By including more complicated objects (e.g. beakers, flasks, burets, bunsen burners, etc.) and behaviors, I could imagine constructing a virtual lab environment where you could explore chemical reactions or perform experiments. It could make for an interesting pre-lab preparation exercise. Students often have trouble seeing how the measurements they make relate to a concept or equation that is used to derive a result or make a conclusion.

Kudos to the Squeak folks. I hope their early attempts to stimulate thinking pay off for science and math education.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Easy web reading

I've been using the RSS news aggregator service provided by Bloglines to consolidate my on-line reading. It's an easy, server based, free service that provides headlines for new information on any site that provides an RSS feed. You pick sites of interest, add them to your list, and Bloglines provides one site where you can go to read all the headlines. Clicking on an article of interest takes you to the website for the entire article. It beats keeping track of URLs and surfing around to catch up on all the news. There are lots of options for RSS readers. I like the server based option of Bloglines that let's you check your headlines from any computer.

They offer other services like clippings, suggestions for other sites of interest based on your activity, email notifications, etc. They were recently purchased by Ask Jeeves, but I'm not holding that against them.

On-line Maps

Google has a new, on-line map service that includes driving directions, business searches, etc. Right now it's in the beta phase, but it's a nice alternative to other sites like Mapquest.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Credibility in Journalism and Blogging

I'm not a newspaper reader. Based on my limited sampling, I think it's generation related. I don't know many folks my age that regularly read a newspaper. So how do I get the news? I look for local news highlights from morning TV when I'm getting ready for work. We'll sometimes watch CNN to get national/international news. I'm also using internet news sources more and more. And of course there is a lot of "news" or opinions being shared via blogs.

On the other hand, folks that are a generation older seem to be big newspaper readers. Older folks that I work with always read the paper. In fact, I get old newspapers from them to line our bird cages. I remember my parents always reading the local papers when I grew up. We subscribed to the local paper and my dad even worked there for awhile. It was interesting to visit him and see the linotype machines using a molten alloy, the typesetting, and the printing process. Most every week we'd pick up a Sunday paper from the Twin Cities. The best thing about the Sunday paper was the color comics. Who hasn't used Silly Putty to stretch Snoopy or Dagwood into odd shapes?

No matter how you get your news, there's always a question about credibility. The maxim "you can't believe everything you read in the newspaper" can readily be extended to on-line sources like blogs (except this one of course).

The folks at ZDNet demonstrated an interesting idea in an attempt to improve credibility. A reported wrote a story that included quotes from one of the pioneers of blogging -- Radio Userland's Scott Young. While researching the article, the reporter recorded the complete interview with Mr. Young. As a supportive piece to the article, the reporter podcasted the interview. When he quoted Young in the written article, he included time stamps corresponding to the quote. The idea is if you wanted some context around the quotation, you could go to the podcast and listen to that portion of the interview. Presumably this increases transparency and lends credibility to the article. The reporter's commentary on the process is here.

Combining the podcast with a traditional written summary is an interesting idea. However, I'm sure there will be discussions around confidentiality and other issues of protecting sources.

For the gadget lover

Remember Billy the singing bass that was popular a while back? For the singing hunter in the family, check out Buck the Animated Deer. Don't you just love that picture? Could it be more of a Photoshop hack job?