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March 12, 2005

PersonalHistorians.org

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Because you don't have to be famous to write your life story.

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Anyone can do it themselves, or to jumpstart the process you can consult a personal historian.

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The Association of Personal Historians website is a good place to begin.

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They can help you preserve a life history through books, oral histories or videos.

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Leave something behind to make them smile.

March 12, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Day of the Trifid (Nebula)

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Also known in your part of the galaxy as M20, the 20-light-year wide Trifid Nebula, 5,500 light-years away, glows pink and blue (above) when photographed in visible wavelengths, its dark arms of dust and gas stretching out from the center.

Recently the Spitzer Space Telescope returned an image taken in longer-wavelength infrared (below), and discovered that Trifid is about to give birth to a family of new stars.

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In the infrared image, filaments of luminous gas abound and 30 embryonic stars, including 10 that had been obscured by dust, appear as points of light.

Dr. Jeonghee Rho, principal investigator, said in a February 1 New York Times story by Kenneth Chang that the future stars were still warming up and would not ignite for tens of thousands of years.

So please - be patient.

Everyone has heard of the 1960's movie "Day of the Triffids" but almost no one has read John Wyndham's 1952 novel.

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It is a disturbing, profoundly moving masterpiece of science fiction which, in this dawning era of genetically-modified organisms, speaks even more clearly and resonantly than its author could possibly have imagined 53 years ago when he wrote it.

A classic, original treatment of how good ideas can go very, very bad.

March 12, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Throwback Caliper Pen

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Precision caliper houses a ballpoint pen.

Very interesting combination.

Hours of measuring fun.

Silent amusement right at your desk.

No one will ever realize how fine you are.

Regularly $16, now reduced to $13.

March 12, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

IFF — Institute For Figuring

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"The Institute For Figuring is an educational institution dedicated to enhancing the public understanding of figures and figuring techniques."

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Its interests are twofold:

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the manifestation of figures in the world around us and

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the figurative technologies that humans have developed through the ages.

March 12, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Munchkin White Hot Infant Feeding Spoon

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With a name like that, you know it's gotta be good.

From Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools, via contributor Todd Holloway, comes this wonderful invention:
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Temperature-sensitive spoon

I have a 13 month old who's been eating "solids" for about 7 months now and these excessive-heat-sensitive spoons by Munchkin have made that a much easier adventure.

The marketing blurb about the spoon is very accurate:

Heat sensor tip turns white when food is too hot!

Suction base allows utensils to stand upright and avoid contact with germs.

Flexible soft tip is gentle on baby's gums while handle is comfortable and easy to hold.

Dishwasher safe.

In addition to the above, the spoons are longer than most of the others on the market which means you have better reach and better lines of attack when your little one tries to parry the incoming food.
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Well.

The spoons cost $3.49 for two here.

I may be past the strained carrots phase (though there are some who might doubt that) but I'm ordering a set today.

For experimentation purposes only.

I mean, these are just too cool not to be hot.

Winner of a coveted bookofjoe Design Award (no moving parts).

[via Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools]

March 12, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'NYC Free & Dirt Cheap'

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Sure, New York City's expensive, but its sheer size and scale mean there's lots of opportunity for successful arbitrage: getting stuff for much less than its real value.

Ethan Wolff has compiled a book full of such information, available at Amazon (U.S.) for $10.87.

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I liked the following review:

    Just purchased this book from Amazon and it's amazing.

    I've lived in NYC for over five years and I can't believe all the free stuff I never knew existed.

    This is a great resource just to have around the house.

    I'm sure it'd be cool for tourists too as a lot of the free or "dirt cheap" stuff is pretty cool.

There's detailed information about where to find all sorts of free music; lots of venues where free food, some of it excellent, is available; free films; free classes in everything under the sun; and lots more.

The only thing that troubles me is that you're expected to buy the book.

WWAHD?*

Steal

* = What would Abbie Hoffman do?

March 12, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

1800GotJunk.com

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One toll-free call does it all.

This company is North America's largest junk hauler for people like you and me.

Either call 'em - 1-800-GOT-JUNK (1-800-468-5865) - or visit their website to set their wheels in motion.

The firm is licensed, bonded and insured; most removals are accomplished within a two-hour window.

Two people show up for the job, load the truck and drive away.

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The minimum charge for a visit is $99, with higher prices depending on volume of your junk.

Huh.

That's not much more than my plumber charges just to knock on my door.

March 12, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why can't statistical theory predict catastrophes?

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John Kay is a superb writer on complex things.

He makes them understandable.

By definition, anyone who can do that is a superb writer.

Most people, dealing with difficult subjects, make a hash of it, rendering the reader perplexed, angry at her own apparent stupidity, and vowing never again to read about said topic.

The column that follows is from The Financial Times; it appeared there earlier this year, but that doesn't matter: it would have as much applicability five years from now, or even 50.

The subject is why it's so darned difficult to anticipate extreme, catastrophic events, even with the armamentarium of modern day statistics and computer modeling.

Read his piece, you'll understand the subject much better than you did.

Full disclosure: I am not an employee of John Kay, nor have I ever received any consideration, financial or otherwise, from him.

I have corresponded with him via email, and I did, of my own volition, purchase his latest book,

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"Everlasting Light Bulbs: How Economics Illuminates the World."

Here's the column.

    The odds of finding a formula to foretell disaster

    I first heard the word tsunami from a colleague interested in the mathematics of extreme statistics. He was wondering why there are more catastrophes in the world than there should be.

    At first sight, that seems a silly question. One disaster such as the Indian Ocean tidal waves is one too many. But those who study extreme statistics ask why there are more catastrophic events than are consistent with standard theories of how the world works.

    Our expectations of events that are hard to predict - earthquakes, financial crises, political upheavals - are founded on classical theories of probability and statistics developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. These use simple mathematical models to make generalisations about the world.

    At the University of Strasbourg, Professor Ladislaus Bortkiewicz, who knew nothing about horses or military training, predicted the incidence of deaths from horse kicks among Prussian officer cadets. A Guinness employee worked out the same formula to explain the fermentation of stout. And these same equations were indispensable when telephone engineers calculated how many exchange lines to install.

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    The sense of wonderment I felt on learning the range of these regularities has never quite left me. The distribution of household incomes has similar mathematical properties to the distribution of the length of human life. And Myron Scholes won the Nobel Prize in economics for discovering that the equations needed to value complex derivative securities also describe how bath salts disperse in the tub.

    The scope and achievements of these theories are so great that it is a shock when they do not work. The stock market rarely moves by more than 1 or 2 per cent in a day. Classical statistical theory therefore tells us that Black Monday, October 19, 1987, when stock markets fell by more than 20 per cent, could not have happened. In terms of probability, it was like simultaneously being struck by lightning, hit by a meteorite and felled by a stray rifle shot. Similarly, there are too many large earthquakes, given the frequency of smaller earthquakes.

    So different models are needed. In classical statistical distributions, compounding events are independent of each other. Professor Bortkiewicz's theory worked because undisciplined horses were rare in the Prussian army. Householders make independent decisions to pick up the phone, and individually unpredictable decisions become predictable in aggregate. But if mad horse disease had spread across Prussia, Bortkiewicz would never have secured an appointment in Berlin. Phone lines jam when everyone wants to make the same inquiry, tell the same news, or share the same greeting.

    And such a cascade of events led to the Aceh earthquake and the Indian Ocean waves. Rocks are constantly in motion along the fault lines between tectonic plates. Every movement provokes a movement in every surrounding rock, which transmits the disturbance. So shocks may be amplified many times: sometimes, as on December 26, to devastating effect.

    Cascade models also have uses outside physics. Many economists describe a world of rational, independent decision makers, eagerly assimilating each new piece of information so that at every moment markets reflect the distillation of all available knowledge. But business and finance is more like the fault systems in the oceans, in which vibrating rocks transmit their instability to each other: greed, fear, panic and misinformation are spread like measles, or forest fires, and the same models that describe measles, forest fires and earthquakes apply. Contagious processes give rise to the Black Monday crash and the 3G auction fiasco, the new economy boom and the dollar's rollercoaster ride.

    It is perhaps easier for Indonesian villagers than for western rationalists to accept that big events have no real cause, that small slippages can become catastrophes that we can neither predict nor prevent. Still we can calculate their frequency, watch them developing and forecast where they are most likely to happen. The lesson from the Indian Ocean disaster is that there is nothing you can do to control extreme statistics but a lot you can do to insulate yourself from the consequences. That lesson is as relevant to American companies as to Indonesian fishermen.

March 12, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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