April 22, 2008
Want a used Ferris wheel?
Heads up! You've got just a couple of days to pick up the best backyard accessory EVER. The city of Santa Monica has put their famous Ferris wheel up for auction on eBay. The wheel (technically called the "Pacific Wheel") is staring to show its age a bit, and is scheduled to be replaced with a brand new model later this spring. So it's got to go! From the auction description...
You are bidding on Pacific Park's high-flyin', 90-feet-tall, famous Ferris wheel, which weighs 122,000 pounds, is 30 feet wide, reaches speeds of 3 RPM, includes 20 gondolas with a maximum six riders per car, accommodates up to 800 riders per hour and illuminates with 5,392 light bulbs. Please note: Base support structure of Wheel is not included in price and can be purchased separately, if buyer so chooses. One Pacific Wheel hub included in sale. Other hub donated to Santa Monica Historical Society.
Right now the winning bid is $50,000. A steal! Why not place a bid of your own? (Just remember: the winning bidder has to pick up the Ferris wheel, and PayPal is not accepted).
The LA Times has an article about the auction.
April 15, 2008
Reports as comic books
Is there anything more boring than reading another dry report? Of course not. But what if you your next report was a comic book? That would kick all kinds of ass.
Well, it turns out comic (or magna) format can be a surprisingly effective way to communicate important information. At this year's CHI Conference (a conference devoted to human-computer interaction) Evangeline Haughney from Adobe talked about what happened when she turned a normal dry usability report into comic format. It turns out more people read her report all of the way through. The biggest downside was that she had to print more copies, since people tended to hoard the report instead of passing it around. Not bad!
Here's a four-page pdf of Haughney's research.
(Thanks to Rachael Hinman at Adaptive Path)
Botany of other worlds
Of course there's life on other planets.
The universe is just too big a place for this to be only planet with life. But by the same token, since the universe is so big, detecting extraterrestrial life is somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible. (It's not like we're gonna be able to look at a distant planet through a telescope and see a bug-eyed alien waving back at us or something).
Our best hope may be to look for planetary traits that can only be caused by life. For instance, much of the Earth appears green from space due to the plant life that covers large swaths of the planet. But before you start scouring the skies for green planets, it's worth asking 7quot;Would alien plants(*) be green?" The answer is "Almost certainly not."
There's a great article in the April 2008 Scientific American explaining the reason almost all Earth plants are green. It turns out it's a result of the relative abundance of different wavelengths of light coming from the Sun, combined with how various components in the atmosphere filter that sunlight before it reaches the ground. On some other planet, with a different sun and atmosphere, plants would evolve to make use of different wavelengths of light, and therefore would have different foliage colors. Plants could be bright orange, or blue, or jet black.
All of this will make it a bit tougher to recognize plant-covered continents on distant worlds. But it'll also make picking a corsage more fun when we have high-school proms there.
It also reminds me of this passage from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...
The Shaltanacs are a race from the planet Broop Kidron Thirteen, who had their own version of the Earth phrase, "The other man's grass is always greener." Although, given their planet's horticultural peculiarities, theirs was, "The other Shaltanac's joopleberry shrub is always a more mauve-y shade of pinky russet," and so, the expression fell into disuse, and the Shaltanacs found they had little choice but to become exceptionally happy and content, which surprised everyone else in the galaxy, who had never realised that the best way not to be unhappy is not to have a word for it.
(*)By the way, by "plant" we don't just mean the leafy things that we commonly call plants here on Earth, we mean any organism that uses sunlight as its energy source.
April 06, 2008
Making friends in the squirrel world
If you spend endless hours tweaking your Facebook and Linked-in contacts, it turns out you have a lot in common with squirrels. According to an article in the April issue of the journal Animal Behavior, Columbian ground squirrels (a common squirrel species in the American and Canadian west) develop complex webs of friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, etc.
Just as is the case with groups of human friends, there are certain individual squirrels who are natural connectors...associating with lots of others in the group. And just like what happens all too often with human cliques, the popular squirrels spend most of their time hanging with the other popular squirrels.
Pimp my Ikea
A sure sign of any company's success is when derivative companies based on the main company's products start showing up. For instance, companies like Griffin Technology have made a business out of making add-on products for the iPod.
Ikea has now picked up one of these ramora-like companies. A company called Parts of Sweden offers add-on items for Ikea's most popular shelf and cabinet systems. Right now they're a European company (you think Ikea is popular here in the US, go to Northern Europe. Yow.) but there's no doubt that they (or someone else) will open up a U.S. operation.