May 31, 2007
Estimating the height of the Google Street View mapping camera
After1 the mysterious Google Street View mapping vehicle went by our house on Tasso St in Palo Alto, it went by a PASCO garbage truck on N California Ave.
The top of the cab of the garbage truck is clearly visible in the second photo.
I think it's a van with a camera on a stick poking out the top.
1 Or before? It's kind of fun to try to puzzle out the direction and trajectory of the mapping camera vans from the images in the Street Views. Several photos are taken between each intersection, and they're taken in multiple directions. Usually it's not too hard to decide which direction the mapping van was travelingone locates a moving object in a photo (usually another vehicle, or person walking on the street), moves forward a bit on the map, and then turns around to see if it's moved in the time-positive direction or not. But at each intersection, the question arises: did the van go straight on through, turn, or what? Maybe more than one van was involved? If so, how to tell?
May 30, 2007
Another view from the Google Maps street sweeper
1) That thing is TALL. Must be a camera on a stick or something.
2) Because the garbage cans are out, I can tell the photo was taken on a Thursday morning. Also I can tell it was taken this year, and probably either in the last week of March or the second week in April, since the minivan is there (it was parked at the airport for the first week of April).
The new Google maps Street View thingy knows about our street!
Looks like Gloria was home when the van (or whatever it is) went by, but I wasn't.
Seemingly bottomless cavern entrance on Mars
From an article on a photo taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft on 07-May-2007:
* * *
This image shows a very dark spot on an otherwise bright dusty lava plain to the northeast of Arsia Mons, one of the four giant Tharsis volcanoes.
This is not an impact crater as it lacks a raised rim or ejecta. What's amazing is that we cannot see any detail in the shadow! The cutout shows this dark spot and a version that is "stretched" to best see the darkest area, yet we still cannot see details except noise (1380x782, 1 MB).
The HiRISE camera is very sensitive and we can see details in almost any shadow on Mars, but not here. We also cannot see the deep walls of the pit. The best interpretation is that this is a collapse pit into a cavern or at least a pit with overhanging walls. We cannot see the walls because they are either perfectly vertical and extremely dark or, more likely, overhanging.
The pit must be very deep to prevent detection of the floor from skylight, which is quite bright on Mars.
* * *
Maybe it's a wormhole that connects up with the Guatemalan sinkhole?
Ideal Memorial Day
3) Air conditioning no longer mysteriously compromised by the bobcat that ripped up the ductwork.
May 29, 2007
From Mrs Battle's Opinions on Whist
She was none of your lukewarm gamesters, your half and half who have no objection to take a hand, if you want one to make up a rubber: who affirm that they have no pleasure in winning; that they like to win one game, and lose another; that they can while away an hour very agreeably at a card-table, but are indifferent whether they play or no; and will desire an adversary, who has slipt a wrong card, to take it up and lay another. These insufferable triflers are the curse of a table. One of these flies will spoil a whole pot. Of such it may be said, that they do not play at cards, but only play at playing at them.
Charles Lamb (1821) link
"A university has a lot of weird people," Rajendran said. "Some of the faculty are weird, some of the grad students are weird. So you don't really know who's who. And you feel rather, I guess, rude asking them, 'What the hell are you doing?' I guess in that way it helps some strange people hang out without too many questions being raised."
May 28, 2007
May 27, 2007
May 26, 2007
He touched down about 1000 feet on the other side of the road.
Total flight time: 120 seconds maybe.
May 25, 2007
bees-k2bee hive in the oak tree across the street from our house is getting larger.
In today's San Jose Mercury News, Stanford Student was an Impostor:
What would you do to attend Stanford? An 18-year-old Fullerton woman spent the last eight months posing as a biology major, buying textbooks, sneaking into meals, even moving into a dorm with an unsuspecting roommate. Because she never had a Stanford ID or a school-issued dorm key, she got in and out of her dorm by climbing through the first-floor window. Her story started unraveling this month, and now the universityand her stunned circle of friends and dorm matesare looking back on how a woman described as a sweet, bespectacled student could have pulled off such a ruse....
I'm amazed that someone could get away with this at Stanford. I can't even successfully sneak into the good seats at basketball gamesone of the sharp-eyed retirees in the red coats always spots me.
They should at least find a way to give her an honorary degree or something.
May 20, 2007
Cole and I collaborated on this brief entertainment.
It's called Polynesian Adventure.
Cole Plambeck (music)
Thane Plambeck (video)
Trader Joe's grocery bag (set)
Suitable for all audiences.
* * * *
Added later: The creators respond to critical appraisals of the film:
"That's it? I mean, that's all?"
"I've just wasted 26 seconds of my life on this "adventure."
May 19, 2007
NSA: FROST FISH COVE
National security regulations do not permit me to reveal the identity of the person wearing this sweatshirt.
May 18, 2007
From a letter by Dermot Kennedy in the 12 May 2007 Economist:
[...] Your article on the unexpected improvement to patients' emotional health after they were injected with a bacterium recalls a similar effect that has been long identified in people suffering from tuberculosis ("Bad is good," April 7th). Known as Spes phthisica, or the euphoria of the consumptive, this partly explains the disease's impact on a long line of aesthetes, including George Orwell, D. H. Lawrence, Franz Kafka, and Amedeo Modigliani [...]
May 17, 2007
Those inventive Plambecks: The burning logs simulator
Almost 30 years ago:
This is the abstract to US Patent 4026544, issued May 31, 1977 to H. Robert Plambeck and H. Robert Plambeck, III [Q: What happened to Jr?]
A burning logs simulator comprises a burning logs replica illuminated internally and presenting to a front viewer or user the appearance of a pile of burning logs. Curtains of mechanically agitated flicker strips are located behind the front of the replica with a light source therebetween and produce flickering imparting a sensation of a fast burning, hot fire throughout the face of the burning logs. The noise or sounds of such a fire are simulated by the moving interaction of two pieces of material, one piece having looped fibers and the other having hooked fibers.
SoI've been been looking at these things in cheap restaurants and other generally crummy settings for over 25 years, suffering in their lame-ass fakery, all the time completely unaware that I could have turned to my companions in a self-satisfied tone and said,
"You know what, see that fake fire thing? HeyI'm related to the guys who invented that."
What a bummer!
Then it slipped back to the right. And snapped back to the left. Et cetera. The whole episode lasted maybe 30 seconds.
It's never happened to me before. Local Medical Experts agree that it was
My trip to the doctor today revealed no ear infection.
Everything's holding steady now.
Think of the Impact You Could Make
May 16, 2007
Reproduction of a Chinese step chest
May 15, 2007
Is the moon there when nobody looks?
[...] we argue that we still have no scientific reason to believe that the moon could possibly not be there when nobody looks.
May 14, 2007
People who may or may not actually exist
The only estimate I think is outright dumb is the one for Osama bin Laden, at 98% certainty of existence. I think it has to be 99.9% or much higher, given all the photos, the widely-published identities of family members, etc. I love a conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but who would be willing to bet, even at 50 to 1, that there is no such person as Osama bin Laden? Note that if he's dead, he still counts as (having been) a real person.
May 13, 2007
Fresh Ginger and Green Tea gelato
THANE: OK, you guys can get gelato. I don't want to go in there. Take this $20 and buy me the flavor you think I would like the least.
COLE & OWEN: OK!
[5 minutes later]
COLE & OWEN: Here you gowe got you a combination of Green Tea and Fresh Ginger.
THANE: (tasting it). Yecch. You guys did a good job. What are those yellow flecks in the white stuffthey look like they came out of someone's nose...
COLE: That's the ginger.
THANE: Yuck. But I'm starting to like this already. Not that I would have ordered itbut I guess I did, sort of.
May 12, 2007
Cleared for reentry
I've threatened to paint polka-dots on the car, or mount a shark fin on the top.
"You're not touching my car," Gloria always says.
But only now do I know what I really need to do.
May 11, 2007
Cole plays a little Vivaldi. My new camera cuts out on audio for the last couple of seconds of every video I takebummer
May 10, 2007
This definition of "google-proof" doesn't strike me as a good one. I think of the term as capturing the property of a question (or more frequently, a puzzle) that makes it not easily solved using Google.
Most cryptic crossword clues are inherently Google-proof, although it's certainly conceivable that software for solving cryptics could be written.
For example, try to use to use Google look up the answer to
The sort of hint got from something with no substance. (7)
did you find
= something with no substance
= a sort of (ie, almost an anagram of) 'HINT GOT' ?
Perhaps you did, or didn't.
Either wayprecisely my point.
May 09, 2007
Like animals in disguise
Cole took this photo of one his Cape Sundew (Drosera capensis) plants this afternoon.
Together, his two sundews are munching on a baby cricket, several ants, and a crane fly.
From The Savage Garden, by Peter d'Amato, pg 121:
But it wasn't until Charles Darwin himself took up the study of sundews that they were ultimately proved carnivorous. Darwin conducted countless experiments on the plants for many years, and published the findings in his 1875 Insectivorous Plants. The bulk of the book was on his studies of the common round-leafed sundew, Drosera rotundifolia. At one point, Darwin wrote to his botanist friend, Asa Gray, that he cared more about sundews than the origin of all species of life on earth. He also described them as being like animals in disguise. He found that the plants were more sensitive to taste and touch than any animal species he had studied.
Reading before school, 7:45am
OWEN: Ahrg! Yes!
COLE: I'm going to go to school now.
May 07, 2007
From bldgblog, "Great streets, campuses, and pedestrian nostalgia":
It's not a world built for you anymore. It's a world built for cars. In many ways, it's as if being an adult in the United States really means changing your everyday landscape. Instead of benches, paths, people, and sunlight, you get cars, parking lots, strangers, and road rage. If you lived in a city that looked like a college campus, you could walk to the bank; you could walk to the grocery store; you could walk to work; you could even walk to the cinema and see Spiderman 3and you wouldn't have to do it alongside cars, or even crossing the paths of cars. You'd live and work and commute on foot, walking on great streets under awesomely huge and beautiful treesand there'd be benches to sit on, and people you know outside reading books, and you could actually understand what it means for "a day" to pass by. After all, there's evening, and there's mid-day, and there's morningand so you'd actually experience the passage of time. You wouldn't have to look back at the age of 35 and wonder where all that time went. Anyway, I don't care if you're walking to a church or to a gun range, to a mosque or to a nightclubthe point is that you're out there walking, feeling proudyou're not mistaking a linked series of carcinogenic parking lots for the best your nation can doand streets no longer have to mean cars. Cars are awesomeI love cars, in fact I literally fantasize about owning a Toyota Tacoma. Which is a truck.
From The Panopticon, by Jeremy Bentham 
But first, Foucault:
Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relationship independent of the person who exercises it; in short that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they themselves are the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being spied on at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so. In order to make the presence or absence of the inspector unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, cannot see even a shadow, Bentham envisaged not only venetian blinds on the windows of the central observation hall [...]
BEFORE you look at the plan, take in words the general idea of it.
The building is circular.
The apartments of the prisoners occupy the circumference. You may call them, if you please, the cells.
These cells are divided from one another, and the prisoners by that means secluded from all communication with each other, by partitions in the form of radii issuing from the circumference towards the centre, and extending as many feet as shall be thought necessary to form the largest dimension of the cell.
The apartment of the inspector occupies the centre; you may call it if you please the inspector's lodge.
It will be convenient in most, if not in all cases, to have a vacant space or area all round, between such centre and such circumference. You may call it if you please the intermediate or annular area.
About the width of a cell may be sufficient for a passage from the outside of the building to the lodge.
Each cell has in the outward circumference, a window, large enough, not only to light the cell, but, through the cell, to afford light enough to the correspondent part of the lodge.
The inner circumference of the cell is formed by an iron grating, so light as not to screen any part of the cell from the inspector's view.
Of this grating, a part sufficiently large opens, in form of a door, to admit the prisoner at his first entrance; and to give admission at any time to the inspector or any of his attendants.
To cut off from each prisoner the view of every other, the partitions are carried on a few feet beyond the grating into the intermediate area: such projecting parts I call the protracted partitions.
It is conceived, that the light, coming in in this manner through the cells, and so across the intermediate area, will be sufficient for the inspector's lodge. But, for this purpose, both the windows in the cells, and those corresponding to them in the lodge, should be as large as the strength of the building, and what shall be deemed a necessary attention to economy, will permit.
To the windows of the lodge there are blinds, as high up as the eyes of the prisoners in their cells can, by any means they can employ, be made to reach.
To prevent thorough light, whereby, notwithstanding the blinds, the prisoners would see from the cells whether or no any person was in the lodge, that apartment is divided into quarters, by partitions formed by two diameters to the circle, crossing each other at right angles. For these partitions the thinnest materials might serve; and they might be made removeable at pleasure; their height, sufficient to prevent the prisoners seeing over them from the cells. Doors to these partitions, if left open at any time, might produce the thorough light. To prevent this, divide each partition into two, at any part required, setting down the one-half at such distance from the other as shall be equal to the aperture of a door.
These windows of the inspector's lodge open into the intermediate area, in the form of doors, in as many places as shall be deemed necessary to admit of his communicating readily with any of the cells.
Small lamps, in the outside of each window of the lodge, backed by a reflector, to throw the light into the corresponding cells, would extend to the night the security of the day.
To save the troublesome exertion of voice that might otherwise be necessary, and to prevent one prisoner from knowing that the inspector was occupied by another prisoner at a distance, a small tin tube might reach from each cell to the inspector's lodge, passing across the area, and so in at the side of the correspondent window of the lodge. By means of this implement, the slightest whisper of the one might be heard by the other, especially if he had proper notice to apply his ear to the tube.
May 05, 2007
Flytrap vs rolly-polly; Middlebury College Rugby
We bought a Venus fly trap, a pitcher plant, and two sundews.
Back at home, I spotted a rolly polly bug, and Cole plopped it into the fly trap pot, where it immediately showed a proclivity for risk taking:
It survived this first encounter, only to get trapped by another part of the plant.
Reflecting on the bug's doom, we were surprised when it suddenly managed to break free:
Unsatisfied with this result, Cole fed it to the pitcher plant, instead.
So much for insect heroics.
Total trip time from the Diving center parking lot, to California Carnivores, and back: five hours.
* * *
Earlier, while Owen and I waited for Cole to finish diving, we photographed this blue Ferrari, which Owen had apparently noticed before.
As I circled the vehicle taking photos from Owen's recommended viewpoints, the Middlebury College rugby team was throwing balls around in the parking lot. I asked one player if I could see the rugby ball, since I've never held one. He willingly obliged and told me "we're playing for the National Championship today against Arkansas State."
"OKI guess I better give it back," I said. "Middlebury. Where is that, Connecticut?"
He gave me a surprised look.
"Vermont," he told me.
May 04, 2007
I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integernot-nine, not-eight, not-six, not-five, etc.is inconceivable. ErgoGod exists.
Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, 1998.
[ My own argument for the existence of God is more persuasive, I think, and has the clear superiority that it's presented as a cartoon...]
May 03, 2007
Talking machine, ca 1790
Farkas Kempelen's talking machine, ca. 1790
The apparatus is a small wooden chest, with a pair of bellows, or "lungs," inside, and a rubber funnel, or "the mouth." When one moved the bellows with ones elbow, air was pumped into the "wind box" (a term used in organ building), and this volume of air was than released through valves operated by keys. The operator would put both hands through the outer shell, which was to protect the apparatus from dust. Moving the lever of the wind box and the valves with one's right hand, one held in one's left hand the soft funnel, which gave out the "voice."
[ added later: Kempelen was also the inventor of "The Turk," the mechanical chess-playing automaton that beat Napoleon in a game. The Turk had someone hiding inside it, so it makes a person wonder how real the talking machine was, too. This article treats both The Turk and the Talking Machine and is interesting, but a pain to read in its scroll box]
Restaurants close to the loft
Might as well blog it because I'm never going to have the realtor's postcard handy when I want to refer to it:
acme chop house
koh samui & the monkey
the fly trap
May 01, 2007
Mitt Romney & Meg Whitman
That's Steve Jurvetson, center.
Meeting Mitt, part II
Unfortunately I didn't get particularly good photos of the Mitt Romney talk today.
I'm pretty sure the last time I went to the Quadrus center was early 2000, when I still worked for Signio (then in transition to its acquiring company, VeriSign). I remembered noticing this misspelled sign outside it seven years ago, and it's still there today:
I knew several people who had come for the talk, and recognized more (Meg Whitman, the eBay CEO, Steve Jurvetson, and a few others).
The gathering was small enough to allow Mitt Romney to shake everyone's hand individually before his talk.
MITT: (Almost imperceptibly glancing at my name tag, and pronouncing my name perfectly) Thane, nice to see you. [Said in an interesting tonenot quite "you're my best friend," but also far from "who the hell are you," also. ]
THANE: Hi. I'm looking forward to your talk.
MITT: Sigma Partners... [said speculatively, as if summoning vague associations. We shake hands. It hardly seemed worth it to explain that I don't really have much to do with Sigma (except knowing Wade), so.... ]
THANE: ...Nice to meet you.
Then Mitt moved on.
"I hope no one here is planning to vote Democratic. If anyone is, stand up, and I'll shoot you."
[ Laughter. One person stood up, at the back of the room. ]
"And now I don't have a gun."
[ More laughter.]
In any case, the talk was interesting. I'm sure he would be a capable "President as CEO," if that's what the country needs (many of the venture capitalists and entrepreneurs present seemed to think it was only too obvious that that's exactly what the country needs). But most of the issues that Mitt mentioned, including the need to "stop gay marriage," the need to confront "Islamic extremists," and a proposal for Iraq that we should "see what the results of The Surge will be," left me cold.
Various speakers, including Mitt himself, described Mitt as "highly analytical," or as "one of us." Another person pointed out that this was a "unique opportunity" to elect "one of our own" (ie, a venture capitalist) to the US Presidency. Romney said that if elected, he will run the US Government as he ran the state of Massachusetts, "with lots of group Vice Presidents...although we didn't call them that." Mitt told an interesting story about the venture firm he started, Bain Capital, and an early investment in Domino's Pizza"We didn't know anything about pizza, and here's the guy who started it, the guy who knows more about pizza chains than anyone else, over 2,000 stores, deciding now was the time to sell, shopping it to everyone. And we're the schlemeil who's willing to pay more than anyone for it." I thought it was interesting that he used the word "schlemeil." It's hard for me to picture Mormon elders using the word "schlemeil" much. The pizza story was presented as a big success, but if so, it was not a success that led to better pizza (I've had plenty of Domino's at various points in my life, and it's always been bad pizza).
Leaving the talk, I was handed a contribution envelope:
I'll probably send more to Barack Obama, instead.
Thanks again to Wade for arranging my visit!
Meeting Mitt & the hydrogen atom
1) Wade arranged for me to attend this lunch meeting today between Mitt Romney and local VCs. It's at Quadrus, up in VC-land (Sand Hill Road). I'm planning to take a camera, but not my checkbook. Something that starts at 12:15pm has to include lunch, right? [Yes indeedjust confirmed it].
2) Bought a copy of Linearity, Symmetry, and Prediction in the Hydrogen Atom by Stephanie Frank Singer at the Stanford bookstore this afternoon, since it so closely matched what I was thinking of trying to understand myself, namely, how hard is it to go from the basic principles of quantum mechanics and get to experimental results about atoms. It seems to be precisely the topic of the book. Nice!
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