Tag: funny (Atom feed)

Crossed Lamps

Last weekend we bought two Rodd lamps at Ikea for the guest room, and it struck me how amused I'd be if each one switched the other. Six hours and a few new parts later, and it came out pretty well:

The remote action is especially jarring because the switches are right next to the bulbs they would normally control:

Ikea Rodd lamp head


Low Flow Shower Delay

When I start up the shower it's the wrong temperature and adjusting it to the right temperature takes longer in this apartment than it has in any home in which I've previously lived. I wanted to blame the problem on the low flow shower head, but I'm having a hard time doing it. My thinking was that the time delay from when I adjust the shower to when I actually feel the change is unusually high due to the shower head's reduced flow rate.

In setting out to measure that delay I first found the flow rate in liters per second for the shower. I did this three times using a bucket and a stopwatch finding the shower filled 1.5 qt in 12 s, or 1.875 gpm, or 0.118 liters per second. A low flow shower head, according to the US EPA's WaterSense program, is under 2.0 gpm, so that's right on target.

That let me know how quickly the "wrong temperature" water leaves the pipe, so next to see how much of it there is. From the hot-cold mixer to the shower head there's 65 inches of nominal 1/2" pipe, which has an inner diameter of 0.545 inches. The volume of a cylinder (I'm ignoring the curve of the shower arm) is just pi times radius squared times length:


Converting to normal units gives 1.3843 centimeters diameter and 165.1 centimeters length, which yeilds 248 cm2, or 0.248 liters, of wrong temperature water to wait through until I get to sample the new mix.

With a flow rate of 0.118 liters per second and 0.248 liters of unpleasant water I should be feeling the new mix in 2.1 seconds. I recognize that time drags when you're being scalded, but it still feels like longer than that.

I've done some casual reading about linear shift time delays in feedback-based control systems and the oscillating converge they show certainly aligns with the too-hot then too-cold feel of getting this shower right. This graph is swiped from MathWorks and shows a closed loop step response with a 2.5 second delay:

Closed loop step response with 2.5 second delay.

That shows about 40 seconds to finally home-in on the right temperature and doesn't include a failure-prone, over-correcting human. I'm still not convinced the delay is the entirety of the problem, but it does seem to be a contributing factor. Some other factors that may affect perception of how show this shower is to get right are:

  • non-linearity in the mixer
  • water in the shower head itself
  • water already "in flight" having left the head but not yet having hit me

Mercifully, the water temperature is consistent -- once you get it dialed in correctly it stays correct, even though a long shower.

I guess the next step is to get out a thermometer and both try to characterize the linearity of the mixing control and to try to measure rate of change in the temperature as related to the magnitude of the adjustment.

Update: I got a ChemE friend to weigh in with some help.

NFC PayPass Rick Roll

NFC tags are tiny wireless storage devices, with very thin antennas, attached to poker chip sized stickers. They're sort of like RFID tags, but they only have a 1 inch range, come in various capacities, and can be easily rewritten. If the next iPhone adds a NFC reader I think they'll be huge. As it is they're already pretty fun and only a buck each even when bought in small quantities.

Marketers haven't figured it out yet, but no one wants to scan QR barcodes. The hassle with QR codes is that you have to fire up a special barcode reader application and then carefully focus on the barcode with your phone's camera. NFC tags have neither of those problems. If your phone is awake it's "looking for" NFC tags, and there's no aiming involved -- just tap your phone on the tag.

A NFC tag stores a small amount of data that's made available to your phone when tapped. It can't make you phone do anything your phone doesn't already do, and your phone shouldn't be willing to do anything destructive or irreversible (send money) without asking for your confirmation.

People are using NFC tags to turn on bluetooth when their phone is placed in a stickered cup-holder, to turn off their email notification checking when their phone is placed on their nightstand, and to bring up their calculator when their phone is placed on their desk. Most anything your phone can do can be triggered by a NFC tag.

NFC tags are already in use for transit passes, access keys, and payment systems. I can go to any of a number of businesses near my home and make a purchase by tapping my phone against the Master Card PayPass logo on the card scanner. My phone will then ask for a pin and ask me to confirm the purchase price which is deducted from my Google Wallet or charged to my Citi MasterCard.

I'm still batting around ideas for a first NFC project, maybe a geocaching / scavenger-hunt-like trail of tags with clues, but meanwhile I made some fake Master Card PayPass labels that are decidedly more fun:

Keep in mind that phone has absolutely no non-standard software or settings on it. Any NFC-reader equipped phone that touches that tag will be rick rolled. Now to get a few of those out on local merchants' existing credit card readers.

Word Star Retaliation

WordStar was the first word processor I ever used. It was non-WYSIWYG, and it was good. I haven't used it since the mid 80s, but I haven't used MS Word since the mid 90s either.

Sometimes I am sent .doc or .docx files, and usually I can figure out what's inside them using OS X Preview or Google Docs, but it's never perfect and frequently numbered lists get renumbered, which makes discussing the docs on the phone particularly hard.

To date I've been requesting .pdfs instead, but yesterday I tried just responding with a .ws3 file. The recipient asked for a conversion to .pdf (since they didn't have WordStar and a twenty year old machine on which to run it). I guess we'll see if he remembers to send .pdf the first time next time.

I couldn't find a way to generate .ws3 files, so I just gave a .rtf file the .ws3 extension and broke the magic number.

Graduation Form Letter

We just passed through another graduation season, and for the second year running I was able to get by with the same stack of form letters:

Dear _______________________________,

My ( Congratulations | Condolences | ___________________ ) on your recent (
Graduation | Eagle Rank | Loss | ___________________ ).  It is with ( Great Joy
| a Heavy Heart ) that I received the news.  I'm sure it took a lot of ( Hard
Work | Cigarettes ) to make it happen.

I'm sure you'll have a ( great time | good cry ) at the ( open house | wake )
and ( regret | am glad) that I ( can | cannot ) attend.

As you move on to your next phase in life please remember:

[  ] the importance of hard work
[  ] the risks of smoking
[  ] there are other fish in the sea
[  ] don't have your mom send out your graduation invites -- you're an adult now
[  ] ________________________________________

and the value of personal correspondence.

Sincerely, your (Cousin | Scoutmaster | Parolee | _____________________),

Ry4an Brase

Enclosures (1): ( Check | Card | Gift | Best Wishes )

It's available as a Google Doc.

Scholars Walk Time Traveller

The University of Minnesota has a Scholar's Walk which celebrates great persons affiliated with the U and the awards they've won. One display labeled "Historical Giants" remains without any names. Since the U can't reasonably be anticipating any new history, I imagine that four years after installation there's still a committee somewhere arguing about which department gets more names. Not content to wait for committee I decided to add a historical giant of my own -- a time traveller.

Modified Scholar's walk display

The displays are stone boxes with two panes of glass. The outermost pane of glass extends a quarter inch on steel pegs and shows the University branding and the category information. The innermost pane is recessed three inches and contains the names of the honorees. I figured that the outermost glass would provide the necessary gloss, and that any way I could get names behind it and at the right depth would look okay.

I had vinyl lettering made with the wording I wanted and applied it to some laboriously-cut thin lexan. In tests I could I could bend the lexan ninety degrees with just a four inch radius. That flexibility was enough that I could slide the insert in the bottom of the display (the top was sealed against weather).

I showed up early one morning, slipped the insert into place between the two pieces of glass, and was very pleased with the result. The white lettering looked sufficiently etched once behind the shiny outer glass, the fonts and sizes matched nearby displays, and the borders of the lexan insert were nearly invisible. The text is easier to read in the big photo links below, but it lists a physicist with a dis-joint lifespan lauded "for her uniquely important contributions to the understanding of time travel".

Sadly, the insert was removed a few months later, and before someone who can actually take a decent picture got to it. Removing it probably meant disassembling the box to some extent as the very springy plastic insert wouldn't adopt the bend required to make it around the corner without significant coercion not applicable from out side the box.

Here are the bigger pics:

Using the Khan Academy to Vet Online Panhandlers

I'm a huge fan of the Khan Academy (and if you haven't yet watched Salman's presentation at TED2011 you should go do that). I'm involved (slightly) in an effort to bring Khan Academy instruction to a local school district and have a standing offer to "coach" participants. Today, though, I found a use for the Khan Academy site probably doesn't endorse: dealing with online panhandlers.

Before today I'd never seen an IRC panhandler, email sure, but never IRC. This morning, though, someone wandered into #mercurial asking for money to renew a domain. Most people ignored the request since it's grossly inappropriate in a software development work space, but I offered the kid the money if he'd do algebra problems on the Khan Academy site.

We dropped into a private chat and with a mixture of whining and negotiation struck upon a deal wherein he'd do some math and I'd paypal him a few bucks. The whole exchange was silly and I got nothing out of it except a blog entry, but the math did serve some small purpose: it made sure the exchange took time and attention for long enough to not be something that the kid could be simultaneously working in multiple other channels at the same time. Also who doesn't need to known mean, median, and mode.

The Khan Academy coach interface provided me real-time feedback on the problems, including seconds spent on each, what they were, and how he answered. He might have been plugging them into Wolfram Alpha or asking in another IRC channel, but I didn't get that sense, and the time consumed would be the same either way.

Khan Academy coach interface

Surprisingly, further chat proved out the details in the initial pitch. The domain is now registered through 2014 and hosts a nice blog. Whois info, blog identity, and paypal address all align with a Florida teen. Not that I would have cared if it was a gold farmer in China -- though their thirteen year olds can do algebra.

Other kids: For the record, I'm not interesting in giving you money for math, or anything else, but if you add ry4an at brase.com as a coach on Khan Academy I'm happy to help with math.

Below are some of the choice parts from the full chat transcript:


Customer Service Call Log

Between telecom troubles, warranty repairs, botched on line orders, and marriage related changes in insurance, mortgage, and bank accounts I've spent a lot of time on the phone with customer service representatives lately. Few issues get resolved in a single call and even fewer without a transfer to another office.

I put together a sheet to keep track of who I spoke to, when, how to get back to them, and what they promised me. Now I grab one whenever I'm about to dial a 1-800 number to talk to the almost-friendly, nearly-helpful people on the other end. Besides the convenience of being able to say "On January 21st at 3pm Janice, CSR number JA5692, told me she'd ship the replacement FedEx overnight," representatives seem on their best behavior when you start out every interaction asking for their name and customer representative number.

printable form

The Death of the Har Mar Theater

Years ago I had a bad movie viewing experience I can't actually recall at Har Mar Theater in Roseville. As an experiment in how rumors spread and as mild revenge I decided that every time someone mentioned the Har Mar Theater I was going to let them know that once a rat ran across my foot while I was watching a movie there. It's not true, but I figured it was a story that people would pass on to friends.

In six years of spreading that story at least fifty times I'm sad to say that I never once heard about rats at the Har Mar Theater from anyone, nor did I ever tell someone my story and have them mention they'd heard a similar story elsewhere.

Still, in the end I'm victorious. As Sarah let me know yesterday, the Har Mar Theater is closing. I'm pretty sure that I (and not the new megaplex opening across the highway) am singularly responsible for this happy turn of events.


This reminds me of the time I put fake fortunes in the fortune cookies at Pioneer Hall and you got the one that said "This cookie is not safe" and you told me about it, not knowing that it was ME that put it in there. -Paul N.

I remember that. I'll admit that in my retellings I'm the one who doctored the cookies. Hope all's well, Paul.

Ivy and Stucco

This weekend was full of discoveries involving ivy and stucco and removing the former from the later. Summarizing them we have:

  1. Don't. Keep them away from one another. If you have a stucco home and your neighbor plants ivy secretly poison it.
  2. If there is ivy on your stucco, just leave it there. Removing it is not worth the pain.
  3. If you do remove the ivy, remove it completely. If you pull it off and plan on getting the residual debris later, you're going to find it's dried to a state where it can no longer be pulled off in strands like it can be when green.
  4. If you've let residual ivy dry to the point where it's brittle, plan on a day full of power washers, long handled brushes, and ladders. Try to drink a lot. Expect to repaint.

Pocket Pair Palsy

A little googling shows I'm the first person to (publically) coin the phrase pocket pair palsy to describe the adrenaline powered tremors poker players get when they've got a good hand. Dibs.


I would argue that palsy is not the best condition to compare this to. While involuntary movement is occasionally the result of palsy, paralysis is more common and likely. Some definitions of palsy do not even include tremor-like movements.

I know that we both know people who have dealt with Bell's Palsy, which is indeed primarily paralysis, but most people still associate palsy more with tremors than with paralysis. Besides, St. Vitus's Hole Cards just doesn't have the alliteration thing going for it. -- Ry4an

Guidelines For Better Directions

When getting or giving directions I always prefer a map to written directions. Maps are great because they don't become useless if you make a wrong turn. With a good map you can always find where on it you are and can always build a new route to your destination.

Unfortunately, one can't always produce a map on the spot -- especially a good map. In those cases you have to fall back on written directions. I've given and received plenty of directions, some good, but mostly bad. I'm thinking a list of guidelines to use when vetting directions could help.

  1. Use sequences when available
  2. Provide unmistakable backstops ("if you've hit the river you've gone too far")
  3. Provide both cardinal, N/S/E/W, and left/right directions
  4. Give distances when available
  5. Try to identity streets as they're labeled, not as they're referred to locally
  6. Eschew landmarks, they're single points easily missed

Probably the only one that needs an explanation is the first, which is certainly the most important. Exit numbers, mile markers, and street numbers all provide good sequences that can be used to easily imbue directions with some great properties they didn't previously have:

  • sequences let you know if you're going in the right direction
  • sequences let you know if you've gone too far
  • sequences allow you to estimate how much further you need to go

Street numbers are probably the most underutilized navigational aid -- even the on-line mapping systems don't use them despite having block-by-block street number data. "Turn left/west on Washington after the 200 block of 2nd Ave" provides so much much usable data.

I know all the points in the list are pretty obvious, but if even half of them were met by the directions I've tried to follow in the past a lot of time, gas, and worry might have been saved. I guess the message is to take 5 minutes longer when giving directions to save much more time when driving.


Cell phones are wonderful when in doubt or unsure.

Adopt a Vegetarian

I was just digging through some old files, and I came across my first web pages. They were hand written HTML done in late 1995. Among the worst of them design-wise was my 'Adopt a Vegetarian' page. It was a joke started in October 1995 wherein non-vegetarians would "adopt" vegetarians and agree to eat twice as much meat, so as to balance the vegetarian out.

The Adopt a Vegetarian website was up before most of the world had even heard of the web, and certainly before folks learned not to take anything on-line too seriously. The volume of vitriolic hate mail I got was amazing. I wish I'd have saved them. The site existed during the period when the mainstream press was writing a lot of "gee whiz, look at this crazy website" articles. I ended up getting written about in a few different publications including Der Spiegel (wikipedia), which I've got clipped and stored somewhere.

Anyway, I re-rendered the site for the first time in ages, and here's a screen shot to that monument of bad taste in both design and humor.


Who Wins 'Click Here'

The w3c, the nominal leader of web standards, has a recommendation against using click here or here as the text for links on web pages. In addition to the good reasons they provide, there's google to consider. Google assigns page rank to web sites based on, among a great many other things, the text used in links to that page. When you link to https://ry4an.org/ with ry4an as the link text I get more closely associated with the term ry4an in google's rankings. However, when you link to a page using generic link text, such as here or click here you're not really helping anyone to find anything any easier.

That said I wondered who was winning the battles for google's here and click here turf. To find out I took the top entries for each and then googled them with both click here and here. Here's the resulting table.

Phrase Here "Click Here"
Measure Rank Hits Rank Hits
Adobe 1 14,300,000 1 11,000,000
QuickTime 2 3,560,000 2 1,830,000
"Real Player" 3 1,720,000 4 900,000
"Internet Explorer" 4 13,500,000 3 7,940,000
MapQuest 5 1,970,000 5 1,130,000
ShockWave 7 1,240,000 6 564,000

So, what can we conclude from these numbers? Nothing at all. They provide only an aggregate of popularity, web design savvy, and a bunch of other unidentified factors. But, there they are just the same.

The Hierarchy of Pretzel Sins

I eat pretzels like Darwin would have. It's a constant survival of the fittest competition. I select two pretzels, eat whichever is most flawed, select another, re-test, and just keep going from there. At the end I've got the best pretzel of the whole bag left, which I then eat.

Admittedly it's not an actual test of the pretzels' fitness to survive -- the pretzels with inferior qualities aren't dying off due to failure to feed themselves and attract mates. Really it's just their ability to conform to my invented notion of the master pretzel, but if you go around saying you eat pretzels like Hitler people back away slowly.

Here then is my criteria for the most fit pretzel presented by defining what makes a pretzel bad. Earlier sins are more severe than the later sins, and the pretzel with the most severe sin gets eaten first.


  • broken - pretzels must be closed figures with no open ends
  • bad connectivity graph - pretzels must have 3 distinct, conjoined regions
  • asymmetric - pretzels must exhibit symmetry about the vertical access
  • inconsistent thickness - pretzel lines should be uniform in width
  • overly tall/wide - pretzels should be roughly the same in width and height
  • flawed skin - pretzels must exhibit unbroken golden-brown skin
  • bad salting - salt should be neither too heavy, to light, nor uneven

There, now it's published. If no one refutes it in the next 24 hours I'll assume the world accepts the inverse of that list as the definition of a perfect pretzel.


Well, that sounds like a challenge!

I disagree with your overly tall/wide, in my mind the perfect pretzel should be wider than it is tall, though not too wide!

-- Louis Duhon

Dorm Apology Ad

On Tuesday some friends and I were talking about how we immaturely approached alcohol back in the dorms, and I was thinking it would be fun to take out a full (or half) page ad in the student paper, The Minnesota Daily, like this:



Thank you, Resident Hall Facilities Staff, for your

service above and beyond the call of duty. We're sorry.

[ photo of 5 or 6 people standing soberly and shamefacedly above their name, which dorm they were in, and the years of residence]

I've contacted The Daily about getting a rate sheet, meanwhile there are a few questions to be answered:

  • Is this insulting? Funny or no, I don't want to actually insult the

    fine residence hall maintenance staff.

  • How much would folks pay to be one of the people in the ad?

    Depending on the cost of this thing I might need sponsorship from the other people in the ad.

  • Would you be interested in being in the ad? You could use a fake

    name if that changes anything. Hell, you could sponsor someone else.

So if I could get a little feedback, it'd be great. Is this funny or just a dumb idea I should let die?

I Buy Liquor For Minors

It's not much of a creation, but I recently made a T-shirt that says, "I BUY LIQUOR FOR MINORS" in nice white on black lettering. I've worn it out a few times including to the Minnesota State Fair, mostly just to gauge responses to the sentiment. It seems the average parent furrows their brow, the average teenager looks intrigued, and the average bartender will still sell me two beers. I didn't actually have a single youth ask me to buy liquor for them, and all the people who actually told me they liked the shirt were in their 20s or 30s. Completely not the responses I expected.


People in their 20s and 30s aren't as likely to have rebelious, teenage kids. Any plans for an "I Slip Babies the Whiskey Teet" derivative? That might make people in their 20s and 30s a more interesting control group. -- Gabe Turner

University of MN Magic Number Guessing

Back when I started at the University of Minnesota in 1995 the course registration system was terminal/telnet based. Students would register using a clumsy mainframe-style form interface. When a class a student wanted was full or required unsatisfied prerequisites, the student come supplicant would go to the department to beg for a "magic number" which, when input into the on-line registration system, would allow him or her admission into the course.

Magic numbers were five digits long and came pre-printed in batches of about sixty when provided to departmental secretaries. For each course there existed a separate printed list of magic numbers. As each number was handed out to a student it was crossed off the list, indicating that they were single-use in nature.

As getting one's schedule "just so" was nearly impossible given the limited positions in some courses, and if I recall correctly being particularly frustrated that the only laboratory session remaining open for one of my courses was late on Friday afternoons, I set out to beat the magic number system.

The elegant solution would have been to find the formula used to test a five digit number against the course information to see if it was a match. This, however, presupposes that there existed an actual test and not just a list of sixty numbers for each course. Given than the U of MN had 1000s of courses it's certainly hoped that they didn't design a system requiring the generation and storage of 60,000 numbers, but one never knows. A day spent playing Bletchley Park with previously received magic numbers and their corresponding course numbers found no easily discernible pattern, and given the lack of certainty that there even was one I decided to move on.

A five digit magic number leaves only 100,000 possible options. With at least sixty available per course that's a one in 1,666 chance per guess. Given average luck that's only 833 expected guesses before a solution hits. Tedious when done manually, but no problem for a script.

At the time, Fall 1997, my script-fu was weak, but apparently sufficient. I used Perl (poorly) to create a pair of scripts that allowed me to login, attempt to register for a course, and then kick off a number guesser. In case the registration system had been programmed to watch for sequential guesses, I pre-randomized all 100,000 possible magic numbers and tried them in that order. Given that they didn't even bother to watch for thousands of failed guesses in a row this was probably overkill, but better safe than sorry.

The script worked. My friends and I got our pick of courses for the next few quarters, and despite my boastful nature news never made it back to the U that such a thing was occurring. We only stopped using the system when the telnet based registration was retired in favor of a web based system. Knowing what I now do about automating HTTP form submissions, the web based system would likely have been even easier to game.

The biggest glitch in the system was the fact that magic numbers were single use. Whenever I "guessed" a magic number that was later given by the department to a student, that student's number wouldn't work. However, being given non-working magic numbers was a fairly regular occurrence and certainly not a cause for further investigation on the part of the department. Indeed, the frequency with which my friends and I were given non-working magic numbers leads one to wonder if others weren't doing exactly as we were either using scripts, manual guessing, or by riffling the secretaries' desks.

I've attached a screen-shot of the script in progress from an actual course registration in 1998. Also attached are all the files necessary for use of the original script though since the target registration system is long gone they're only of historical interest. Looking at the code now, I'm really embarrassed at both the general style and the overall design. The open2 call, the Expect module, or at least named pipes would have made everything much cleaner. Still it worked well enough, and I never got caught which is what really matters.




Doh, had no idea those attachment were as big as they were. Sorry 'bout that. -- Ry4an

Hang on a sec...you're using Emacs in that screenshot! -- Luke Francl

I know, I didn't see the light and switch to vi until 1998. Goes to show you're never too late to repent. -- Ry4an

Non-Linear Time Display

A few years back I was working in an office where my workspace was so noisy I kept slipping away to find quieter places in the building to work whenever I has a task which could be completed away from my desk. To avoid looking perpetually absent I wrote a quick script that would display (if available) the contents of a file named I-AM-AT and the how long it had been since I'd last pressed a key.

I fed this simple text output through the xscreensaver (http://www.jwz.org/xscreensaver/) application's phosphor (phosphor) screen saver which displays text as if were showing up on an ancient monochrome monitor.

The end result being anyone could walk by my desk, see where I was, and how long it had been since I'd left. It worked really well, as as an extra benefit those who came in at 6am could see I'd often left just 3 hours previous which quieted grumbles when I'd arrive at 9:30 or 10:00.

The problem started when I began running over lunch again. I'd walk home (15 minutes), run (30 minutes), shower and change (10 minutes), and walk back to the office (15 minutes) -- totalling 70 minutes, a bit more than the 60 minutes everyone generally took for lunch. My taking an extra 10 minutes every day over lunch wouldn't have been a problem really. Times weren't carefully watched, and everyone (by now) knew I often stayed really late, but still having my own computer advertising that I'd been at lunch for 1:10 just didn't look good.

I decided the fix was to have the time reporting on the display not quite, exactly, correspond with real linear time. The fudge factor, though, couldn't just be "subtract 10 minutes". Doing so would mean that initially it would say I'd been gone for negative 10 minutes, definitely a tip off that something wasn't quite accurate. Also to be avoided were any sudden changes in the time. If "gone for 7 minutes" was still visible scrolling off the screen and "gone for 9 minutes" or worse yet "gone for 5 minutes" was replacing it, the game would be up.

I ended up going with a system of strictly linear time for the first 45 minutes of any absence, at which point the rate of time passage would slow and then return to normal gradually (sinusoidally, actually) until at the 1 hour 15 minute mark it was displaying just 1 hour elapsed and time was running at the right rate again. Then an hour later the process would be reversed with a speed up followed by a slow down that would have time back on track after 2 hours 15 minutes total elapsed real time. This kept my overnight elapsed time reporting accurate while keeping my daily runs to about 57 displayed minutes.

Shrimp Recycling Only

Last November while sitting in the Atlanta airport with not much to do I saw a bank of six different trash cans. They were in a neat row, each was in a different color, and they were all good for only one thing. People would walk up with a piece of trash and then carefully place it into whichever bin it best fit. Is this bottle glass or plastic? The lid is aluminum does it need to come off? Is this a number two plastic or a number four plastic?

People, actual grown adults, were sorting garbage. If thirty years ago you had tried to tell me that in the next millennium everyone sorts garbage, you'd have failed because I wouldn't have been born yet. But had I been born I suspect I wouldn't have believed you.

Then in my boredom I had a vision, Shrimp Recycling. I wanted nothing more that to watch the people scanning the array of recycle bins to come across one with a logo indicating that shrimp tails and only shrimp tails were to be tossed into it. Would these automatons even notice or would they just pass it over as not-the-aluminum bin? Would they store away the knowledge and start saving their shrimp tails for future recycling? How the hell would you recycle a shrimp tail?

I knew then I needed to make up some shrimp recycling logos I could affix to existing recycling bins in public places. Today I finally got around to it and, well, it's pretty clear I'm not graphic designer. Still, I hope to make them into vinyl labels and see what happens.

Attached is a small copy of the graphic and an archive containing the layered gimp file and an image sized for printing at 8" x 8" at 300 DPI. If I ever get around to actually making the labels and trying 'em out I'll try and post photos.




Of course shrimp tails would be an excellent addition to any compost heap. There may be other compostable matter in the airport, but who cares.

Your uncle,

-- Jeff

I got email from a few different folks saying that compost rather than recycling would be a better end for shrimp shells. I would have assumed so myself too, but then some googling turned up some pages saying that seafood shells aren't good for compost as they decompose too slowly. Some sites recommended grinding them into a fine powder and using them in mulch to reduce acidity.

Still, I'm mostly interested in how people would respond to shrimp recycling bins. I suspect the majority would pass them by without surprise. Maybe I'll place one in the row of trash cans next to the Lodge at the lakes this year and stake it out.

-- Ry4an

The Flaming Moe

For the last three years Cari, Bridget, Joe and I have co-hosted a Halloween party at Cari's and my place. Every year I man the bar because I enjoy doing so and like the chance to talk to everyone periodically over the course of the night. This year I decided to turn the role into my costume and dressed as Moe Szyslak, the bartender from The Simpsons.

In one particularly good third season episode, titled "Flaming Moe" (http://www.snpp.com/episodes/8F08.html), Moe finds great success serving a drink whose recipe was stolen from Homer. The drink, which Moe calls the Flaming Moe, includes as its secret ingredient Krusty Brand non-narkotik cough syrup and erupts into quickly retreating pillar of flame when lit. I figured if I was gonna do Moe I had to make that drink.

I started with the drink base and after many failed attempts to make that was (1) classy, (2) tasty, and (3) grape, I gave up on the first two and just went with grape kool-aid, grape pucker schnapps, and triple sec. It was palatable. After pouring that base in from a pitcher I'd then add just a little "cough syrup" (grape sugar syrup) from a re-labeled nyQuil bottle.

For the column of fire effect I'd place the drink in front of a tea light I had sitting on the bar, and would then use a salt shaker to sprinkle from above a cascade of non-dairy creamer onto the candle. When I got the concentration just right (too much and you extinguish the candle, too little and nothing happens) the non-dairy creamer would flare up in a foot tall fireball which looked for all the world like it was coming out of the glass. Unfortunately it only worked about one in ten times.

Below is a photo of the tail-end of one of the flare ups, and the illusion isn't bad. Thanks to Jan Creaser for the photo. Also attached is a small image of the label and an archive containing a full-size version printable at 300dpi for bottle modification.




Hand Scanner

Some friends and I just threw a huge party with a Dystopian future theme. I wanted to have a hand scanner at the door because biometrics scare the hell out of me. I started out with grand plans involving laptops and real scanners and all sorts of things like that, but as time drew short I resorted to trickery.

We ended up with a stainless steel cylinder (trash can). Atop it was supposed to be a black glass sheet against which palms could be pressed, but I accidentally shattered that while working on it the night before the party. I ended up using some black foam core board with a white palm on it that looked okay.

When someone pressed their palm against it the 'accept' light glowed and a pleasant ding noise was heard. If, however, we were pressing the hidden, remote button they'd be denied. Denial just meant a different bulb and an unpleasant buzzer.

What's funny is I didn't use use any electronics knowledge past what I learned reading The Gadget Book by Harvey Weiss when I was in the second grade. Since then I took three years of electrical engineering, but none of it had half the impact of that silly little book.

I don't know if anyone took a picture of the finished scanner, but I snagged the schematics as penciled on my mimio white board.


Road Rage Races

Road Rage Races are an idea I came up with a few years back that I'm trying to resurrect. I've updated the website (https://ry4an.org/rrr), and tacked on a new tag line: "Light travels at 299,792,460 m/s. Immaturity travels at 5 mph."

In a Road Rage Race the competitors start out in a centrally located parking lot in the Twin Cities area. They then race to one of five previously agreed upon destinations selected randomly at the time of the race start. The hitch being that this is done during the height of the evening rush hour keeping top speed in the 10 to 20 mph range.

Particular fun could be had if multiple types of vehicles can be coaxed into participating. I'd love to see folks on bike vs. foot vs. car vs. bus vs. motorcycle. I tried to get one of these organized in 2001, but it's hard for everyone to get out of work early. Maybe a Friday or Saturday night in the busy downtown area would work as well.

What's nice now is that consumer grade GPS devices have come down in price significantly. Many of the people I'm trying to cajole into playing already have them. Their position tracking features will allow us to record where each car is at each second. After the race is over we'll be able to create a detailed replay with almost no effort and great accuracy.


I'd be up for it, could be a lot of fun. However, don't we all need to get hopped up little sports cars ala The fast and the Furious?

haha, just kidding about that...

-- Louis Duhon

Half Baked Ideas I've Had

Half Bakery (http://halfbakery.com) is a website where people can post poorly thought out ideas so they can be commented on, criticized, and (occasionally) praised by total (and generally snarky) strangers. It's a clique-y place that's often unkind to new arrivals, but I was lucky enough to get generally favorable reviews for a few of the ideas I've posted there. Here are a some of the entries I've created there in the past.

Locking Clothes Dryer http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Locking_20Clothes_20Dryer

Designed to prevent laundromat theft and vandalism this idea involves a key or pin that has to be used to open the dryer after the drying cycle has started. This allows the human operator to leave the laundromat without worrying about the clothes left behind. Optionally dryers left unattended for too long could automatically unlock so rude peoples' clothes can still be dumped on the floor.

Non-Integer Page Numbers http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/non-integer_20page_20numbers

I thought this one up about ten years ago. I'd like it if books had their page numbers expressed not only as sequential integers but also as whatever fraction of the book has been read at that point. The primary benefit of this system would be making citation page numbers useful across different editions. Page 202 is very different in hardback and paperback editions, but page 34.35% is approximately the same place in both.

Secret Off-Shore Bank http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Secret_20Offshore_20Bank

Pure silliness. I want a bank with a name more exciting that Wells Fargo. It can be based in Nebraska and be boring as hell, but so long as my checks said "Secret Off-Shore Bank" I'd be happy.

Right-Sized Serving Platter http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Right-Sized_20Serving_20Platter

Right before the guests show up at a cocktail party the food table looks as good as its going to all night. The hors d'oeuvre platters are arranged nicely and have no gaping holes. However, ten minutes after the first hungry visitor arrives the serving platters have big gaps making the spread look a little sad. Replenishing works so long as one still has food reserves, but as the party winds down barren looking appetizer platers are almost unavoidable.

If, however, one had a serving platter whose area shrunk with the food quantity one could avoid this unsightly result. Stupid idea? Of course, that's what the half-bakery is all about.

I'm running out of old ideas to post to this list. Soon I'll have to either think of something new or shut-up, which I'm sure my one subscriber wouldn't mind. Hi Gabe.


Looks like the halfbakery suffered a catestrophic disk crash without backups this past October. My ideas are still there, but all their positive votes are gone. -- Ry4an

Perseverance as Measured with Google Hits

I was eating outside a few weeks ago and saw a sign for the 2nd Annual Cabanna Boy Contest at a local bar. I wisely decided not to enter the contest, but then started to wonder if they had called their first one the 1st Annual Cabanna Boy Contest. That's pretty optimistic. I then started wondering how likely it is that a 1st Annual leads to a 2nd Annual to a 3rd Annual. Being a modern geek I figured google would know the answer if I asked right.

I searched for each each of "1st annual", "2nd annual", "3rd annual" though "15th annual", the cardinal numbers, and "first annual", "second annual", "third annual" through "fifteenth annual", the ordinal numbers, and recorded the hit count for each. The raw data when plotted looks can be found here: https://ry4an.org/perseverance/

While years (x) is >= 2 it looks like an asymptote headed toward zero. Something in the y = N/x form give or take a translation. It wouldn't be too hard to find a fit curve, but that'd be too geeky even for me.