cartoon

Tim Berners-Lee laments his creation.

He created the world-wide web with hopes of a digital utopia but had to watch as it devolved into the mess that we have today. He is still hopeful, though. He is working hard to devise a system to extract the open web from the clutches of Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Maybe you would like to help him.


Little drummer girl.

We should all enjoy what we do as much as this kid enjoys drumming.


Long-lost sisters move next door to each other.

This is just too weird.


Trick shots.

Generally, I wouldn't waste time watching a bunch of bros wasting time, but I ran across this while eating breakfast, and then spent a half-day throwing frozen waffles at the toaster and pitching fruits and veggies at a knife. So much for a productive Sunday morning.


Huddle up.

Interesting time-lapse videos showing how penguins congregate in order to keep warm. Individually, penguins are comical, but their group dynamics are very intriguing. For those of you who have taken EE 432, think of the penguins as atoms on the surface of a wafer. With some surface mobility, the atoms can cluster together to make the grains that form a growing thin film. So it is with the penguins.


Mr. Money Mustache talks tiny houses.

If your student loan payments are weighing you down, maybe you can build your own little house and save some money.


Harlan Ellison has died.

He was a science fiction writer in the same league as Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. He wrote the screenplay for what is often considered to be the best Star Trek episode ever.


National camera day.

Apparently, today is National Camera Day. Who would have known such a thing existed? And why? Whatever those answers may be, this is probably an appropriate time to look at the winners of National Geographic's Travel Photographer of the Year Contest. There are many great pix here. In addition to the winners, all of the various submissions are available, too.

I had a hard time wrapping my head around the photo titled "The Invasion", taken in Macau. The set of modern buildings arching over the old neighborhood look like something from the movie "Inception" and surely the image couldn't be real. But it is real — the funky building in the background is the Grand Lisboa casino and hotel. Invasion, indeed.

And a cool video of the continuing eruption in Hawaii. (Mick Kalber posts a fly-over video every day. This one was a good representative example.)


We're stupid, but not that stupid.

Jason Kottke has an entry on his blog covering the Dunning-Kruger effect — the idea that incompetent people can't even realize that they are incompetent. There is a short YouTube describing the effect. In addition there are links to two longish articles, a fairly recent one by Dunning himself and another older one by Errol Morris that was published in the NY Times talking about "unknown unknowns". If you have time, try to read these articles, too — they contain many interesting notions about competence and how to go about making yourself "smarter".

We all know people who suffer badly from the Dunning-Kruger effect. (Not to mention the most glaring example, laying bare his incompetence in a never-ending stream of tweets). But the truth is that we all exhibit the "D-K effect" to some degree, because each of us has a whole range of subjects where we inevitably underestimate our incompetence."

Interestingly, something similar happens for people who are extremely competent — they are often unable to realize how much better they are than everyone else. They think that because they have mastered some subject, then everyone must understand it pretty well, too. (I would imagine that many professors fall into one of the two extremes of the D-K effect.)

One saying that I've always liked is that we go to college is to learn about things we didn't even know that we didn't know. This is another way of referring to "unknown unknowns". Our goal with formal education and the ensuing need for life-long learning is to turn "unknown unknowns" into "known unknowns", where we can at least begin to ask the questions necessary to become knowledgeable. Eventually, with some effort, the "known unknowns" become "known knowns", and then maybe we are competent enough to use that knowledge to make a living. Certainly, as a naive kid coming off the farm, I had never heard of transistors or Fourier analysis or Maxwell's equations — those words were gibberish to the teenage version of me. But after a year or two at the university, it became clear that I had to learn as much as possible about these topics. After many years of study, I might even claim that I am moderately competent when I discuss MOSFETs or filter circuits or lasers. But uh-oh, that sounds like a classic Dunning-Kruger statement! Assessing one's own competence is definitely tricky business.


Printed circuit boards as art

A well-designed PCB can have a certain aesthetic quality in the symmetries of the arranged components and the intricate patterns of the interconnects. (Integrated circuits can be similarly beautiful, but no one other than the designers or manufacturers ever get to appreciate those, because the chips are buried inside a package.) I'm no PCB guru, but when I have to design one, after making sure that everything works properly, I spend a lot of time arranging the parts and the wiring trying to make the whole thing look "nice"". Maybe we should add an aesthetic aspect to the evaluation of the circuit projects in EE 333. Then, when the circuits fail, the students will at least have something that looks good. (Sorry, that was mean.)

I'm not the only weirdo who thinks that PCBs can be beautiful. Here are two links: one that shows off some album-cover art that was inspired by PCB patterns and another describing artisan jewelry made using old PCBs. (Click on the links in the second article to see more examples.)

(Side note: I really like the name "Circuit Breaker Labs" — we may have to rename Coover 2011 and 2014.)


How to be miserable.

I know a few people who are expert practitioners. If you are too miserable to read all these words, the inimitable CGP Grey has a video version.


Goldenhair.

I thought this was pretty funny. And maybe there is a possibility here — perhaps he could be convinced to give up his current job and become the next James Bond. It would be perfect for him — It is a fantasy world, he gets to be a dashing hero, he has a license to kill, and he always get the girl. Of course, he would destroy the Bond movie franchise, but the rest of us might be infinitely better off.


23.5°

Now that astronomers are becoming adept at finding planets within the "habitable zone" of a star, the next consideration is whether the planet has the right tilt with respect to the orbital plane. The inclination of a planet's axis leads to seasons, and seasons may be essential for the right conditions for life to evolve. Our own solar system exhibits a wide range of tilts, including the extremes. Mercury has almost no tilt (0.03°) and Uranus (It's OK to chuckle.) is laying almost sideways (82.2°). Even if these planets happened to orbit within the "Goldilocks zone", it would probably be difficult for reasonable weather patterns to develop and for life to evolve in either case. This is an appropriate read for solstice time.


Space & astronomy day:

  • McMoon. This is a fun story about how NASA photographed the surface of the moon prior to the moon landings. They needed high-resolution images of the surface so that they could avoid trying to land in a deep crater or a boulder field. In the mid-1960s, they sent a series of re-purposed spy satellites to orbit the moon and take photographs. The photos had stunning clarity — way better than a typical modern digital camera — and allowed the astronauts and mission planners to select safe places to land. When the photographs were released to the public, they had to be "de-resolutioned" to prevent revealing just how good those early spy satellites were. The original data was stored on magnetic tapes, and extracting the images from those old tapes was a major engineering effort in itself.
  • The next telescopes. There is heated competition between groups of scientists to design, fund, and build the next generation of mega-telescopes. The new designs are so big and expensive that we — we being the people of planet Earth — can afford to build only two or three of these behemoths. The technology and engineering needed to build these things will be amazing. And, as I've said before, the things we will learn with these machines will be equally amazing.
  • Peggy Whitson retires. Peggy Whitson grew up in Iowa and is the American record-holder for total time in space.
  • Jeff Bezos has big plans for the moon. As always, Bezos is thinking long-term. He is making plans for a "Moon City", which will become the first step in transferring much of Earth's heavy industry to the moon. I'm guessing that there are plans for an Amazon fulfillment center, too.
  • Space Force. There is new episode of the Trump Comedy Show. Now he wants to make another branch of the military, the Space Force, which will presumably consist of legions of starship troopers. No one seems to know quite what it all means. The Huffington Post has collected some tweets with speculation. I am beginning to think that President Trump might be a re-incarnation of some Greek playwrights, or possibly even Shakespeare. His ability to provide a daily mix comedy and tragedy is truly fascinating.
  • Perihelic opposition. Mars is making its periodic (T ≈ 15 years.) closest approach to Earth soon, and it should make for cool views over the next couple of months. Mars will be "up all night" and will be brighter than Venus. With Mars so close, it might be an opportune time to launch an attack with our new Space Force.
  • Lastly, summer solistice occurs early in the morning on June 21. Celebrate by gathering up some rocks to make a replica of Stonehenge. And then party like a pagan.

Drowning in plastic.

It is now a well-reported story — the world is awash in plastic trash. Since everyone is becoming more aware, it is time to start moving the needle and trying to reverse the trends before we are all up to our eyeballs in cast-away plastic cups and straws. The linked National Geographic article gives a good overview of the scale of the problem. (The cover photo from the print issue is iconic.)

Here are a couple of companion links: Fast facts about plastic pollution and where does it all come from? Here in the Midwest, there probably isn't too much we can do to cut down on trash in the oceans. But we can set a good example. Some people have taken trash reduction to new extremes.

Finally, we still have a ways to go. At the moment, it is becoming more difficult to recycle plastic in the U.S. Why is it, that in this country with such vast intellectual, technological, and economic resources, we can't find reasonable solutions to straight-forward problems?


Where disaster strikes — again and again.

Certain areas in the U.S. contribute disproportionately to the money doled out by taxpayers to clean up after disasters. The last line in the article hits it: "Only in the United States do relief programs and subsidized insurance make it attractive for people to move toward disaster-prone areas."


Reboot your WiFi.

Once again, our household appliances are being used against us.


Don't dew it.


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