Turning wheel illusion

Here’s another damned impressive illusion. The last time I posted a link to an illusion like this, I made the observation that after years of seeing the same crappy old illusions, we’re now seeing some dramatic new images. Go to
this link and watch the non-moving wheels appear to twitch and turn. If you really want to get annoyed, leave the image visible in the background of your computer and try to get some work done. It won’t be long before you close the wheel window, because those non-moving wheels are wiggling around too much.

Which wear?

I was trying to remember exactly what it means to “wear” a ship as in the sea shanty lyric

She would not wear, she would not stay
Leave her, Johnny, leave her!
She shipped green seas both night and day
It’s time for us to leave her!

and in the process I came across this marvelous document:
Questions for Young Officers from Examination of a Young Officer, The New Practical Navigator (1814). They are study questions for the young men in the early nineteenth century who wanted to be made captains of one of Her Majesty’s ships. It makes me think of anxiety-provoking grad school qualifying exams. Imagine how you’d answer this question: “The sheers are along side, how do you get them in?” Sounds simple enough. I’m sure your answer would be quick and correct, as follows:

Par-buckle them in with their heads aft on the poop, and get the fore and main runners on them for guys; lash on two four-fold blocks, reeve the masting-falls, get girt-lines on the head of the sheers to steady the mast-head, and put heel-lashings on the sheers.

I love the metrical rhythm of incomprehensible technical jargon. Every age has its geeks, and I can just imagine an argument between two fifteen year old sail geeks of 1814: “You idiot! I can’t believe you would get the girt-lines on the head before you reeve the masting falls! Nobody does it that way. Geez, what a loozer!”

If you want to learn more about any of these terms, this website comes with a good glossary. And by the way, sheers are spars lashed together, and raised up, for the purpose of getting out or in a mast. And to wear ship is to change a ship’s course from one tack to the other, by turning her stern to windward. But you knew that already.

ego(blog) > ego(wiki)

Mary Beth sent me a link to a piece on NPR about wikis that aired on Monday. The commentary (by David Weinberger) was good and got to the heart of why wikis are so interesting. Here’s the blurb from the NPR site:

It might sound a little crazy, letting just anyone write whatever they want on your Web site. But that’s just what Wikis are designed for. Wikipedia.org, for example, lets the public collaborate to build a surprisingly accurate encyclopedia. Commentator David Weinberger says wikis are one example of “social software,” intended to allow people to work together with ease.

I wanted to blog the piece, but in situations like this I like to check blogdex and see if all the kids are doing the same thing. I’ll hesitate before I post something that absolutely everybody else is picking up on. For instance, if a big-name print journalist writes a disparaging piece about blogging, you can be sure that thousands of blogs will dissect it the next day. But I didn’t find any comments about the wiki commentary on blogdex. This is instructive in itself. Blogs are bound up with their owners’ egos, whereas wikis are anonymous averages of multiple viewpoints. People don’t get worked up about wiki press coverage the way they do about blog press coverage.

Matt pointed me to an excellent piece of some commentary on this very point by Clay Shirky at Corante (a recent discovery). The gist of it, as Shirky says, is this: “Though both weblogs and wikis support conversational patterns, weblogs are ‘conversation as published comments’ while wikis are ‘conversation as shared editing.’ Weblogs tend towards polarized or divergent views, while wikis tend towards convergent ones.”

Kevin Kelly’s Recomendo

Kevin Kelly, who has worked on the venerable Whole Earth Review and Wired magazine, as well as writing several books, is an incurable magpie, collecting and making observations about cool new things. He’s good at it, and he has his own blog/list of the latest things he’s been playing with at Recomendo. It reads a lot like the old Whole Earth Review style, but you don’t have to wait three months to get it. Here, for example, is a good piece on How to Make Your Own Topo Maps.

The greatest gift of the web is the ability to leverage communities. On the web, enthusiasts not only consume maps, they produce them too. Niche maps (bird spots along the Erie Canal for example) now have immediate and reciprocal niche audiences. The future of mapmaking lies in developing tools that allow maximum participation by any person with passion for maps.

Another great gift of the web is that it empowers clever magpies like Kevin Kelly.

Star Chamber trivia item: A few years ago I wrote a piece about his work at Whole Earth Review, and he now points to it from his website.

Imaginary Lines

Have you ever been to the Four Corners monument where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah come together? It’s a relatively remote tourist trap of a place that’s really only good for two things: Navajo fry bread, and standing in four states at once while saying “Hey, look! I’m standing in four states at once!” The surveyors who set the states’ boundaries declared the point to be at 36° 59′ N, 109° 02′ W. And unless you own a GPS receiver you’d never know that the concrete slab proclaiming to be the Four Corners point is actually completely in Arizona. The true Four Corners point is awkwardly situated a hundred yards or so away, as my friend Roy (who does have a GPS receiver) determined. Think of all the misguided pictures of sneakers on that slab! Oh the humanity!

This business of invisible survey lines floating over real terrain is fascinating. After all, as this satellite image of the Four Corners region shows, nothing about the landscape particularly invites us to paint straight lines across it. But in doing so, we make some barren patch of nowhere worth visiting. Cynically I want to say: if looking at invisible lines is so interesting, I’ll put some in a box and ship them to you for a very small charge. But looking at invisible lines is interesting, as the Degree Confluence Project illustrates. In a practice akin to geocaching, adventurers with digital cameras and GPS units are photographing places in the world where lines of latitude and longitude come together. The pictures are charming and the stories are folksy. You can spend hours here. Look at the great big map of coverage and click on some remote place and see what you turn up. I like the story of 49 N 133 E, which is near Birobidzhan in extreme eastern Russia. The author writes “If you ever thought that explaining what a confluence is and why you want to find one to friends was hard, try explaining one to your Russian driver with a translator.”

Incidentally, the ever-helpful Wikipedia also notes

Another four corners, the intersection of the borders of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut in Canada, is not graced with a similar tourist attraction because it is located in extremely remote northern wilderness.

Set up a Navajo fry bread stand there and you could make a killing!

The cat (and dog) in the hat

From the Frivolous Links department, we are proud to bring you pet costumes from Japan. This meme is sweeping the net… if you haven’t seen it already, you may as well see it here first: The tailor of a cat CAT PRIN. If you enjoy dressing up your cat in darling outfits, then this is the site for you. Even if the thought has never once occurred to you in your long life, take a look, because, gosh darn it, if there’s one thing those Japanese know, it’s cute. Before purchasing, however, keep in mind that the Anne of Green Gables outfit is recommended for expert tailors only. The site comes with instructions for how to have fun with CatPrin. I won’t tell you what steps 1 and 2 are, but step 3 is “Remove her clothes and give her a hub, say Thank you!”

Before departing these regions, and in the name of equal media access for cats and dogs, here is a Japanese site where you buy costumes for your dog:
Beetle Calcium (sic). Space Dog looks good, but the smart doggie set is stepping out in the Samurai Suit. [spotted on Industry]

You Can Fly

Even without the benefit of years of expensive transcendental meditation, you can truly fly. The only trick is that you have to get yourself into space first. But once you’re there, the experience sounds an awful lot like the wishful daydreams I’ve had about it. I say this because I’ve been reading astronaut Ed Lu’s blog-in-space called Greetings Earthlings.

With all this space shuttle mess we’re in, it’s easy to forget that there are people still living in orbit. Lu is doing an entertaining job of describing what it’s like to be there. I was particularly struck by his description of flying.

The next thing to think about is how hard you push off. If you push too hard, you end up going really fast, and the next thing you know you are crashing into something on the other wall. Again, with nothing to slow you down in the middle of the module you are kind of helpless until you hit the far wall. It turns out that you don’t need to push off from the wall as hard as you might think. On the ground, it takes a lot of work to move around because you are constantly fighting the force of gravity trying to make you fall to the floor. Up here, a push of maybe a few pounds is about right to fly across the module at a comfortable speed.

It sure sounds like fun, but I think at some point I’d be ready, as with a carnival ride, for it to be done. Here’s a picture of Ed Lu flying (or maybe he’s hovering, I can’t tell). [via Slashdot]

Thank you thank you thank you

Here’s some news you can use: AmazingMail, whose tagline is “Real Postcards are Better than E-cards,” will take your uploaded digital photo and send it to the address of your choosing as a real non-virtual honest-to-goodness postcard. It’s sort of like a BlueMountain.com throwback to the pre-cyber world. For a long time I’ve wanted a service that lets me type in a message that gets transformed into a personal letter… and maybe for extra money they could even match my handwriting. Does such a service exist? It seems like it should. Still, a postcard is the next best thing, and it may be even better if the picture is good. My wife heard about this from a friend who said it helps her do thank-you notes three times faster than ever before. And the first one is free. I’ve only tried one, sending this picture to my parents of them with my daughter. But it worked like a charm, so I’m sure I’ll be sending more.

I honestly want to know

Everybody talks about spam, and no one can do anything about it. There’s no need for me to rail against it here. Spam is bad, okay, but I honestly want to know, what do they want from me, these people who send me email that is not just unsolicited, but completely meaningless? I’m puzzled how some of these messages could be of use to anybody.

Under the subject line “Don’t Disappoint Her Ever Again” (heh-heh, if you know what I mean) I received the following email, which I will reproduce here in its entirety in the name of scientific rigor.

xqhxkugabi xqhxbikqkkyl xqhxmzeyahu xqhxjxmxuks xqhxbgjsfunyzg xqhxlbjdtiyg xqhxgfljmlxqhxcswibcbenv xqhxwob xqhxujlh xqhxxuhnb xqhxsfgnriyg xqhxhyfthr xqhxjnwxqhxnnpusxgfz xqhxseihi xqhxkgxdsgia xqhxcayfgm xqhxrn xqhxgfyxhbk xqhxvpwdxkxqhxxf xqhxgfz xqhxtvkwqmx xqhxanfw xqhxnyfwqa xqhxotzsy xqhxfeakxqhxftphfamit xqhxxnpjtox xqhxla xqhxce xqhxjneaantz xqhxdrghtxqhxrmnrot xqhxnzpqdkukub xqhxvbvgwidi xqhxrgatovr xqhxpvqcee xqhxaovqbdds xqhxwuivtqrnxqhxshk xqhxvhmujrctsj xqhxdhzd xqhxeyy xqhxprvf xqhxdlcpbxqhxhl xqhxovzlunbg xqhxhyzf xqhxky xqhxriwbeaz xqhxpplluk xqhxfrj xqhxzxyigs xqhxuk xqhxblldvqpe xqhxmxlx xqhxxkefjlr xqhxfughivjlppxqhxbzmuaaxnc xqhxolt xqhxpjhtjh xqhxbbehgot xqhxzqtqwy xqhxkjywswnkxqhxwuvkhvrmm xqhxraipzifpa xqhxcliky xqhxbiunlyrfm xqhxwnisdlfza

There were no links, no offers, no products being sold, at least by the time it reached me in this mangled state. Obviously something got lost along the way, but where? I get tons of email like this, and it mystifies me. I can guess they want me to buy Viagra or something like that, but from where? From whom? Maybe this is some kind of transliterated Chinese, but why is the subject line in English? Does anybody know?