Monitor your power use

A year ago I wrote about hybrid electric cars and the statement “that which gets measured improves.” If you put a meter on your car, on your calorie intake, on your television usage, on anything really, you start paying attention to your behavior and you can’t help but change your habits of consumption. If only it were easy to see how much electricity you were using every day, you could probably save a lot without even working at it very hard. In fact, this idea inspired a Viridian design competition a few years ago. The winner was supposed to be fun to look at and easy to use, thereby inspiring lots of people to use it. But I don’t believe anyone ever built one.

Long time Rambles reader Randy was kind enough to send in this interesting tidbit about a more practical monitoring device being marketed by a firm in Newfoundland: Device to piggyback power meters. Sounds like a good idea… after all, there’s already a meter on your house. It’s just a matter of getting at it conveniently.

Better still, here is an article by Mark Frauenfelder about the wireless Zigbee widget: ZigBee Spins The Carousel of Progress Forward. It’s a mass market device to let your computer talk (via Bluetooth and WiFi) to all kinds of things in your house, including electric meters. This looks to finally be the one that people might buy.

And for God’s sake, stop letting the water run when you brush your teeth.

A quick read

Cory Doctorow, a science fiction novelist, also happens to be the most prolific of the gang behind powerblog BoingBoing. He’s just released a new book, Eastern Standard Tribe, and made the full text available online.

I can’t vouch for the book, but from another site I came across an intriguing way to read it. I can’t imagine sitting down and reading an entire book online; like a lot of people, I’m waiting for the day when some kind of electronic paper gets damn close to the real thing. But a guy named Trevor Smith has adapted a speed reading application so that you can watch the words fly by one at a time. Herewith, the Speed Reader version of Eastern Standard Tribe. (Incidentally, I couldn’t get this applet to run on Internet Explorer, but it seemed to work fine on Mozilla.) It’s a really simple concept. You set the speed, and the words appear and disappear one after another. It sounds like a recipe for a headache, but you can train your brain to manage it fairly quickly. The applet itself is really primitive, but hey! you don’t often come across an entirely new way to read. Even so, I could only tolerate for a few minutes.

I learned about Smith’s reader from Joe Gregorio’s BitWorking blog. He had some interesting thoughts about the experience of computer-mediated speed reading:

At first it’s a very disorienting experience, you have no context for the words, no indication of page or paragraph, and I had to start at a slow speed. After a while my eyes and brain got used to it and I was able to crank up the speed, which is where things get counter-intuitive, the faster I went, the smoother the reading went. … I read the entire book in about 2 hours. … The oddest part of reading a book this way is how it feels. Hard to describe except to say that if feels like to goes into a different part of the brain than if you read it on paper.

It makes me think of that Woody Allen joke: “I took a course in speed reading and was able to read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It’s about Russia.”

Hac pulsa (click here)

Someone has gone to the trouble to translate Harry Potter into ancient Greek, so it shouldn’t surprise you that there are news services out there that specialize in delivering the news in Latin, or rather the nuntii Latini. The Finnish radio network YLE started it off many years ago, and now with the advent of advanced digital media and broadband internetworking, you can go to the Nuntii Latini page, click on the “Recitatio” button, and listen to the latest news just like Julius Caesar would have. The big newsflash from Gaul this week: “Velamen capitis in scholis Francorum prohibitum.”

What’s really entertaining is to listen to the Finnish reader plow through a story, and then listen to the Latin news from Radio Bremen in Germania, er, I mean Germany. It may be the same language, but it sure doesn’t sound like it. Plus the stories are more hip for the sensibilities of the cutting edge Latinist. Instead of French hats, we’re getting moonbases and space travel… check out this coverage of Bush’s proposal for a statione in Luna.

George Bush Unitarum Civitatum Americae praesidens in oratione dixit Americanos viginti annis stationem spatialem in Luna instituturos esse, e qua postea naviculis spatialibus in Martem planetam proficiscerentur. Bush hoc anno iterum munus praesidentis petiturus est.

Now I’d like to hear George W. say that. I am reminded of Dan Quayle regretting that he didn’t brush up on his Latin before his tour of Latin America.

The CoffeeCzar is back

Not that he would ever stoop to drinking Americano, but things are percolating again over at the CoffeeCzar’s place. Follow him to interesting places like the Takagism Crimson Room puzzle and Chris Pratley’s blog for enlightening discussions about bugs and product design from inside the throbbing heart of Microsoft.

Read the CoffeeCzar’s blog and encourage his Large Software Company to support blogging and wiki-related products.

Water balloons in space

Here is a site entitled Did you ever wonder what it would be like to see a water balloon pop in space? I have to confess that I never did, but having once seen the title, I was consumed by a desire to see what it would be like to see a water balloon pop in space. I followed the link and looked at the movies, and they did not disapppoint. Surf around until you find the bursting sausage-shaped balloon on the pedestal. No Freudian subtext, just fascinating slo-mo fluid dynamics. Sometimes a bursting sausage-shaped balloon is just a bursting sausage-shaped balloon.

The other Star Chamber

There are Star Chambers and there are Star Chambers. Maybe you’re thinking of the 1983 film starring Michael Douglas. Or maybe you’re actually thinking of the old original Court of Star Chamber. Then there is, of course, this humble site, whose moniker grew out of a running joke among four friends across many Tuesday night beers. But ask Google to show you a “Star Chamber” and (today, at least) the top choice is an online game called It looks like a sort of Magic, The Gathering kind of thing set in space. Read this review if you’re curious. Anyway, the creator, Paul Dennen, asked me to provide a link his way, so here you go.

Please stand by

I’ve been having some problems with posting comments to my site. Something to do with “Date” objects not being created. I even lost a few of my posts in a most mysterious fashion. If you posted a comment that coughed up an error message and failed to appear, I’m sorry about that. I’m still waiting to hear from my hosting company about what the dang deal is, but I think they’re spending all of their time stomping out MyDoom fires. If you’ve ever had a problem like this with your Movable Type blog, let me know.

Lenticular maps

Lenticulars, also known as “winkies”, are those goofy quasi-3D plastic gimcracks that are good for two-step animations showing things like Jesus looking up to heaven or dancing girls wiggling their hips. I never thought they’d be useful for anything but cheesy gimmicks. But they turn out to have numerous cheese-free applications in the modern world. For one thing, you can now buy a Sharp laptop with a three dimensional lenticular display. And then there’s this nifty lenticular map of Manhattan in which three different maps come together in one virtuous unit: Urban Mapping. Make sure and run the Flash demo to see how it works.

Mapping books

Amazon likes to recommend books to you using a phrase like this: “Customers who bought Ferret Husbandry also bought Ferrets for Dummies.” Jumping from book to book like this, you can build a web of interconnected books. What can you learn from such a network? And is there a market for a book called The Dumb Husband’s Guide to Ferrets?

Some folks at, a company that makes social network analysis software, have built one of these Amazon networks, and the results are very entertaining: Political Patterns in Books. Building a network of political books, their plots demonstrate the dramatic divide between what left-leaning and right-leaning people are reading these days. Only a few books appear to be read by both sides. With all the talk about blue states and red states this election year, ask yourself, do you read red books or blue books? Finally, here’s some campaigning advice from orgnet:

See someone reading Sleeping with the Devil? That is someone you can talk to about your candidate. If they are reading Bushwacked or Dereliction of Duty — the most central books in each cluster — then either give them a high-five or a sneer, you won’t change their views.

Happy Groundhog Day!


About this sturdy rodent (Marmota monax a.k.a. whistle-pig) pivots all of winter. You’re safely through the first half by now. How much more of this blasted cold must we endure? I don’t know about where you are, but we’ve had the 2nd coldest January on record here, so I am happy to indulge in Old World superstitions of dubious merit if it will take my mind off the freaking cold for a while. So Happy Groundhog Day to you, and may his shadow do whichever thing it needs to do to make it warm and have tropical drinks appear.

Happily, football also falls into the category of topics that take your mind off the weather. The Patriots have won themselves another Super Bowl, and I am pleased.