Tower climbing

I love the helmet cam. It lets you piggyback along with somebody who’s doing something insane that you would never do. And it’s small and cheap, so no big documentary budget or film crew is required. That means we get to (vicariously) go all kinds of nutty places.

I admit it’s entertaining to watch, from the safety of my Aeron chair, as adrenaline junkies jump off cliffs. But those are crazy unemployed twenty year olds. The great thing about this next video is that it shows you somebody doing their job. And it’s so marvelously underplayed that I wanted to give them a hug. No EXTREME SUPER HYPERBOLE!!! No fist-pumping rock music. Just this: two guys climbing a tower ‘cuz that’s what they do.

Hey, I’ll tell you what… you go on up. I think I got something in my shoe. I’ll just wait down here. Next to my planet.

My favorite line: Now we’ve reached the base of the antenna. From here it’s just another 60 feet to the top! Left unsaid: … which you reach by crawling up a broomstick swaying above the sucking void of certain death.

Fall autism fundraiser walk is coming up

Next Sunday, September 26th, 2010, we’ll be doing the Autism Speaks fundraiser at Suffolk Downs in Boston. We’ve had some good times and some very tough times with my son Jay this year. Walking is always a good way to get back in touch with the large community of other folks who know what it means to deal with autism every day. And of course it’s a great way to raise money to understand a condition that confounds and frustrates so many of us. We walk in the hope that one day we can eliminate autism, but even small steps forward can make a tremendous difference.

An event like the Autism Speaks walk is inspirational, and I have to tell you that when I’m there, my attention is often drawn to the moms. Mothers bear so much of the burden of managing the many needs of their autistic children, and there are so many of them out there, plugging away day after day. Seeing so many of them at one event always fills my heart. So I want to take a moment here to thank Jay’s mom especially, my wife Wendy, for the superhuman effort she has put into raising Jay and helping him grow to his greatest potential. If I can talk you into donating to Jay’s team this year, I want you to do it in honor of her. She makes me proud.

And if you want to learn more about how Jay’s doing, I’ll let her speak by including her annual email message.

Continue reading “Fall autism fundraiser walk is coming up”

Google Scribe wnts t hlp y typ


That statement, sans vowels, is Claude Shannon‘s example of how information can often be left out of an English sentence without degrading your ability to read it. Shannon, famous as the father of information theory, used various measures to calculate that English is roughly 50% redundant. This may sound wasteful, but Shannon’s information theory is the very tool that tells us that redundancy is useful for rejecting errors, as when you are listening to a conversation in a noisy room.

Google Scribe is a new tool that uses statistics to help you write. It’s like a super-powered spell checker: an about-to checker, as in “here’s what I think you’re about to type.” Here’s how it works. Because Google knows everything, it knows what you’re about to type. Or actually, it’s more like this. Because Google has seen everything written in English so far, and because you’re such a staggeringly unoriginal writer, it’s not hard to guess what you’re going to say. In other words, it may feel like magic, but it’s not magic. You’re just boring. Sorry.

Here’s a sentence I tried to type: “Claude Shannon showed that up to fifty percent of the characters in a typical English sentence are redundant.” That’s 109 characters, including spaces. I counted my keystrokes as I used Google Scribe and got 58 keystrokes, or 53% of the original length. Not bad.

Another fun game is to give it a starting letter and constantly accept the suggestion, just to see where it goes. Start with the letter I, and you get something like this: “In the case of these two types of information that is not appropriate for all users of the catalogue should also be noted that there is anything you would not believe.” Indeed.

If you use Google Scribe to write your term paper, should you cite it as a co-author? Perhaps it will just reach in and add itself.

Pre-fab ThermaSteel for the masses

My brother-in-law Craig is an artist with a special interest in sustainable, affordable housing. This summer he participated in a show at the 1708 Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. Here’s an article in Richmond Magazine about his piece: a sculptural octagonal living unit made out of pre-fabricated ThermaSteel. ThermaSteel is a pretty nifty material. It’s strong, lightweight, and has excellent insulating properties.

Working from the plans of a house he built years ago for himself and his wife (the original and venerable OLU), Craig has designed a 500 square foot living space that can be quickly assembled with minimal effort. He notes that “for about $50,000, it is possible to manufacture, crate, and ship ten of these units, to Port au Prince,” where thousands are still without shelter.

Want to help him house some Haitians?