Monday, November 17, 2008

Origami In Space

I was doing a bit of web research for a map folding problem (yeah, that's the sort of thing I do in my spare time), and ran across the science of Computational Origami.

It's all about using computers to simulate paper folding. That might seem like a huge waste of time, but they've applied origami techniques to a wide number of engineering problems. For example, here's a link to a page that talks about using origami techniques to fold the material for a telescope dish into a precise form to allow it to fit into a rocket. The idea being that you can put a telescope in space that way. And this link is about the applications of computational origami to airbag design and simulation.

That's one of the things I love about computer science. No matter how much you know about it, there's always some specialized field that you've never heard about, but is very cool.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Climbing Trees

We needed to have some limbs pruned in one of our trees in the back, so I managed to find an excuse to pull out my harness and ropes and go climbing.

It wasn't totally just an excuse, since our neighbor was helping me, and his tallest ladder didn't reach as far as we needed to go. It did get me to the point where I could grab onto the lowest branch and start climbing, though.

So there I was, perched in the crook of a branch about fifty feet up (tied off, of course, to a rope I'd tossed around a higher branch), working away with a handsaw on one of the branches we needed to prune. I'm not much for power saws, but let me tell you that when you're crouched awkwardly on a branch that high, you really do want something faster than a hand saw. I had to lay back on my branch and rest a few times before I made it all the way through the branch.

One of the other branches was pretty big, so I tossed a rope higher and tied it off, anchoring it in a couple of different directions to keep it from swinging. Then our neighbor went up the ladder (this branch was lower) and used a chainsaw to take it off. It dropped a couple of feet as the ropes took up the slack, and then hung in the air.

It's very cool when something like that works out the way you'd planned it!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Evolution of Language

It's interesting to me how languages evolve.

We teach language in school as if there's only one correct version of a language. We study the parts of speech, nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, we diagram sentences, and generally put it all in front of young people so often some of it sinks in.

And yet languages are fluid, and change constantly. Slang terms are coined by every generation, sometimes every year. Since I teach at a college, I hear a lot of the slang, and sometimes have to pick up what it means through context. A few years ago, "amped" was being used to describe being excited about something (what other generations would have called "pumped"). These days I don't hear that being used.

Other slang terms stick around and become part of the language. Some words change their meaning entirely. For example, normally placing an "in" in front of a word makes it mean the opposite. Tractable and Intractable have opposite meanings. But Flammable and Inflammable mean the same thing. Did they once have opposite meanings too?

Lately there's been a new word popping up on the Internet as a new term meaning "blog posts". It's Bloggeries, as in "I write a lot of bloggeries about my life". It's a fun new word that isn't in wide use yet, so I'm doing my part to make it official.

And in case you're wondering how words become "official", here's an article by someone who helps do research for dictionaries.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Gaming Convention

This weekend is my fall trek to the Akron area for Con on the Cob, a great local gaming convention. I go for the role playing, but there are board games and all sorts of other games going on. The con is famous for its kids activities, which usually include costume contests, art activities, movies, etc.

The Wild West LARP I ran last year went well, so this year I'll be running a LARP called Death on the Gambia. There's a lot more intrigue in this one than in the Wild West game. Very few people are actually who they seem, and there's a great lost book mechanic where every single character starts with a copy of Agatha Christie's Death On The Nile. Some are normal copies of the books, others have secret information written in them.

I've printed out old images of the cover for Death On The Nile, and will make covers for some hardbacks to take with me. So every person will be carrying around an actual book, and if someone wants to steal a book they'll have to be pretty tricky about it.

I'll also be running a normal tabletop role playing game. Rather than bring out more of my Call of Cthulhu scenarios, I decided to go for minimum preparation and turn it into a virtue. The players themsevels will decide what genre and theme the game will have, and I'll improvise a fun adventure for them.

Hopefully I'll also get a chance to play some games during the weekend!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Enabling comments on web sites

One of the things about web sites is that you're not really sure if people like the info you're providing or not. Blogs are great for that, because blogs allow comments. People can leave a comment to say if they like what you said, hate it, or whatever.

When my wife and I started our recipe web site, Healthy Recipes For Your Family, one of the things that we wanted was to allow comments. But standard web sites don't allow comments. We could have used Wordpress to build the site and use Wordrpess' built in commenting feature, but I wanted to give Site Built It a try with the web site.

I'm glad I did, because SBI provides a great infrastructure for getting people to your page. Without doing much extra at all, our recipe site ranks well in search engines so that we're getting people visiting the site.

But SBI doesn't provide for comments on web pages. Enter Disqus, a free service that allows visitors to put comments on your web pages. It's a pretty full featured service, and works well. You can see a sample of a comment on our vegetable lasagna recipe. And it's comments like that that make the whole chore of putting up a web site worth the while.

So if you have a straight web site that doesn't allow comments, take a look at Disqus.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cool Anime Related Contest

If you're into anime, I ran across a contest with a cool looking prize. You can win an autographed Ouran High wall scroll by just leaving a comment on the post linked to above, which is easy enough. You'll be contacted by email if you win.

For my students who are doing the blogging part of Intro to Computing, that's an easy way to get credit for one of the blog comments, and possibly win a prize, too!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Happy Birthday, Back To School!

It's that time again, when fall semester will start up soon.

I'm always rushing right about now, trying to prepare everything I need to prepare to teach the new classes, making changes to the old classes, installing software on the computer labs, etc. I typically end up about a week ahead of my students in the new classes, although at busy times during the semester that sometimes drops to only a couple of days.

This year, classes start back on my birthday, August 25th. Not a great birthday present. I remember sometime in either elementary or middle school, when they'd been pushing the start of school back farther and farther into the summer, the first time that the first day of school fell on my birthday. I was pretty upset! To a little kid, that was the biggest disaster in the world!

I guess I've matured since then, because now it isn't a disaster, more a "It'd be nice if school started a week later" sort of thing.

Good luck to all of you who are starting back, too!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Origins 2008

I've recently arrived home from Origins 2008, and it was a blast!

This was the first year that we did the whole hotel experience, since we no longer live in Columbus. It was also the first year that my daughter Amelia went for the whole convention. Last year she stopped in for a couple of hours, but that was it.

Staying on-site was terrific. I had loaded my schedule with late night games so that I'd be able to spend time with Amelia during the day, so being able to make a five minute walk to a hotel room instead of a fifteen minute walk/drive home was great. Plus, Amelia has discovered she loves vacations, so she wouldn't have felt like she was on one if we hadn't stayed away from home.

The kids program at Origins is first rate. Amelia and I explored it while Lisa was busy going insane in a Call of Cthulhu game. They had games and toys for all ages of kids, but what Amelia loved most was the game of parachute they did each day. That's the one where you have a parachute like circle with handles, and everyone lifts it up, runs under it, etc. From that first day, Amelia made sure we never missed a parachute game.

I got quite a bit of LARPing in, which is always nice. I can usually get half a dozen people together for a LARP outside of a convention, but it isn't quite the same as playing with a group of twenty or thirty people.

Two of the LARPs were Call of Cthulhu games. One was a last man standing game that involved Boy Scout troops in the Appalachian mountains. The goal was to be the last person alive. The game started at 11:00pm, and was supposed to go until 3:00pm. I guess we were too good at staying alive, because it lasted until 5:00pm. I ended up being the last one alive by the luck of a few draws (the game used playing card draws rather than dice), and brought home a Last Man Standing t-shirt.

The other Call of Cthulhu LARP was a Cthulhu Live event set on a German Zepplin in the 1930s. Very cool setting, and many of the players went all out on costuming, with some very realistic looking German uniforms evident.

I also played in lots of table top role playing, including more Call of Cthulhu and a superhero game set in the Italian renaissance.

Amelia had a great time at the con, although the one game Sunday that she was going to help me play (a Fudge superhero game) was canceled since I was the only player. But we played lots of games in the kids room, and even found a game of charades in the board games library that we played Wednesday evening. I also found a card game in the dealer's room called Stoplights that she loves (a few weeks ago she started calling out Stop and Go when we're driving, based on the color of the traffic lights). So when she wanted to play Stoplights she would call out, "Stop! Go!"

There were a lot of kids oriented RPGs at the convention this year, although none were suitable for Amelia's age (three years old). One game had three years old as the minimum age, but it was a four hour game, and there's no way my active daughter would sit in a chair for four hours rolling dice. She's more of a LARP girl, she needs to move around; hopefully someone next year will have a kids LARP.

We'll definitely all be going again next year!

Monday, April 28, 2008

End of the Semester

It's nearly the end of the semester here, and as usual I'm behind in my grading.

I'm not as far behind as most other professors I talk to, but I'm still behind. And look at me, I'm writing a blog post instead of grading!

This week is the week before final exam week. Another week to get through, then exams to grade, and the summer can start.

I have a lot of tasks planned for the summer. I always do, and get to only a portion of them, but here are some of the highlights. Check back here in the fall to see what I actually managed to do.

Put Up A Slide

My daughter loves slides, so I want to get one that she can use and set it up. She also loves swings, so maybe it'll be a swing set and slide combination.

Research Project

I'm helping another professor with a research project, and this summer is when the bulk of my portion of the work should be done.


June is the time of the year for Origins, one of the two big annual gaming conventions. We go every year for four days of non-stop gaming. Then we come home and crash for a week.


We haven't taken a real vacation in, well, forever. The sort where you take a week or two and go somewhere and enjoy yourselves. We're still talking about where to go, so if you have any suggestions, let us know.

Online Work

I do a lot of online work, creating websites for myself and others. That work will continue over the summer.

Prepare for Fall Classes

Every summer I tell myself that by fall I want to be completely prepared for my classes. It never happens, but I'm telling myself that again this summer. I want to have books picked, syllabi written, and notes and assignments created for all my classes before the fall semester starts.


Before our recent move, we worked with a great personal trainer who managed to keep us more or less in shape. We haven't found anyone similar after the move, so we'll see what we can do on our own.

Family Time

I plan on spending a lot of family time this summer. My daughter will be three years old in June, and she's a lot of fun to be around. We'll probably make a lot of trips to local playgrounds.

And there are probably a dozen other things I've forgotten that should be on the list. That's okay, I doubt I'll get all of the ones I remembered done, anyway!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Stargate Goodness

Okay, so I'm optimistic.

I recently bought the big collection of all the Stargate episodes, over 50 DVDs full of every season of the show, plus all the "making of" specials that have been done. When this monster package first came out, it was priced near $300, I think. That seemed reasonable to me, but I didn't have the money.

I have the money now, so I hopped onto Amazon and found that the price was $160 something. I grabbed it, and the new Ark of Truth DVD (a made for DVD movie continuing the Stargate saga).

So when am I going to have time to watch 10 seasons of Stargate? I figure it'll probably be about the time my two-year old daughter goes away to college. Maybe I'll be lucky and she'll become a science fiction fanatic like me, and we'll cut a few years off that estimate.

Oh, and I must have bought when the stars were right...I just checked, and the price is up to $230. Lucky me!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Selling Your Life

I just ran across the website of a man in Australia who is selling his life on Ebay. For full details, head to his website, ALife4Sale.

The short version of it, though, is that he's tired of his life and wants a fresh start. He considered selling his house and just starting over that way, but eventually hit on the idea of just scrapping it all and starting over with nothing more than his wallet and the clothes he was wearing.

The idea of a fresh start can certainly be appealing, and all of us have things we're holding on to that we really should let go of. Stuff, old issues, whatever they may be.

Ian, the guy selling his life, has done a good job at putting together a package that represents his life. You're not just buying his house and all the furnishings, you're getting absolutely everything in the house, you're getting a two-week trial employment at his job, you're getting an introduction to his friends, etc.

Who would buy something like this? I imagine it would be attractive for someone else who wanted to get out of their old life and make a clean start. Well, however clean a start it could be when you're stepping into someone else's life.

An interesting idea, and another example of how to use the Internet in fun and quirky ways.

Monday, February 11, 2008

James Bond's Calling Card

Okay, this has to be just about the coolest thing I've seen lately.

For a while, before we started using Skype for long distance, we used calling cards. You could get some truly great deals, down to the 1 cent a minute level, in exchange for the annoyance of having to dial a ton of numbers and listening to an advertisement before getting to your actual call.

So I still look online now and then to see what kinds of rates calling cards get. And I ran across a calling card that allows you to fake the caller id that the person you're calling will see. Want them to see the number of the White House? No problem! Or Joe's Pizza Shop? No problem!

The card also allows you to change your voice through an automatic algorithm, in real time. You speak, but what the person on the other end hears is not your voice. You can even have your voice changed so it sounds like you're the opposite gender. All the while displaying a fake caller id.

The voice changing capability has a lot of potential for abuse, but they do keep records enough to be able to track back to you if they are served with a subpoena. Hopefully that will keep the abuse to a minimum.

You can also record calls.

They call the card the Spoof Card, a term carried over from computers, where one computer pretends to be another computer.
A fun idea, but it'll be interesting to see how it works out.

Update: the same company has another calling card I just found, called Liar Card. You make a call with this card and ask the person on the other end a question, and their computers analyze the person's voice stress when they answer the question, and tells you whether they lied or told the truth. According to the web site, it's over 95% accurate.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New Healthy Recipes Website!

Lisa and I started a new website as a place to feature our collection of homemade healthy recipes.

The site's still being added to weekly, but there's enough there that you can get a feel for how the site will be laid out and how it'll all work.

The focus is on the recipes that Lisa has created over the years that we've changed our eating habits from the traditional American diet into something healthier. Everything has been taste tested by us many times.

Some of the highlights our vegetable lasagna recipe, which is always a hit, and Lisa's banana muffins recipe. We've also got an applesauce cake recipe that Amelia loves...that's her chosen birthday cake.

The page on natural organic food has links to the substitutions Lisa usually makes in recipes to make them healthier. She's always creating more substitutions as she experiments, but the page lists the most common ones.

Oh, and I can't forget to mention the banana smoothie recipe. That's Amelia's favorite summer treat, and is healthy enough we don't mind her having it every day.

Enjoy what's on the site now, and check back later since we're always adding something new.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Green Survey

I get emailed about a lot of these surveys, and I pass on most of them.

This one, though, was about environmentalism, so I figured I had to take it. Here's the results: