Non-Computer

  • The Old New Thing

    The social interactions in two preschool classes, in graphic form

    • 34 Comments

    Each preschooler at my daughter's school was asked a few simple questions, and the answers were printed in the yearbook. Among other things, the preschoolers were asked to complete the sentence, "I like to play with (person)."

    This is the type of question that leads to tears and hurt feelings.

    Whatever. Their parents are going to be stuck with the therapy bills. (My daughter is not a preschooler at the school, so I avoided a therapy bill. At least not over this.)

    From this data, I created a graph. Each arrow points from a student to the person they said they like to play with.

    1 7 16
    2 8 17
    3 9 14 18
    10 19
    4 11 15 20
    5 12
    6 13

    This class breaks up into four cliques. Two of the cliques consists of a pair of playmates, and one hanger-on. The large clique consists of two focal points (students 9 and 10) who play with each other. The medium-sized clique has a single focal point (student 18) who plays with a best friend (14).

    I think that student 14 is in the best spot. He (or she) is not himself popular, but the popular kid plays with him (or her).

    The second preschool class has a more complex structure.

    21
    22
    23 30
    24 31 35
    25 32 36
    39
    26 33 37
    40
    27 34 38
    28
    29

    The upper left group consists of a core of four students (23, 30, 31, 24) who play with each other, plus some hangers-on.

    The lower left group consists of a pair of friends (27 and 28) and their hangers-on.

    The right-hand group consists of one very popular student (37) who plays with a best friend (36), and their hangers-on.

    The most interesting student is number 26.

    All of the other students gave only one name in response to the prompt. But student 26 gave three names. As a result, that student links together the three cliques in the class.

    Student 26 is bringing people together. I admire that.

  • The Old New Thing

    Microspeak: Brownbag

    • 22 Comments

    Remember, Microspeak is not merely for jargon exclusive to Microsoft, but it's jargon that you need to know.

    The term brownbag (always one word, accent on the first syllable) refers to a presentation given during lunch. The attendees are expected to bring their lunch to the meeting room and eat while they listen to the presentation.

    A brownbag could be a one-off presentation, or it could be a regular event. The speaker could be an invited guest, or the presenters may come from within the team. In general, the purpose of a brownbag is to familiarize the audience with a new concept or to share information with the rest of the team. Sometimes attendance is optional, sometimes attendance is mandatory, and sometimes attendance is optional but strongly recommended, which puts it in the murky category of mandatory optional.

    You can learn more about each team's plans in brownbags that we will kick off the week of 2/17 and continue regularly through the month.
    Are you going to the brownbag? I'm heading to the cafeteria, want to come along?

    It is common for the slides accompanying a brownbag to be placed on a Web site for future reference. Sometimes the presentation is recorded as well.

    The term brownbag is sometimes extended to mean any presentation which introduces a group of people to a new concept, whether it occurs at lunch or not.

    Virtual brownbag on widget coloring.

    That's the (redacted) subject of a message I sent out to our team. The message described the process you have to go through in order to get a widget coloring certificate. It could have been a brownbag but I was too lazy to book a room for it, so I created a virtual brownbag.

    Due to scheduling conflicts, we will have to move the presentation to Friday at noon. We apologize for the last-minute change. This is now really a brownbag, so grab your lunch in the cafeteria and join us for a great talk and discussion!

    The above is another example of how the term brownbag was applied to something that, at least originally, was not a lunch meeting.

  • The Old New Thing

    Get your hex wrench ready, because here comes the Ikea bicycle

    • 14 Comments

    Ikea säljer elcyklar. Click through for two-image slide show.

    Ikea selling electric bicycles

    Forget furniture. Ikea is now launching, that's right, an electric bicycle.

    It goes under the name People-Friendly and costs around 6000 SEK ($900 USD).

    But only in Älmhult, Småland.

    People-Friendly has already received three design awards, including the IF Design Award, according to Ikea's press release.

    What distinguishes it from other electric bicycles is that the battery is hidden in the frame. That makes it look like a regular bicycle as well as lowering the center of gravity and makes the bicycle more stable.

    Performance is for the most part like other electric bicycles: It handles 6–7 Swedish miles (60–70 km, 35–45 US miles) on a charge, which takes 5–6 hours. The weight is 25 kg (55 pounds). The frame is aluminum and the engine is in front.

    Only in Småland

    The 5995 SEK cost of the bicycle may sound like a lot, but it's inexpensive for an electric bicycle.

    The biggest problem with the People-Friendly is that you can't buy it at regular Ikea stores.

    So far, the bicycle is sold only at the bargain department of the Älmhult Ikea.

    "Here is where we test new products. And this is a test product. We want to see how much interest there is and be sure that we can take care of the product, even after the purchase," says Daniela Rogosic, press officer for Ikea Sweden.

    She cannot say when it will begin being sold at general Ikea stores, but she confirms that interest has been strong for the bicycle during the month it has been available.

    Do you have to assemble it yourself like the furniture?

    "Yes, you put it together yourself in the classic Ikea way," says Daniela Rogosic.

    Fact sheet

    • Price: Around 7200 SEK ($1100 USD) in Austria
    • Material: Aluminum and steel (front fork)
    • Gears: 3
    • Weight: 25 kg
    • Battery: 36 V
    • Range: 60–70 km
    • Charge time: 5–6 hours
    • Top speed: N/A
    • Engine: 36 V, forward

    On the Web site for the Älmhult bargain department, it describes the bicycle as a three-speed, available in both men's and women's styles. Limit one per customer.

  • The Old New Thing

    How to take down the entire Internet with this one weird trick, according to Crisis

    • 28 Comments

    According to the television documentary Crisis which aired on NBC last Sunday, a cyberattack took over the entire Internet.

    Timecode 13:00: "Anything connected to the Internet. Banking systems, power grid, air traffic control, emergency services. The virus has spread into them all."

    And the show includes an amazing journalistic scoop: A screen shot of the attack being launched! Timecode 11:40:

    文件上传
    Threads Progress Remaining Speed
    0:000> u eip-30 eip+20 notepad+0x5cfc: 01005cfc 0001 add [ecx],al 01005cfe 3bc7 cmp eax,edi 01005d00 7407 jz notepad+0x5d09 (01005d09) 01005d02 50 push eax 01005d03 ff15dc100001 call dword ptr [notepad+0x10dc (010010dc)] 01005d09 8b45fc mov eax,[ebp-0x4] 01005d0c 57 push edi 01005d0d 57 push edi 01005d0e 68c50000 push 0xc5

    That's right, my friends. This elite virus that shut down the Internet was an upload of Notepad!

  • The Old New Thing

    Eventually, we may find out where notes eight through twelve came from

    • 16 Comments

    CBC Radio's Tom Allen investigates the origin of the opening four notes of the classic Star Trek theme. He traces it to the opening of Mahler's First Symphony, then further back to Brahms's Second Symphony and Beethoven's Fourth Symphony.

    In college, one of my classmates (the same one that is now the conductor of an orchestra) identified the source of the trumpet fanfare in the Star Trek theme, also known as notes five through seven: Mahler's Seventh Symphony. Skip to timecode 11:05.

    Eventually, we may find out where notes eight through twelve came from. If the trend keeps up, we may discover that it came from yet another Mahler symphony.

  • The Old New Thing

    Even if you're the President, your mother still has the power to embarrass you

    • 8 Comments

    Last year, in honor of Mother's Day (the United States version), the John F. Kennedy Library shared a letter sent by President Kennedy to his mother.

    Mrs. Kennedy had contacted Premier Khrushchev asking for an autographed photo, copies of which were subsequently forwarded to the White House so that the President could sign them as well. President Kennedy tries to express in the politest language he can muster that the mother of a sitting president directly contacting a foreign dignitary is "subject to interpretations", and that in the future, it would be greatly appreciated if she would let the White House clear any future such contacts.

    It so happened that this particular letter-writing incident occurred very close to the Cuban Missile Crisis. I can imagine President Kennedy burying his hand in his face upon realizing that his mother may have inadvertently exacerbated a major international crisis, just by doing what moms do.

  • The Old New Thing

    Raymond's house rules for Easter Egg Hunts

    • 19 Comments

    One of my colleagues frustrates his family by hiding the eggs for the annual Egg Hunt way too well. "Apparently, drawers and freezers are out of bounds in the traditional egg hunt."

    Here are my house rules for Easter Egg Hunts:

    • All eggs must be hidden within the implied egg-hiding area. No sneaky outliers.
    • All eggs must be at least partially observable by egg-hunters without disturbing anything. No hiding in drawers or under flowerpots, or putting them on top of a tall piece of furniture that a shorter egg-hunter cannot see.
    • However, you may still have to work to see them. They might be behind a sofa or placed above eye level. For example, you might find an egg tucked between the slats of horizontal blinds.

    Personally, I like to hide eggs in plain sight. It's surprising how long it can take somebody to find a yellow egg resting brazenly on the lap of a yellow teddy bear.

  • The Old New Thing

    The gradual erosion of the car trip experience, part 2

    • 27 Comments

    When I learned that my nieces were heading out on a road trip, I asked, "Are you going to sing songs?"

    My eldest niece looked at me as if I were from Mars, then replied, "No, we bring electronics."

  • The Old New Thing

    Different senses of scale create different travel expectations

    • 48 Comments

    A friend of mine had a business meeting near London, and he decided to extend it to a tour of Scotland and England once the meetings were over. (This is the same friend who took me on the emergency vacation many years ago.) His plan was to rent a car early one morning and drive from the meeting location all the way up to Aberdeen at one go, then slowly work his way back south, enjoying the sights along the way.

    He sanity-checked his plan against his colleagues from Great Britain. "I looked it up on multiple online mapping sites, and they all say that the trip from London to Aberdeen is doable in a day. I take motorway X, then Y, then Z. Does this make sense to you?"

    Every single one of his colleagues said, "Oh, no. You can't do it in a day. You should budget two days travel time."

    My colleague was curious. Is the motorway really congested?

    "Not particularly."

    Is the road unusually difficult to navigate, or is the road in poor condition? Something that would prevent me from traveling at the posted speed limit?

    "No, the roads are just fine, and driving is straightforward."

    He asked several other questions trying to find out what it was about the trip that required it to take two days. Is there something funny at the England/Scotland border that takes a long time? Do I have to cross a mountain or something?

    "It just can't be done in one day."

    My colleague concluded that it was simply in the mindset of the locals that driving that far in one day is Just Not Done. There is nothing physically preventing it, but it is considered to be highly unusual.

    As I recall, he ultimately executed his plan without incident. I wonder if the other drivers on the road looked at him funny.

    Bonus story: Another friend of mine was staying in Reading, and he decided to take a weekend excursion to Wales. He pulled out the map, calculated how long it would take him, and noted that the map indicated that there were mountains that he needed to cross to reach his destination.

    He set out with what he thought was plenty of time to spare, but it started getting late, and he still needed to cross the mountains, and he was concerned that the people in Wales would start worrying when he didn't show up.

    And then he reached his destination.

    He drove over the mountains without even realizing it.

  • The Old New Thing

    When visitors to the United States underestimate the size of the country

    • 84 Comments

    A friend of mine who is from Lebanon (but now lives in Seattle) invited his grandmother to come visit for the summer. When she arrived, he asked her, "Grandma, is there anywhere in particular you would like to visit?"

    His grandmother replied, "I'd like go to to Washington, DC."

    "Okay, Grandma. Let me buy some plane tickets."

    "No, let's drive."

    "You want to drive all the way to Washington, DC? Here, let me show you on a map how far away it is."

    Grandma replied, "Let's do it."

    My friend said, "Okay, Grandma, we're going on a road trip!" He got the rest of the family on board with the plan, packed up the car, and set out early one morning for their cross-country trip.

    By the end of the day, they had made it as far as Idaho, where they stopped for the night. I assume that they made plenty of stops along the way because (1) part of the point of a road trip is to enjoy the things along the way, and (2) Grandma.

    Grandma asked, "Is this Washington, DC?"

    "No, Grandma. Washington, DC is still very far away. Here, let me show you on the map where we are."

    Grandma was unconvinced. "If you'd only stop and ask for directions, we would have been there by now." Grandma was certain that the only reason they were driving all day was that her grandson was lost and stupidly driving in circles, and if he only had driven in the right direction, they'd be there by now.

    Grandma's reference for distance was Lebanon, which is a relatively small country. You can drive from the northern tip of the country to the southern tip in a day. The United States is a bit bigger than that.

    A related story was when my parents in New Jersey hosted some friends from Japan. The first excursion they took was to New York City, a convenient train ride away. For their second trip, they said, "How about today we drive to Chicago?"

    Third story.

    Please share any funny stories about geographic blindness in your home country.

    (This was supposed to be posted on Geography Awareness Week but I messed up.)

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