Cereal rescuers and hardcopy acres
May 26th, 2011
Here are some half-baked ideas that have occurred to me, and no doubt to others, from time
This would be a loosely fitting shroud made of a black gauze that would allow you to see
out but prevent others from seeing in. When you’re on a plane, train, or bus you
would drape this over your head when you want to doze off. Of course since it renders your face
invisible you could also use it to pretend
to sleep when you want to, say, catch up on
some surreptitious ogling or gracefully terminate that tedious and largely one-sided
discourse with that stranger next to you. Now you see me, now you don’t.
No one enjoys finishing out a cereal box and having to pour all those powdery dregs into
their bowl along with the good stuff. Add milk, and... yuck. But at the same time it would
be a shame to give up and throw that entire remainder away. Working much like a pasta
colander, the cereal rescuer would consist of a round screened hoop about ten inches wide
with a single handle and a mild spout-like dip 90 degrees clockwise from that handle. The
screen would be coarse enough to retain only those flakes larger than some acceptable
threshold — three-eights of an inch, maybe. You’d just give it a few gentle shakes
over the sink or a wastebasket and then tilt what’s left into your
Who can keep track of all the world’s despots as they rise and fall, play shell
games with their ill-gotten lucre among various no-tell foreign banks, revise and
re-revise their constitutions to perpetuate their terms, issue their ever loonier decrees,
and jail more and more of their opponents? Not I. DictatorNews.com would be all dictators,
all the time. (Note: as of this writing both dictatornews.com and trashcanistan.com are
parked, so I suppose you could make their owners an offer.)
New unit: The hardcopy acre or HCA
If you print out data in text form, a standard typing paper-sized page (93.5 square
inches) will hold about 44 kilobytes. If we assume an acre measures 43,560 square feet or
6,560,640 square inches, this means that hardcopy plastered across an acre of land would
display about 3 gigabytes. If your machine has about 300 gigabytes of hard disc storage
available, for example, that would amount to 100 HCAs. All the material* in the
Library of Congress? About a million HCAs.
* Assuming 3 petabytes (3 x 1015 bytes) for all its printed text, photographs,
maps, movies, and sound recordings. Since that estimate was published a decade ago, you
could probably add a bit more.
Newt Gingrich’s secular delights
May 23rd, 2011
I have a feeling this entry will be lucky to enjoy the shelf life of a banana, but here goes.
LATE UPDATE (July 18): I stand corrected.
As a bit of background for our non-US visitors and others disinclined to pay much heed to
Sunday morning talk shows or political scuttlebutt in general, the following has recently
been disclosed: Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, whose career
nowadays mainly consists of promoting himself and periodically threatening to run for
president, has at one time or another carried an approximate $500,000 balance on his
revolving account with the swank jewelry retailer Tiffany
. Not to mention, at times, up to $50,000 on his
American Express card.
There’s certainly nothing wrong in principle with living large if one is fortunate enough to aspire to
such things. Heck, we’d all
like to. But the embarrassment for Gingrich in
particular is how remarkably these sybaritic hankerings contradict his longstanding diatribes
against “the elites” and against all things secular,
his general sanctimony about out-of-control spending, and his professed 24/7
dedication to the common workaday folk.
Now if the Gingriches should eventually tire of Tiffany’s offerings — or barring
that, should we spontaneously warp into a parallel though still similarly Gingrich-bedeviled
universe — here are some attractive alternatives for their half-million-dollar
For one thing, maybe he and Callista could use some Champagne. Let’s suggest a Louis
Roederer Cristal Brut 1990, Millennium 2000. At roughly $18,000 for a 6-liter
Methuselah bottle, $500,000 would buy* 28 of those.
A South African Krugerrand holds one troy ounce of gold. But let’s not settle for
those ordinary, scratchy
old Krugerrands. The proof
individually struck with impeccable mirror-like surfaces and reeding (that set of closely spaced
notches around the edge) that’s twice as fine, scrutinized for flaws, and handled only
with gloved hands. Darn, they practically glow in the dark. As of this writing, his for
around $2000 each; half a million gets him 250.
As a third choice, no late-night strategy sessions with Ralph Reed and Randy Evans would
be complete without the very best coffee. That would be have to be Kopi Luwak — famous
for its intimate but most essential pre-roast association with the Asian Palm Civet.
I understand the University of Florida has invented a way to cut the furry helpers out of
the process, but nothing can be as good as the real thing. At about $320 per pound for one
of the more interestingly named brands
of Kopi Luwak,
Newt’s $500,000 would stock his pantry with about 1500 of them.
* At least theoretically, since in reality they’re only auctioned off one at a time.
An Ambien®-proof CAPTCHA?
May 19th, 2011
You know those wonky alphanumeric bitmaps that websites challenge you with to
assure themselves you’re not an automated email-harvester, spambot, or
some other soulless cyber-riffraff?
Well, for certain applications maybe someone could carry this concept a bit further so
that you can protect yourself from emailing, twittering, or Facebook-updating anything you
might regret later owing to any inhibition-numbing substances you might have consumed.
Alcohol and/or cannabis, of course, but far more insidiously that sleep-inducing wonder pill
It’s just amazing what sorts of creative somnambulant misadventures
people can get into after a
little Ambien if they don’t hit the hay immediately afterwords, and — due to
something called retrograde amnesia — how little they remember about it the next
These wouldn’t be impossible
to solve, just troubling enough to require
a touch of reasonably nimble web surfing. Better safe than sorry? I luuuuuv ya, man.
Three unusual afflictions you don’t usually hear about
January 1st, 2011
Empty nose syndrome
Inside our nasal passages on each side there’s a set of three roughly parallel horizontal
folds called turbinates. Since the early 1900s people suffering from serious nasal blockages have
undergone surgery to cut away some of this tissue.
It turns out that the turbinates induce a necessary turbulence into the airflow
through the nose and help slow evaporation, and that overly zealous excision of
these structures can paradoxically make the patient’s nose feel even more
stuffed up than before. This can be fiendishly
distressing and has been referred to as empty nose syndrome. Treatment typically involves
restoring the moisture inside with a saline mist.
Zero stroke (or cipher stroke)
This was first identified in patients by their doctors during the German Weimar Republic
hyperinflation of the early 1920s. The constant stress of having prices rise so feverishly
— at the peak of the crisis they doubled every 90 hours — caused some people to pass
into a sort of trance and obsessively write down row upon row of zeros on sheets of paper.
The Weimar hyperinflation hasn’t been the worst, though. That honor belongs to the
Hungarian version which maxed out in July 1946 when prices were doubling about every 15
It’s exceedingly rare, but some people are born with all their major internal organs
flipped horizontally so that their heart is on the right, their liver is on the left, and
so on. Normally this doesn’t produce any symptoms and the patient only learns of
this state of affairs through a routine x-ray or while being prepped for an organ
But there are partial versions of situs inversus in which, say, the heart is on the left
side as normal (levocardia) with everything else flipped or the heart alone is on the
right (dextrocardia) with everything else in the normal location. Either of these invariably
give rise to serious circulatory problems.