Superheros have their problems too

I’m somewhat a closet fan of “Robot Chicken” on Adult Swim. It has its hits and its misses but the absolute funniest vignette was a “Real World” parody featuring a bunch of the superheros from my childhood. If you get a chance to catch it you won’t regret it!

This little video reminded me of that skit and really is very well done. Minimalist in its execution it’s just a good laugh.

James Randi explains homeopathy

Wow! Pretty succinct… well as succinct as 14 1/2 minutes can be. But a very good description of Homeopathy nonetheless.

When I was younger I explored a lot of alternative practices and was very seriously considering entering the field as well. Fortunately, my grades in university in computer science were so much better than my grades in my pre-med subjects that they convinced me that my forte really lay in programming and analytical pursuits.

There is so much to know in this world that you often have to pick your authorities for the things you don’t have the time or inclination to pursue yourself. You end up trusting folks’ word and believe that they know what they are talking about. Of course, implicit in this is the assumption that they have either done the research themselves, reviewed the research first-hand or that their choice of a trusted authority has a good handle on the subject.
Homeopathy, was something that I was never able to reconcile with reality. The testing modality assumed “energies” that could not be measured and treatments that relied on “vibrations” or “energies” that could not be detected or explained.

The premise of “like cures like” was a wild stab in the dark from a pre-science era and was pretty cool reasoning for its time. But with the advent of the scientific method, understanding that perhaps 60% of anything you’d see a doctor about will fix itself ultimately anyway, and knowledge that the placebo effect is quite a powerful one, it seems clear that folks need to weigh the efficacy of such a questionable and unproven modality. Especially one that can be so expensive.

I *do* rather wish Mr. Randi had taken a few moments to explain Avagadro’s number a bit more carefully. Basically, Avagadro’s number expresses how many molecules would be contained in a quantity of a substance whose mass in grams is equal to it’s formula weight (thanks Wikipedia!). i.e. a mole of Carbon-12 atoms would be 12 grams. So his argument for the odds of finding even a single molecule in the quantity represented is modestly tainted

Fluid Robot Movement

Regardless of your opinion of wrestling (and it can’t be any lower than mine), the fluidity of motion of that little orange robot is incredible!

I don’t know what materials were used to create it, but this is definitely another step forward to achieving mechanical biomimicry of motion.

Man, where were these cool toys when I was a kid? 🙂

Podcatching – Goliath is the winner

Until very recently I was using “Doppler” as my podcatching client. It allowed me a degree of control in managing my subscriptions that I simply cannot get with iTunes. However, I was finding more and more problems – even with the older podcasts – as they focused on ensuring that the RSS tags were iTunes compatible and not necessarily other podcatcher compatible.

Also, I was finding some content available exclusively on iTunes which had me using its podcatching features anyway for those select offerings. For example I’m currently in the middle of a GREAT astrophysics lecture series from Berkeley that is available as part of many educational institutions’ efforts to make such content generally available.

Add to that the fact that the creator of Doppler has been really dragging his feet on updating the podcatcher and I had to reluctantly transfer all of my feeds to iTunes and find some new ways to manage my content.

iTunes doesn’t offer a feed-by-feed way of discarding unplayed podcasts (for instance, if I haven’t listened to a “Clark Howard” podcast in a month, then I’m just not going to listen to it) and there is no really good mechanism for marking a podcast as “done with” – you can do this in Doppler by simply assigning a rating to the podcast and it will automatically remove all with that rating if you have set that podcast up to be managed in that way.

In iTunes the only feedback mechanism I have is to run the podcast to the end so that the play count goes above zero. Then I have an “Obsolete podcast” Smartlist that picks these up. Periodically I go to that Smartlist and delete everything in it. I *know* I can have iTunes automatically delete all played podcasts but sometimes I do not want this to happen right away.

Anyway, I’m pretty happy with my iTunes podcatching experience so far. It’s sort of like when I finally joined the mainstream and installed Windows 95 after being a die-hard OS/2 user for so many years. I can finally do everything everybody else can do, the price being that I have to give up some of my prized features that just don’t seem to be in demand by the mainstream.

If you are interested, here is my current podcast list in OPML format: OPML File as of September 20, 2007. If you want to know how to import/export OPML files from iTunes, click here.

Below is a list of my current podcasts in order of preference. I enjoy ALL of these, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t download them. But some are more relevant, informative or fun than others.

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe
Astronomy Cast
Astro 10P: Introduction to General Astronomy – Fall 2006
TEDTalks (video)
Slashdot Review – SDR News
CBC Radio: Quirks & Quarks Complete Show
Skepticality: The Official Podcast of Skeptic Magazine
IT Conversations
Cato Daily Podcast
Cato Weekly Video
Science @ NASA Feature Stories Podcast
Humanist Network News
Mr. Deity
Career Opportunities
The Finer Points – Aviation Podcast
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video and Audio Podcasts
The Economist
The Clark Howard Show
Clark Howard’s Scam Alerts
Clark Howard’s Call Of The Week
Battlestar Galactica Podcast
Astronomy Magazine Podcast
David Allen Company Updates
David Allen Company Podcast
43 Folders
Pilotcast – Aviation Podcast for Pilots, by Pilots
Slacker Astronomy podcast
Slacker Astronomy Video Podcast
The Skeptic Tank
Astronomy a Go Go!
SETI: Science and Skepticism: Are We Alone?
Cato Institute Event Podcast
Gmail Podcast
The Ellen DeGeneres Show in a minute
IdoNotes (and sleep)

De-cluttering our home and our lives

Garage SaleWe’ve been a bit busy for the past little while. In the post renovation euphoria, we realized that we really like the quasi-minimalism that we had in our newly re-invented rooms. We can find what we’re looking for and we like the feeling of lightness that comes from just knowing that there is not a mountain of *stuff* either behind the closet doors or filling up the drawers in the desk/cabinet/you name it.

Add to that Mich has been watching various home improvement shows and eventually zoomed in on “Clean Sweep” and has even ventured so far as to buy the “Clean Sweep” book (It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff) and started taking it’s philosophies to heart.

So we’ve been working our way through the house re-evaluating EVERYTHING. We’ve been discarding old papers that at one time we thought were so important – who really cares about those pay stubs from 15 years ago? And re-evaluated our “time capsules”, which are boxes of items that we didn’t want to get rid of for one reason or another and thought that they’d be interesting to us many years in the future. We went down from 4 time capsule boxes to 1. It *was* a little interesting going through some of the items we thought were so precious 15 or 20 years ago, but it was much more cathartic evaluating them and either selling, giving away or discarding them.

On the whole, digital pictures and smaller mementos to trigger memories of good times past are sufficient for our purposes.

Our neighborhood has a couple of garage sales a year – where the homeowners association does some advertisement and folks know to come through ’cause there will be a lot of sales concentrated in the area. So we participated in the one that was held last week and divested ourselves of a BUNCH of stuff and cleared a modest profit as well 🙂

Combining this de-cluttering with the philosophies embodied in our focus on “Getting Things Done“, we’re finding ourselves much clearer in our expectations for our free time and our lives and goals in general.

We picked up DVD storage pages, the kind that fit into a 3-ring binder, and we’ll be collapsing our DVD collection down from a couple of shelf-fulls to a handy binder size. This AFTER culling the collection for the garage sale.

Today we’ll finish assembling the shelves we picked up yesterday and complete organizing the back room we’ve designated as our “storage room”. We have no basement and there are some things that you simply do not want to store in a shed or the garage (Christmas items, party supplies) and so we’ve designated a room in the house that will host such items. But only after a THOROUGH vetting – do we really want/need to keep these things?

It takes a LOT of energy and effort to work through this kind of project, the renovation was a good shaking-up / taking off point for us. Hopefully the momentum from this effort can roll through the rest of our life as the satisfaction of finding what you need when you need it as well as being pleased with how your place looks is almost beyond description.

Dynamic image resizing (Really, this is impressive!)

Listed on under the boring title “Advanced Photo Resizing”, this is astonishing. Sure, we’ve been able to modify images for quite a few years now. Photoshopping an image to remove, accentuate or beautify the subject matter is nothing new at all. We’ve simply become better at it over the years.

But this video, describing the ability to now allow images to be dynamically resized, including the ability to selectively emphasize what is removed, is truly a giant step forward in this arena.

Of course, the images presented could never be claimed to be a true representation of the original subject. But then, that’s been true since the first wide angle lense and the first filter were applied to still photography.

Reality has always been somewhat subjective, and now it can depend on the size of your viewing screen!  🙂

Remove duplicate tracks from iTunes Playlists on a Windows Machine

There seem to be plenty of utilities available for this kind of housekeeping on MAC systems on which iTunes is a native application. But it took a little digging to find these helpful little utilities. There are about 20 utilities of which I see a use for about 3 of them for my purposes.

Every once in a while I like to re-evaluate some of my playlists and/or create new ones. I don’t necessarily want to throw away my previous work (although sometimes I do that too…), so I wanted to be able to toss songs into, say, my “Driving” playlist without concern for whether or not those songs were already represented there.

Running Teridon’s script allows me to simply purge all the duplicates after I’m done. A handy little time saver.