Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Puzzle: Sort of Simple Logic

This one isn't too hard. Although one genius kid I know had to be walked through it (which is odd since he gets most others correct immediately).

There are three sock drawers in a dresser. The drawers are labeled as white, black, and mixed. Every drawer is labeled incorrectly. One drawer contains all white socks, one all black socks, and one has a mixture of white and black socks. You are allowed to close your eyes and pick one sock from one drawer. How can you correctly label each drawer?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fixing My Broken DVD Player

A while ago, my Philips DVP642 DVD player died. It wouldn't do anything. And it wouldn't even surrender the DVD that was inside. Luckily, we have the Internet. I did some poking and discovered that this model has a well known flaw. A single inexpensive capacitor on the power supply board dies. I found a nice description on Amazon, as well as this Yahoo group, and this guy's blog and his detailed photos of his repair job, and even this forum about bad capacitors.

So today I finally got around to repairing mine. I decided to document this brief adventure a little differently. I hope you enjoy these panels. Click on them for the larger (readable) versions.

Epilogue: Since I'm in the process of upgrading my television and video experience to the digital high-definition world, with a new 47-inch 1080p LCD display, I'll probably give this DVD player to Goodwill because it doesn't upconvert. My new Oppo DVD player still works very nicely (my blog post about that). I'll probably get myself a new backup DVD player - one that has upconversion to 1080.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wifi NAS using your USB HD

I was planning to post a positive note about a clever thing I spotted in PopSci magazine. It's the Linksys WRTSL54GS wireless router / NAS server. Then I read the negative reviews on Amazon. So I won't even post a small pic here.

I would like to have a device like this, where you connect your own USB HD and it provides the network front end for NAS functions. That way I could easily upgrade to larger and faster drives. From the reviews, it looks like most of my friends could probably use it (they could overcome most negative comments) - except for it not supporting NTFS formatted drives.

And so, if any of you gadget-geeks out there know of a decent alternative, then please share it.

Balloon Puzzle

Here's anther easy puzzle before I throw in a hard one.

You are stopped in a car with a helium balloon floating in the passenger compartment. All the windows are closed and the AC/vents are turned off. The car accelerated forward. With respect to the passenger compartment, does the balloon move forward, move backward, or stay stationary? And why?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Stellarium Star Watching Guide SW

A really smart MIT researcher showed me this cool program for viewing the stars. It's called Stellarium and is the product of a sourceforge project of that name. They've got application downloads for Windows, Mac (Tiger only), and Linux. You might try this out for yourself over the upcoming holidays.

I just installed it so I can't offer any real review comments. I'm trying the Windows version. In the past I've used web sites that have this function, usually using Java. Those sights are clumbsy to use and slow, so I'm hoping that this program gets around that. I like to jump to a location where I plan to be (such as on hiking or camping trips) and select the future date for that event, and then look to see exactly what will be visible then. I like these tools because I know next-to-nothing about stellar constellations, and I tend to use the idiot-proof info on Stardate.org (and their radio show podcasts here) for knowing what major viewing opportunity is coming up. Feel free to post any comments you have on this program right here.

BTW, the Leonid meteor showers are continuing tonight.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Book: Electric Universe

I just finished the book titled Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity by David Bodanis. It has a mediocre 3/5 stars from 23 Amazon reviewers. I wouldn't give it that many stars ... maybe 2.5. While Mr. Bodanis has written several books on the topic of science history, I think he has much room for improvement. Heck, he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page.

The book's subtitle is a bit misleading, and it led me to expect much more from the book. That unsated expectation probably biases my review and comments a bit. To be fair, it did include a lot of interesting little stories of several historical figures related to the development and/or use of electricity, such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Heirich Hertz, Guglielmo Marconi, Samuel Morse, and Alan Turing. Also, it does a reasonable job of explaining the true nature of electricity: that's it's not a bunch of electrons flowing great distances within a conductor, but instead a quite interesting cascade of electromagnetic fields and their short-range interactions with the electrons already present in the atoms that reside in the conductor's molecular/atomic framework. So in summary, if you're interested in the various historical stories, or are otherwise stuck with no other books, then you'll probably enjoy this.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another Puzzle About Weighing Things

This puzzle is part of a famous family of puzzles and so it might be easy, if you're familiar with that set of puzzles.

You have five jars of pills. One jar of pills is contaminated. The only way to tell which pills are contaminated is by weight. A regular pill weighs 10 grams and a contaminated pill weighs 9 grams. You are given a scale and allowed to make just one measurement with it. How do you tell which jar is contaminated?

Hacking Electronic Road Signs

Here's a link to the tale of a brave guy who took it upon himself to improve the messages displayed on the electronic road signs in his neighborhood. LOL

Don't worry, there's no ad-ware (that I know of): Funny Story

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Another Clock Puzzle

Continuing in the clock theme, here is another puzzle.

How many times a day do the minute and hour hand of an analog clock overlap?

Be careful! It's not as simple as it may appear. If you find these puzzles too easy, then you might remember them so you can throw them at your younger relatives when visiting family over the upcoming holidays.

Extra Credit: show Perl code that will solve this

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Clock Puzzle #1

Here's an easy puzzle about clocks.

What is the angle between the minute and hour hands at 3:15 on a standard analog clock?

For extra credit: How many times a day do the hour and minute hands form a right angle?

Book: Stumbling on Happiness

I just finished the audiobook version of Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. It scores 4/5 stars from 88 Amazon reviewers. The audiobook is read by the author. Here's an accurate synopsis from the Amazon page:
Do you know what makes you happy? Daniel Gilbert would bet that you think you do, but you are most likely wrong. In his witty and engaging new book, Harvard professor Gilbert reveals his take on how our minds work, and how the limitations of our imaginations may be getting in the way of our ability to know what happiness is.

After the first 30 minutes of the first CD, I was thinking that I was not going to like the book. I was wrong. By the 2nd or 3rd CD, I was hooked. It's interesting, and he describes quite a lot of studies performed (experiments) on people to test their happiness or satisfaction and whatnot. So if you have a lot of spare time (the audiobook was 7.5 hours on 6 CDs) then you too might enjoy this. If you'd like to sample the author and this book, then you might simply watch his 18 minute presentation at the TED Conference in September 2006 (scroll down for his entry).

Speaking of the TED Conference, I strongly recommend the video posted recently of Michael Shermer, founder and publisher of Skeptic magazine.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Angus Burger Comparison

Yesterday I tried the McDonalds Angus burger. And so today I decided to try the Angus burger from Burger King, so I could compare them - before I forgot what the McDonalds one tasted like. Without justification or explanation, I'll proceed here as if somebody cared.

McDonalds Pros:
Nice taste. Almost tastes like beef! Decent size, could be bigger.

McDonalds Cons:
Limp pickles, just like on their other burgers. No real onions. No real lettuce.

Burger King Pros:
Good sized, a tiny bit larger than McDonalds. Decent quantity of onions. Includes a mild BBQ-like sauce that tasted good. Decent amount of real lettuce - not the ground/shredded lettuce common on some burgers.

Burger King Cons:
Meat had no flavor; tasted like the meat-simulant used in the burgers sold at the Tuolumne Meadows grill in Yosemite Natl. Park (where everybody is either too hungry or too tired to complain). Includes mayo by default. YUCK!

Conclusion: Ideally, I'd like to eat neither of these, but if forced, I'd prefer to use McDonalds' meat on the BK burger.

New Puzzle

Some of you had some interesting responses to my last puzzle. Several of you (rightly) chose to not post your answer publicly, but instead emailed them to me. And so I've decided to backstep a bit, and to offer a more deterministic puzzle. This is better suited for those who not only wish to remain inside the box, but also want to be reminded of where the box's walls are.

You have eight billiard balls. One of them is defective in that it weighs more than the others. How do you tell, using a balance, which ball is defective in only two weighings?

While it's probably possible to google the answer. Please give it an honest try on your own.

Car Battery Recycling

Los Angeles makes it super easy to recycle hazardous waste. I was able to drop off my old car battery (and clense myself of the last reminders of an unpleasant experience) at a place in Sun Valley - just to the north of the Burbank airport. It took all of about 1 minute and was FREE! They had a drive through arrangement and they only ask 1 question: your zip code, since the service is only available to residents of Los Angeles city or county. They have 5 permanent S.A.F.E. recycling centers available for residential waste.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How do you react to amazing things?

Here's a small thought exercise. You're sitting alone in an outdoor cafe. Not engrossed in anything, so the ensuing interruption is not offensive to you. A clean cut person (man or woman) approaches, smiles and sits at your table while politely telling you that they'd like to show you something. You're curious, but not freightened, and so you say nothing. Before you could say anything, the person shows you a small ball, colored green and about 2 inches in diameter. They hold the ball briefly with 2 fingers above the table and then withdraw their hand. The ball remains there, floating above the table. Not entirely rigid/frozen, as you see the slightest slow motion and rotation occuring. The person sits there, with a pleasant smile, looking at you, and the ball. Oddly ... nobody else seems to notice what's taking place.

Now the question. What would you do? Would you:

a) ask "What is it?"
b) ask "Where did you get it?"
c) ask "How does it work?"
d) ask "Can I have it?"
e) ask "What is it for?"
f) ask "Who are you?"
g) angrily tell the person to leave
h) say nothing and observe the ball
i) say nothing and reach out to touch or hold the ball
j) say nothing and proceed to experiment by placing your hand or an object above/below/around the ball
k) leave before this kook steals your money with this clever distraction
l) attempt to take the ball and run
m) do something else?

I have my own theories about what the majority of people would do. And I believe I would do something different than the expected norm. Thoughts like this make me wonder about the root causes for some human behaviors.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Book: Jim Cramer's Real Money

I recently finished (1 day past October's National Book Month) the audiobook version of Jim Cramer's Real Money. It's narrated by Jim, so it's a fun listen. It scores 4 (of 5) stars from 176 Amazon reviewers. Jim Cramer is a co-founder of TheStreet.com, host of the CNBC TV show Mad Money, host of the daily radio show Real Money, co-host of the former CNBC show Kudlow & Cramer, a successful trader, and a former top-ranked hedge fund manager.

From the Booklist review on Amazon: "...Here Cramer reveals how he made his money and distills his methods so that the average reader can understand them. Rather than catering to the Wall Street party line of "buy and hold" investing, he is an advocate of "buy and homework." He recommends starting with just four stocks in safe, diverse sectors and devoting a minimum of one hour per week of study to each company. Although others condemn speculation as pure gambling, Cramer insists that the fifth part of your portfolio should be devoted to a purely speculative play to take advantage of potential "home runs"..."

I've read many investing books, and I recommend this one for everyone who wants to buy individual stocks. It contains many of the same precepts as the traditional dogma, such as the importance of diversification and not spreading your investments too thin. I like his recurrent views of (a) embracing some speculation and (b) not buying and simply holding. If you enjoy his TV or radio shows, then you'll surely enjoy listening to this audiobook. Might be just right for an upcoming airline flight.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pain ... Intense Pain

I had a headache for 3 days. No fun. Bad enough that I went to the doctor. Something I normally avoid, unless I'm missing a limb or something. So the doctor said I have cluster headaches and he gave me samples of this and scripts for this and this.

I'm better now :-)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Movie Trivia

Pop quiz hot shot!

How many times did Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off say the name "Bueller" when taking roll?

Wow, that movie has 7.8/10 stars on IMDB from 41,959 votes.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I can't say enough positive things about the TED Conference speakers. TED is for Technology Entertainment Design. It is a conference that brings together many of the foremost thinkers and do-ers of our day. It's by invite only, but luckily they post videos of their speakers. I strongly recommend you check it out. Here's the link to the TED speakers' video download page.

From the recent crop of postings, I really enjoyed the presentations by Ed Burtynsky (photographer), Ben Saunders (solo trek to the north pole), and Malcom Gladwell (author). I'm sure you'll find some favorites of your own.