Monday, May 19, 2008

Mighty Illusions

Today is National Illusion Day. Well, no, it's not really. But it should be. If there was ever a need for a day like National Illusion Day it's today. Of course, there's always April 15th, tax day, in which there's the illusion that your tax dollars were yours in the first place and, in the hands of the government, will do untold good for the nation/state but that's different.

I found a great video out on the site Mighty Optical Illusions (a little over-the-top but often has good stuff). It's a demonstration of 10 popular optical illusions in two minutes.


P.S. For those of you that like the Dragon illusion, there's a printable foldable version here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


No, these are not some smutty photos of sticks without bark, these are the marvelous wondrous Nudibranchs (pronounced nudi branks). The word "nudibranch" comes from the Latin nudus, naked, and the Greek brankhia, gills. So the Romans, after a little wine and undersea sport, must have concluded that they were some sort of naked fish. No wonder Rome burned! These are gastropod mollusks: a type of sea slug.

Normally, I'm not much of a slug or snail man. Snails in my garden usually get the boot (as in squish) or are tossed over the fence onto the golf course (long story). There are great debates about snails, especially in gardens, but the nudibranchs are more like Slugs of the Sea.

These nudibranchs are downright beautiful with eye popping color. True to form, National Geographic has a brilliant slide show of the weird and colorful little guys, entitled Living Color. They're carnivorous and will pretty much will eat whatever they can get their hands, um, appendages on including others of their kind.

Oh, did I mention that they are toxic? Enjoy!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tesla vs Karma

I just caught wind of this new electric car by Fisker called the Karma. Get it?! Car-ma. Hahaha. It's not as far along in production as the Tesla Roadster but it has two features that beat the Tesla hands down: four seats and a hybrid engine. It also comes with a price tag of $80K (still stratospheric) but better than the $92K Tesla wants. Oh, it also looks just as cool. Oh, and I can fit G and S in the back and their fencing bags into the trunk. Definitely an important feature for the chauffeur called Dad.

The hybrid engine is only designed to be used when the charge on the car runs down. Range is about 50 miles which handles an average day of commuting. The engine is an inline 4-cylinder so you're not going to get a lot of power out of it, it's going to help to supplement the charging of the batter.

You still have to plug it in at night (standard 120V or 220V) and if you can't find that shady spot in the school parking lot you can let the solar cells on the roof recharge the battery!


Now, one would imagine that Fiskar and Tesla would be slave driving their engineers and trying to get their cars out the door as fast as possible in order to establish a beachhead in this brave new market. Nah, they're suing each other. Here's the counter-suit. Hopefully, they haven't lost sight of the greater mission of saving the planet.

Update on CNET about Fisker and their plans for a more reasonably priced sedan.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Bugs in Your Brain

Did you ever think about your brain as a type of hardware/software device? There are a couple of fun Scifi books that talk about wetware, software/interfaces for your brain. I think the analogy is apt because your brain exhibits a characteristic that is prevalent in the software business: bugs.

A software "bug", according to the American Heritage Dictionary is a defect in the code or routine of a program. Software is incredibly complex in many cases and errors can creep in that make a program behave unintentionally. Some of these bugs are fairly benign and some can be severe. In Windows these severe bugs can result in the BSoD or the Blue Screen of Death.

Your brain, evolved over thousands of years, has organically grown up with some bugs. These bugs are not severe enough to hamper our evolution but they do make for some interesting phun! In an effort to provide some publicity for this blog I am taking advantage of a bug in your brain to plant a subliminal message. Click on the image on the right to see what I mean.

Now I wish that I was smart enough to have made this up on my own. The reality is that this illusion was part of a clever ad campaign for the Comedy Channel. The culmination of this ad campaign was this hilarious picture. Note the clothes on the bench.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Roadkill Plush Toys

I'm sure he meant well. Perhaps it was a stab at realism. Perhaps it is some sort of new brand of Brit humour. Of course, Phunkidz, it got my attention. It's weird, it's wonderful, it's RoadkillToys!

Roadkill is a new designer toy boutique, creating original toy characters.

We make toys with a twist. Toys as dark as the inside of a heifer. And they all have one thing in common. They’ve been run over. We’re calling it Squash-Plush.


Well, what do you think? Would you want one of these cuddly gut-busted tire-tattooed mammals? Shown at the right is Twitch the Raccoon. There's also Grind the Rabbit, Splodge the Hedgehog, Pop the Weasel, and Fender the Fox. What animal would you choose to see next? I'm thinking of a big one: Mush the Moose.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Science Fiction becomes science fact

I tend to read a variety of books: business (management, marketing, trends), historical fiction, biographies, and science fiction. Over the last few years, I've made sure that M and G (my phunkidz) get a taste of the latter. Many of the classics by Philip Dick, Larry Niven, David Brin, and newer ones by John Wright are exciting looks at the future. Often the author will take a premise (like making physical copies of yourself in Kiln People) and extrapolate the effects on society. The premises themselves are usually based on stretching some aspect of today's technology in some way. 

That fact alone is why I believe Phunkidz need to get a good grounding in first-class Science Fiction. We need to dream about what is possible, how we can stand on the shoulders of the giants that have come before, and leap over that next technology hurdle. Imagination is one of the greatest tools that we as humans have. Synthesizing: taking what is now and mixing, matching, and extending into new ideas is what science is all about. Discovery and invention are not processes done in a vacuum. Science fiction is a good example of that process that Phunkidz can learn from.

Many of the problems that we have (e.g. limited energy, limited real estate, limited food supply) will continue to become greater and greater problems as our overall world population grows and we become increasingly globalized. Technological progression is not the only solution to the issues we will face but it is a necessary part of the solution.

With that, I would like to pass on to you a recommended reading list of Science Fiction that I found particularly fascinating (something for you to do this summer):
  • Ringworld series by Larry Niven--Engineering and space technology
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick--Can robots feel like people?
  • The Golden Age series by John C Wright--Nano technology and virtual realities
  • Kiln People by David Brin--What happens when you make copies of yourself?
  • Uplift Saga by David Brin--Intelligent beings are cultivated by superior species not evolved
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson--Hacking the brain
  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke--First contact with aliens
  • Enders Game by Orson Scott Card--Video gamers save the human race
  • Uglies by Simon Pulse--Bodyscaping as a right of passage

Feel free to drop a comment on the blog about other classics that you think are stimulating!

A note to any parents reading this blog. You should always have discretion when giving a book to your kidz. Read it beforehand and make sure you're fine with the content.