Archive for June, 2010

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Steve Martin mead joke

Steve Martin leaves an awesome list of demands for venue staff when he’s on tour, including

BEVERAGE SERVICE must include a thoughtful assortment of meads and bendy straws.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Bendy straws must be strong enough to be able to be used as blowguns.  ADDITIONAL IMPORTANT NOTE: Local paramedic aid may be required.

Read the rest, it’s great. -m

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

RDBMS Alternatives

For anyone trying to get up to speed on the technology side of non-traditional databases, including NoSQL concepts and not-your-father’s-XML, this webinar looks like a good start. Tuesday June 29, 2pm EST, 11am PST. -m

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

The primary virtue of the meadmaker is patience

I have a batch of chocolate mead that’s been brewing since 2007. Mead bulk ages well, but this is a new personal record. Today, I started siphoning it into the bottling bucket when I noticed that it wasn’t completely clear. I use a mineral called sparkalloid which causes any haze/protein/particulate to settle to the bottom, and there it was–a boundary layer between clear and sparkling.

So back into the carboy it goes, with a fresh dose of fining agents. What’s a few more months at this point? -m

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Command Lines on the frontier of user interface

This came from a comment on the prior post, and it’s worth a shout of its own. Don Norman on the importance of command lines, including the ubiquitous search box, in modern UI. -m

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

“Google syntax” for semantic queries?

Thought experiment: are there any commonly-expressed semantic queries–the kind of queries you’d run over a triple store, or perhaps a SearchMonkey-annotated web site–expressible in common type-in-a-searchbox query grammar?

As a refresher, here’s some things that Google and other search engines can handle. The square brackets represent the search box into which the queries are typed, not part of the queries themselves.


[term -butnotthis]

[term1 OR term2]

[“phrase term”]

[tem1 OR term2 -“but not this” filetype:html]

So what kind of semantic queries would be usefully expressed in a similar way, avoiding SPARQL and the like? For example, maybe [by:”Micah Dubinko”] could map to a document containing a triple like <this document> <dc:author> “Micah Dubinko”. What other kinds of graph queries are interesting, common, and simple to express like this? Comments welcome.


Friday, June 4th, 2010

The Swinger

I’m enjoying the results of this Python project from Music Hack Day way too much. It analyzes an audio clip to detect the beats, then uses time stretching and compression techniques (that don’t alter the pitch) to rearrange each measure into a “swung” groove. Fantastic. I wish they’d take more requests! -m

Try this one on for size: Just What I Needed by The Cars:

Just What I Needed (swing version) by davermont

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Reverse Engineering Corexit 9500

If you dig a bit, there’s all kinds of interesting background material about the terrible disaster ongoing in the Gulf of Mexico. For example, a map of the thousands of rigs and tens-of-thousands of miles of pipelines. Some of the best infographics are from BP itself. And for when you can no longer stand the overwhelming sense of disaster, a fake twitter feed.

But this really caught my eye, from Nalco, the manufacturer of the oil dispersant Corexit 9500 which is being used both in unprecedented quantities and depths in the Gulf. Here’s how they cleverly describe the ingredients of their product, an ingredient list they protect as a trade-secret:

  1. One ingredient is used as a wetting agent in dry gelatin, beverage mixtures, and fruit juice drinks.
  2. A second ingredient is used in a brand-name dry skin cream and also in a body shampoo.
  3. A third ingredient is found in a popular brand of baby bath liquid.
  4. A fourth ingredient is found extensively in cosmetics and is also used as a surface-active agent and emulsifier for agents used in food contact.
  5. A fifth ingredient is used by a major supplier of brand name household cleaning products for “soap scum” removal.
  6. A sixth ingredient is used in hand creams and lotions, odorless paints and stain blockers.

That is one impressive bit of verbal agility, my complements to their staff writer(s). It would be a fun exercise some day to see what kinds of toxic sludge could be described in similar terms. But let’s see if we can figure out the exact ingredient list: here’s the MSDS for the substance. According to it Propylene Glycol is clearly one of the ingredients, as are “Distillates, petroleum, hydrotreated light” and “Organic sulfonic acid salt”. “Wetting agent” and “surface-acting” are both code words for a surfactant. A little knowledge of chemistry along with household product label reading might go a long way… Got insight? Add a comment here to describe what you find.


6/10 Update: Nalco released the full ingredient list and cheat sheet:

CAS # Name Common Day-to-Day Use Examples
1338-43-8 Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate Skin cream, body shampoo, emulsifier in juice
9005-65-6 Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs. Baby bath, mouth wash, face lotion, emulsifier in food
9005-70-3 Sorbitan, tri-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs Body/Face lotion, tanning lotions
577-11-7 * Butanedioic acid, 2-sulfo-, 1,4-bis(2-ethylhexyl) ester, sodium salt (1:1) Wetting agent in cosmetic products, gelatin, beverages
29911-28-2 Propanol, 1-(2-butoxy-1-methylethoxy) Household cleaning products
64742-47-8 Distillates (petroleum), hydrotreated light Air freshener, cleaner
111-76-2 ** Ethanol, 2-butoxy Cleaners

The * footnote indicates, essentially, “contains propylene glycol”.

The ** footnote indicates that this chemical is found only in Corexit 9527, not the one most commonly used in the Deepwater Horizon cleanup.