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Archive for May, 2011

Here’s another very practical post, that could help you in a variety of ways:

That's not coffee

1. It will probably change your mental image of things flowing out of a teapot.
2. It may help next time you’re attacked by fire ants.
3. It may change the way you think about Sarah Palin.

There’s an interesting article (click HERE) about fire ants and how they can assemble themselves into a floating raft when necessary, for instance during flooding. Some key points:

  • In the raft shape, they can support perhaps a million ants and sail for weeks or even months.
  • The unfortunate ants that get to be the bottom of the raft are locked in by their neighbors’ jaws and claws, while the topside ants get to walk around and leisurely enjoy one another’s company.
  • These ants flow like a thick fluid when poured, as in the teapot picture.

The Georgia Tech researcher behind this work is considering replicating this raft-self-assembly with robots. This should probably be stopped. I don’t think the world needs any more robots imitating fire ants.

You’ll want to look at this article if you’re intrigued at the notion of finding the words “Sarah Palin” in the same paragraph as “fire ants.” It also has this factoid, sure to distinguish you as a trivia expert if used correctly: In winter, fire ant mounds may be 68 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than their surroundings. As a result, thermal imagers can be used in the quest to locate and eradicate these friendly critters.

Practical tip: If your property is under attack by fire ants, be wary of turning to the hose for self defense. The invasion may transform into a flotilla attack.

Finally, some general fire ant info HERE so you can brush up on fire ant basics.

And for those who find this disgusting, review this one. Now.

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We get the occasional mouse in our garage; the most industrious was a pair that ate its way into a sealed grass seed container. They then distributed the seeds into a variety of old shoes and boots we keep in the garage, apparently storing them for winter. But the normally Truly Pleasant wife seems to get more bothered by the rampant collection of mice that show up inside the house, lurking in the immediate area around the computer.

This will be a short tour of a collection of these critters, along with a look at the mice as they might be presented by a photoshop expert. Or, since I’m about 9,999 hours short of such expert rating, a look at them from random poking at the photoshop menu buttons. For quicker fun, just click on the pictures!

My fascination with computer mice dates back about 15 years, when I started making the little ‘mouse chip’ that serves as the brain for some of these devices. More on that near the end. Prepare for an authoritative review of these devices. These first couple pictures show the team. As always, click on the pictures for a larger view.

Mouse battalion performs flanking maneuver around keyboard

These consist of 3 Logitech, 3 Microsoft, 1 Apple, and 1 Pat Says Now mice.

The green Pat Says Now brain mouse is the most eye-catching, and was received as part of a set of Christmas gifts from “friendly” family as mentioned in a previous post. Its major advantage is its unique body design. It’s a corded mouse, which might be considered a drawback to some unless that’s understood as the spinal cord connecting to the brain. Overall it’s a reasonable mouse, using red LED tracking; the clicking is slightly substandard but tolerable. This Swiss company does not currently show this mouse on their web site, but they do have a gold brain mouse available. If you or someone you love has had heart surgery, I recommend their heart mouse, a sure winner. That one’s wireless, although I think a corded “red-artery” version would be cooler. These are found on their Computermäuse pages. By the way, you can get some of these on Amazon; currently this includes the coveted Chili Pepper mouse.

While I’ve generally been unexcited with Microsoft mice for several years, I’ve found their recent Arc Mouse products are winning me back. The shape is surprisingly comfortable. These are shown in the next pictures.

The major drawback to these mice is the side button, normally programmed as a “back button.” The problem is that it’s slightly forward of where the thumb sits, and it’s harder to press than it should be. The Logitech people figured this out a while ago.

In addition to the high comfort (besides that button), the other cool thing about these mice is that you can play with them. They fold up as shown below …

… and then you can spin them when you get bored. Here is an attempt at photographing that fun:

Try not to spin these too vigorously, to avoid collision noises that may attract unwanted management attention.

I haven’t yet tried the sleek new Arc Touch Mouse, which has a touch slider that replaces the scroll wheel. That could easily become a popular feature, and the slider may provide a faster “turbo” scrolling mode not present in their standard Arc mouse (but found in the Logitech mice).

The flat Apple Mighty Mouse is a stylistic winner. It’s got a unique feel, and its top surface is a tracking platform, sensing finger touches. So vertical finger movements will scroll the screen up and down, while some other gestures are recognized, such as the two-finger left swipe for a “back” function. The gesture recognition takes a little getting used to and may not seem consistent. But I like the concept of putting the finger tracker on the mouse surface.

Next let’s look at the Logitech mice. There are three similar black mice shown in the early figures above. The large one is the rechargeable 7-button MX Revolution mouse, now replaced by the Performance Mouse MX. It’s bigger than the others but has all the buttons you’re likely to ever want, and is pitched as a gaming mouse.

The two medium sized Logitech mice, shown below, are my current laptop mouse favorites. The Marathon Mouse M705 (the upper one) is the more recent. The older VX Revolution mouse had a annoying problem: the (top) left button would wear out abnormally fast, and become unreliable (needing very hard clicks sometimes). I noticed others complaining of this, too. But the newer Marathon mouse is free of this problem, at least so far for me. The VX’s “zoom” button was annoyingly located and required too much force; it’s been deleted on the Marathon mouse which is fine with me.

The Marathon mouse has the easily unnoticed 7th button at the bottom of the thumb area. By default, when you press that your screen converts to show all active windows (similar to a Mac OS window selection feature, F3). This screen transformation will surprise you when you stumble across it the first time.  I prefer Alt-Tab for window switching, but this could be useful if you have few enough windows open (I rarely do). But the feature is nice to have around for its funkiness.

Logitech’s super-fast free-spin scroll wheel, present on all three of these mice, is a totally addicting feature to me. Its only problem is that it can get gummed up by debris and lose its effectiveness after a while. I haven’t seen a Microsoft mouse wheel that competes well in this category, although the Arc Touch mouse has potential.

The oldest mouse in the collection is the Microsoft Intellimouse. I believe this was Microsoft’s last ball mouse before they made the revolutionary step of introducing the optical mouse into the market (with red LED tracking). I was on the team that developed the USB controller chip for this ball mouse, which was Microsoft’s first USB mouse. Shown below, inside the mouse is the Cypress CY7C63001A device, which dominated the USB mouse market in the early days of USB. This chip and this mouse account for my interest (obsession) with computer mice.

Finally, a look at how these mice connect to the computer. Two are corded, five use wireless USB dongles, and the Apple mouse uses Bluetooth so it doesn’t need a separate receiver (the Bluetooth receiver is built into the computer). The second picture below is how these might look in Flatland, and then final picture is how these look in some other alternate universe.

In that final figure, find your favorite alien mouse design, and make your vote.

Finally, here’s a brief feature table to compare these mice. Now go do your part for economic recovery and buy yourself another 6 or 8 different types.

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A previous post on Pi Day introduced the all-syllable rhyming story, in which only single-syllable words are used and all rhyme with each other. And with Pi, in that case.

Now for the next installment. Since Pi rhymes with ‘I’, that first rhyme-story leveraged the first-person singular ‘I’ while also taking advantage of the somewhat archaic second-person ‘Thy.’ This new rhyme-story moves on to the second-person pronoun ‘You’ and the many single-syllable words that rhyme with it.

You can read the rules in that previous post, but here are a few additions to the rules.

8. The Y-diphthong words (you, few, skew …) are considered to rhyme with the non-Y-dipthongs (to, drew, flu …).

9. Hyphenated terms like “boo-hoo” are barely allowed, as it’s an alternate spelling of “boohoo”. Two syllable non-hyphenated words are not yet allowed.

10. The noise-slang “ooh” is allowed here since it snuck into the dictionary with the right pronunciation.

11. Convenient British-English words like ‘loo’ are allowed as they do not throw too big of a spanner into the works.

OK, here we go. This story involves identical twins Lew and Lou, who (like their Pi Day friends Cy and Ty) are not strong in all aspects of grammar.

Lou, You too blue.

Flu, Lew. Spew goo.

Ooh.

You grew?

Few.

You brew stew, to flue?

True. Moo stew.

Who knew you flew to zoo?

Blue crew knew.

Who slew zoo shrew?

Clue: Drew, due to glue.

You rue?

True. Boo-hoo.

You sue Drew?

Too true. Drew slew ewe too.

Crew hew through blue-hue yew queue, do two new pew.

Who screw shoe to pew?

Sue. Gnu chew through shoe.

Stu threw gnu to slough?

True. Gnu blew slough dew.

Whew. Cue Hugh: Slough loo spew poo.

Ooh. Hugh, Sue … ?

True. Sue mew to woo Hugh.

Sue drew new view, skew hue.

True. Hugh coo-coo.

Crew hew through blue-hue yew queue, do two new pew

Key statistics: 109 rhyming syllables, 62 different words (includes 6 names). There are a couple of unused leftovers for you to add, like “strew” and “slue.”

I’m trying to figure out if there is a name for this exciting genre of all-syllable rhymes. If you know, pass on the word. Otherwise I’m going to have to invent a term. This fine word art cannot remain uncategorized for long.

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