Monthly Archives: December 2003

Free World Dialup

Jeff Pulver’s Free World Dialup has announced free internet to phone calls to numbers in the USA, Canada, Australia, China, Germany, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom. This is a limited time promotion running until the end of the year. You can download the free X-Lite softphone from the page to make calls.

The one call I made (to the U.P. of Michigan to talk to my parents) went through OK but sounded like a “bad walkie-talkie” (says Mom). Accounts from Pulver’s blog say he’s having a lot more calls than expected so capacity might not be everything there. But free, hey it’s worth trying if only for that.

In other VOIP news, Telesthetic has announced free inbound dialing to FWD and IAXTel numbers from dialins throughout lower Michigan. There’s a local Ann Arbor number (734-272-0700) and dozens of others into which you call and then dial out to the VOIP number space. More details on the Telesthetic page on the Asterisk wiki.

Cubesolver, a Lego robot for Rubik’s Cube

A Lego robot that solves Rubik’s cube from JP Brown.

I am proud to have in my personal collection a set of books from the 1980s detailing the mathematical basis of the Rubik’s Cube, with the most scholarly being David Singmaster’s “Notes on Rubik’s Magic Cube”. This is accompanied by a collection of Rubik’s Cubes, Rubik’s Revenge, and other twisty puzzles. They deserve a proper display case; it’s the collection that Dr. Tom Storer from the U of Michigan Math Department accumulated during his tenure there.

Thanks to Linda Bangert for putting me in touch with Tom.

Field Guide to Human Error Investigations

From Don Norman in the latest RISKS Digest:

Let me also recommend the excellent “Field Guide to Human Error
Investigations.” Here, the author (Sidney Dekker) points out that the old
view of human error is that it is the cause of accidents whereas the new
view is that it is a symptom of trouble deeper inside a system. Alas, the
“old” view is in actuality the current view, whereas the “new” view is still
seldom understood. (The “new” view has only been around for 50 years, so I
suppose we need to give it more time.). The Field Guide is about aviation,
but it is very applicable to the waste industry as well — and to hospitals,
and emergency crews, and manufacturing plants, and any situation where
accidents are being blamed on people.

By the way, there’s an RSS feed for Risks Digest which is a handy way of pulling it into your daily newsreading habits.

Thanks to short notes and Google for helping me find it, and to Lindsay Marshall for the feed.

Bittorrent and RSS

Bittorrent and RSS discussion by Steve Gillmor in eWeek – a very interesting approach to having RSS feeds go very quickly over a fast distributed medium to lots of people without having a central web site (“blog host”) get run over if your server is really popular.

(Oh, to have a web server so popular that it needs to have widely distributed data.)

thanks Greg Elin for pointing me at this.

Preschool wiki

My son (at the age of 3) loves to look at pictures on the net. We’re sharing a wiki to help with that. At the moment he’s into trucks, but pretty much anything that he can ask about there’s a copy of on the net, so it’s fun to do a guided search.

I tried for a while to do what I needed to by just searching Google images, but there was too much randomness in the results, and too many very specific things I had a hard time searching for that he wanted to get back to over and over again.

I have a page then for “trucks” in the wiki, with a list of pages for different kinds of trucks in it (street sweeping trucks, ice cream trucks, etc). At the top I keep track of the questions he’s asking. At first it was just “I want to look at trucks”; recently as we’ve come up with enough alternatives, the questions are now more detailed, like “I want to look at tilt-cab fire engines”. Those were hard to find, but now I have them on a wiki page so it’s a single click.

It’s really neat to annotate the questions as we go, and sometimes that can go in interesting directions. Saul is a fan of the Elgin Pelican street-sweeping truck; that led with a little prompting on my part to pictures of real pelicans. Pretty much any animal elicits the question along the lines of “What do pelicans eat?” so a little bit of Google and cut and paste later and we have some pictures of pigfish. I like to write down what he asks exactly as best I can so there’s a chance to remember it as well as to ask a bit more of him next time we’re on that page.

He’s not up to navigating himself yet – though it does make me wonder what an Atari joystick interface to a wiki would be (just up down left right and fire). I’m not ready to give up the keyboard just yet.

Ann Arbor Farmers Market stencils

As I noted in my stencils blog entry, there are a lot of spots around Ann Arbor that have stencils. One that I saw today was at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market where there are very cool stencils of corn, pumpkins etc marking farmer stalls. Alas I don’t have pictures yet, perhaps someone reading this can snap a few shots. (UPDATE: Jose did already, here’s one, he has more).

We bought onions, parsnips, Cortland apples, and a rope of holiday greenery. Market was pretty full of people, saw lots of friends, and we went to the People’s Food Coop for lunch and some more shopping. Then Saul and I took the Link Bus up to State St, saw more of the Borders strike, picked up a copy of the People’s Voice for Social Justice. Saul loves the bus, so we rode it again in its circuit around the Diag.

A nice day to be out.