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Illusory Spectrum

I know, I know, this is undoubtedly a widely known optical illusion, but I had to create and share my own version after stumbling across it in the wild.  Watch the animation cycle through all four frames, 2.5 seconds per frame.  Notice anything different about the spectrum when it flips from green as opposed to when it flips from gray?

Wild!

The spectrum and greenish frames image are derived from Project Octant Part 13: Bug Hunt, which is where I saw this effect thanks to the Page Up key and the browser window being just the right height.  I hope Shamus won’t be too irked that I swiped copies to repurpose here.

Touchy About Faucets

As part of last year’s renovation, we redid our kitchen, which means a new sink and faucet.  We traded up from an overmount single-bowl sink to an undermount double-bowl sink, both aspects of which we’d long wanted.

There was one thing we had to fight a bit to get, though, which was a garbage disposal for each sink bowl.  The plumber didn’t want to do it on ground of it adding weight to the sink.  Our response was, in effect: “We’ll have the sink remounted in ten years if necessary, but put in two disposals.”  So he did, and we’re really glad.

The replacement faucet, however, does not make us nearly as glad.  We decided to get a touch-activated faucet, settling on a Delta Addison single-handle faucet.  The touch activation was because many are the times we want to wash off hands that have just handled raw meat, and being able to touch-on the faucet with a forearm seemed like a great idea—and it is!  The problem is that nearly the entire faucet body, including the temperature/flow adjustment handle, is touch-sensitive.  The exception is the pull-out head, which is inert.

Thus, if you reach past the faucet and brush it by mistake, the water starts flowing.  This is true even if you bump the base of the faucet, which is annoying when you’re trying to wipe down the countertop around the faucet.  Even worse, changing the temperature or flow rate means using the touch-sensitive handle.  There’s evidently logic built into the faucet that’s meant to prevent the water from cutting off if you adjust the handle, but it only works about half the time.  So sometimes you make an adjustment and the flow cuts off, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Frankly, the inconsistency is more maddening than the unwanted cutoffs.  For example, I’ve developed an expectation that the flow will cut off after I use the handle.  So I’ll adjust and then immediately tap the faucet again so it cuts off and then comes back on tap.  Except if it didn’t cut off, then my tap cuts it off before I can stop the impulse and then I have to tap again.

Of course, any touch-sensitive faucet is a total luxury, and fortunately it’s easy to disable the touch feature—all we have to do is pull the batteries from the battery pack and it becomes a regular faucet.  The drawback there is that there are definitely times when you want to be able to turn on the water flow without smearing whatever’s all over your hands on the faucet.  (And with three kids, one of which is an infant, there are some things you definitely want to avoid smearing.)

The really incredible part is that these problems would be completely solved if only the neck of the faucet were touch-sensitive.  If the base, which is a separate part from the neck, and the adjustment handle were inert, easily 90% of our frustration would just vanish.  We could start the water flow by touching the neck and not worry about weirdness with the adjustment handle or when brushing the base.

If you’re thinking of installing a touch-sensitive faucet, I can’t recommend this one, unless of course a future version of it fixes the problems plaguing this one.  And I have no idea if there’s a better touch faucet on the market; for all I know, they’re all like this.  Definitely do your homework, and if at all possible play with a functioning model before taking the plunge.  The touch feature doesn’t add a ton to the price of the base faucet, but it’s enough to be annoying when you’re seriously considering disabling it.

From Filaments to Semiconductors

Thanks to last summer’s home renovation project, the new kitchen is lit by six interior flood bulbs.  We were using the diffuse incandescent bulbs our contractors put in, which were nice and warm and soft.  And also, being essentially freebies, not long for this world.  We recently had three burn out within two weeks.

We decided to take the opportunity to switch from incandescents to something far more energy-efficient.  Having used a number of CFLs around the house, I knew I wanted no part of that scene.  The subtle flicker they generate isn’t subtle enough for me, and I hate the wan quality of the light.  I’m not really thrilled with the warm-up time, either.

So we went with LEDs.  This wasn’t as straightforward as I might have liked, but we’ve now switched and are really happy to have done so.  I’d like to share the most important thing we learned in hopes of helping others through the transition.

It’s this:  if you’re going from “warm” incandescents straight to LED, find bulbs that have a color temperature of 2700K.  The first test bulb we bought was 3000K, and the difference was enormous.  By comparison to the incandescents, it was a harsh white.  In a Modernist design setting, like say at the Guggenheim, 3000K is probably a good choice.  In our wood-and-grain center-hall Colonial home, it was all wrong.

So I ran up to Home Depot and picked up a couple of EcoSmart BR30 diffuse floodlight bulbs, which are 2700K.  I put in one as a test, and when we flipped on the lights, I couldn’t see a difference in the light given off by the LED and incandescent bulbs.  The LED gave off a little bit more light than the incandescents around it (more on that in a minute) but the quality of light was essentially the same.  I put in the other test bulb with the same results.  Now we have all six cans fitted with the EcoSmarts, and the kitchen is just as warm as it was before.

One slightly noticeable difference is that there are more lumens bouncing around the kitchen than before, because we had 65W incandescents and the LEDs are equivalent to 75W (they actually consume 14W).  There weren’t any 65W equivalents in the floods, at least when I went looking, so I picked the 75W equivalents.  The new bulbs put out 800 lumens each, whereas the old ones likely shed 650-700 lumens each.  I do notice the difference, but it’s not so extra-bright that it’s bothersome.  That said, if I track down some bright white 2700Ks in the 650-700 lumen range, I may swap out half the kitchen bulbs in a staggered pattern to see how it feels.  Whichever ones I don’t use in the kitchen, I can always reuse in the cans in our basement.

The really noticeable difference is that when you flip the wall switch, it takes half a second for the bulbs to actually light up.  It’s a bit unusual when you switch straight from incandescent, but it’s no worse than the “on time” for most CFLs, and there’s no slow warm-up time for LEDs like you get with CFLs.  Once they’re on, they’re on.  And they don’t hum or flicker they way CFLs are prone to doing.

In closing, I just want to reiterate that color temperature is absolutely crucial, and if you’re coming over from incandescents, you want to be at 2700K.  Beyond that, match up the wattage as best you can, grit your teeth through the purchase price, and bask in the knowledge that your electricity bills will be lower, plus you shouldn’t have to replace the bulb any time in the next decade or even two.  That last part alone nearly makes LEDs worth the up-front cost.

If you have experiences or tips to share with regards to LED bulbs, by all means leave a comment!

In Search of Q

In an effort to get a handle on my taskflow, I went looking for an organizer application.  So far as I can tell, what I want doesn’t exist, but maybe someone can point me to it.

What I really want is a push queue for documents and other data fragments.  I’ll call it “Q”, both for the obvious phonic match as well as to score a little ST:TNG joke plus make a Cleveland arena reference.  The latter two work because I sort of envision the application as being a very powerful being as well as a large gathering place for data.

The way I envision it, I drag a file onto the main Q window and it’s added to the general pool.  Every item in Q can be labeled, tagged, commented, and otherwise meta’d half to death.  The queue can be sorted or filtered on any number of things—file creation or modification date, Q addition date, file name, containing folder, tags, labels, and so forth.  Also, every item can be assigned a due date.

When I double-click on anything in Q, it opens the original file just as if I’d double-clicked its Finder icon.  (I’m an OS X user, but translate “Finder icon” to whatever the equivalent words are in your OS of choice.)  So really, Q is maintaining a pool of aliases to the original files, plus any associated metadata.  In that sense, it’s like iTunes set to not copy added music to the iTunes Music folder in your home directory.  Yes, some people run it that way.  And like iTunes, the ability to create smart lists based on tags and comments and such would be really awesome.

I’d find Q deeply useful because as new tasks come in/up, I could drag in whatever file(s) relate to those tasks so that I don’t lose track of what I have to do, quickly tag them and set a due date, and continue with whatever I was working on.  There’s room for tons of even more useful features like synchronization across multiple computers, the ability to accept any fragment of data at all as opposed to files, and more, but the core need is a task queue.

To illustrate this with some examples from my recent workflow, I would drag in a copy or two of the IRS W-9 form, a couple of e-mail messages, an invoice, and a Word document containing a set of interview questions.  The W-9s would get tagged by the clients’ names, the invoice would be tagged and flagged, and so on.  The real key here is that they’d be add-sorted by default, so I can work on them first-come-first-served.  Of course, other approaches would be possible with other sorts and filtering.

It seems like, with all the GTD mania floating around, someone would have come up with this solution already, but my searches have so far been fruitless.  I tried a couple of applications that seemed like they might be close to what I want, but they weren’t.  Am I just using the wrong search terms, or is this something that just doesn’t exist yet?

De-lurk and Be Heard!

Well, I just told you about myself, and now it’s your turn to tell me (and everyone else) something about you.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but when Roger was spurred into doing it by Veerle’s post, I knew it was time to get off my duff and just post already.

So, to more or less rip off Roger’s format, please comment to say:

  1. Who are you (name and occupation)?  Who who, who who?
  2. Where are you from?  (Feel free to add yourself to the Frappr map!)
  3. How long have you been visiting this site, either directly or via RSS?
  4. What was it that first brought you to meyerweb?
  5. What would you like to read more (or less) about here on meyerweb, or read/hear from me in general?  Be as general or specific as you like.

Please note that, thanks to my spam defenses, any first-time commenters will have their contributions held in moderation until I approve them.  I’ll try to stay on top of that, but I will have to sleep on occasion, so you may have to be patient.  Apologies.

New Design, New Feeds

The visual design of meyerweb turned a year old on February 1.  As a little celebration, I’ve rolled out an update to the design.  In the past, I’ve thrown out entire designs for completely new ones, but not this time around.  This time, the changes are more of an incremental advance; or, if you prefer, a mutation of the previous design.  After all, the basic layout is the same as before.  I simply opened it up, allowing the various components more breathing room, and cleared away some of the clutter that had built up, such as the various “RSS 2.0″ buttons.  (So how does one now get the feeds?  I’ll explain that in just a minute.)

There’s more to this than just a simple evolution, I admit.  The first major change is the addition of navigation links across the top of each page.  For some time now, a lot of the material that people come here to find was buried, difficult to find unless you knew where you were going, or else on what terms to search.  By pointing directly to the topic areas I think will most interest visitors, I believe the site is now much easier to use.

The second major change is the layout of “metainformation” for each post (and comments on posts). In this area, I was heavily influenced by Khoi Vinh’s Subtraction 7.0, and I definitely owe him a debt of gratitude and inspiration.  As will be evident from even a casual comparison of the two sites, I took a general design idea Khoi uses and adapted it to my particular situation.  I think it works rather well.

The third notable change is a feature addition that I’ve been planning to add for a couple of months now. New to the site is a Syndication Feeds page which brings together (dare I say it aggregates?) all of meyerweb’s RSS feeds.  The real step forward here is the debut of two new “Thoughts From Eric” feeds, including a feed of just technical posts and a feed of just personal posts.  Now all of you who just come here for the technical stuff, and couldn’t care less about the person behind the site, can restrict your feed to screen out the worthless drivel.  Similarly, those of you who know me personally but don’t understand the eye-glazing technical stuff can filter out the confusing nerdity.

Even better, each of the three “Thoughts From Eric” feeds (including the traditional “show me everything!” feed) comes in one of two flavors: summary or full content.  At long last, I’ll find out if providing full-content feeds drives my bandwidth consumption up, or eases it down.

I’ve also established a new Redesign Watch feed, which is something I know will be of interest to many visitors.

I made other small refinements throughout, and odds are I’ll continue to tinker for a little while.  Overall, though, I feel I met my goal of making meyerweb a more friendly site to visit, and a more feature-rich environment.  Explore, and enjoy.

Password Production

Since I’ve been futzing about with human-friendly security of various forms recently, it occurred to me that I ought to pass along a password-generation technique I’ve used for years now.  Maybe it’s a well known technique, and maybe not.  In any case, my best recollection is that I learned it from either John Sully or Jim Nauer back in my CWRU days.

The general idea is to pick a two-word combination you can easily remember.  For example, suppose you’re a big fan of pizza and Pepsi, and would have no trouble remembering those words.  Perfect: use them the basis of your password.  No, you don’t make it “pizzaPepsi”—instead, you interleave the words.  That would yield “pPiezpzsai”.  It looks fairly random, and yet is very easy to recreate because the seed words are so easy to remember.  If you have trouble remembering the exact sequence of letters, you can just write the words down on a piece of scrap paper and follow along.

In cases where your two words have different lengths, you can always tack on numbers.  For example, maybe your seed words are “milkshake” and “fries”.  That would normally yield “mfirlikesshake”, which is okay, but you could tack the numbers “123″ onto “fries” to get “mfirlikessh1a2k3e”.  Alternatively, you could put the numbers at the beginning, so you get “m1i2l3kfsrhiaekse”.

I’ve found that when I start using a new password created this way, it takes me a few days to adapt to it.  I usually have the seed words written down some place handy during that training period.  Then my fingers take over, and from then on I can type it blindfolded in less than a second.  I don’t even think about the actual characters I’m typing: I just start, and the muscle memory kicks in.

So if you’re looking for a way to generate harder-to-crack passwords, there’s one possibility.  How about you—do you have any nifty human-friendly password-creation recipes?

Mickey Prints

Since Kat and I were going to be visiting Florida so often last year and this, and therefore we of course had to visit Disney World a lot, we decided to buy annual passes.  I was quite interested that when you buy an annual pass, the Disney folks take the prints of your right hand’s first and second fingers.  That data is associated with the card; whether it’s encoded onto the card’s strip or not, I don’t know.  But either way, some of your biometric data is associated with your Disney pass.  When you enter the park, you run the pass through the turnstile and stick your fingers into a reader.  If the fingers don’t match the card, you can’t get in, so you can’t share an annual pass with anyone else.

Now, suppose the Disney database stores that biometric data.  Now they have that data tied to a credit card number, purchasing patterns in the parks, probably a home address and phone number, and so on.  Interesting.  Guess what?  As of 2 January 2005, Disney is doing that for all passes: day passes, park hopper passes, all kinds of passes.  Every kind of pass.  Get a pass, get your fingers scanned.  (Okay, yes, you can opt out and be required to show photo ID, but how many people will bother?)

That’s a whole lot of biometric data associated with a whole lot of consumer data.  Interesting, don’t you think?

August 2014
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