Category Archives: Technology

Promises, Promises

Husband and I are in Minneapolis attending the Association for Play Therapy annual conference.  It is a very well attended conference with typically wonderful workshops. This week we will attend 25 hours of lectures related to all aspects of play therapy, and browse the terrific vendors of  therapeutic toys and supplies.

Today we sat through 6 hours of a lecture that was quite disappointing, and not at all what was represented in the conference prospectus.  The presenter had a very ambitious agenda, and was very knowledgeable,  but wasn’t feeling well, and got off track and was distracted by questions from the audience. There were five objectives listed, and only the first two were addressed by the end of the day.  Husband and I were drawing funny cartoons for each other  by the end of the presentation.

I have higher hopes for tomorrow.  My workshops go from  8:00 am until 6:30pm. Husband gets off easier,  and only goes from Noon until 6:30pm.  I hope we won’t be misled like we were today.

When have you been disappointed by false advertising?

They All Fall Down

I found this on You Tube yesterday – got to it from one of my favorite science blogs.

This is amazing to me for a couple of reasons. First off, it’s not just the work of laying out all the dominoes.  You don’t just come in one morning and start randomly setting up dominoes.  Something of this complexity needs to be mapped out ahead of time and I means seriously mapped out.  You have to know exactly how much space you need, you need to know how much time it takes for domino trails to fall, you need to know how many of each color, you need to know how to set them up so you know what they’ll look like when they fall down… a pretty long list.

But I think one of the most amazing things is that you don’t really get to test this. It took a team of 19 individuals from around the world a week to get it all set up.  There is no test-run.  You pull the first string and then you hold your breath for the 12 minutes it takes.  You really have to have confidence in your abilities to take part in something like this.  I’m not sure I have enough obsession or emotional strength for it!

What feat of engineering do you admire?


Ship Ahoy!

Today’s post comes from  Steve Grooms

When I was a boy the most romantic and impressive form of transportation was the train. I grew up listening to the lonely nighttime screams of passing trains. A kid in my school was so involved with trains that he memorized data on all the train travel in Iowa. You could ask him any kind of question about trains. He’d barely pause before reciting details of train schedules.

I’ve never had that kind of mind. I’m a “big picture” guy, not a detail guy, someone more attuned to forests than to individual trees.

The closest I ever came to developing an esoteric interest was when I fell in love with a hand-carved carousel built a century ago. I was smitten to the point of reading a lot of background knowledge about carousels. It is a topic I can talk about at length. But in the end, I could not work up enough interest to become an expert about all the various makers of carousels in the country. A true lover of carousels would be fascinated by obscure little carousels that just look garish and cheap to me. My deepest affections were for one splendid carousel, not the whole category.

This comes to mind because my daughter is in the early stage of becoming immersed in a new interest for our family: ship watching. My son-in-law grew up in a lovely old home on the US bank of the St. Clair River. The St. Clair is deep enough to host the biggest ships sailing the Great Lakes. The river is, in fact, the only connection between the upper lakes (Superior and Michigan) and lower lakes. Any ship traveling far in the Great Lakes must pass close to John’s home, “close” meaning about a hundred yards. Now that our family lives in Port Huron, Molly has become fascinated with the ships we see here.

The photo heading this column is one I took in late September. The ship is the Federal Seto, a particularly lengthy “saltie.” It is owned by a shipping company based in Montreal. Since I took its portrait the Federal Seto steamed through Lake St. Clair, passed through Lake Erie, and then through Lake Ontario. After running the length of the St. Lawrence Seaway, today the ship has just entered the Atlantic Ocean on its way Rouen, France.

The major distinction between different bulk freighters on the Great Lakes is between “salties” and “lakers.” Salties are shorter than lakers and have higher sides. They move freely from lake to lake but also across oceans. Lakers, many of which are about a thousand feet long, cannot fit in the locks that connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. They work hard but always within the Great Lakes. In addition to being shorter and taller than lakers, salties are younger. The salty water of oceans is extremely corrosive, so salties rarely live longer than 20 years. By contrast, because lakers are not subjected to all that salt they can live many decades, even longer than a century.

Ship watching is popular hobby in this area, and there are many resources. Web sites track the movements of these ships. Many museums educate visitors about the shipping trade. There are books on ship watching, and newsletters. If you want to know the precise location and sailing plans for individual ships, “there is an app” for that. There are, in fact, several apps for smart phones that track these majestic ships at all times.

I was surprised by my daughter’s surge of interest in shipping. She has always had an active mind, but this is the first time she has immersed herself in a topic like this. Molly knows a great deal about Great Lakes ship traffic. She has favorite boats that she tracks with interest. She is highly excited by the fact a new ship being built in Europe will soon join the fleets of freighters already working the Great Lakes, and she will be sure to be on the porch of her mother-in-law’s home the first time it travels the St. Clair River.

Have you ever developed a fascination with an esoteric topic?

Keyboard Kitten

Today’s post comes from Crystalbay.

A day ago, a couple of letters on my keyboard wouldn’t work, so I took it to the Apple Store, a twenty-minute drive. The tech said I’d need a new keyboard and their repairs are backed up, so it could be a week. A week without my laptop would threaten my mental stability, so he offered to call me when the repair backup was down to a day or two. I’d used the little keyboard drop down before, and since only my “o” and “l” weren’t working, I took it home and thought I could just muddle by clicking the missing letter on the drop down until the repair schedule opened up.

I brought it home and suddenly a half dozen letters wouldn’t work, as well as my “.” I rushed back to the Apple Store and they said that I could buy a new laptop, then return it after my keyboard was replaced BUT they’d have to transfer all my data to the “loaner” for it to be useable for me.  I thought, “Wow! I’ll still have a computer while my old one’s being fixed!

I left the old laptop there all night, then went to pick up the new laptop with my data transferred into it. When I got it home, I had the very same problem as I had on my old one. The very same letters wouldn’t work.  I again rushed back to the Apple Store to raise hell. On the way, I got a call from them saying, “Your computer’s fixed”. Huh? Did they get a new keyboard installed already???

When I got there (my 4th round trip), they told me that it was just a minor software issue and not a keyboard problem. I inquired about how this problem arose in the first place. They said that I must have held down the option key too long.

Then, I remembered leaving the kitten’s room, which used to be my bedroom, and coming back to find one of them happily sitting on my keyboard, enjoying the sounds it was making.

The next time my keyboard isn’t working, I’ll just take it in for a brief Genius Bar correction, but my first words will be; “Whatever’s wrong, consider that a cat sat on the keyboard, and take it from there!”

What have you had to tolerate from your animals?

Cause and Effect

I have been greatly interested recently by pronouncements by certain individuals in the press attributing our recent weather disasters to homosexuality, gay marriage, Mitt Romney, Obama, and/or loose morals in New Orleans.  The capacity of the human mind to find causal relationships between totally unrelated things or concepts is fascinating.

According to Wikipedia  “In statistics, a spurious correlation[1][2] is a mathematical relationship in which two or more events or variables are not causally related to each other, yet it may be wrongly inferred that they are, due to either coincidence or the presence of a certain third, unseen factor (referred to as a “common response variable”, “confounding factor”, or “lurking variable“).”

There is a web site devoted to such correlations ( where you can choose the variables to see how they may be statistically related.  I always knew that there was a strong, positive correlation between the price of Jamaican rum and the average salary of Methodist ministers. Did you know, however, that there is a strong positive correlation between:

The divorce rate in Maine and per capita consumption of margarine

The age of Miss America and number of murders by steam, hot vapours, and hot objects.

Per capita cheese consumption and the number of people who died by being tangled in their bed sheets.

Total revenue generated by arcades and the number of computer science doctorates awarded in the US.

What alarms me is that some people will believe anything and will try to find relationships between things that can’t possibly be related, just to support their beliefs or prejudices.  I, personally, try to remain rational and sceptical. I think I will go now and eat some bread crusts. I am trying to make my hair curly.

Come up with your own spurious correlations.

Verily’s Geek Adventure

There hasn’t been a total solar eclipse anywhere near my location since before my birth and the geek inside me was thrilled to realize that I would be driving distance from the epicenter of the eclipse path this week. I started making my plans about 3 months back when I was arranging my summer schedule.  Although folks knew I was going, I resisted any “hints” that maybe I needed a travel companion.  I also resisted a concerned neighbor who thought I would be safer if his adult son (who was also traveling to see the eclipse) went along with me.

I headed out on Sunday morning with directions, a cooler full of food and drink, several books, two GPS systems and two eclipse apps on my phone. I35W was its normally fun summer mess of road work with no work happening, but I eventually made it to Osceola where I roomed for the night.  Relaxation, reading and an early bedtime were the only things on my agenda.

My alarm went off at 4 a.m. – not knowing what traffic into St. Joseph would be like, I didn’t want to take any chances. Was on the road by 4:15 and made it to the East Hills Mall at about 6:30 a.m.  I chose that location as it was right in the middle of the epicenter as well as being on the edge of the city (hoped that would help with traffic after the eclipse).  There were people already parked in the lot, but not too many.  As the morning wore on, more and more people showed up and vendors got their tents all set up.  There was music inside the mall and most of the stores were having eclipse discounts. Parked near me there was a family from Sioux Falls who had painted their van, a guy from Jordan with a SERIOUS camera, a young couple from Texas who played cards while waiting, a woman who had flown in from California the day before and an older gentleman from Iowa wearing his safari hat.

It rained twice before the first stage of the eclipse happened and both times everybody scrambled to get their camp chairs and equipment back into their cars. In between the showers the sun came out, making the humidity jump.  When C1 began (when the moon begins its trip in front of the sun), the clouds were still breaking up a bit so we could see the progress.  It looked like a big cookie with a bite taken out of it.  Due to the clouds (and me just using the camera on my phone), I never got a good photo.

Then about 25 minutes before totality, the clouds closed up and it started to rain again. Just like folks who can’t wait until the end of the 9th inning, folks started to pack up their stuff and head out.  By the time of totality, it had stopped raining, but was still cloudy, so while we didn’t see the total eclipse, it did get very dark and cool.  Then, like a little miracle, about 2 minutes after totality, the clouds broke up for a minute and those of use remaining got to see the sun covered 90% – just a little bitty sliver of light.

I had said several times that I would be skedaddling back home after the eclipse but the non-construction zones on 35W with the extra traffic made the 6 hour drive into a brutal 10½ hour drive. I tried to get either of my GPS systems to re-route me, but nothing worked out.

Even though the driving wasn’t great and the weather wasn’t great – I had a great time! I’m glad I got to see what I got to see and if I’m still around in 2024, I’ll try to get to Indiana or the boot heel of Missouri.

What makes it an adventure for you?

Garage Town

Today’s post comes from Jacque.

Recently we spent the weekend with friends who are now living in Eveleth, MN.  They moved there 18 months ago when they inherited Jane’s family home from her brother who inherited it from their parents.    Lou saw it when he helped them move there last Spring. This was the first time I viewed it.

When I saw it I realized that Jane inherited a garage with a house, not a house with the garage.

A big hobby in Eveleth, and apparently much of N. Minnesota is restoring vintage cars.  Her brother was into this In A Big Way.  He built a 3 car garage, one stall holding a lift and sporting a heated floor.  Then he built a second 2 car garage perpendicular to the 3 car garage.  There are tools, immaculately kept and carefully arranged throughout the entire facility. No medical operating room could rival for neatness and sanitation.  It was impressive.

We attended a vintage car show near by that testified to the popularity of this particular hobby in Northern Minnesota.   After seeing the car show,  I understood the number of elaborate garages scattered throughout the town. Many people there have this hobby.   The houses in town are small, depression-era homes.  The accompanying garages are large, elaborate, and decked out with the most modern equipment, much like the garages our friends now own.  To be fair, Jane had told me about the hobby and the garages, but really, this was outside of my reality.  I just did not understand until I saw it in person.


“What a hobby,” I thought.  “How peculiar.”

But then, what about my hobbies and my peculiar equipment?  After all, I mix clay in a food processor, then run it through a pasta machine, finally baking the end product in a toaster oven.  Maybe the owner of the garages would not find my use of kitchen equipment at all ordinary.

Which leads to the question of the day.

Is there anything odd about your hobby(s)?