Get off my lawn.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Chief: Our new puppy

Well, we finally broke down and got ourselves a dog. Pretty cute little fella, but dang, dogs are high-maintenance. I haven't figured out which is smarter, a cat or a dog. Cats seem smarter, but trying to train one is like trying to train a rock. Anyway, here's a picture of the little fella. Andrew , who has an uncanny knack for naming animals, gave him the name "Chief". Jiana objected to the name and said she didn't like it. We asked her what she wanted to call the pup, and she said "Chief". It's settled then! His name is "Chief". He's a mix of labrador and a boxer. A "babradoxer".

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Stirling Engines, Art

This is interesting: A Stirling Engine that you can run on your kitchen table, that looks like a piece of art. I'm not sure why, but I really like the looks of the engine in the picture. It looks functional, but it's still pleasing to look at. A lot of cool mechanical things are like that, I guess. If I had a nice office, I would want one of these on the bookshelf to play with. (Then, I suppose I'd spend lots of time sitting in my nice office playing with it, neglect my work, get in trouble, and possibly lose access to the nice office and have to sell the Stirling engine to buy food. Life is full of difficult issues like this!)

For those unfamiliar with Stirling Engines, they're engines that convert a difference in temperature between two points directly into mechanical energy by repeatedly heating and cooling a fixed volume of gas. In the case of the one pictured above, the "hot" side of the engine is the little metal burner at the base heating the thing sticking out of the other thing. The "cool" side is apparently the ambient temperature of the room the engine's running in. The rev. Robert Stirling invented the engine in 1816 after several people in his parish were killed by exploding steam engines. Unfortunately at the time, metallurgy wasn't to a point where a Stirling engine could be built that would last very long. Materials are better now, and Stirling engines are appearing with more frequency.

Because of the facts that a) They don't produce much useful power for their size, b) they can run on anything that generates heat (including the palm of your hand, in one case), and c) are almost completely safe, you typically find them marketed as toys.

I've always thought it would be cool to have a Stirling-powered car, so I could drive back and forth to/from work for a week fueled by nothing but body heat and the by-products of my digestion of Mexican food. The problem is that (as I mentioned above) Stirling engines don't generate much power for their size, and the concept of a "throttle" involves reconfiguring the engine mechanically, not just metering the amount of fuel. So, it wouldn't make a good car engine.

Famed inventor Dean Kamen (inventor of a wheelchair that climbs stairs and the gay-looking-but-interesting Segway) has been developing a Stirling engine design to power portable generators. These could (and ostensibly, would) be used in third-world villages to generate power. The general idea is that villages full of starving Ethopians will be able to burn grass and dirt to fuel the generators, which will generate electricity, which will power the Ethopians' laptops, so they can get on the internet, and use Google Maps to locate the nearest Pizza Hut. Wish I'd thought of that!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Why I want an Apple computer

PCs running Windows are like minivans: They plod along, performing mundane daily tasks. They're appliances. If you use one in the course of your job, or even for screwing around on the internet, you probably don't spend a lot of time sitting around admiring it or talking about how cool it is. You just use it. The interest surrounding it is in what it does, not what it is.

Apple computers (and for that matter, everything Apple makes) are different. They can perform the same functions, but they seem to do so with more verve. People look at Apple devices with a lustful eye. They feel like they're worth a lot of money. They feel like quality. (Picture Austin Powers talking here): They're smashing. Beautiful. So very sexy, so very groovy. They're shagadelic.

This, coupled with the fact that most people who own Apple devices are naturally creative types, leads to things like this:

The allure of an Apple computer makes someone want to laser-etch a picture of a monkey into the top of it, and the fact that it's made of titanium makes it possible. Try something like this with your typical HP Pavilion, and it would probably melt.

I don't know whether ownership of an Apple device makes you cool, or that if you're cool, you seek out cool things like Apple devices. I like to think it's the latter, since I don't own anything made by Apple, and I'm still pretty cool.

Monday, November 14, 2005

How cool is this?

An earlier post of mine described my trip home from Albuquerque, NM, and the perplexing visit I had to the AmericInn in Sayre, OK late one night.

In the post, I mentioned a woman behind the counter poking at a computer in a futile attempt to get it to work while she attempted to book a room for a guest. (As you all know, computers "simplify" the lives and work of millions of people across this great country every day. This poor lady was no exception...)

A short time later, a representative of AmericInn apparently came across my post (while searching for "AmericInn" on the web, I assume), and read it.

Here's the cool part: This guy went to the trouble of finding my home address (since he didn't have my e-mail address), and he wrote and mailed me a letter apologizing for the inconvenience. In the letter, he mentioned that he has arranged for additional training for personnel at the location in question for the new property management software they had installed (this is apparently what the lady behind the desk was struggling with), so the event I described wouldn't happen again.

Wow... That's cool.

I think that, as a rule, the general idea of "customer service" in this country is spiralling down toward a hole at the bottom of a toilet the size of a Wal-Mart SuperCenter (ooops... Did I say that?). I'm thinking that AmericInn is an exception to that rule. Apparently, not all companies have forgotten that being nice to customers (and even late-night mental cases too impatient to stick around long enough to become customers) is a good thing. It put me in a good mood getting that letter. What a cool place!

I'll say this much: The next time I travel (which will most likely be with the wife n' kids), I will make a point of staying at an AmericInn if at all possible. As I mentioned in the previous post, the place was pretty nice: There was a fireplace in the lobby, and a big couch. There was a pool too. The kids would love it. I should've stayed there!