Mountebank Blog

"There is nothing so impossible in nature, but mountebanks will undertake; nothing so incredible, but they will affirm."

Relativity Centennial

Since this year is the centennial of Einstein’s “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” (catchy title for one of the big world-shaking publications of all time!) in which special relativity was first published in its finished form, it seemed like a good time to link to some great audio. The first is Einstein himself explaining the theory. And the other is a very fun page (from Nova’s “Einstein’s Big Idea“) of scientists explaining the theory and its importance. Some of the big science heroes of the day. It’s always a good time, but 2005 is especially a good time, to think like Einstein.

Flickr Plugin is Done

If you look over on the right there, you’ll see a new link…I got the flickr plugin working right, and now I’ve got a photo gallery included in this blog. Just a couple of galleries available now, but more to come. I like the plugin because (if it works right) it seems to include all the cool flickr functionality–exif, notes, tags, even slideshows.

It was a little struggle to get it working with this wordpress (1.5) installation, but it seems to work fine now (with the help of a very clear and ingenious tutorial). Good deal, and fun to fiddle with. Time to do some more photo-ing!

Flickr Plugin

Working on getting the WordPress Flickr plugin to work right–so that flickr photosets can be easily integrated into this blog as albums. It’s pretty cool, but I don’t have it exactly the way I want it, yet.

Preliminary Version is up now. Final version will be up….


The Original Podcast

Captain KirkJ. Curtis, in an email to Jason Kottke, points out that the first, the very earliest audioblogger/podcaster was none other than…
Captain James T. Kirk.

“Captain’s Log, Stardate….”

My latest device

Altoids Charger Altoids ChargerThanks to a tip from Hack A Day, I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours making myself a little Altoids tin charger…USB version. It provides USB power for any device that will take such power (Palm, cell phone, etc.), using a regular 9-volt battery that anyone can pick up anywhere. Handy for an emergency charge when you don’t have a handy USB port around. It uses an IC voltage regulator (an LM 7805 from Radio Shack, to bring the nine volts down to USB’s required 5 (more like 4.95). That extra few volts gets turned into heat, but the Altoids tin makes a very nice, usable heat sink–so no big problem there. Then, to make it extra-special-geekified, I added a little green on/off toggle switch, and (but of course!) a blue LED.

Altoids Charger Altoids ChargerUnfortunately, something I didn’t realize before I started, the Ipod gets charged through firewire, which is 12 volts–and won’t charge through a standard USB’s 5 volts. It’s weird, because (sometimes) when plugged into a USB port on a computer, the Ipod’s little indicator will say it’s charging…but it’s really not. So now I think I have to make another one, with two 9-volt batteries, and an LM 7812 instead of the 7805, and a firewire port instead of USB. That will require some different architecture…or a bigger tin! (Maybe band-aids). In any case, one thing I think I won’t do is take this with me on any airplane trips. No matter how cool I think it is, I’m not convinced that the average everyday TSA screener will agree with me. There are some adventures I think I’d rather avoid.


I feel very clever to have figured out, not only how to use that hack (AuthImage) to eliminate the comment spam (I hope), but also how to have a cron job go in and delete the little images it creates once a day in the middle of the night.

(Luckily, my totally excellent webhost TotalChoice Hosting provided some easy tools, but I still feel a lot geekier than I used to!)

Windows XP SP2

I took the leap today, against all advice, and installed Windows XP Service Pack 2 on my laptop. It was a little slow to install, but completely painless, and seems to have caused absolutely no problems (so far). I’ll subject it to some heavy testing before putting it on the other machines, though.

No major improvements, except for a very slight (very slight) advantage in blocking more pop-ups (which I know courtesy of a great site for testing that–thanks, Gregg!) than the Google Toolbar alone was getting (I do love the Google Toolbar! :-)). Of course I know that the best way to block them is to just stick to Firefox, but there are some sites (mostly with java and javascript, or other plugins), where the Fox doesn’t quite work right. Contrariwise, however, there are some purposes (like disabling that nasty WYSIWYG toolbar in Blackboard, as well as avoiding popups and security flaws) for which Firefox is absolutely the best solution.

Library Hotspot

Brooklyn Public LibraryI took my daughter to the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library today. It’s always been one of my favorite libraries. I used to spend many hours there, and I’ve always loved it for many reasons–the shape (when viewed from above, it’s an open book), the soaring wood-panelled central gallery, the tuna sandwiches in the upstairs cafeteria (sadly closed to the public now), the little squirrels on the entrance gates to the children’s reading room, the way the light streams in through the windows on the park side in the afternoon. I’ve even memorized the motto engraved on the facade (to the right of the doors):

Here are enshrined the longings of great hearts, and noble things that rise above the tide; the magic word that wingéd wonder starts; the garnered wisdom that has never died.

I always thought that was pretty cool–but what’s that word “things” doing in there? I’ve no idea who wrote it, and a google search comes up empty.

So today I found that not only is it the same wonderful library I spent so many hours enjoying while in graduate school, but they now offer free wireless broadband! Of course, when I was in graduate school, I had no laptop, and there was no internet (wireless, broadband, or anything at all) until just at the very end, but still–what a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

USB 2.0

USB 2.0I finally found a reason to need USB 2.0. I was trying to transfer a movie (made with Pocket DVD Studio–watch out for the automatic Star Wars movie on their website!) to my SD card so I could watch it on my Palm. I put the card in the USB card reader, dragged and dropped, and again and again I got “device error” or “device not ready” after about three minutes of copying. These were big files, about 200 MB, and I had never had problems using this card reader for smaller files.

I began to be suspicious. Tried transferring the same file to the card using the built-in card reader on my laptop (which is USB 2), and it worked perfectly the first time. It seemed the transfer was just going too slow over my poor sluggish little USB 1.0 connection on the desktop computer, so it was timing out, or something.

Quick check to newegg, and a combo USB 2.0/Firewire PCI card is only about $20 (I couldn’t get a USB only card–had to replace my firewire card, because I didn’t have a PCI slot to spare!). Popped that one in, and voila! Not only will my movies go successfully over to my SD card–they’ll go in only about 2 minutes, instead of six minutes.

Now I just need to sell off my old Belkin Firewire card, and rent and rip me some DVD’s for my next plane ride!


Everybody in the world probably knows that Google has purchased Picasa, and made it available for free. The Picasamarch of Google continues. In this case, I have some real knowledge of the implications, because I’ve been using Picasa for over a year, and it’s a really nice program. In fact, it beats Adobe Photoshop Album (the closest competitor) hands down. I actually paid for Picasa, I liked it so much, and I bought Photoshop Album, too. When my hard drive died, though, I re-installed Picasa almost immediately, and Photoshop Album never made the move. Gmail, Picasa, what will Google give us for free next? I think Adobe is going to be losing a bit of income, this time! Now the only question is, can I get a refund from Picasa, since it’s free now? 🙂