Jaws

Nov 20, 2022

I only recently learned that the movie Jaws was based on a novel written by Peter Benchley. Though not terribly surprising, it was something I didn't know. On a recent visit to my local library, I picked up this book and gave it a read. What a fun novel! The shark attacks, of which there are obviously several, are often seen from the shark's viewpoint. I thought this was pretty clever. As you might expect, the book differs from the movie in several ways, but I couldn't help seeing Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss in my mind's eye as I read about these characters. It's a fun and easy read that I recommend.

Autumn Steam Train

Nov 8, 2022

Rail fanning videos are among my favorites to watch on YouTube (and there are plenty of great channels for this kind of content). I'm not much of a steam train fan, but the video I have linked below is a real treat. There is no narration; just the sights and sounds of the steam train rolling through the Pennsylvania countryside. It's incredibly well shot, and is a real treat in 4K resolution. This makes for great background material while you work.

Having grown up in the southern United States, I've known about irrigation pivots for most of my life. What I didn't know, however, is just how complicated they are. This fascinating SmarterEveryDay video showcases the inner workings of these amazing devices.

The Hiding Place

Oct 25, 2022

Last night I finished reading The Hiding Place, an autobiography of Corrie ten Boom. What a remarkable read! This book recounts ten Boom's life in the Netherlands during World War II, and her family's efforts to hide Dutch Jews. As the war progresses, things get progressively worse for the family, until they are ultimately reported and taken to prison. From there things go downhill: transfer to two different concentration camps.

However, Corrie's faith in God helps her persevere. Her sister, Betsie, has superhuman faith; she consistently rejoices in the face of horrible circumstances. Within this book are a host of profound truths; I've found myself reflecting on a number of them over the course of reading this book, and likely will consider them for some time to come.

This is a book everyone should read.

Radio Garden

Oct 20, 2022

Radio Garden is a particularly interesting website that allows you to browse live radio around the globe. Functioning a little like Google Earth, you're given a satellite view of the planet. Littered across the globe are little green dots, each of which represents one (or more) radio stations based in that location. Move the crosshair over a specific dot, and you'll hear the live stream of that radio station.

This is a really neat way to "travel" around the world. I've heard local news reports from Alaska, ethnic music in various African countries, and content in all imaginable languages. I've found it humorous how many stations outside of the United States play American or British bands (Queen, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and similar acts can be heard all over). This is a neat way to spend some time, and it makes for a great way to listen to music while working.

Particularly interesting are all of the stations in really out of the way places. Hear what folks are listening to in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

The Springfield Files, an episode in the 8th season of The Simpsons (and a terrific episode), briefly introduces the video game Kevin Costner's Waterworld. The joke is that the game costs 40 quarters to play, and after only a few seconds, the character dies and your turn is over.

Recently, a person by the name of Macaw45 developed and released a full-fledged video game based on this idea. Below is a video that shows a perfect playthrough of the game, including the insta-death joke at the beginning of the game. It's a longer video (~20 minutes), but is worth the watch.

How do you keep the world's longest and deepest railroad tunnel safe? Tom Scott takes a look at the fascinating systems behind the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland:

Endurance

Sep 22, 2022

Last night I completed Endurance by Alfred Lansing. It chronicles the ill-fated voyage of the boat by the same name, captained by Ernest Shackleton in 1914. The boat, which was discovered under the Weddell Sea earlier this year, got stuck in the Antarctic ice in early January 1915. The crew had to disembark and then struggled for the next year and a half towards civilization (the Endurance sank in November of 1915). The final group members were rescued in August of 1916.

This book reads like an incredible work of fiction, but to know that everything in it is true is mind-boggling. What I truly find amazing is that every member of the party survived the ordeal. The conditions that these men had to endure were about as bad as it gets, and yet they managed to make it through. I highly recommend this book!

Malls Are Doomed

Sep 2, 2022

My wife and I had a date night tonight without the kids. In need of some new clothes, we ventured out to The Streets at Southpoint, our area's largest shopping mall. We were shocked, shocked, at how much of a ghost town it was on a Friday night. Some of the stores were already closed we we arrived after dinner (around 7:00 pm), and in those which were opened, we were often the only shoppers in sight.

I know that the pandemic has done a number on retail stores in general, but it was truly surprising how deserted the whole place felt. Prior to Covid, the mall would have been a wall-to-wall sea of people on a Friday night. I can't help but imagine that places like this are on borrowed time. My wife and I wondered aloud what would happen if it goes under; do you bulldoze the building and sell the land? What could you possibly do with a building that gigantic, and in that odd of a configuration? I guess time will tell. It's crazy to think that my kids will grow up in a world where going to the mall is likely never a thing that you do.

Tractor Pulls

Aug 28, 2022

The latest Smarter Every Day video is on tractor pulls and the science behind them. I grew up watching these on TV (alongside monster truck rallies), and I was aware of the basics. It turns out, however, that there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye. This was a really entertaining and enlightening watch; check it out!

Sudoku Solver

Aug 4, 2022

I've really gotten into sudoku recently. I'm not sure what prompted this, but I've been playing through the New York Times' puzzles, which offer an easy, medium, and hard variation daily. My favorite feature of sudoku is that you don't have to guess randomly to make progress. As a logic puzzle, all of the information you need to solve it is there on the board in front of you. This makes parsing through that logic a fun challenge.

With practice, I've improved my chances of solving these puzzles. I can now solve both the easy and medium puzzles without any assistance or hints. The hard puzzles, however, have been a higher hurdle to clear. I get stuck on the hard puzzles pretty often, getting to a point where I run out of strategies to employ.

While reading up on various advanced strategies, I happened upon the Sudoku Solver by Andrew Stuart. This web application allows you to set up the game board, along with what you know so far, and then allow it to walk through the solution step by step. It's this latter feature that is so amazing to me. You can watch, step by step, which strategies get employed to break through whatever wall you're currently facing. I've used it a few times now to help me learn new strategies (naked pairs and hidden pairs being the newest ones I've learned). I'm still no expert, but this helpful little tool is helping me learn the ins and outs of how these games are typically solved.

On Human Curation

Jul 26, 2022

A recent article at The Verge entitled Adam Mosseri confirms it: Instagram is over got me thinking about content curation. One of the article's arguments revolves around how "the algorithm" is partially to blame for Instagram's slow demise. I'm not an Instagram user, but I do use YouTube, which has similar problems. The home page of YouTube is skewed by what "the algorithm" thinks I want to see. Most of the time, it's surprisingly bad at predicting what I might be interested in. One of my major gripes is that it often suggests things I've already watched.

What I'd love is for more platforms to offer human curation. Something along the lines of kottke.org (which I happened to be a late-comer to; kottke.org is currently on hiatus). I claim that human curated content, done correctly, would outperform any algorithmic means currently employed.

YouTube recommended the following video to me tonight. It answers a number of questions I've always had about how the power lines for electric trains are structured:

  • How is the contact wire kept straight?
  • How does it deal with temperature variations?
  • Why do the electric lines have so many components?

The animations in this video make it all clear. It's well worth the short watch if you're curious about this stuff like I am.

Live Flight Radar

Jun 25, 2022

Recently, while sitting out on my back deck with the kids, I wondered if it was possible to identify the planes flying over my house. (We live near the Raleigh-Durham international airport, which means there are always planes visible). I asked Brave if this was possible, and found out that it was!

The Flightradar24 website allows you to view flight paths of planes in real time, which is so neat. They have an associated app, which I downloaded to my phone. I can now see a plane, pull up the app, and identify the flight (where it's coming from, where it's going to, etc.). The app shows big commercial flights, as well as smaller private flights. Helicopters are also displayed. What a neat world!

Home Renovation Series

Jun 11, 2022

Matt Cremona, one of YouTube's best woodworkers, is having his house renovated. He's filming the entire process, and is up to 37 episodes as of this writing (check out the full playlist). He claims that there will be well over 100 episodes in total!

I cannot recommend this series highly enough; it's what I wish shows like This Old House were like. He covers the detail of every stage, showing how they tackle the problems they encounter (some of which are doozies!). I'll link the first video in the series below. This series is a slow burn, but it's well worth the watch.