Thursday, June 28, 2007


MizPee is a new service focused on delivering pertinent information regarding the location of nearby restrooms.

Using MizPee is as simple as surfing to via a mobile device browser. Users simply enter their location and MizPee delivers a list of nearby toilets, how far away the toilet is, a rating and whether it requires payment. Further details may include disabled access, whether the restroom includes a diaper-changing station and for those really keen on browsing for the best toilet, user comments as well.

SMS is also supported; users can send a text message to 415-350-2290 with their location and receive details of their nearest loo in return.

Unfortunately, nothing in Pittsburgh yet. Suddenly, I see an opportunity. If I became the Pittsburgh expert on this, I could generate quite the following of tech-savvy old farts in Squirrel Hill who need to pee while wandering down Murray Avenue looking for the best deal on kosher meat. A veritable "Peed Piper" of sorts.

Regardless, I tried this out on my Blackberry. I'm afraid I don't hold much hope for success of this service, as it took so long to load up on the Blackberry that before I could find the nearest bathroom I...oh never mind, too easy.

A picture is worth 426,000 or more words

Artist Chris Jordan's website contains an exhibit called "Running The Numbers", a unique look at popular statistics? Want to know what 2 million plastic bottles, the number consumed in the US every five minutes, looks like? How about 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired in the US every day? Pretty stunning pictures. As he says:

My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 426,000 cell phones retired every day. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Out of the mouths of 7-year-olds.

It was approximately 4800 degrees in the shade today, so Natalie and Jessica were delivered to one of those industrial indoor play-places today to burn off some energy while their mom paid a visit to the local Costco. Later, at dinner time, Natalie gave us some details of the events that transpired while they were there.

"It's a good thing I was there with Jessica," she said, "because five boys were pushing her and trying to get in front of her."

"They were?" replied my wife. "Why were they doing that?"

"I think it was because they wanted to be behind me because they thought I was so pretty."

Paris Hilton, look out.

That wasn't so easy.

I'm not a very deep thinker. For example when someone forwards me a video like this on the mathematical principles behind moebius transformations, describing how a flat plane can be bent to do all sorts of crazy mathematical things, I think, "oh, pretty colors." I prefer to think about the more mundane things in life, the everyday things that happen around me. Simple stories. uneventful stories. Stories of things that really annoy the crap out of me and are only worth repeating during the walk to lunch with coworkers.

For example (and you knew there'd be an example), I walked into an office supply store yesterday, after my mother-in-law requested that I buy her a cordless phone system. She wanted one similar to the one we have, with one base and multiple handsets, one that would work well and be simple to use. That last part is crucial. My mother-in-law is a self professed luddite, daunted by technology. If it has a neat feature that doesn't involve receiving a call, making a call, hanging up the phone, or beating a prowler senseless with the handset, she doesn't want to hear about it. Frankly, after two years of using a Blackberry I don't blame her.

So as I was saying, I walked into office supply store yesterday. I won't mention the name, but its corporate colors are red and white. Doesn't narrow it down? Okay, well, the name rhymes with "Shmaples". As usual, there was perhaps one other customer in the store, a round creature rummaging through the clearance table perhaps hoping to find a sweet deal on an external floppy drive marked down for final clearance. I headed for the phone section. Now, Shmaples tends to be a pretty well-organized store, but I think the staff member in charge of the phone aisle must have left his headset out of his ear that day (if you've ever been to an office supply store lately, you'll know that these days all the staff wear special two-way radios in their ears so they can pretend they're members of Jack Bauer's field ops teams instead of the dudes in charge of making sure the Sharpies are lined up in the plastic bins with all their caps facing in the same direction).

On the display shelf were perhaps three dozen phone systems, each of varying prices, features, and quantity of handsets. One would EXPECT that directly under the display models would be the boxes of said models that customers could grab and take to the register with them. However, that expectation would be false. Instead, what I saw were perhaps four dozen boxes, strewn about the shelf like it was late afternoon on Black Friday and all the early bird sales had ended. Of the three or four models I was considering buying, I could not find a single matching box on the shelves.

Noticing my look of consternation, "Doug" walked over. I knew his name was Doug because his headset was clipped to his nametag, causing the nametag to flop up and down as he walked, thus bringing my attention to it. Finally I understand the purpose of the headsets.

Doug asked me if he could help with something. I explained I wanted to buy a multiple-handset phone system, I was looking at "these three" each one being priced between $59 and $79, but couldn't find packages for any of them. He replied with, "oh, if you want a multi-handset phone, follow me."

Confused, I followed him to the end of the aisle, where a several packages of six different models were stacked. However, none of those packaged sets matched anything I just saw on the shelf.

"I don't understand," I said. "if these are the multi-handset phones, then what are those back there?"

"Well, these are on sale, so I thought you would like to know about them."

I looked at the stack of merchandise. As I mentioned there were six different products on the rack. There was one price tag on the entire rack, stating $79.99 for a Sony model of some sort. I looked around at the products and noticed not one of them was a Sony. So I pointed to a Uniden model and said, "so how much is this one?"

"Um, I will have to check."

He disappeared and returned to tell me it was $129.99.

I said, "But the Uniden model over there looks pretty much the same as this for $69."

"I guess you're right."

This guy should get a job at the Apple Genius Bar.

At that point, my cell rang. Thank the lord, I had an excuse to get away from this amorphous blob of human indifference. After I took the call, I considered just leaving and going to one of the other red-and-white office supply stores, but "Manager Bob" stopped by.

"Can I help you find something?"

"Yes," I told him. "I would like you to go over to that shelf there and find a single box that matches any of these phones you have on display. I bet you can't do it." I wanted to make a snarky remark about the staff having lots of free time to get the shelves more organized since there were never any customers in the store, but he interrupted too quickly.

"Let me grab Steve, and he can help you out."

Bob called Steve over, and then Bob went to barricade the door so I couldn't leave without buying something.

Steve, surprisingly, was relatively helpful. He told me, "This shelf is a mess. Let's go to the computer and see what we got. Ah, I see we have one of this item (the one I was interested in) in stock, but I'll be damned if I know what it is. Tell you what, let's order it and have it shipped to your house for free."

Well, at least THAT was easy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The boy next door

I'm so glad I have girls. Having boys must just suck. Take one of the local neighbor kids, whom I shall refer to as "Tad" (named changed to protect the innocent) as an example.

Tad is a local neighbor kid. He's 8 years old. And chances are if there's trouble in the neighborhood, he's behind it. He's also responsible for some of the best sarcastic comments I've ever heard from a kid his age.

A while back Natalie was riding her bike in the cul-de-sac. He joined in and, as 8-year-old boys tend to do, started following her in circles in a slightly menacing way (for an 8-year-old). Natalie was still getting used to 2-wheeled riding, so understandably this was making her nervous. I called out, "Hey Tad! That's my daughter and I'm pretty protective of her, so if she gets hurt there's gonna be trouble."

His response was, "Why? You've got another daughter."

Point for Tad. Another was when he came out to ride his scooter with no shoes on. I asked him where his shoes were, and he replied with, "aw, mom doesn't care...she just wants me to make sure I don't end up in the hospital cuz it will screw up her exercise schedule."

Now, knowing his mom, I can definitely see her saying that. And I can respect her for that...I'd probably say the same thing. But she obviously didn't realize when she said it that he'd use it against her later. Point two for Tad.

This past weekend we had some folks over for a BBQ, including two girls around our girls' ages. The four of them vanished for the entire evening. We never heard a peep from them. For at least two hours I forgot I had children.

But then Tad showed up. Within minutes, there was trouble.

He came down he driveway wearing bright green rubber dishwashing gloves. He said he just liked wearing them, but I'm guessing he was really hoping to avoid fingerprint evidence. Before too long I saw an object from the toy collection flying down into the part of our yard I refer to "the ravine of lost souls", and Tad tumbling after it. The girls were about to follow, but I warned them against it. Soon after that, Tad found himself bound tightly to a plastic see-saw with jump rope.

Now, normally I would have cheered for four little girls who were able to hogtie an older boy like Tad to a plastic see-saw, but I'm afraid he likely tied himself up. From what I've heard, boys will do that sort of thing.

The problem was, he couldn't get out. The more he tried, the more it tightened. The boy obviously has a future as a kidnapper. I had to go and rescue him. I considered leaving him tied to the see-saw and carrying the whole package back to his dad, but I figured the dad had enough aggravation. They have another boy. I then considered tossing the whole pile into the ravine of lost souls, but there were too many witnesses. So I had no choice but to go down there and untangle him.

Later after I untied him, his name came up amongst the adults above on the deck. From the driveway he yelled, "I heard that! I know you're talking about me. Remember I'm everyone's nightmare!"

He's a sharp kid.

Speaking of boys versus girls, I heard another example of the difference from my wife today. she took the kids to dentist and, while Natalie was in the chair, my wife recognized one of Natalie's classmates in the waiting room. Now, Natalie knows every boy and girl in her class by name. She can describe each one's habits, dressing styles, mom's name, and favorite colors. When my wife said hi to the boy and said she was Natalie's mom, he responded with, "who?"

She followed with, "you know, in your class, long red hair..."


Thus proving boys have no concept that girls exist until cooties make their presence known.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

When Doody calls

For some reason the subject of professional pooper scooper services came up the other day. In doing my usual extensive scientific research on the subject, I found that there is quite literally, well, a crapload of companies out there in the business of cleaning up your dog's business. In fact, there is even a nationwide directory of poop scooping companies, sorted by state. Who knew? And the names, oh the names. I'd consider getting into the business myself but a)I'm not interested and b)I don't think I could come up with a business name nearly as slick. Some examples culled from the above site:

Doodie Calls
Wholly Crap Pet Cleanup Service
Bomb Squad Dog Waste Removal Service
Doodie Free
Doggie Dooers
Doodle Scoopers
Pup-P-Doo Crew
Double Doodie
Poop Fairies
Civic Doody

This company did a fine job of putting a promotional video on their website that really sums up what they do. Make sure to watch through to the end:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Discovering the power of Sketchup

I mentioned in my last post that I discovered the program Google Sketchup, an amazing and FREE 3D rendering program. The program is great for drawing to-scale 3D images of just about anything. In only a couple of hours of fiddling I was able to make this accurate drawing of our family room complete with not-yet-existent built-in furniture. But I was a bit befuddled when I thought about changing the size of the bookcases. I wanted to "drag" the sides out flush to the side walls, but the drawing was too complex to simply grab a side and pull. So I needed to do a little research.

The above is my long-winded way of saying, "holy crap, check out this tutorial". I came across this video (about 20 minutes long) that shows a professional carpenter named Gary Katz designing an attractive bookcase in Sketchup. In this video he shows you very simply how to use each of the most powerful tools in the program. It is truly an amazing piece of software. I dare you not to get hooked after viewing this.

My kingdom for a dehumidifier

Lest you think I've abandoned the blog for better pastures, fear not. I've just been collecting fodder. I've also been spending a decent amount of time doing some of those niggly little projects that have hit the list since the renovation was completed. Like installing ceiling fans. Like getting poison ivy from free mulch. Like watching it rain inside the house.

What's that you say? Rain inside the house? That can't be good.

No, it's not. It seems we have a trifecta of issues, as it were, that's leading to a visit from Bob The Builder later this week. The house has about double the square footage of roof area now collecting water. Additionally, it has brand new siding. Add to that an absolutely torrential rainfall, and we've found a glitch. It seems that last night, during the downpour, the front gutter was overwhelmed and rain began to "sheet" down the front of the house. Directly above my daughter's bedroom window is a small U-shaped vinyl channel that's designed to "finish" the bottom end of the siding above the window. This channel filled with water so fast that it couldn't handle the load, and water filled up behind the siding and began running down the inside of the window. Not good.

It's situations like this that make one realize just how fragile an organism a house can be. It also gives me the ironic realization about just how fragile a homeowner's budget can be. This happened the same day I had to bring my car in for emergency surgery, and hours after my wife and I decided on a design for built-in furniture we want to put in our family room. As the saying goes, "it never ends".

But on to other topics. I've fallen in love with a computer program called Google Sketchup. I was looking for a simple home "CAD" program that would allow me to put together some designs for built-in furniture when I came a across it. Sketchup is a FREE program that allows you to quickly and painlessly draw in three dimensions. After about a half hour of learning and two hours of doing, I was able to produce this to-scale reproduction of our family room with potential designs for built-ins. And the best part is that in the actual program, I can rotate the image around on three axes to get a view from all sides, above and below. Like I said this is an amazing program. There's also a wealth of information on how to use it, an entire society of woodworkers who've put together templates, tools and plugins, and a database on Google of presketched images you can grab for free. Oh, and if you're designing a building and you want to see what it might look like in the real world, you can place your image on Google Earth in exactly the location you want, to see what your house might look like in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, or in the sands of Dubai. Like I said, it's free, so check it out.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Like Organizational Mannah From Heaven

My lovely wife writes for several local publications. The editor of one assigned her a new story, one that made me jump for joy and go into sarcastic-husband mode all at once.

The assignment is for my wife to hook up with a professional organizer. The organizer would proceed to invade my wife's office and get her life organized. My wife would, in return, write a story about the experience.

My first thought was to ask if the magazine editor had a secret webcam pointed at my lovely wife's desk. How else could the editor know what a perfect candidate she was? That one didn't quite get me a slap across the face, but it did get me a "bite me" and a nasty look.

I've long ago accepted the fact that my lovely wife is the yin to my anal-retentive yang. If we had geeky organizational nicknames, they would be "file" and "pile". I file everything. She performs this precarious balancing act of paper, books, and other materials upon various strategic corners of the desk, floor, and any other flat surface. Once a month or so I go on a tear and clean things up, after which she berates me for throwing something important out. But don't get me wrong...I'm not perfect either. I cannot follow a schedule, remember an important date, or do basic math, whereas she can tell me exactly how many hours are available between Friday at 5pm and Monday at 8am and how few of the items I've put on our list for the weekend could possibly happen without disrupting the space-time continuum and creating a wormhole in our cul-de-sac. In a sense, we complete each other.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to this project. It involves cleaning, filing, and possibly the construction of one or more shelves. This should be quite an experience.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Insta-Blessing Key Fob

gizmodo has a posting about a new product called the "Say-A-Blessing"

The Say-a-Blessing keychain can get through those pesky blessings for you with the push of a button for whatever type of food you're about to eat (except pork and shellfish for some odd reason), allowing you to cut to the chase without pissing off the big man upstairs. Everybody wins? Oy vey. –Adam Frucci

Okay, let's think about this. an electronic key fob. With an LED light on it, no less. For what? for remembering all those easily forgettable shabbat prayers. You know, that day of the week where you aren't supposed to be using anything electronic. Hmm, seems about as useful as a Blackberry with a dead battery, doncha think?

I can just picture my Grandma Edith (rest her soul) trying to figure this out. She presses a button, and some Korean-sounding weirdo recites a brucha in his worst Ashkenazi, all the while Grandma Edith is yelling with a mouth full of rugelach, that little bit of crumb hanging from the side of her lip, a used tissue hanging out of her sleeve, and she grabs my arm with that deathly grip, "Michael...Michael, what is this this thing? I can't hear it! Can you hear it? I can't hear it! He's saying these crazy things, Oy. These new toys!"

500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Very nicely done:

Friday, June 01, 2007

Someday I will Learn

Hilary has another story (poem, actually) published! It's in an online 'zine called Stories for Children, and the June issue has her poem entitled "Someday I will Learn". and, no, it's not a story about how much of a dolt her husband can be sometimes...

Check out the site here, and you can download the story reader in PDF form.

Toy or Tool? The Segway...

Howard and I have been sharing some thoughts on what gadgets fall under the category of toys, versus being classified as tools.

Last week I saw a Segway in use for the first time. A mall cop at Ross Park Mall in Pittsburgh was "walking the beat" behind Cheesecake Factory on one. It made me wonder what he'd do if he encountered trouble. would he leave the Segway unattended and pursue the actor on foot? would the perrpetrator's partners in crime steal the Segway when he leaves it?

To me, the Segway is the most unfortunate example of a toy is really trying to be a tool, but can't figure out how. Or maybe I can't figure out how. Here is a piece of phenomenal innovation. When the rumors began to surface about its existence, people in the know said cities would rebuild themselves around these things. But before the Segway could even gain a foothold (no pun intended), towns were banning them from sidewalks for fear of injuries.

The fact is, the Segway tries too hard to resolve a need that doesn't necesarily exist. I'm not sure I see how you can do anything on a Segway that you can't do better walking or on a bike. For one thing, cops doing a bike beat get more exerrcise and can go faster, and into more places, than if they used a Segway. So is there truly a NEED fora Segway? If not, then it's a toy.

In my opinion there are a few ways that a Segway could become more than just a toy. First, give it the ability to tow a trailer. This would make it useful for warehouses, mailmen, and the like. Second, make it strong enough to tow those trailers uphill. This might make it handy as alternative transportation for suburbanites. And lastly, make it faster than walking briskly. The idea of transportation is to get someplace faster than walking.

The Segway has its place. As a curiosity, as a toy, and in some cases perhaps as something that verges on a tool. But it ain't there yet.

Now, if Segway decided to actually build the Concept Centaur they show on their site, that right there is a toy that excels at being a toy.

Oh and hey...what's a Segway?

'bout 150 pounds.