The Annotated James Burke

Published on Sunday, January 31, 2010 in , , ,

James BurkeAs many James Burke fans already know, his classic documentaries are available online via the JamesBurkeWeb YouTube Channel. Wouldn't it be nice, while you're watching those specials, to be able to click and learn more about a specific topic?

As part of a project for another blog, I've spent the past 5 months doing just that for every episode of both the original Connections series and The Day The Universe Changed.

Below each video are links, most of which go to Wikipedia entries, listed in order of appearance in each documentary. For those who haven't seen Connections before, I would always leave out links that reveal the ending technology to which that episode lead.

Here are the links to each documentary's annotated episodes:

1: The Trigger Effect
2: Death In The Morning
3: Distant Voices
4: Faith In Numbers
5: Wheel of Fortune
6: Thunder in the Skies
7: The Long Chain
8: Eat, Drink and Be Merry...
9: Countdown
10: Yesterday, Tomorrow and You

The Day The Universe Changed:
1: The Way We Are
2: In The Light Of The Above
3: Point Of View
4: Matter Of Fact
5: Infinitely Reasonable
6: Credit Where It's Due
7: What The Doctor Ordered
8: Fit To Rule
9: Making Waves
10: Worlds Without End

If you've never seen James Burke's history documentaries before, I encourage you to watch them, as he zigs and zags throughout history, and really brings it alive with a great sense of humor.

If you have seen them, watch the videos above, and take the time to use the links to find out more about the topics in history that fly by so fast.

For example, there are several times in his documentaries where Burke mentions Hans Christian Ørsted, who discovered some of the most important and basic principles of electromagnetism. Without his discoveries, much of the high technology we take for granted today wouldn't be possible, and yet most people aren't even familiar with his name!

Who knows what you may learn?


iPad Memory Binder

Published on Thursday, January 28, 2010 in , , , , , , , ,

iPadThanks to yesterday's introduction of the iPad, I'm going to both going to continue from last Sunday's Mac entry, as well as get back to one of my favorite topics, memory feats.

While you could watch the full Keynote to get an idea of the new iPad, the following 8-minute promotional video does the job a little quicker:

Like pretty much everyone else who watched it, I started thinking how I could use an iPad (and seriously wanting one, of course). Funnily enough, it wasn't until I saw the iPad Case accessory, pictured below, that one major use struck me!

iPad in iPad Case

Back in November 2008, I first published my memory binder idea, where you could have all the props needed for any memory demonstration handy in one place. I later expanded on this with a 4-part series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

I even discussed the idea of adapting the memory binder idea to the iPhone and iPod Touch. This is still a good idea, but really only suitable for performing for less than 5 people.

That's why I like the idea of the iPad, and why the iPad Case made me think of the memory binder. While the workings are basically the same as those of an iPod Touch or iPhone, it makes display viewable to a larger audience. The original idea of the memory binder was as a basis for mid-size groups, in order to perform for places like civic and fraternal organizations, business groups, private parties, youth groups, church societies, and public dinners. The fact that it can be propped up for display helps this all the more.

The App Store already holds programs the iPad can use, such as calendars for Day of the Week For Any Date feat, calculators for feats such as root extraction and exponents, or to display the PDFs needed for feats like the 400-digits of Pi or Mental Shopper.

You can even find apps to demo your Knight's Tour skills, or use the Grey Matters Knight's Tour web app. The built-in iBooks app mentioned in the above video could be useful for the Kruskal Count prediction.

Thanks to its ability to play videos, I sincerely believe that the iPad would be the perfect medium for demonstrating your ability to memorize an entire DVD boxed set.

Apple often sets out to create new technologies that create new possibilities, and as far as I'm concerned, I think they'll probably achieve that with the iPad.


Happy 26th Birthday, Macintosh!

Published on Sunday, January 24, 2010 in , ,

Today, we celebrate the 26th glorious anniversary of the Apple Macintosh's release. Apple had created, for the first time in all history, a personal computer with a commercially successful graphical user interface.

Granted, I don't focus much on computers on this blog, but this blog has always been created on a Mac, first an iMac G4, and currently an Intel-based iMac. Since my regular blogging day happened to fall on this day, I decided couldn't less this occasion pass without mention.

During Super Bowl XVIII, on January 22, 1984, the release of the Macintosh was announced to the world in what is still regarded as one of the best television commercials of all time, 1984:

Less often seen, but still just as important, is the actual release of the original Macintosh 128K itself:

Apple's gained a reputation as one of the most forward-thinking companies in the world since that time. With the releases of revolutionary ideas such as the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone/iPod Touch.

Some speculate that Apple is just about to change the computing landscape again, at their invitation-only event coming up on January 27th. The big speculation is that Apple will release a tablet computer.

January 27, 2010 Apple event invitation

Strange isn't it? Here we are celebrating Macintosh's's birthday, and yet we're waiting to see what presents they're going to give us.


Free Perplexing Logic Puzzles

Published on Thursday, January 21, 2010 in , , ,

People Crossing PuzzleNow that you've been stretching you mind by geeking out, it's time to take the next step, and push your mind to the limits with puzzles!

I've tried to find a good variety of logic puzzles, to help keep your interest up. Some of these you can play until you solve, while others will keep challenging you as long as you care to keep playing them.

Collider: In this game, all you have to do is annihilate all the postive and negative balls by hitting them into each other. However, it can't be done directly. Instead, you usually have to use a Rube Goldberg-style approach to knock them out. This will have a familiar feel to those who've played The Incredible Machine.

Combination Lock: Just as the title suggests, the challenge is to open a combination lock as fast as you can. You're given clues as to the nature of the combination, and have to work it out from there.

Mahjongg Solitaire: If you've been using a computer for at least 5 years, I'm guessing you've played some version of this classic game. Simply remove the matching Mahjongg tiles that aren't blocked by any other tiles on any side or above it. You'll quickly remember how addicting this game is.

Mental Ladders: This is a series of puzzles I wrote up about 2 years ago. Mental Ladders are puzzles you have to work out 1 step at a time, working towards the goal of solving all the puzzles. Some of these are positively fiendish!

People Crossing: This is a classic river-crossing puzzle, along the lines of Wolf, Goat and Cabbage or Cannibals and Missionaries, but with more parties involved.

The instructions in this puzzle are in Japanese, so here they are in English:
• The ferry can carry no more than 2 people.
• Only the mother, the father and the policeman can operate the ferry.
• The girls can't be left in the presence of the father without their mother.
• The boys can't be left in the presence of the mother without their father.
• The thief can't be left in the presence of any family member without the policeman.
• Click on the people on shore to place them on the raft.
• Click on the people on the raft to place them on shore.
• Click on the red lever to send the raft across the river.

Sprout: All I can really say about Sprout is just click the link. Part of the challenge is figuring out the object of the game, after which you have to figure out how to achieve it. This game is not only great puzzle-wise, but style-wise, too.

TJ Wriggle Puzzles: You have to lead one or more worms to the exit, but you need to move them so that they're not blocked by their own heads and tails, or those of other worms. It sounds simple enough...

Were these puzzles not enough to sate your logic lust? Check out more puzzles at Plastelina and Smart-Kit.


10 Great Sites for Geeking Out

Published on Sunday, January 17, 2010 in , , ,

Einstein sticking his tongue outTime to geek out, and I have just the sites to help you do it!

Mental Floss: Based on the magazine of the same name, this is a must-stop for your daily dose of trivia and challenges, to help satisfy your know-it-all side. Their Twitter page and Amazing Fact Generator are great for quick drive-by knowledge.

Sporcle: Fans of my How Many Xs Can You Name In Y Minutes? post will instantly recognize this choice. It's one thing to get trivia facts into your head, but how good are you at retaining them? These quizzes will challenge your ability on even the most bizarre and obscure topics!

ThinkGeek: OK, this is a pure commercial store site. It's filled with stuff you never knew existed, but that any geek will instantly find many things to lust after!

Plus Magazine: This is a free online magazine dedicated to helping people understand all the math around them. For everything from bell-ringing to traffic jams, it's amazing to discover just where math is being used to improve life.

XKCD: For newer geeks, this comic strip is a great place to start, because it challenges you to figure out what is so funny about the topic. Naturally, geeks who have been around longer pride themselves on getting the jokes without looking anything up.

Final Answers: Granted, the table of contents here looks scary, but click around at random, and see what you discover. The complex topics are often made fun and interesting, and you're guaranteed to learn something new, even about things you thought you already knew!

Wolfram Research: The main page here is dedicated to their flagship product, Mathematica, but begin exploring over in the OUR SITES menu. Among the great places to explore are Wolfram Alpha (a natural language search engine), MathWorld, a site dedicated to demonstrations of the math used in Numb3rs, and much, much more!

Television Tropes & Idioms: You're going to get lost in this site. Even XKCD can't escape the lure of TV Tropes! This is filled with those things you keep seeing in movies and TV shows again and again. Start anywhere, and start realizing how common many aspects of your favorite entertainment really are!

BrainyQuote: Here's a 2-in-1 site for you. Besides the main quotation site, featuring quotes on just about every topic you can conceive of, there's also a history site, as well. For example, if you look at a page of quotes by Jim Carrey, you can also click on his birthday, January 17th, or the year 1962, to see what historical events happened. It's not hard to get lost in these twin sites.

Lifehacker: Here's effective advice that can be put to use to improve just about every aspect of your life. Usually, the tips and tricks you learn can often be put into immediate use, as well. While software is a favorite topic, just about anything that is handy and geeky is sure to be found here. C'mon, what internet geek wouldn't love a Lego router?

Did I forget any of your favorite sites where you like to geek out? I'd like to hear about them in the comments!


Yet Again Still More Quick Snippets

Published on Thursday, January 14, 2010 in , , ,

LinksIt's a new year, so let's go out and find some new and different links!

• OK, this one is kind of old, but it does involve new links. The holiday hiatus of Mind Your Decisions is over, and Presh is back posting. Besides new game theory links, some good lessons on handling money, which is perfect for money-related New Year's resolutions!

• It's time to meet new people, and I'd like to introduce you to a very smart young man named Wyatt, who will turn 7 this year. Over in TJICistan, Wyatt is the resident child prodigy. At 6, he could already square numbers in his head, perform modular arithmetic, and even learn algebra and organic chemistry! Which reminds me, guess what Wyatt's favorite Christmas present was? I suggest you keep an eye on this sharp young man.

• How about trying some new puzzles? Based on a game of the same name, check out the Java-based Tantrix puzzles. At first, the challenge is simply to create loops of a single color with the given tiles. Later, there are further challenges added, such as more tiles and the requirement that all edges match in color.

• Here's a new eye-opener for you: Remember those 3½-inch disks? The picture of the 3½-inch disk in this article is too large to store on one of those disks! This also inspired TJIC to ponder the old 5¼-inch disks, which could only hold about ¾ of a second of your average MP3! As another good visualization of progress, check out both of these 1 GB storage mediums, from 20 years apart. Consider that you can now store 32GB in the same space as that small card, too.


Day For Any Date in 2010

Published on Sunday, January 10, 2010 in , , , ,

Dafne Cholet's Calendar* photoHow would you like to be able to know the date for any day in 2010? Here's how to do it!

The method to do this is quite simple, and is known as the Doomsday method, originally developed by John Horton Conway. Don't worry, learning this method for one particular year is very simple.

The "Doomsday" from which the method gets its name always refers to the last day of February, whether it's the 28th or 29th. For 2010, the "Doomsday" is Sunday (Feb. 28th, since it's not a leap year). If you think about it, you can already work out any date in February using just this knowledge.

For example, Valentine's Day, Feb. 14th, must also be a Sunday, because it's exactly 2 weeks before Feb. 28th. How about Feb. 2nd (Groundhog Day)? Well, Feb. 7th is a Sunday, and Feb. 2nd is 5 days before that. What's 5 days before a Sunday? The answer is Tuesday! Therefore, Groundhog Day will be on Tuesday in 2010.

It's also fairly simple to learn the even-numbered months. There's a very simple pattern to remember them: 4/4 (April 4th), 6/6 (june 6th), 8/8 (August 8th), 10/10 (October 10th), and 12/12 (December 12th) will always fall on the same day of the week as the "Doomsday" (the last day of February, remember?).

On which day will Christmas fall in 2010? We know December 12th is a Sunday, so 2 weeks later, December 26th, is also a Sunday. Since Christmas is one day before that, it must be on a Saturday this year!

The odd months aren't much harder, but the patter is not the same. 5/9 (May 9th) and 9/5 (September 5th) will also always fall on the Doomsday, as will 7/11 (July 11th) and 11/7 (November 7th). This is easy to remember with the following simple mnemonic: "I'm working 9 to 5 at the 7-11". It helps you remember that 9 and 5 always go together, as do 7 and 11.

When is July 4th this year? It's exactly 1 week before July 11th, so it must be a Sunday, as well. If you've got all the previous dates down, you've already got the mental capability to determine the date for 10 out of the 12 months!

The easiest way to handle March is to think of Feb. 28th as also being "March 0th". Working forward from March 0th, it's easy to see that March 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th will all be Sundays. St. Patrick's Day, March 17th, is 3 days after March 14th, so it's 3 days after a Sunday, making it a Wednesday in 2010.

In January, it's usually the 3rd day of the month that falls on the Doomsday. In a leap year, however, January 4th falls on the Doomsday. Remember it this way: "3 times out of 4, it's January 3rd. On the 4th year, it's January 4th." In 2010, since it's not a leap year, you only have to remember that January 3rd falls on the Doomsday (Sunday, for 2010).

January 15th is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, but what day does it fall on in 2010? January 3rd is a Sunday this year, and so is January 17th (2 weeks later). Take back 2 days, and we get January 15th being a Friday this year!

With the above knowledge, and a little practice, you can quickly and easily determine the day of the week for any 2010 date. You could get practice at the Day For Any Date (Mentalist Challenge) page, changing the year to 2010, and then trying to determine the date before you click the Show button.

When you're demonstrating this ability for someone, it's nice to be able to prove that you're right about the date. I use QuickCal on my iPod Touch (similar calendar are available for many portable devices). If you prefer a non-electronic version that's portable, download and print the 2010 Thumb Calendar.

If you have any experiences or thoughts you'd like to share about memorizing the 2010 calendar, I'd love to hear about them in the comments!


Review: Geek Logik iPhone/iPod Touch Apps

Published on Thursday, January 07, 2010 in , , , ,

Geek LogikA few years back, I reviewed the book Geek Logik, which broke everyday decisions down into mathematical equations.

To make the concept clearer, here's author Garth Sundem demonstrating it on Good Morning America in the days of the original book release:

Even in my original review, I sought easier ways to work through the equations than with the included calculator. Too often, the process of calculating one side of the equation, then calculating the other side of the equation, and then bringing back both results for the final division was too laborious to make the concept as fun and informative as it could be.

My initial solution, as you see in the original review, was to employ instacalc.

Now, Garth Sundem has gone that solution one better, and released 3 Geek Logik iPhone/iPod Touch apps! Just like the original book, they're divided into 3 categories: Geek Logik Careers (iTunes Link), Geek Logik Decisions (iTunes Link), and Geek Logik Love (iTunes Link).

As noted in the video above, these equations aren't merely whimsical creations, but based on actual studies. As you use these equations, you start to discover their real-world feel. The apps are no more likely to be used, now that the equations are simpler to perform.

How much simpler? The original Geek Logik book had an entire chapter that was a refresher on proper algebraic procedure. That's not needed with the apps, as all you have to do is provide the requested information, and the app will handle the math for you!

You start by selecting the question in which you're interested, such as "Should I call in sick?". For questions that require a number, such as age or number of recent missed work days, you tap the blank, and use the numeric keypad. For many of the items that require a rating from 1-10, the input is even simpler, employing a ruler, along which you drag a simple dot.

It's interesting to note that many of the equations have been updated and improved since the original book. Even if you don't strictly adhere to the advice of the results you get, it is interesting to use them as semi-objective input on the matters analyzed in these apps.

Beyond just getting answers, you can also easily share your results on Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps you have a question you think should be part of the app? You can also submit your questions for possible inclusion in a future release.

I recommend the Geek Logik apps. However, if my recommendation alone isn't enough, try Geek Logik Lite (iTunes Link) for free, which lets you fully try out the process with 3 sample problems (links go to YouTube videos): "Do you have a snowball's chance in hell with her?", "Should you call in sick?", and "Should you wake up 5 minutes early?".

Disclaimer: Author Garth Sundem generously provided the Geek Logik Decisions app to me free of charge. Based on my experience with that app, I purchased the Geek Logik Careers and Geek Logik Love apps with my own money.


R.I.P. Kim Peek (1951-2009)

Published on Sunday, January 03, 2010 in , , , ,

Kim Peek: The Real Rain ManI came back from my vacation, only to discover some sad news. Kim Peek, the savant who inspired the hit movie Rain Man, has died of a heart attack on December 19, 2009.

Kim Peek's savant condition allows him to remember everything he has ever read. In the following clip, Kim shows off this powerful ability at the first (and unfortunately only) meeting of the Athanasius Kircher Society.

Even more amazing than Kim's ability to remember everything he's ever read, is his approach to reading itself. Whenever he read, his left eyes reads the left page while his right eye reads the right page. There is more to his life, of course, than just his abilities. The documentary below, Kim Peek: The Real Rain Man, gives a more complete picture of his life. It's 46 minutes long, but it's well worth watching to better understand this very special individual.

Rest in peace, Kim. You will be missed.